Friday, December 6, 2019

Advent 1 Midweek Sermon

No audio
Jesu Juva

“Waiting for God in the Manger”
Text: Isaiah 64:1-4; James 5:7-11; Luke 1:67-79

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

When God created everything in the beginning, it was good. And all of God’s good creation, working together in perfect harmony, was very good.

When Adam and Eve chose sin over God and all His good, not only they but all of creation was effected; all of creation was plunged into sin with them. Sin that disrupts God’s harmony. Sin that corrupts everything. Even time.

And so time is no longer seen as a good thing. Too much of it and we’re bored. Too little of it and we’re anxious and harried. Time is never just right - it either flies or drags. Sometimes we want more and sometimes we wish it would hurry up. We waste time. We try to buy time. We hate wasting time waiting in lines at the store and in traffic jams. Time is no ally, but something to beat, to conquer, to rule, to tame, to control. In the world. In life.

But the Church has a different relationship to time. God’s people wait. We are a waiting people. Waiting for Him. For His Word to be fulfilled.

In the Old Testament, waiting how many centuries for the promise of a Saviour to be fulfilled? Crying out like we heard from the prophet Isaiah tonight: Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! And through all the waiting, mocking from a world that considers such waiting and delay proof of untruthfulness and foolishness. 

But come the Saviour did. Zechariah was the first to hear of it, to be told, that the time of waiting was over. That the time had come. That God, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old . . . has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David . . . fulfilling the oath that he swore to our father Abraham. And Zechariah was the first to hear of this because his son would be the one to go before the Saviour and announce His coming. Announce that the long-awaited mercy of God had come. 

And fifteen months later, God did come. Born to a man and a virgin betrothed but not yet married, of the house and lineage of David, who traveled to Bethlehem to pay the census tax, laid Him in a manger, and then welcomed some shepherds who came and worshiped Him because some angels had told them of this birth.

But still the Church waits. Now waiting for the God in the manger to come again, as He promised. Now not to save, but to make all things new. Waiting for the beginning of the new creation. A good and perfect creation again.

And so for twenty centuries now, the Church has sung in her liturgy “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

For twenty centuries now, the Church has prayed “Come, Lord Jesus!” And has heard the answer, “Surely, I am coming soon.”

For twenty centuries, the Church has been proclaiming and waiting, and hearing - like the saints of the Old Testament - the mocking question: Where is He? This one you are waiting for? Where is the promise of His coming? Everything goes on as usual! As if such waiting and delay proof of untruthfulness and foolishness.

And through all these centuries, even to this very day, we have no other answer than the Word of God. We must be patient, for He is patient. The Lord waits for He wants none to perish. The Lord is compassionate and merciful. The Judge is standing at the door, but He has not yet entered. There is still time. To turn. To repent. To believe. It is for us to wait and remain steadfast. 

So we wait. Would it be better is Jesus had already come? If He would come now? NO. Jesus will come at exactly the right time. The best time. For He who created time and rules time and for whom time is not passing but eternal, knows the time.

We do not. The world does not. For us, time is passing. So we cannot wait. At least, we think we can’t. We must have everything immediately, now. For there may not be a tomorrow. And, some would think, since the Church never gets what she’s waiting for, it must not be true. Or real. Or worth anything. Jesus’ coming then as a baby, or now. An Advent Church, a waiting Church, is a fool in the eyes of the world.

Yet here we are. Adventing again. Waiting again.

But for some, instead of waiting, maybe something new would make the difference. If you don’t want to wait for a bus, call an Uber. Instead of going to the store and preparing your meal, call and have it delivered. So the Church, too? Maybe something new, a new focus, a new message - not just the same old waiting that has been so long disappointing. 

But that would not be the truth. The Church lives by an old hope, an old faith. The world wants new and quick - new research, new science, new worldviews, new stories for itching ears. But that is not what we have. The Church always has an old truth. We proclaim what has always been proclaimed - the greatest action of God that happened once for all. The message of the angels that unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this message of the angels, too: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.

We have no other message that we could proclaim and still be true to ourselves and to our King. 

So if we must wait, we wait. And we wait with the confidence and hope that Isaiah spoke: 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.

