Friday, November 24, 2017

Thanksgiving Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Giving Thanks and Learning Thanks”
Text: Philippians 4:6-20

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

We heard from St. Paul tonight: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

So, here are some things I thank the Lord for this year, along with some requests.

Thank you, Lord, when I don’t always get my way. It makes me rely on you.

Thank you, Lord, when I don’t always get what I want. It makes me remember that there are more important things in this world than what I want.

Thank you, Lord, for my sadness this year; for reminding me that my joy isn’t here, in this world and life, but in you.

Thank you, Lord, for the things I am unable to do; the problems I am unable to solve; the things that are too big for me - so that I rely on you.

Thank you, Lord, for my sicknesses this year. They make me remember that you are the great physician of body and soul, and that my health is only from you.

Thank you, Lord, for letting me share the burdens and problems of others, that I may learn to pray.

Thank you, Lord, for my shortcomings and failures, that I know how weak I am and rely on your strength instead.

Thank you, Lord, for humbling me when I get full of myself.

Thank you, Lord, for exposing my sin that I try so hard to cover up, that I rejoice in your forgiveness.

Thank you, Lord, for the things that have been taken away from me this year, that I love not them, but you.

Thank you, Lord, for the interruptions and inconveniences, to show me and teach me what really matters, and give me opportunities to serve others.

Thank you, Lord, for the tears that you’ve given me to shed, that you may wipe them away.

Thank you, Lord, for shaking my faith, in order to strengthen it.

Thank you, Lord, for sleepless nights, that I may know that you never slumber or sleep.

Thank you, Lord, for speechless times, when I don’t know what to say, that I rely on Your Word and speak it.

Thank you, Lord, for the crosses You have given me, to kill the old sinner in me and raise up a new man.

Thank you, Lord, for trees that fall on buildings, that I may learn that the only tree that will never fall is the one Your Son hung on to forgive all my sin.

And so forgive me Lord, when I do not thank you for all these things and every thing, but choose to worry, or take matters into my own hands, or doubt your love instead.
And Lord, make me hunger a little this next year, that I may learn that man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from you; and to learn to thank You for Your Word.

Lord, help me to repent and ask for forgiveness this year more quickly and more often than I have in the past, that I may rejoice in the forgiveness of others given to me; and to learn to thank You for them.

Lord, send me folks in need this year, that I may learn mercy and service and to pray; and to learn to thank You for such opportunities to love.

Lord, interrupt and inconvenience me more this year, that Your will be done, not mine; and to learn to thank You for Your goodness.

Lord, give me things too big for me, that I may see Your hand at work, how You will provide, and do things more wonderfully than I could ever imagine; and learn to give You thanks for Your grace.

Lord, humble me and banish pride far from me; that I learn that whatever I have comes from You, and to thank You for all things.

Lord, grant me times of sadness and joy this year, that I may see Your hand at work and rejoice in Your love; that I may learn to give thanks in all circumstances.

Lord, give me times to speak Your Word, that I may learn to know it better; and give thanks for the work of Your Word in my life.

Lord, strengthen my faith and weaken my grip on the things of this world; that I may learn to be content and thank You not only for what I have but for what I have not.

Lord, give me a compassionate and generous heart to share with others in need; that I may learn to give thanks when other receive good things.

Lord, help me graciously receive from others, that they may have the joy of giving; and learn to give thanks for my neighbor.

Lord, help me not be anxious about anything this year, but learn to trust in You, Your goodness, and Your love; and learn to give You thanks for peace.

Thank You Lord, for all Your Fatherly love.
Thank You Lord, for sending Your Son to be our Saviour.
Thank You Lord, for sending Your Spirit, that we may know You.

And thank You, Lord, for the Body and Blood of Jesus which we now receive, as we await Your call to the Feast which has no end.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 24 (November 20-25, 2017)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Ezekiel 34:15 - “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #516 “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”
Hymns for Wednesday: 895, 893, 643
Hymns for Sunday: 516, 508, 631, 696, 525, 941

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Monday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for Wednesday’s Thanksgiving Eve service. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

What had God done for His people? Did they always realize it? Why not? How are we sometimes blind this way too?

Tuesday:  Philippians 4:6-20
What does Paul thank God for? Why? 

Wednesday:  Luke 17:11-19
What’s the difference between thanks and praise? Why are both important?

How does Ezekiel describe God as a good shepherd? Why did the people need to hear this? Why do we?

How does Paul describe the Last Day? What will happen on that day? Where will you be?

Saturday:  Matthew 25:31-46
How can we serve a God we cannot see? How can we serve a God who needs nothing? Who can we see? Who needs us?

The Catechism - The Lord Prayer: The Conclusion – For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen. What does this mean? This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means “yes, yes, is shall be so.”

