Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year


Jesu Juva

“Blessed Are All Who Take Refuge in Him”

Text: Matthew 25:31-46

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

Two weeks ago we heard of the wise virgins and the foolish virgins, waiting for the Bridegroom to come.

Last week we heard of the joyful servants and the fearful servant, waiting for their master to return.

Today it is sheep and goats. The third and final teaching of Jesus about the Last Day. When the Good Shepherd comes and separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The goats to go into the eternal fire prepared not for them, but for the devil and his angels. The God of life and salvation does not prepare or get ready to condemn anyone. That is not His way. That is not what He wants. It is not why Jesus went to the cross - He went to save all people! It is what they want - to not be with God. Or, at least, not this kind of God. And so they will not. Sadly. No joy for anyone in that.

It is sad, really, for us to even think about. Which is why today so many deny it and think: God wouldn’t do that, and so come up with an alternative theology. But God’s Word remains. There is only one way to take away the sin and guilt that separate us from God - and that is the death and resurrection of His Son. For your sin to be on Him and not on you. For your sin to be atoned for by His blood. Those who have that have everything. Those who have that have life eternally. Those who do not . . .

All depends on the Son. All depends on being in the Good Shepherd’s flock.

But wait, Pastor! That’s not what the words we heard today say! Jesus points to works, not faith. So, it would seem, we are saved by what we’ve done . . . or not done.

And perhaps it sounds that way. But it’s not that way at all, which I hope to convince you.

But you already know that! You know that because it’s what you’ve heard here all year in the readings and hymns and liturgy and sermons. It’s what you’ve read in the Scriptures - that we’re not saved by works, but by the benefits of the cross received by us by grace through faith. And many of you could quote me Scripture that says that! . . . So it’s interesting to me, how so many Christians, so steeped in this teaching all the other Sundays of the year, so confident in Christ, become terrified of the judgment at the end of the Church Year and think it’s on us and what we do. That we’re going to have to answer for each and every sinful thought, word, deed, and desire we’ve ever had! That the Good Shepherd suddenly turns into a horrible and strict judge. 

He does not! But if what I just said describes you, I don’t condemn you, just invite you to rejoice in the fact that you don’t have to fear the Last Day. The one who is your Good Shepherd now, will be your Good Shepherd on that day as well. The Good Shepherd who watered you here in baptism, fed you here in His Supper, comforted you with His Word, forgave your sins, and watched over you and led you through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), will not stop.

So when He comes on that Last Day, as we heard, He’s going to act like a shepherd! He’s going to separate the sheep from the goats. Which is not hard for a shepherd. It’s not like it’s hard to tell. There’s not a fine line between the two. It’s obvious, especially for a shepherd. All you’ve got to do is separate them. And that takes place not because of what they’ve done, whether they’ve been “good” or not, but because of what they ARE - a sheep or a goat.

And Jesus could have stopped there! He could have stopped His teaching right then and there - full stop! - and not even said the rest, about all those things that were done or not done, and all would have been well. So . . . why does Jesus do that? Why does Jesus drag in this teaching and muddy the waters, so to speak?

Well, actually, it’s for just the opposite reason - He brings those things up to clarify, not to muddy! And for two reasons.

First, to demonstrate the fairness or justice of His judgment. No objection can be raised by the goats that they were improperly put in the wrong group. No, there has been no mistake. By their lives they showed who they were. Not, perhaps, in ways that we notice. We often judge wrongly or are mistaken. But God knows and sees the heart. And notice: the goats think they have been good enough! And maybe they were very good goats! The best of goats, in fact! Praised by all the other goats! But even the very best goat is not a sheep. The best unbeliever is still an unbeliever, and so without the forgiveness of sins that comes only by grace through faith. 

The second reason Jesus points to these things is for the benefit of His sheep - for you and I. For you and I who think we haven’t been good enough. Who look at our lives and see mainly all the ways we fail and fall short and don’t do those things we should do. And you’re right. You’re exactly right. 

This is something that often happens with Christians, and especially new Christians. They’re baptized, they’re catechized, and they want to be good Christians and try really hard. Which is good. But inevitably, sooner or later, as they grow in the Word, they don’t see improvement, they don’t think they’re getting better - in fact, they think they’re getting worse! Because as they grow in God’s Word, they learn to see things more and more clearly, and they see their sin more and more clearly, and so think they’re getting worse. Most of the time they’re not! They’re just seeing more clearly the horible reality of sin. But it seems that way to them. 

Now that’s good! If it pushes us to repent and to turn to Christ and His forgiveness. That’s exactly what the Law is supposed to do. And then the Gospel and the joy of Christ’s forgiveness can have its way with us and give us the confidence that our works could never give. And here, on the Last Day, Jesus’ words seem to indicate the same thing going on. Sheep that know they haven’t been good enough. So how comforting for us to know that to Jesus, we are. Good enough. Not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done - made us His sheep. His sheep where even the little things we’ve done are precious to Him. It’s not becoming a pastor, it’s not going to some wild and exotic country as a missionary, it’s not doing things that draw the world’s attention - it’s these little things Jesus’ mentions, things we’ve long forgotten and that seem like no big deal - they are a big deal to Him. A Christian mother taking care of her children. A Christian father providing for his family. Taking food to a family going through a rough patch. Visiting those alone or isolated. Caring for those in need. Those things don’t wipe out your sin and earn you eternal life - Jesus did that! And so because He did, you can. You can take care of others. Because of who you ARE: a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock.