So we wait, but we wait not alone. We wait together, as the Body of Christ. And we wait with the Body and Blood of Christ nourishing and sustaining us as we wait. That when that very same Body and Blood comes again in glory, we welcome the one who has been with us all along, just hidden here and now to the faithless and unbelieving. But to us, to whom the Word has come and in whom the Spirit of God is working, we see what cannot be seen, and we wait for the coming one. For surely He is coming soon

And with such a faith, maybe we can begin to see time differently. No longer as a foe, something to beat, to conquer, to rule, to tame, or to control - but as a gift. Each day, each moment, a gift, a mercy, to receive good and to give it; to wait and see what the Lord will do for us, and through us for others. Until time is no more - only eternity. Eternity with the one who is all good and only good. Eternity with the God who was in the manger.

Which, I think, is something worth waiting for.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[Some of the thoughts and words in this sermon from Herman Sasse, “Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent” (1936) in Witness: Sermons Preached in Erlangen and Congregational Lectures, trans. by Bror Erickson (Saginaw, MI: Magdeburg Press, 2013), p 47-55.]

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Advent 1 (December 2-7, 2019)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Romans 15:13 - “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #344 “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry”
Hymns for Sunday: 354, 357 (v. 4), 344, 637, 347, 342, 352

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

Monday: Psalm 72:1-7
Where alone is true justice and righteousness to be found? Why?

Why didn’t God just tell us when the end will be? Why is it better that we don’t know?

Wednesday: Luke 21:25-36
The world will be falling apart when Jesus comes again. Why? What will Jesus then do? How is He doing this for you, now?

Thursday: Isaiah 11:1-10
How will new and right life come from a dead stump? Who is this branch of new life? How is He different than others?

Why does Paul call God the “God of hope?” What hope do you need? What hope does He give?

Saturday: Matthew 3:1-12
What separates the wheat from the chaff? Is there both true and false repentance? What’s the difference?

The Catechism - The Lord’s Prayer: The Fourth Petition [part 1] – Give us this day our daily bread. What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the Christmas season to not ruin our Advent season of joyful repentance and anticipation.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Church Technology Council.
+ the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Lutheran Bible Translators.
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!

Advent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“No Christmas?!”
Text: Matthew 21:1-11; Romans 13:8-14

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

So, whaddya think? Just skip Christmas this year? Forget the whole thing. Call it off. Maybe that thought horrifies you. Stores and retailers and the Hallmark Channel would certainly be. For they, like some people, look forward to Christmas all year. But that may in fact be God’s plan. That there would be no Christmas this year, because the King is coming back before then. 

That reality, or the possibility of it, is the reason, in fact, for this season of Advent which we begin today. This season, these four weeks before Christmas, aren’t here to get us ready to celebrate Christmas, but to prepare us not to. To prepare us for if there is no Christmas this year, and for that possibility to fill us not with sadness, but with joy! Because when the King comes back, when Jesus comes back, it will be for us a day of unrivaled joy. A day the joy of all your best Christmases put together would not even begin to compare.

Besides, you don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas . . . as it has become. Even many unbelievers sing the carols that speak of Jesus’ birth - but don’t really care about it. They believe it happened, I suppose. Historically speaking. But it doesn’t mean anything to them. He has no relevance for their lives.

So if all the Church does during Advent is prepare for Christmas, we are no different than the world, and no better for it. So it must be more than that. And it is. Advent prepares us for if there is no Christmas this year, and helps us see once again that Christmas is not the big celebration that comes at the end of every year, but the beginning of something new. Not the end of an old year, but the beginning of a new life.

And so we heard today the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem - entering the city He knows will kill Him. It’s very unChristmassy. It’s adult Jesus, not baby Jesus. The donkey’s not looking into the manger, but being ridden on by the one who once laid in it. It’s not the beginning of Jesus’ life in this world, but mere days from the end of it. And it’s not the angels singing Glory to God in the highest (Luke 2:14) to shepherds, but the crowds shouting out Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

We’ll sing Glory to God in the Highest, too . . . soon . . . when we celebrate Christmas - IF we do! But for now, we sing Hosanna. Every week. In the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. Hosanna is a very adventy word. Glory to God is an announcement, a proclamation. Hosanna is a prayer. It means: Help us, Lord. Save us. Intervene and rescue us. The people of Jerusalem were crying that out in their distress and confessing their faith. That Jesus is the Son of David. The one who could save them and rescue them. The promised one come to be their king again. To set things right again. 