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ a safe and joyous Thanksgiving for all, and safe travel to those on the road this week.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Church Technology Council.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for Hope for the Destitute.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 24 Sermon / Reconciliation Sunday with Immanuel, Alexandria

Today we celebrated a joint Divine Service of Reconciliation with Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria. After a split let to the formation of my congregation, many years later we are reconciling (but not merging) with our brothers and sisters in Christ. A great day for both our congregations.

Both Pastor Esget and I preached homilies today. Mine is below, on the Old Testament and Epistle for the day.

Jesu Juva

“Not a Status Quo God; Not Status Quo Christians”
Text: Daniel 7:9-14; 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Deadlines are good for me. They force me to focus on what matters and put aside what does not. 

So the End of the Church Year is good for me. That I hear each year that there is an end to this world. There is a Judgment Day. There is coming a new heavens and a new earth. The resurrection of the dead. The bridegroom soon will call us to the heavenly wedding feast. Such a call each year re-focuses me, and brings clarity again to what matters and what does not.

And what we are doing here today matters. 

The reading from Daniel today helps me to see that; to realize it once again. That the day of judgment is coming. The day when the Ancient of Days will sit on His throne, the court will be called to order, and the books opened.

Now if you are a financial person or even just from your own personal finances, you know about balancing the books. Some people think about Judgment Day like that. That as long as I balance the good and the bad, as long as there’s more income than debt, more good than bad, then I’m good. My books are in order.

But of course, with the Ancient of Days it’s not like that. The debt of my sin, the debt of your sin, can never be balanced. 

Yet it seems to me that’s what we keep trying to do. For when we hold grudges, when we refuse to forgive, when we withhold mercy and love, I’m telling God that I’ll balance that part of the books myself, my own way, not your way. But we don’t. We can’t. 

Then we get used to the status quo, or the way things are. We get used to hard feelings, grudges, disagreements, sin, divison. It’s easy to just let things be, let things go, let sleeping dogs lie. It’s easy, but not good.

So the good news for us is that God is not a status quo God. Never has been, never will be. He is a speaking God, an acting God, because He’s a loving God. And love speaks. Love acts.

And so God is never leaving His people alone. He is always coming to us, speaking to us, loving us, serving us, caring for us, disciplining us. Because we are His. From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, to the end, to the Last Day, God will continue to come and speak and act. He can do no less. He will call us to repentance, and He will send His Son. Not to judge; not yet. Rather now, St. Paul said, is the day not of judgment, but of salvation. Now is the day for repentance and forgiveness.

And so the Son of Man came, and He balanced the books - no, more than that, He paid the debt, completely, with His blood. Knowing no sin, having no sin, He became the sin offering, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So that in Him, we be reconciled to God. At peace with God. And so we are. You are as you are baptized into Christ. You are as His Blood is poured into You. You are as eating His Body, His flesh becomes one with your flesh. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). In Jesus you are new, a new creation, St. Paul said. A new you, for the new heavens and the new earth.

But if you’re like me, you don’t feel very new. Each day you wake up and the old Adam wakes up right there with you, in you. He’s stubborn, and persistent. That’s why Luther said that when you wake up each day, make the sign of the cross and remember that you are baptized and drown that old man again. That’s not who you are. That’s not how you will live this day. 

And it’s also why we are gathered here this day. To hear our speaking, acting, loving, serving God speak to us again, through His ambassadors. To repent our Old Adam, and hear the voice of Christ say to us again: I forgive you all your sins, and know that those words are true and sure. The Spirit working through these words and bringing the goods, the gifts. The Spirit creating in us new and clean hearts, and renewing a right spirit within us (Psalm 51). So that we be reconciled not only with God, but also with each other.

For how can we not? How can we all be together, one in Christ, and yet divided, separated from each other, unforgiving and unforgiven? It cannot be.

And so Christ has given to His Church the ministry of reconciliation. That what God has joined together and sin has rent asunder may be made whole again in the forgiveness of sin. That we never be satisfied with the status quo, the way things are, but again as St. Paul said, controlled by the love of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, we too speak, act, love, serve, and forgive one another.

And all the more as we see the Day approaching, bringing clarity to what matters and what does not. This matters.

My sadness today is that not everyone is here who was here in those sad and tumultuous days so many years ago. Some are at rest and awaiting the day of resurrection, some have moved away, and some have left for other reasons or to other confessions. May the Lord complete what we are unable to do.

But my joy is that we are here today, kneeling side-by-side in repentance, and receiving side-by-side the forgiveness of Christ. Embracing one another again, as our Saviour, in love, embraced us. No longer living for [our]selves, but for Him who for our sake died and was raised. And living for each other. For I am my brother’s keeper, and he mine. I need him and he me. And so not receiving the grace of God in vain, but living the life we have so graciously been given. 