Or maybe think of it like this: sometimes people are asked the hypothetical question, What would you do if you got a large inheritance, or won the lottery? What would you do with it? There are lots of different answers, but often there is the desire to help others - to fund a scholarship, give to charity, help friends and family.

Well for you, it’s not a hypothetical! That is your reality. You HAVE an inheritance. You received it in your baptism. It’s what the Gospel tells you about and delivers to you every Sunday. The inheritance prepared for you before the foundation of the world, as Jesus said to you today. So you have riches beyond your understanding. Riches that will never run out. So now what? If you believe this, how will you live? What will you do? Will you live as if this world is all there is? Or will you live differently? 

So in the Collect of the Day today, we prayed: Enable us to wait for the day of [our Lord’s] return with our eyes fixed on the kingdom prepared for Your own from the foundation of the world. And so with eyes fixed not on ourselves or what we are able to do, but on the King and His kingdom - all that He has done for us, and all that He has for us. For then we will see rightly. Satan is always trying to take our eyes off of that, get us to look at anything but that, and so cause us to rely on what we do and tremble and fear at the thought of the Last Day. 

Instead, we will fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). The Bridegroom coming for His Bride, the Church. The master who has joy for His servants. The Good Shepherd, who is both Good and our Shepherd, not just for now but for eternity. The Good Shepherd who always has His eyes fixed on you. The Good Shepherd who has once again set His Table before us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5) - in the midst of this sinful and turbulent and unbelieving world. So come now and fix your eyes on Him here, on His forgiveness given to you here, and taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). So that when He comes again, or even when you just think about that Day, you will not tremble and fear, but look forward to it with joy. As Jesus does. That Day can’t come soon enough for Him either. To have you, and all His flock, finally together with Him. Forever. That’s what He wants. That’s why He came. That’s why He died. That’s why He’s coming again. For you. That it really is true what the psalmist said: Blessed - now and forever! - are all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8).

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

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Last Week of the Church Year (November 23-28, 2020)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Isaiah 64:4 - “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #332 “Savior of the Nations, Come”

Hymns for Sunday: 354, 332, 634, 334, 350, 336

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday: Deuteronomy 8:1-10

How did God teach, test, and discipline Israel in the wilderness? Why? Why give thanks for all these things?

Tuesday: Philippians 4:6-20

What does Paul urge us to think about? Why? What difference might that make in your life?

Wednesday: Luke 17:11-19

God has come to cleanse lepers and sinners! Thanks be to God!

Thursday: Isaiah 64:1-9

Trembling and joy at the Lord’s coming. Trembling for who? Joy for who? Why? What confidence do you have for that day?

Friday: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

How are you enriched in Christ? What has He given you? What promises?

Saturday: Mark 11:1-10

How does this story help us start a new Church Year right?

The Catechism - The Lord’s Prayer: The First Petition [part 2] – Hallowed be Thy name. How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

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.

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Board of Elders.

+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.

+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for our Synod’s Board of National Mission.

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! 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost


Jesu Juva

“The Joy of the Lord, Forever and NOW”

Text: Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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

Joy and sadness. Joy for some, sadness for others. So it was in the parable we heard last week, with the five wise and joyous virgins, and the five foolish and sad virgins. So it is in the parable we heard today, and so it will be in the parable we will hear next week. All three about the Last Day, and what that Day, the Day of the Lord, will be like. Joy for some, sadness for others. And what makes all the difference, what always makes all the difference, is faith. 

And so the Parable today. The Parable of the Talents, it’s often called. And with such a title, no wonder we focus on the money. For that’s what a Talent was - equivalent to about a year’s wages. 

But this parable is not about the money. With God, it’s never about the money. Money is nothing to God. When a poor widow put two pennies into the Temple treasury - how many of the rich, who put in large sums, thought: two pennies, who cares? That won’t make any difference at all! But it made all the difference in the world to Jesus. Or rather, it was the faith behind it that made it worth so much (Mark 12:41-44). Or how about a rich young man came up to Jesus one day, and Jesus told him to sell all that you have and give to the poor . . . and come, follow me (Mark 10:21). Without all that money, you’ll be truly rich, Jesus was telling him! With all the riches that faith receives. Or how about when the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not (Matthew 22:17)? Jesus couldn’t care less! Give Caesar what belongs to Casear. Give him his stuff. Far more important, far more significant, was to give God the things that are God’s. Your fear, your love, and your trust - that is, your faith. And one more - when those who collected the Temple tax asked Peter whether Jesus paid His tax or not, Jesus has Peter pull a fish out of the sea, wherein he would find a coin to pay the tax for the both them (Matthew 17:24-27).

We need money. The problem is we often love money, make an idol out of it. Crave it, serve it, cherish it, cheat for it, horde it, and never seem to have enough no matter how much we have. Which really is an indication of its lordship in our lives, don’t you think? If that’s how we are towards it? And its why Jesus so often warns against the love of money and its dangers. 