That’s a good prayer. It’s a good desire. It’s the how the surprises. That Jesus’ throne is a cross, His crown is of thorns, and that He saves by not saving Himself. That’s not how the world does things. That’s why Pontius Pilate is so flummoxed. What do you do with a king whose kingdom is not of this world? What do you do with a king who fights not with weapons but with words? What do you do with a king who is not about power but about truth?

We might ask the same. Jesus humility is proof for some that He cannot be God. No God worth His salt, no God worth believing in, would be like that. But to others, though - to us! - this is rather the deepest revelation of His nature. A contradiction only in this world. That’s God’s almighty power is joined with a boundless love so great it allows Him - no, it compels Him! - to be trampled upon and sacrificed to save the children He loves. 

And so those prayers of Hosanna are answered with His It is finished. He loses His life that we might gain our own. That we might gain a life in Him, a life that is eternal; not a life that is here today and gone tomorrow. Not a life that is found in the things of this world. We already have that kind of life. Jesus has come to give us more than that, and better than that. 

So the Church, in her wisdom, put Hosanna into the liturgy for us to sing every week. It doesn’t have to be there, but it’s good that it is. To teach us, as Paul said to us today, that salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. That one year, there really won’t be a Christmas. And that that’s a good thing. 

So what if you knew . . . what if you knew that this would be the year? The year with no Christmas? That, again to use Paul’s words, the day is at hand. The day of the Lord’s coming. That sometime in the next 24 days, the King is coming back. You will see Jesus. What would you do . . . now?

Well, this is what Paul said: So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. So have you? Cast these things off? Or have you indulged your sinful desires and welcomed the darkness that hides you and keeps you safe? Have you Hosanna-ed Jesus to save you from these? Or are you not quite ready to leave them yet? 

Truth is, we are and we aren’t. We do and we don’t. We’re one way one day and different the next. Even hour to hour! But what if you knew there would be no Christmas this year? Would you change?

That’s the possibility this season of Advent is putting before you. And calling you to repentance and change. That whether Jesus comes again soon or not, that whether we get to celebrate Christmas or not, your life be filled not with the works of darkness, but with love and joy. Which is exactly why Jesus entered this world; and entered Jerusalem on that donkey. To provide that for you. To give you that kind of new life.

Which He did on the Church’s own Black Friday - only we call it Good. For retailers, Black Friday is (or at least, used to be) the day when the red ink of debt in their financial ledgers would turn black - their debts paid and all now to the good. So too for us. Jesus’ Black Friday is the day when the red ink of our sinful debt to God was washed away by the red blood of Jesus shed on the cross. So we’re on the right side of the ledger again with God. Not the side of sin and death, but the side of resurrection and life. In the black, because we’re white - washed clean and righteous again. So that if Christmas doesn’t come this year, that’s okay. It will be a day even better.

Maybe that’s hard to imagine. That’s okay. We learn. We grow. And it’s always by faith - faith that what Jesus has told us is true. But not blind faith, but faith that looks to the cross and empty tomb and says amen! My sin paid for, my death defeated. Jesus answered my Hosanna. It is finished

But we still live in a sin-filled world and sunful bodies and lives. And so still today we pray our Hosannas, for still today there is darkness in our hearts and in our lives, in our thoughts and our desires, in our words and our deeds. We have given ourselves to what we should not, have not loved God above all things, and have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have favored our own agendas rather than the truth. We’d rather lead God in the way we want Him to go, rather than follow Him in the way we should go. We don’t want to learn from God’s Word as much as be wiser than it. It’s true. 

And so we will pray Hosanna! once again, today - Help us Lord! Save us! -  and it will never be more true. And today Jesus will answer: Take and eat, this is My Body given for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. I come for you now, I come to you now, here in this way, giving you the fruit from the tree of My cross, My forgiveness and life and my it is finished, that you be ready. Ready for no more Christmases on earth, but the eternal Christmas of heaven. Ready to join the shepherds, the crowds, and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven around the King in His glory. 

That’s what this season of Advent would prepare us for. That if Christmas comes, we rejoice in the coming of our Saviour in humility. And if Christmas does not come this year, we’ll rejoice even more in the coming of our Saviour in glory. And that we live this season and every day, knowing that salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. And that the night is far gone; the day is at hand. The day when those nail-pierced hands of Jesus will welcome us home. 