Living in the grace of God that has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.
Living in the grace of God that has made us one flock, under one Shepherd. 
Living in the grace of God that has made us brothers and sisters, one in Christ.
Living in the grace of God that gives joy and peace and unity. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Litany of Confession

This is the Litany of Confession that we used in our Service of Reconciliation with Immanuel, Alexandria today.

Litany of Confession

P: O Lord,
C: have mercy. 

P: O Christ,
C: have mercy. 

P: O Lord,
C: have mercy. 

P: O Christ,
C: hear us. 

P: God the Father, who desires not the death of a sinner, but that all turn to Him and live,
C: have mercy. 

P: God the Son, who gave Himself for our sins and was raised for our justification,
C: have mercy. 

P: God the Holy Spirit, by whom we are a new creation in Christ Jesus and have the ministry of reconciliation,
C: have mercy. 

P: Be gracious to us.
C: Spare us, good Lord. 

P: Be gracious to us.
C: Help us, good Lord. 

P: We poor sinners implore You
C: to hear us, O Lord. 

P: When I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: When I have not honored our Lord’s name,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: When my worship and prayers have faltered,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: When I have not let His love have its way with me and so my love for others has failed,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: For those I have hurt and for those I have failed to help,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: For thoughts and desires soiled with sin,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: When I am quick to accuse and slow to forgive,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: When I do not want to be my brother’s keeper,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: When I do what is easy and not what is right,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: For words that have hurt and division I have caused,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: For my failure to trust in You for all good,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: For the sin I confess before you now in the silence of my heart . . .

P: Create in me a clean heart, O God,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: That I may live with my brothers and sisters in Christ in unity and peace,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: That I may be humble and lowly in spirit,
C: Lord, have mercy.

P: That I rejoice to forgive and do good,
C: Help me, O Lord.

P: That the bones You have crushed rejoice,
C: Grant it, O Lord.

P: Blot out all my iniquities,
C: And restore to me the joy of your salvation.

P: O almighty God, merciful Father,
C: I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

P: Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
C: Amen.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pentecost 23 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“How Soon?”
Text: Matthew 25:1-13; Amos 5:18-24;
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Introit: Psalm 84:1, 3, 9-12)

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

The five foolish virgins in the Gospel today obviously knew the hymn we just sang: The Bridegroom SOON Will Call Us (LSB #514). Soon. That’s why they didn’t bring any extra oil. They weren’t going to need it. He was coming soon.

Well, there are two warnings for us today there.

First, is this: soon is in the eye of the beholder.

For example: ask a parent about Christmas on December 1st. They will tell you it’s going to be here soon and there’s not enough time to get everything ready and done. But ask a child about Christmas on December 1st, and she’ll tell you it’s an eternity away!

Soon is in the eye of the beholder.

The Bridegroom soon will call us, come to the wedding feast (v. 1). So how soon is soon?

Truth is, we don’t know. But it also depend on this: what is that call being talked about there? Is it Jesus coming again at the end of time? Yes. But we don’t know - can’t know - when that day will be. There may be still many years until that soon, that day.

Or will that call be for you the day when Jesus sends His angels to take you to the wedding feast before the Last Day, to call you in death to pass from this life to the next? Yes again. None of us knows when that day will come for us either. Maybe there are not many days until then for you. And not just if you’re old. Accidents, tragedy, disease, and more take many, as it is said: too soon, while they are still young.

The Bridegroom soon will call us. Soon. So be ready. For whenever your soon is.

But here’s the second warning there for us today, and it is coupled with the first: That if we don’t know when soon will be for us, then also don’t assume that you have enough oil. Don’t assume that you have enough faith, enough forgiveness, enough of God’s Word, enough of the Lord’s Body and Blood, enough justification, enough sanctification, enough mercy, enough Jesus, that you don’t need these things any more. Some, I think, assume just that. That they’re good. They got all they need. 

But how long do you think it takes before the oil runs out? When absence from church, neglect of the Word, fasting from the Sacrament, and failure to receive the gifts of God makes one dry up? Maybe you’ve even felt that a little in your own life, when busyness or trouble or just plain sin has kept you away for a while, and you can tell; you can feel it. Something’s not right. Your oil’s drying up and your lamp is going out . . .

So two good warnings for us today, as we enter these last few weeks of the Church Year and focus on the End Times, the Last Day, and Jesus’ return: (1.) we don’t know when soon will be for us, and (2.) therefore don’t assume we have enough. 

Or maybe I could say it this way: live each day as if today was your soon, but also live each day as if your soon is still many years away. 