But if money is at or near the top of our totem poles, it is at the bottom of Jesus’. It is seriously hard to imagine anything Jesus cares less about! He simply doesn’t care about it. At all. He cares about you. And He gives you what is far more important, far more valuable than money. For as Peter would later write, you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). What money could not do for you, Christ did. And what money cannot do for you now, Christ does.

So it is with this parable today. For those so focused on money, this parable is all about the money. But for the Lord for whom money matters not, not one little bit, this parable is about the joy of the master - the joy he wants to give to his servants.

It’s really a simple parable to understand . . . but maybe it is really in what is not said that we can learn something. The master hands over his property to his servants. Now, our English translation there says entrusts, which is the word we who so value money would use. You don’t just give it away! But it is the word, for example, St. Paul uses when teaching the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper, when he says that what I received from the Lord, I also handed over to you (1 Corinthians 11:23). It is the same word used of Judas, who hands Jesus over - that is, betrays him (Matthew 26:16). 

So the master hands over his property - and here’s the silence: with no instructions, no conditions, no strings attached. It almost sounds like . . . a gift.

But either way, two of the servants use that money, but one does not. We don’t find out why until the master returns - and then we hear what the third servant thinks of his master. That in his opinion, not only is he not a good master, he is not even a good man - he is an uncaring, greedy, wicked cheat. The first two said no such thing. In fact, they were completely unconcerned. They seem to be filled with joy, and in return receive more joy. They enter into the joy of the master - the welcome home feast for the master.

But what had happened in those long years - the long time - the master was away? How long had it been? Were there economic upturns and downturns? Had the servants, at one time, made more - ten or twenty talents more? But then lost some? And what did the master expect? Was this better than he thought they could do? Worse? None of that’s in there, for none of that matters. It’s not about the money. With Jesus, it’s never about the money. 

Again, our English translations, while possible, may be a little misleading here. It says the master returned to settle accounts with his servants. That goes well with the word entrust. But the word could also mean to take it up with them - to talk with them about it; find out how they are doing and how they used his gift. 

For us, as Christians, either translation works. We know all we have is from God. Everything belongs to Him. He entrusts to us, gifts to us. That’s not the crux here. What is is what the servants thought of their master. Or to put that theologically, or spiritually - what matters is faith

The first two servants received the property, used the property, and returned to the master unconcerned and with joy. They didn’t seem to think ill of their master, attribute to him any ulterior motives, nor worry about what he would say when he returned - if they had done or been good enough for him. They just seem happy to see their master, report to him what they had done, and go into his feast, into his joy, to rejoice with him and he with them. That is the picture of faith.

It is what the Last Day will be like for us! We who know our Lord, that He is generous and giving. And how do we know this? By the cross. For there, the Father didn’t give you property or money - something He really cares nothing about! There He gave you, gifted to you, His only-begotten Son! His beloved Son. The most important thing to Him. And there the Son gave His flesh and blood for you, gave His life for you. No ulterior motive. No strings attached. Only to do good for you. To atone for your sin. To defeat your enemy. To conquer death. That you have the gift of eternal life with Him. That you enter into His joy - the wedding feast of heaven, to rejoice with your Lord and he with you. That’s all God wants. Money? Who cares? That’s passing away. But Jesus passes away and rises, so that we who pass away will too rise, and so never really pass away. 

But that third servant . . . he really doesn’t know his master at all. And think for a moment, how stinging and hurtful his words must have sounded to his master! For how would you feel, if someone you’re trying to help, someone you’re giving to and going out of your way for, says to you: I know who you really are! You hurt other people, take what’s not yours, and swindle people out of their money! [Pause.] Wait, what? Really? [Sigh.]

Now, that hurts in this world and life, but on the Last Day, it’s deadly. Unbelief that doesn’t worry if I am good enough for God, but thinks God’s not good enough for me! And then unbelief gets what it believes - a hard and vengeful God. A God not good enough for the unbeliever, a God unbelief does not want to be with now, is a God unbelief will be without forever. So instead of entering into the joy of the master, the third servant is cast into the outer darkness, where teeth are used not to feast, but in weeping and gnashing.

Joy and sadness. Joy for some, sadness for others. Jesus did not tell this parable to make you worry if you’re good enough or not, if you’re using His gifts or His property well enough, if you’re generating enough return on His investment or not! Rather, this parable compliments the parable of the virgins we heard last week. That while we’re waiting for the Bridegroom to return - waiting with joy, I might add! Because He is our Bridegroom and we are His Bride, the Church, and weddings and wedding feasts are joyous events! While we are waiting for Bridegroom to return, we are not idle, but neither do we live in fear. We use, we invest, the gifts, the talents, He has given us now, because we know Him! We know who He is! We know that He has redeemed us, forgiven us, and loves us. We know He is not a hard, uncaring, unfaithful, and unreliable God, but one who gave His Son for us! And when He returns, we will meet Him with joy. For He’s not going to say to you: Is that all? Why didn’t you do more? Where the rest of it? Because any of your failures and shortcomings - and we all surely have those! -  are wiped out by Jesus’ blood. Instead you will hear: Well done, good and faithful servant. Words that really belong to Jesus, but which Jesus gifts to you.