So skip Christmas this year? Forget the whole thing? Call it off? I don’t know. Above my pay grade! We’ll let God decide that. We’ll just pray Saviour of the nations, come! (LSB #332) And if we’re ready for that, we’ll be ready for Christmas, too.

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

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Eve of National Thanksgiving Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Where Does Thankfulness Come From?”
Text: Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20

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

A typical Thanksgiving sermon goes something like this: We should be thankful. We are not thankful - or, not enough anyway. So be thankful! Amen.

That doesn’t work very well, though. We know what we should do. We know how we should be. But why are we like that? Why do many fail at thanksgiving every other day but Thanksgiving? Why has the art of the thank you note vanished? Why do we so often forget to give thanks, for one another, for what we have been given?

Perhaps the answer lies in what makes Thanksgiving Day so successful one day a year. What happens on this day that makes it special and unique and sets it apart from all other days? 

Well, it is, they say, the busiest travel time of the year. People go home. We go to be with family. We leave our isolation and our inward focus for a day or two to be with others and focus on them. We share ourselves and give of ourselves. On this day, time isn’t the enemy or something to beat, but something to share. We make an effort for others - to cook for them, to be there with them, to tell them that we appreciate them. And it’s right. It feels right. Like the way things should be. Because it is.

So, it seems that thankfulness is something we cannot do well by ourselves in isolation. Thankfulness is best done with others, is best shared with others, and when we share with others - sharing ourselves and what we have.

Which is why, I think, in our increasingly individualistic and isolated world, where friends are virtual, names are a list in our contacts, phones are answered by machines or voice mail, and conversation is by text . . . where we are together less and less, no wonder thankfulness is such a rare commodity these days. 

But it’s not only that we have squeezed each other out of our lives - how often does God, too, get squeezed out? Our knowledge of the world and how things work in nature and medicine and science means that God is not looked to so much anymore for what we need. The rain doesn’t come from God but from that low pressure system making its way across the country. The harvest comes from genetically engineered seeds, precision GPS guided plowing and reaping, and well-timed irrigation. My healing comes from a pill or an operation or stem cells re-creating in our bodies what time and disease have taken away. And in such a picture, God is so very far away - from my thoughts, from my life, from my reality. He is not in my mind, and so am I even in His? And so giving thanks? Well, it’s just not in the picture.

But then something goes wrong. Rains become floods, the harvest comes in short, the medicine doesn’t work, and sickness becomes death. And then we wonder why is God so far away? But that’s where we’ve put Him, isn’t it? 

But then what happens? Communities come together to help those effected by natural disaster. We give to the needy. Families come together to mourn. And thanksgiving blossoms again, in the midst of struggle and hurt. Because in the midst of these we are forced out of our individual and isolated lives and put together again. And we focus on others. We share ourselves and give of ourselves. We make an effort for others. And it’s right. It feels right. Like the way things should be. Because it is.

It’s why people who have lost everything are often so thankful. In the midst of something gone horribly wrong, there is something right. And we see the hand of God at work for us. The hand that wasn’t not there before - it most certainly was. We were just blinded to it. By our sin. By our stuff. By our success. By our bounty. So how fortunate when what is blinding us is then taken away, and we see again. And give thanks.

Perhaps that is what happens on Thanksgiving. Or at least, part of it. We see again. We see each other again. As not just as a name on a list or a friend with a like, but as gifts from God.

And so it was on the road that day that marked the border between Samaria and Galilee. A traveler came and broke the isolation of ten lepers. God in the flesh, come to be with His people. Not a God far away, but a God near. To share Himself and give of Himself. To give healing and life. And a Samaritan, an outsider among the Jews and an outcast because of his leprosy, got not only the gift of healing, but a family of faith. Someone who came to be with Him. And so there is thanks.

And it is this same God in the flesh, God with us, who then traveled the road to Jerusalem, to give more. To ascend the cross to give Himself and His life for us. For the forgiveness of our sins. That we be His family of faith. To be not a God far away (which, in fact, He never is), but a God near. God with us. 