What would such a life look like? 

Well, it would be a life well-fed - both for what you need today and what you need for the long haul. A life where each day you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word. A life of confession and repentance and receiving absolution. A life of often eating and drinking the Body and Blood of your Bridegroom. That no matter when your soon is, your lamp be lit and your oil be enough. 

But also this: it would not only be a life well-fed, but a life well-lived. A life of reconciliation, both with your fellow believers and even with those who do not believe. How often, when someone dies, have you wished you had a few more days, to say what needed to be said, to say you were sorry, to forgive and be forgiven? But soon came sooner than we thought.

And it would be a life of good works, of service, of mercy, of care, compassion, and love. For also how often has anger or bitterness or grudges or the thirst for revenge or the love of sin caused a lamp to be snuffed out? The sin in us needs to be trimmed so the light can burn. 

For soon the Bridegroom will call us.

But just as this parable of Jesus today provided us with two warnings - that (1.) we don’t know when soon is and (2.) therefore don’t assume we have enough, always be ready - it also provides us with two realities: that when the Bridegroom comes it will be a day of joy for some and a day of woe for others.

And the woe was described for us by the prophet Amos today. And his image of that day was quite vivid. For imagine what he said - fleeing from a lion only to run into a bear! Or imagine going into a dark house where you cannot see anything, and you’ve got your hand out, feeling for something, anything, solid, and when you finally touch something it’s not a relief, but a serpent, plunging his fangs into your hand! 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my soon, my Last Day, to be like that! But apart from Jesus, apart from getting into the wedding feast, that’s exactly what that day will be like. And worse. For on that day, apart from Jesus, there will be no place to flee from the prowling satanic lion, and no relief from his fangs, plunged into you. The door will be shut. It will truly be a day, as Amos says, of woe. Woe that will not end.

But it need not be. Blessed, we sang in the Introit, Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord of hosts. In Jesus. In Jesus who tells us that He is the door for the sheep (John 10:7). In Jesus, who was devoured by our sins and by the satanic lion on the cross, but who then Himself devoured our sins and the satanic lion in His resurrection. In Jesus, who has provided the anit-venin for the poison of sin injected into us by satan with His Body and Blood, given us here to eat and to drink. That in Jesus now, and trusting in Him now, we will also be with Him and rejoice with Him forever. That our soon and our Last Day not be the beginning but the end of our woe, and not the end but the beginning of our joy. Joy that will never end.

But to be in Jesus now means that while we await the wedding feast and the joy there that we cannot even begin to imagine, and while certainly we will have some joy here and now, there will be woe now. Woe because of the sin in the world and the sin in us. Woe because of the rebellion against God and His Word that we see in the world and that sometimes wells up in us. Woe as we are the targets of the prowling satanic lion and the flesh into which the serpent sinks his fangs. Woe as the world that persecuted and rejected Jesus persecutes and rejects those who are His as well. And maybe you could add a few woes of your own. 

But the woes we experience now are nothing like the woes that will come at the end. For we are not in the darkness now. Jesus is here. The light is here. His forgiveness and life are here. For until the Last Day and His final coming, Jesus is not far, far, away, but coming in little, hidden ways even now. Breaking into our lives now to keep and sustain us, feed and forgive us, strengthen and protect us, for when your soon comes. He is here in water and words and bread and wine, that in the darkness you have a safe place to flee from the lion, and a safe place to place your hand. A safe place to hide. A refuge. Until the Bridegroom [finally] calls us, come to the wedding feast.

Until that day, until your soon, encourage one another with these words, St. Paul told the Thessalonian Christians, and us. But what are “these words?” Well, that the Lord knows who are His; those who have fallen asleep in Him. He knows those who are alive still - you and I - and those who have gone before us. Or to put it in the words of Jesus’ parable: those virgins still awake and those who have fallen asleep.

But when the Bridegroom comes, all in Jesus will enter into the feast. Jesus is faithful. We are not always. He always is. On that you can depend. On that we do depend.

So encourage one another, until our soon comes.

Encourage one another to remain faithful.
Encourage one another to remain in the Word.
Encourage one another to confess and repent, to forgive and to be absolved.
Encourage one another to receive the Lord’s Supper often.
Encourage one another to have mercy and do good.
Encourage the old whose soon is near, and the young whose soon may also be near - or many years away.
Encourage the weary and weak, for you will one day be.
Encourage the mourning.
Encourage the doubting, and those under heavy burdens.
Encourage one another in all the times and trials of life.

For if, as we sang in the Introit, even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at the altar of the Lord - how much more us? A home, a nest, for us here, until our soon comes, and our home is not here at the altar of the Lord, but around His throne, forever.

Until the Bridegroom [finally] calls us.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.