So greedy for money, hording money, loving money? Not a child of God! And if you see that in yourself, if you do that, repent, receive the forgiveness you need, here for you in these words, water, and bread and wine, rejoice in that forgiveness, and then go out and rejoice in your gifts! Invest them in others. Give to others as you have been given to. Don’t wait until the Last Day to enter into the joy of your master! Do so now by being like Him, giving like Him. For His joy is in you and giving to you. And now your joy can be the same, in others.

That in these gray and latter days, as Scripture calls them, while we are waiting for the master to return, while we are waiting for the Bridegroom to come, you live in peace and joy! The peace and joy of the Lord. The peace and joy of His forgiveness and life. For as St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians Christians: God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him

Whether we are awake or asleep. Awake as joyful servants, or asleep as wise virgins. Either way, when the Bridegroom comes, we will enter into His eternal joy. For His joy is not in money. It is that you are there. With Him. Forever.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost


Jesu Juva

“Encourage One Another while Waiting for the Bridegroom”

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-13; Matthew 25:1-13; Amos 5:18-24

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

Therefore encourage one another with these words, St. Paul said.

Need a little encouragement these days? Who doesn’t! Right? With the pandemic dragging on and perhaps spiking again. With an election that has again revealed the polarization in our country that shows no signs of improving. And maybe with the struggles in your life that are dragging on, that can so easily discourage, with no end in sight. 

Therefore encourage one another with these words.

That’s why God put you here. That you would not be alone. That you would have fellow believers to encourage you, and for you to encourage them. For it is not good to be alone. We were not created for aloneness. We were created for fellowship; in the image of God fellowship; trinitarian fellowship - our union with God the cause of our union with one another. So that we are, here, one body. We’re not just a bunch of individuals gathered together. We have an inter-connectedness, in Christ. So that when one suffers, we all suffer; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. And Christ, too, with us. We need this.

Therefore encourage one another with these words.

When Paul wrote those words, the Thessalonian Christians were troubled and deeply concerned that those who had died were going to miss out when Jesus returned; that they were lost. Not so! Paul tells them. For while death seems so awful and final to us, it is exactly death that Jesus came to overcome. And He did, and He will. So those who had already died aren’t going to miss anything. In fact, they will be raised first. They may be dead, but they are not dead to our Lord - just sleeping. He knows them. Just as He knows you. We will be together again, with the Lord. So don’t be discouraged. And don’t let your fellow believers gets discouraged. Encourage one another with these words. Encourage one another with the Word of God.

That’s the key. The Word of God. Don’t encourage with just happy thoughts or wishful thinking, but with the Word of God that is living and active, powerful and trustworthy, and makes things happen. The Word that in the beginning said “Let there be” and there was. The Word that told dead people to rise and they did. The Word that absolves you of your sin and you are. This Word is the Word of encouragement that we need. That we need to hear and are privileged to speak.

Now, sometimes that word of encouragement will be the encouragement to believe, like Paul spoke to the Thessalonians. But sometimes it may also be the encouragement to repent, like the prophet Amos spoke. We need both. But whether a word of Law or Gospel, they will be words that point us to Christ and the hope we have in Him alone. That in these gray and latter days, as the Scriptures call them, we know the Lord is still upon His throne and still ruling all things for the good of His Church and His Christians. You. Even it if doesn’t seem like it.

For He has seen it all before. Pandemics? Yup. And worse ones than this. Political divisions? Yup. World Wars, in fact. Rampant sin and rebellion? Sounds like Old Testament Israel! Disease? He cured them all. Really bad sinners? He forgave. Really hardened persecutors? He turned them to Him. Like Paul himself. Kingdoms rising, kingdoms falling, and through it all - through it all! - the Church has remained. The Word still preached, the Sacraments still given, sins still forgiven, and believers taken home. 

Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Four years ago, on the night after election night, I was sitting in the Food Court at George Mason University. We were supposed to be having a Bible Study, but I spent most of the time talking some of the students “off the ledge,” so to speak. They were sure the world was going to end because their candidate lost the election. I’m sure there are some who will wind up thinking that way this year.

They were right . . . but in one sense only. The world is going to end. But it won’t be because of an election. It won’t be because of a pandemic. It won’t be because of global warming or anything else in this world. It will be when Jesus comes again. On the day that God set long ago. The day, as Saint Matthew described it - and as we prayed in the Collect - when the Bridegroom comes to take home His Bride, the Church. 

Not that all those other things aren’t important. They are. We should vote as wisely as we can. We should take precautions for our health and the health of others. We need to be good stewards of God’s creation. These are the vocations that God has given us, among others. These are our loving service to our neighbor. But God is the one in control. Always has been. Always will be. Encourage one another with these words.