And so it is this night, as this same God of life comes to be with us. God in flesh and blood, come to be with us. Our God now preached into our ears and placed into our mouths. To share of Himself and give of Himself. To give us the healing of forgiveness and life eternal. And we sinners receive not only these gifts, but a family of faith. And so there is thanks. Thanks be to God!

Thankfulness that we then share with others. Not because it is a rule or something we have to do, but because that’s what thankfulness does. It is not an isolated thing, but a shared thing. It is joy that is shared. It is giving what we have received. It is living in the image of God. And we know, this is right. The way things should be. 

It is what the Philippians did with Paul. Paul didn’t ask for their help, but they couldn’t do otherwise. And though far apart in distance, they were close in heart and faith. And so there is giving, sharing, thanksgiving.

And so it is good that we have a day set aside for this, to help us see again. To help us learn again thankfulness and how it is. A day not to be the only day of thanksgiving, but the first of many. The model that can help us make everyday a day of thanksgiving and a life of thanksgiving. A day to see again the God who is near, the God who has given us all, and who won’t stop. So that we, too, can give of ourselves and share ourselves and so regain the thankfulness and joy we seem to so often lose. Or at least misplaced. Until we see our place in Jesus again. Until we see His place on the cross again, where all is made right again. The way things should be. Right with God in Jesus, so we can be right with each other in love.

And we bless the Lord for His steadfast love.

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Last Sunday of Church Year Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: Luke 23:27-40; Colossians 1:13-20; Malachi 3:13-18

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

Today you will be with me in Paradise.

Someday, those words will be spoken to you. When the one who spoke them to the criminal on the cross next to Him comes to speak them to you. Where will you be when He does? When will it be for you? How will it be for you? None of us knows. But those words will be just as true for you as they were for that criminal, and will deliver for you the same: eternal life. Death and the grave will not be your end. Life will. Life in a “today” that has no end.

But before Jesus speaks those words to you, there are others He speaks to you now. No less powerful. No less life-giving. Words of hope. Words of truth.

Today you are My child. He spoke that to you when you were baptized. And you are. A child of God. On that day, born again, born from above, into the family of God. He made you His child. He gave you His name. And on that day, you began to live a new life. A new life in a “today” that will never end. 

Today your sins are forgiven. He spoke that to you again today. And they are. Your sins cannot condemn you; they are forgiven. Your sins cannot and will not be held against you; they are forgiven. God will not judge you because of your worst moments and deeds, but because of His Son’s perfect sacrifice and deeds for you. Your sins are forgiven, for they were given to Jesus on the cross, and His life given to you.

And so because you are His child and because your sins are forgiven, this too - you will hear these words too, one day: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

What’s the alternative? Today you will be dead. Just dead. You will cease to exist. That’s what some believe. Or, today you are condemned. Sadly, that will happen to some. But those are not words God wants to speak to anyone. What God wants to say, to you and me and all people, is: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

So why doesn’t He? Just say that to all people? Well, what do you think would have happened if Jesus had turned to the criminal on that other cross, on the other side of Him, and said that. What would have been the response? A hearty laugh? Yeah, right! More ridicule? How can you save me? You can’t even save yourself! Or maybe some spit spewed Jesus’ way? Jesus’ words of grace would have been rejected, the same as some reject them today. Baptism? Repentance? Forgiveness? No thanks. 

But we here today say: Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God for His baptism which, to use the words that we heard today from Saint Paul, has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The domain of darkness. Our world today calls itself enlightened, and thinks that Christians are the ones in the dark. God says it’s the other way around. But one thing all of us can agree on, I think: this world ain’t Paradise. There is evil. There is death. There is hatred. We live in the cancel culture. Don’t love your enemy, eliminate them. With your words. Or even with the deed.

But this is nothing new. Some say the times we live in are the worst they’ve ever been. I doubt that. Death and revenge and hate really is the oldest profession in the world. So Cain killed Abel. Saul tried to off David. Isaiah was sawn in two. Paul had his head chopped off. Peter was crucified upside down. Early martyrs were fed to the beasts or to the flames. A price was put on Luther’s head. Or think of just a few years ago, when 21 young men knelt on a beach in Libya and had their throats sliced and their heads severed from their bodies. Domain of darkness, indeed.