Encourage one another in Christ. Encourage one another not only for this life, but for eternal life. For if this life, this world, is all there is, then it is hard to be encouraged. There’s always something going wrong, always something falling apart, always bad news of one kind or another. But if this life, this world, is not all there is - and it’s not, of course! - then there is encouragement. Namely this: that the Bridegroom is coming for His Bride. That Jesus died and rose again not for Himself, but for you. That the day is coming when the pandemics, divisions, and death of this world is going to be over, and there will be only life. So we have a sure and certain hope and future in Christ, that gives us hope and encouragement now. To persevere, and to help others to. To be ready when the Bridegroom comes. 

And how we do that, how we are ready for when the Bridegroom comes, is by waiting where the Bridegroom is already coming. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re waiting for a ballgame to start, you do so at the field. If you’re waiting for the waitress to serve your meal, you do so (or at least we used to do so, before Covid!) in a restaurant. So if you’re waiting for the Bridegroom to come, you do so where He comes now - here. Here, where He comes and speaks. Here, where He comes and washes. Here, where He comes and adopts children for His own. Here, where He comes and feeds us with His own Body and Blood. Here, where He forgives sins. Here, where every Sunday is a little rehearsal for the Last Day. So here is where you fill up with the oil of faith and forgiveness you need.

And then we take the encouragement we have received here, the Lord we have received here, out into the world to encourage others. To give the forgiveness, to give the love, to give the mercy, to give the truth, to give the life we have received here to those in need. To those who need a word of encourgament. To those who need the Lord. So that when the Bridegroom returns, they too have the oil of faith and forgiveness they need.

Because sadly, not all will. In Jesus’ parable, there were not only five wise virgins, but five foolish ones. Five who were not ready.

Perhaps we should blame the Bridegroom, for taking so long to come. But He delays not so some will run out, but so that more will be ready. He delays in mercy. Like He did in the days of Noah, when finally the Day came and another door was shut - the door of the ark. God didn’t send the flood immediately. He waited 120 years! And not because Noah needed that long to build it. But that people repent and turn to Him. He is merciful. Every Bride and Bridegroom look forward to the day of their marriage, and you can be sure the Lord is looking forward to the day as well. But He will not speed it along. He will wait. For He wants there to be ten wise virgins, not just five. He wants all to be saved.

Therefore encourage one another with these words

It doesn’t matter how foolish you’ve been in the past. It doesn’t matter how foolish you are now. The Bridegroom is coming now with His gifts for you, so that when the Day of the wedding feast comes, you will be ready. Ready to enter with joy into the unending feast of heaven. Ready to enter not just as a guest, but as the Bride. For truly that is who you are. All of you, the Bride of Christ. All one body. Together as one here, and together as one forever.

Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Encourage one another to repent and see their sins on Jesus. Paid for in full. 

Encourage one another to forgive and see the sins of others on Jesus. Paid for in full. 

Encourage one another in their baptism, that they are a dearly loved child of God, as you are. And if they are not, their Saviour wants them to be. 

Encourage one another with the Word of the Lord. That Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. The one who is greater than all the trials and troubles of this world and life. 

Encourage one another that Jesus is able to use suffering for good - just look at the cross for proof of that! 

Encourage one another and share their sorrows and burdens, making them just a little less heavy. 

Encourage one another to faithfulness and perseverance, for we all grow tired and weary and need the strength of others. 

Encourage one another that they have a Father in heaven, a brother in Jesus, and you as a brother or sister in Christ, and so they are not alone. 

Encourage one another with these words.

The word in Greek for encourage is parakaleo. You might recognize that word. It sounds like Paraclete - a word used for the Holy Spirit. And that’s instructive. For how does the Holy Spirit do His work? How does He comfort and encourage us? Through the Word. And through the Word, connecting us to Jesus. So when you encourage one another with these words, the words of God, the Spirit is working. Through you. For others. To give them Jesus. To give them what they need. Just as He does for you. 

So encourage one another with these words. That is, Spirit them with these words! For so has your brother Jesus Spirited you. To be ready. To be His Bride, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). That you dwell in the house of the Lord and feast with Him forever.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Feast of All Saints Sermon


Jesu Juva

“Blessed Are You”

Text: Matthew 5:1-12; Revelation 7:2-17; 1 John 3:1-3

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

Don’t think of your faith in Christ like the volume control on your TV or smartphone. It is more like an on/off switch. Either you have it or you don’t. And if you do, then you are blessed and have all that faith receives - all the gifts of God. 

Now, it’s true that somedays your faith may be weak, like a one on that volume control. Shaky, uncertain. We all have those days. And there are other days when it’s turned up to ten. But the gifts of God do not depend on where your faith is on that scale. There is no minimal volume that you must be at. Whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, a strong day or a weak day, a ten day or a one day, God is giving and blessing. Because of who He is. And He won’t stop.

Because you are His child. Which means you are blessed not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus has done for you, and now gives you. Which is really what the Beatitudes are about - those statements we heard from Matthew today. That what you don’t have, you receive. What you give, you get back even more. And what you do not deserve, you are given by grace. Because the Beatitudes are telling us about the kind of God we have in Jesus. He is the embodiment of the Beatitudes. He has earned everything for you, and is happy to give it all to you. And not just when your faith is, say, five or higher, but even - but especially! - when it is lower, and you really need His gifts to give you the strength you need. To help you make it through another day.

And the chief of those gifts is His Spirit. He is the one who threw that switch of faith in you. He is the one who made you a child of God. He is the one who takes all the gifts of Jesus and gives them to you. So if you are anything like the Beatitudes, it is the work of the Spirit in you. Which means you are blessed not because of what you do, but because of what God has done in you. 

Which really is the way of it with God. He’s the giver, we’re the receivers. And He gifts Himself to us. He gives Himself to you as Father when He makes you His child. And He doesn’t just father you, He IS a father to you, and a perfect one at that. Caring, providing, protecting, teaching. And then He gave His Son for you, to redeem you, to rescue you from sin, death, and the devil. And now His Spirit is given to you, too. To give you the forgiveness, the cleansing, you need each day. To keep you in Jesus and Jesus in you. That you live in His kingdom now, and live in His kingdom forever. All gift. From Him to you.

The saints are those who know this. Who know that our life and all we are comes from God. Who know that our works accomplish and earn nothing toward God. We are already blessed! So our works bless our neighbor. And in serving our neighbor, especially the lowest and neediest, you are like God. Giving, serving, loving.

And for this, Jesus says, will you be praised and exalted? No, actually. You will be persecuted, hated, reviled, and have all kinds of evil spoken against you. So rejoice and be glad! Wait, what? Why? They are treating you as the child of God you are. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. So they persecuted the prophet par excellance - Jesus. And now you.

It’s kind of a silly example, but when I was little, whenever someone came to school with new sneakers, all nice and white, all the other kids would stomp on them and dirty them up. So that your shoes would be like their shoes. Well, the world is kind of like that. When you wear the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness, given to you in your Baptism, the world is going to try to dirty you up. Make you like them. It’s really the opposite of what Jesus does. For Jesus wants to make you like Him. The world wants to make you like them. Jesus cleanses, the world dirties. Jesus raises, the world drags down. Jesus forgives, the world accuses. Jesus saves, the world condemns. So as a baptized child of God, Jesus says, you’re going to get stomped on. 

Now, sometimes, when you got new sneakers, you could try to dirty them up yourself, try to blend in so your feet wouldn’t get stomped on. Christians sometimes try to do that too. Blend in. Don’t stand out. Look like everyone else. Avoid the conflict, the stomping. But it really didn’t work. You were usually found out. And stomped on even harder. 

But it is only for a time. Because after this, John saw that great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. And look at them now! Dressed in white, their baptismal garments. And there’s no more stomping. No more dirtying. No more tears. No more need. Only the fulfillment of all God’s promises. The fulfillment of the Beatitudes. When Jesus will come again, and again open His mouth in blessing.

Just as He does here. Which is why the Beatitudes are not just a future blessing, but a present one. For the Lord who opened His mouth and spoke through the prophets, the Lord who opened His mouth and spoke the Beatitudes, and the Lord who opened His mouth and spoke through the apostles, is now here and still speaking through His Word. Speaking His Word of adoption in Baptism, speaking His Word of forgiveness in the Absolution, speaking His Word of grace and gifts in the Gospel, and speaking the words of His Testament, giving you His Body and Blood. And then we open our mouths and say AMEN! Just like the angels and the elders and the living creatures do, as we heard in Revelation; the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We join with them and they join us here, one holy communion, one holy fellowship of angels and saints around our Saviour. We open our mouths in confession, in praise, and to satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

And as we do, we know that we will one day join that great multitude. And our faith is strengthened - not in order to receive the gifts, but because we have, and do, and will. From our Father, His Son, our brother, and the Spirit.

So yes, blessed are you! Truly! Even when you don’t feel very blessed, look very blessed, or seem very blessed. Don’t measure your blessedness by how you feel, or by the things of this world and life. As John said, as children of God, what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him. And that’s true because the first time He appeared, He was like us. In human flesh. In lowliness. And He was persecuted, stomped on, and hung on a cross. So that we would be blessed in Him. And so He joined Himself to us to take our sin, to take our debt, to take our death, to take our condemnation and do away with it all. So that when He comes again, it won’t be to be like us, it will be for us to be like Him. Risen, perfect, glorified, and with a life that will never end.

You have that blessing, that promise, now, no matter where your faith-volume-knob happens to be right now. As have the saints throughout the centuries. Those saints in the Old and New Testaments - blessed. Those saints that were forced to huddle in the catacombs - blessed. Those saints who lived under oppressive governments - blessed. Those saints imprisoned or exiled - blessed. In this world they looked cursed, forgotten by God. But now look at them! Quite a different picture, when what was then hidden is now revealed. The world did not know them or care about them, but their Father in heaven did. The Son who held them in His nail-pierced hands did. The Spirit who lived in them did. And was blessing them them whole way. Examples, now, for us. For you, who may be going through some of the same sort of trials. You are not forgotten, or cursed. Blessed are you. Blessed are you when the Lamb is your shepherd in the midst of this world of sin and death.