We could also speak of genocide, the Holocaust, and the modern day holocaust of abortion. People deceived into thinking that mercy killing and assisted suicide will give you what you need and is the answer to your problem. Or trying to escape through drugs or being someone you’re not. Domain of darkness. The darkness within . . . against ourselves, condemning us. The darkness within . . . coming out against others, condemning them.

But in the midst of this darkness, and this world that certainly ain’t Paradise, there is hope. The hope of the criminal on the cross next to Jesus. That even in the very midst of darkness, evil, and death, the love of Jesus is greater. The love that kept Him on that cross and would not let Him jump down and save Himself. The love that enabled Him to pray for forgiveness for others, even while hanging on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. The love that brought Him here into our darkness in the first place, to do something about it. To be swallowed up by the darkness of evil, sin, and death - in your place - that He might speak these words to you and to all: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

Now, the dead can’t speak - at least, I’ve never heard a dead person speak! And so to speak those words to you, that means Jesus cannot be dead, but alive. Risen. Resurrected. Victorious. The grave that once held Him as empty as the cross that once held Him. And the voice that called forth life in creation now calling forth life from the dead. Giving life to those now dead in their trespasses and sins, and giving life to those who have here breathed their last in faith. For Jesus risen from the dead means that the domain of darkness - as strong as it is and as long as it’s been - didn’t win. He won. Life won.

And that’s true even though we’re still living in a very dark world. It’s why Paul and Peter and martyrs across time, even to those 21 young men on a Libyan beach, could offer their bodies and necks to sword, teeth, nails, and flame - they knew the victory has been won! That not even death could end their life. That when their bodies succumbed to death, their ears would hear these words: Today you will be with me in Paradise. Words spoken not as a reward for our killing others, as some today believe. But words spoken to us because of the one who gave His life for us.

And if that’s true - and it is! For try as they might, no one has even found Jesus’ body or bones and never will. If that’s true - and it is! - then we have been given a life that is certain and sure and cannot be taken from us. And so we can now use this life that has been given to us, and that cannot be taken from us, for others. We can now lay down that life for others. With that same love Jesus gave to us. With that same forgiveness Jesus gave to us. With that life Jesus has given to us. For even though we are still living in this domain of darkness, Saint Paul was right - we have been delivered from it, and transferred to the kingdom of the Son. A kingdom which has no end.

That’s our message this Last Sunday of the Church Year. This Sunday set aside to look with anticipation to when Jesus comes again in glory. That the victory has been won and the victory is ours. You may not see it right now. You might not feel very victorious. It might seem to you as it seemed in the prophet Malachi’s day, that the arrogant are blessed, and evildoers not only prosper, but put God to the test and escape. So what’s the use? Why follow the Lord? Why believe? 

Because it will not always be so. The domain of darkness is coming to an end. This world ain’t Paradise and never will be, but that doesn’t mean Paradise doesn’t exist. It does, and one day - maybe soon! - you will be with your Saviour there. He promised. He spoke it. And He did it. And as empty as the cross and grave that once held Him, so will be the cross you bear and the grave you will lie in - they will be empty, too. When you, too, hear those words, Today you will be with me in Paradise, and when the risen and victorious Jesus comes again, this time in glory, and all His angels with Him, and your body will rise - perfect, sinless, glorified.
Until that day, until we are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, we confess this. We confess Him. We speak the Word of God. We speak the word of truth. We speak Jesus. And we live Jesus. We live in His love and forgiveness, and we give His love and forgiveness. And we do all this knowing we don’t have to win. Jesus already won for us. So you don’t have to come out on top. You don’t have to be first or best of the greatest or the highest. You already have the victory. You can serve and give and do for others. You can give your life because Jesus gives you His life. Today we’ll eat His Body and drink His Blood and have His life in us. Life that never runs out. Life that will never end.

So we speak and live in Him and His victory, and He will do the rest. He always has. And He always will. It is now for us to trust. In that. In Him. For ourselves, for our children. That when we close our eyes and bow our heads like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus, it is not in defeat, but in victory. It will be our “today.” Paradise awaits. 

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pentecost 23 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Dawning of a New Day”
Text: Malachi 4:1-6 (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-28)

(I wrote a version of this sermon for Concordia Pulpit Resources for this year. This is my edited and expanded version of that sermon.)