For life in this world of sin and death can be hard. And frightening. From Covid to social unrest to natural disasters to terrorism to political polarization to the sin of others that comes crashing down on us, and our own sin that so frighteningly comes out of us - and it is frightening when you see what your sin is capable of, isn’t it? Frightening, were it not for the forgiveness of Jesus, for you. All in all, this world is not an easy place. And it is a sad place when our friends and loved ones succumb to the sin, evil, and death in this world. So yeah, there are times when your faith is a ten, and times when it’s a one. And maybe both in the same day sometimes! And while we do not know what the future holds, we do know what the future holds. We don’t know what is going to happen in this world, but we do know what is going to happen for us. We will inherit the kingdom of God.

So rejoice and be glad! Not just when you’re persecuted, but even then. For you are blessed. And while sometimes we wish we could go back to the good ol’ days, when life was simpler and easier, Christians know that the good ol’ days are still to come. Something to look forward to. And not in uncertainty, but because God promised. And if He opens His mouth and promises, it will be. And so we open our mouths and say: AMEN! Come, Lord Jesus!

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

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation


Jesu Juva

“The Freedom of a Christian”

Text: John 8:31-36 (Romans 3:19-28; Psalm 46)

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

Three years ago, 2017, the world celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was a big deal. As I said, the world celebrated it, not just the church. Even the non-religious and those who don’t really appreciate Luther’s theology found in the Reformation the seeds of much of what they think is good and valuable in the world today; making our society what it is - from the division of church and state, to individual choice, to education, and lots more. Luther was hailed as the hero of modernity, of the common man against the machine. Not really what Luther was going for . . . but Luther is one of those people who wrote so much, against so many, and in so many ways, that he is claimed by almost everyone for their cause and interpreted in all kinds of ways.

That was three years ago. This year, not much going on, as far as I’ve heard. The 503rd anniversary of the Reformation just doesn’t have the same ring to it! 

But I would argue that this year, 2020, the 500th anniversary of the year 1520, is far more important than 2017. For while 1517 and the 95 Theses get all the press for getting the Reformation started, they really weren’t that theologically important. What came later was. And what came later was 1520, the year Luther wrote his “three great treatises”: The Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and the one that I want to focus on today, The Freedom of a Christian. These three writings advanced the theology of the Reformation and Scriptural teaching much more than the 95 Theses. 

But today, I want to focus on that third writing, The Freedom of a Christian, not because of Luther! But because of the Holy Gospel that you just heard. The Holy Gospel in which Jesus talks about the freedom of a Christian. The Holy Gospel in which Jesus said: If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. And, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

But what is this freedom that we have in Christ? What does it look like?

Some would like that freedom to be a freedom from all restraint. A radical individuality which means that you can do whatever you want, live however you want, believe whatever you want, say whatever you want, and no one can tell you otherwise. Because you’re free. 

There are two problems with that. First, Jesus said that if you abide in my word, then you are free. And then this: everyone who commits sin is a slave - to sin. So if in your freedom, in your individuality, you are going against the Word of God and sinning, you are, in fact, not free at all, but a slave - to sin. A slave to those sinful urges in you that you are pushing you; that you are serving and satisfying and obeying. Yet sadly, that is how many people today see their freedom: they are free to sin. Even Christians sometimes think this, because, after all, Jesus will forgive me. So I don’t have to worry about how much I sin. 

Now, it shouldn’t take much time or convincing for you to realize that’s not what Jesus meant at all. That’s a very small grain of truth in a great big bag of error! And it’s damaging - to yourself and others. And it has (to use a phrase from the apostle Paul) caused many to shipwreck their faith.

So Luther put it this way; the proper way to look at the Christian life:

A Christian is the freest lord of all, subject to none.

And yet at the same time,

A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Those two statements sound like they contradict each other, but they don’t. They’re both true. And they’re both important and important to keep together. For the first without the second leads to license and the thinking that I can do whatever I want, even sin. But the second without the first leads to legalism and the thinking that my salvation depends on what I do. And we see both of those things in our world and in some churches today. But put together, and kept together, they perfectly describe what Jesus was talking about in the Holy Gospel, and how we live our lives as Christians.

For in Christ, abiding in Him and His Word, you are free. Free from the guilt of your sin. Free from having to earn your place in the kingdom of God. Free from the condemnation and punishment and hell that your sins deserve. Free from having to justify yourself. Free from the accusations of the evil one. Free from the fear of death. For all your sin and guilt were put on Him on the cross. He wanted it! And so also He took the condemnation, punishment, and hell your sins deserved. He atoned for your sin, died in your place, and then broke the bonds of the grave and set you free. He did it all, and so you are free. Justified. A child of God in Him. There is nothing for you to do for this. Nothing you can do. It is, as we heard Paul say today, a gift. From Him to you. From His cross, through the word and water of Baptism, to you. A new you with a new life. The Son has set you free, and you are free indeed! 100%. Subject to none. You will live and reign with Him forever. As Jesus said from the cross: It is finished (John 19:30).

But what now? Sin as much as you want? Indulge your every urge and desire? Of course not. The kingdom of God is not a kingdom of sin. To do that, as Jesus said, is returning to your slavery to sin. It is you being controlled and driven by your old, sinful man and not being the new man, the born again person, that you are, that Christ has made you. 