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

The sun came up this morning. Okay - I can tell you’re not impressed, or surprised! The sun comes up every morning, right? Whether you like it or not.

And honestly, there are some mornings we like it and some mornings we don’t. There is the first day of vacation and there is the first day of school. There is Christmas morning and there is the morning of your dentist appointment. There is the morning of the day you are getting married, and there is the morning of the day you are going to bid farewell to a loved one in a cemetery beside a six foot deep hole. The sun comes up, whether you want it to or not.

And whether you’re ready for it or not. Whether your homework for school or your presentation for work is done or not - the sun’s coming up. Whether you’re ready for the exam or not - the sun’s coming up. Whether you’re ready to preach or not. The sun comes up and a new day dawns . . . ready or not.

But this is not a lecture about nature. Thus spake the prophet Malachi

For so he told the people of Israel (and as we heard in the Old Testament reading today): the sun is going to rise. The sun of righteousness. And some will want it to, and some will not. Some will be ready, and some will not. For some it will be a day of joy, but for others it will be a day of dread. For the arrogant and the evildoers, the sun of righteousness shall arise and they shall be set ablaze, Malachi says. But for those who fear the name of the Lord, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in His wings, and they shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. Leaping at the joy of this new day.

The new day that dawns when Jesus comes. First, when He comes as the sun of righteousness who arose from heaven and came down to be our Saviour. God incarnate. God enfleshed. To die for us - for the healing forgiveness of our sins. And then second, when He comes as the sun of righteousness who could not be swallowed up by the darkness of death. When He rose again . . . from that death. With healing. With life. For a new day. A resurrection day. When the darkness was scattered and the light won. When death was overcome and Life won. 

But there’s one more time - a third time - the sun of righteousness is going to rise, on the Last Day, when the light of His glory will shine on every person, living and dead. When those who have died will rise to life again. And some will like it and some will not. Some will be ready and some will not. For some it will be a day of dread and for some it will be a day of joy and eternal life.

But which of those three sun rises is Malachi talking about? telling us about today, as we heard? Well, living 400 or so years before Jesus was born, of course he is speaking of when the Son of God arose to be born a man. But He became man to die, and He died to rise, and He ascended to return. To speak of one of those sun rises is to speak of all of them. They’re connected. In fact, they’re really all one big work of God for you. And so Malachi writes about this sun rise, this Son rising, because he wants you to be ready. And joyful. To not dread that day when it comes for you, but look forward to it in faith.

The people in Malachi’s day, though you see, were not ready. They why they needed him to preach to them. But they should have been ready. It had not been that long since the nation had been defeated by the Babylonians and taken away as prisoners of war, exiled from their homes. The Babylonians had come in and leveled the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. It wasn’t even a contest, a real war. It was a rout. Completely one-sided. Utter and complete destruction. God’s discipline for their sin. God had sent other prophets to tell them that.

And then after 70 years living in exile in a foreign land, the people returned. Just as God had also promised. And when they returned, they rebuilt the city, the walls, the Temple, their homes, their businesses . . . but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t as strong. It wasn’t as glorious. It was a constant reminder of what happens when you turn away from God.

Yet turn away again they did! They got things up and running, but all was not well. Short memories, stubborn hearts, and the allure of sin were winning. The people doubted God’s love. They were despising His name. And so in their sacrifices, they weren’t offering to God animals worthy of Him, but ones they didn’t want - those that were blemished and lame and blind. They weren’t paying their tithes but keeping for themselves. And maybe worst of all, with all this going on, they were accusing God of not being fair and doing wrong! 

So God, as He had so often in the past, sent them a prophet to preach to them. The truth. He sent Malachi to call them to repentance. To repent of what they were doing. To repent of what they thought of Him. And to remember. To remember the law of Moses, the statutes and rules that God commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Remember . . . or instead of that morning being one of leaping like calves in joy, they will be reduced to weeping piles of stubble and set ablaze.

But remembering the law of Moses didn’t just mean remembering the Ten Commandments, straightening up, and being good. It meant much more than that, because God gave Moses much more than that at Horeb, or as you better know that place as, Mt. Sinai. For after giving Moses the Commandments on the top of that mountain, God then also gave Moses the instructions for the Tabernacle - the mobile Temple - the place where God would dwell with His people for the forgiveness of their sins. 

And so the Tabernacle was the place (to use words from Luke that we heard today) where God’s people would straighten up, raise their heads, and look for the day their Saviour would rise up. The Commandments would show them their sin and call them to repentance, and the Tabernacle would show them their Saviour and give them forgiveness. That they wait with eager hearts for His morning. For His new day. For His coming.

So thus spake Malachi. But Malachi isn’t preaching to the people back then today - He’s preaching to you. So how are you? How is it with you? Are you eager for Jesus to come again? For the Last Day? Are you ready for that day?  . . .  Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe sometimes

It’s hard, isn’t it? There’s so much to do and so little time. We’re busier than ever and work more and harder than ever. Our lives are complicated and money is short. There may even be times when you doubt God’s love because of what is going on in your life and how things in this world perhaps seem so unfair and unjust. Like the people of Malachi’s day, maybe your memory of all that God has done for you in the past is short, your heart stubborn, and the allure of sin strong. So God gets the short stick in your busy life, you prioritize other things before Him, keep more for yourself and give less to Him - you know, just whatever’s left . . . So maybe you’re hitting the snooze button on your spiritual alarm clock. 5 more minutes . . . one more thing . . . a little more enjoyment of this . . . and so you really don’t want that sun to rise. You know which one. Not yet. Because you’re not ready. Because you know you’re not who you should be. 

And like the people of Malachi’s day, we should know better, should we? Don’t we? The evidence of our need, of our sin, well . . . we see it in our lives, and it’s all around us. We see signs of it like Luke talked about. And when the when the sun of righteousness arises, when Jesus comes back again, maybe you don’t know what He’ll think of you . . .

Well God does not want you to doubt, be unprepared for that day, or fear that day. So ever merciful, he promises us a rooster, so to speak, who will herald the rising of the sun of righteousness now. That we repent and not only be ready, but joyful at His coming. Malachi calls him Elijah. John the Baptist is the name he goes by in the New Testament. He will proclaim repentance, but even more than that he will point to Jesus and crow at the Son: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His way of saying: Behold the sun of righteousness with healing in His wings. Healing for you. For you, sick and sluggish with sin, weighed down by life, and in need of forgiveness and joy.

And the thing about roosters: roosters don’t have snooze buttons! They just crow. Unless you cut their heads off. That happened to John. But as Herod found out, you can’t stop John from crowing that easily. His words continued to crow in Herod’s heart and mind, and his words continue to crow for us. To crow the dawning of salvation for us. From the Jordan to the Font to the Absolution to the Altar, the Son is rising to scatter the darkness of our hearts. The Lamb of God is taking away your sin. That’s why we sing John’s words right before coming to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus every week: here is Jesus’ healing touch for you. And this healing, this forgiveness, proclaimed to you, washed over you, and placed into your mouths in His Supper, answers the question: When the sun of righteousness arises, when Jesus comes back again, what will He think of me? It will be the same as He thinks of you now as He rises upon you now: you are forgiven. You are Mine.

And so because of Jesus, that day really will be the dawning of a new day for you. A great and awesome day of joy. And His coming to us now, here, preparing us for that day.

And so in just a few weeks - five, actually - we’ll sing of this sun of righteousness with great joy as we rejoice in His coming in the flesh. For we’ll sing these words of Malachi in a well-known carol:

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! 
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, 
Ris’n with healing in His wings (LSB #380 v. 3).

And as He is risen, so are you, already now. With His forgiveness, each day, a new day in Him. With His forgiveness, each day dying to sin and rising in Him to live a new life. A day to serve others, and as Paul said today, never growing weary of doing good. Never growing weary, for you have His strength, His love, His life.

After Malachi preached it was another 400 years or so until the sun of righteousness arose and the rooster named John crowed. How long will it be for you? How long will it be until Jesus comes again? When that Son rises in glory? We don’t know and Jesus isn’t telling.

But until that day comes for you, you can live in the confidence of His forgiveness and in joy, knowing that whenever that day comes, with repentance and faith, with His forgiveness and life, you are ready. And it will be a morning unlike any other. And just as John leaped for joy when the still in utero Jesus came to visit him, so you too will leap for joy when Jesus comes for you, and you will leap with John in the day that has no end. The day of heaven. The eternal day. When the sun of righteousness will shine, never to set again.

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