Rather, Christ has set you free to not be that way anymore; to not be a slave of sin. To be free not to serve your radical, individual self, but to serve your neighbor. In love. As Christ did. As Christ loved you. For the Son of God didn’t have to come down from heaven, take your sins and the sins of the world upon Himself, and die with them. But He did. In love. He was free from the Law but freely made Himself subject to the Law. He had no sin but took your sin. He was rich but made Himself poor. All for you. The God who is free to do anything, and who can do anything, did that! For you! To set you free.

Which really is mind-blowing. For why would God do that for Luther? He was nothing but sin! Why would He do that for you? You’re no prize! Why would He do that for me? Who continues to fall short and fail in so many ways? Why for the Pharisees who kept opposing Him, for the disciples who were so frustratingly slow to understand, for those who put Him on the cross? Because that’s what love does. The God who is love.

And that love has been given to you, forgiving your sins, making you a child of God, giving you the promise of everlasting life. And as that love lives in you, it lives not according to your old, sinful man, but like Christ - giving itself in service to others. Loved ones, family, friends, neighbors, and enemies alike. For the Jesus who did all for you, now says to you: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34-35).

And you can, because you are FREE in Christ. If you had to do something to save yourself, you couldn’t serve your neighbor - you’d have to worry about you. But if you don’t have to worry about you, you are FREE to worry about your neighbor and her needs. You are FREE to serve him, forgive him, help her, love her. Putting their needs above your own, as Jesus did for you.

Not that it’s easy! No one ever said it would be. Faith isn’t easy. But it is good. For to live like this is to live the life for which you were created. The life God meant for you. It‘s satan who doesn’t want you to live that life, but to live for yourself, convincing you that that’s the way to happiness and fulfillment. Whatever you think is right, is right. Whatever you think is good, is good. Whatever you think is best, is best. For Christ set you free, didn’t He? Didn’t He? So enjoy your freedom!

But as many find out, what the devil calls freedom is really slavery. Which shouldn’t surprise us. The devil is a liar. And He lies when he tells you that living like Jesus says is really slavery! You have to do this, you have to do that, you don’t get to do what you want to do, God is a “no fun” God. You don’t get to do what everyone else is doing. You have to obey your parents. That’s no good! . . . But maybe it is good. Maybe what we want isn’t good. Maybe my urges and desires are self-destructive and so to follow them . . . And so satan drives people to despair and hopelessness. And then people dive into more sin, looking for something good. Or they give up. They withdraw from everyone, or even commit suicide. 

And you’ve fallen for satan’s lies, as have I. We’ve lived as slaves and not in the freedom Christ won for us and has for us. But we do not despair or lose hope. We come here, and are set free again. The chains of sin snapped off of us with the Absolution, the joy of our freedom proclaimed in the Gospel, and as we are fed with Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life, to raise us and strengthen us to live in His freedom. Real freedom. The freedom to be the child of God you are.

And with that freedom then comes this too: peace and joy. Peace knowing that your present and your future are secure in Jesus, and so you really have nothing to worry about or fear. And joy that your life has more meaning than just serving yourself and trying to get as much as you can. That’s pretty empty and gets really old really fast. There must be more to life than that, many hope. And there is. When you’re a child of God. When you know the freedom of a Christian. 

So if you’re lacking peace and joy in your life, maybe you’ve been focused too inward, too individually. And when you look there, you won’t find what you’re looking for. Instead, look out. Outside yourself. To God in faith, and to your neighbor in love. And you’ll know that joy that Jesus Himself knew, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Now, cross and joy are two things that normally don’t go together! But they do for Jesus. Who was not looking inward, but outward. Who looked to His Father in faith, and toward you in love. And He was filled with joy, even was faced with the cross. And even on the cross, was able to die in peace.

Sound good? Sound like what you’re looking for? Under the crosses you bear? In this year 2020 which so many folks can’t wait to be over and wish they could delete from history? Maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong. Maybe our lack of peace and joy is from our slavery to sin and our own wishes and desires.

So instead, refocus. Focus inward, your sight is all of out whack and you won’t see properly. But focus outward, and your vision might just be 20/20. To see clearly the love of God for you in Jesus and His cross, to see clearly the victory that is yours in His resurrection, to see clearly all the gifts of God that are yours in Christ Jesus, and then to see clearly that joy that is not in what you get but in what you give. How God is using you to love and provide for others.  You, as a child of God, living in the image of your Father.

That’s how we can have peace and joy even (as we sang in the Psalm earlier) though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though waters roar and foam and mountains tremble, and even in the face of the desolations God has brought upon the earth - like Covid-19. That is so awful and this year is so awful that nothing good will come out of it, right? . . . That’s what they said about the cross, too. 

No, even in the face of all this, Christians are free to live in faith and love, in peace and joy, and proclaim: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress! And as Luther wrote, a mighty one at that. 

Luther wrote about that freedom 500 years ago, and people have needed to hear about that freedom every year since; and maybe this year more than most. But Jesus proclaimed it some 1,500 years before that, and it was God’s plan for you even before the creation of the world! That you live in faith and love, peace and joy, as His dearly loved child. For you have been set free by the Son of God. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!

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