Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Eve Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What You Have, Not What You Don’t
Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Philippians 4:6-20; Luke 17:11-19

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

Abraham Lincoln issued his famous decree establishing a Day of National Thanksgiving 152 years ago. But he wasn’t the first. Moses beat him two it by a few thousand years! 

We heard from Moses in the reading from Deuteronomy, which is the sermon Moses preached to the people of Israel on the border of the Promised Land. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they were finally about to enter this good land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranites, of olive trees and honey, in which they will eat bread without scarcity and lack nothing, who stones are iron and out of whose hills they would dig copper. When you go in, when the Lord brings you in - for it is His doing, after all; when you eat and are full, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Or in other words, have a day of Thanksgiving. For that is what “bless the Lord” means. When the word bless is used from the greater to the lesser, gifts are given. When it is used from the lesser to the greater, thanks are given for the gifts, the blessings, bestowed. And so it is here. Give God thanks for all that He has done, Moses says - and not just in now giving you this land, but for the past 40 years. Because for the past 40 years, what had the Lord done? Moses reminded them: He fed them with manna. Their clothes did not wear out and their foot did not swell. In other words, He provided for their every physical need. 

But they hadn’t been giving Him thanks all along. In fact, as you read through the accounts of their journey in Exodus and Numbers, it is one long litany of groaning, grumbling, and complaining. Constantly. Not because of what they had, but because of what they didn’t have. That was their focus. In their minds, all the gifts they had paled in comparison to what they didn’t have, what they wanted and thought they needed - which stifled their thanksgiving.

Which (if you’re like me) you can completely understand. How often do the gifts we have take a back seat in our minds to what we don’t have, what we want, and what we think we need? And stifle our thanksgiving.

I don’t know if the Philippians were having the same problem. It’s possible, maybe even probable, they were, if the people in Moses’ day did and we today do. So Paul said to them (and to us): Pray and let your requests be made known to God. Nothing wrong with that. But, he says, do it not with grumbling, groaning, and complaining, but with thanksgiving. And then he goes on to tell them not to think about what they don’t have, but whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Now what makes Paul’s words here remarkable is that he wrote them while in prison. It certainly would have been easy for him to grumble, groan, and complain; to think about all he could be doing if he weren’t under house arrest, if God would have just worked out everything better - if his focus were on what he didn’t have, like his freedom. Instead, focusing on the gifts he has, both from God and from the Philippians, he celebrates a Thanksgiving, of sorts, right there in prison. Thanking God for the concern and gifts of the Philippians - what he does have - and giving glory to God. He is content, he says, because wherever he is and however he is, he knows that God is working good. The eyes and heart may question that, but faith says yes.

Which leads us to the third reading for this night, and the faith of the Samaritan leper. We are not told why the other nine did not return and gives thanks for their healing. Maybe they were too excited to return to their families and loved ones; maybe they wanted to do what Jesus told them to do, and show themselves to the priests; or maybe their mamas didn’t raise them right and it just didn’t enter their minds. We don’t know. But the gifts of God are given to all and not taken back because of ungratefulness. Which is good news not just for the world, but for us as well - when we forget or take for granted. God continues to provide sun and rain, food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, spouses and children, and so many good gifts. To believers and unbelievers alike. For that’s who He is: a giving God, who loves to give and can’t stop giving.

But in his returning and giving thanks, the Samaritan leper wasn’t better than the rest, but received another gift - this one too given by grace, but received only through faith. Our English translations rendered Jesus’ words: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. But all ten lepers were made well, and as I said,  Jesus didn’t take back his gift because of their ingratitude. So a more literal translation there would be better: Rise and go, your faith has saved you.

For that’s the bottom line. All the gifts of God aren’t the point, and the healing of these ten men from their leprousy wasn’t the point. And Jesus didn’t have to come to give those gifts. He had been giving those kinds of gifts all throughout the Old Testament, including healing from leprosy. But Jesus did have to come for this: to save. To save from sin. To lay down his life on the cross for the salvation of the whole world. And again note: for the whole world. This gift is for all people as well. But unlike the other gifts, is received only through faith. So by returning, the Samaritan leper received much more than physical healing from leprosy. He got Jesus. 

And very soon now you’ll receive that gift tonight too. We’re not better than everyone else because were here tonight and they’re not. That’s a prideful temptation so easy to fall into. But by being here tonight, as we give thanks, as we bless the Lord, we get this too: Jesus. His Body and Blood given and shed for you, will be given to you, placed into your mouths and poured over your lips, for the forgiveness of your sins. And there is no better gift than that. For all the other gifts, the gifts of this world and life, will pass away. But this gift will not. This gift, this Jesus, will bless us both here and beyond this life, to that life which has no end. 

So let us bless the Lord, for all His gifts. Whether you’re on the journey or on the border of passing to the next land, the next life, whether free or in prison, or with or without disease. Be we single or married, employed or unemployed, at home or away from home . . . It’s not about what you don’t have, but what you do. And this you do: Jesus. No matter what else happens, or comes or goes, you have Him. And when you have Him, you have His life, His home, and His salvation. You have it now, and you’ll have it forever.

So let us bless the Lord! Thanks be to God!

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Last Week of the Church Year (November 23-28, 2015)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Deuteronomy 8:3 - “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #332 “Savior of the Nations, Come”
Hymns for Wednesday: 893, 785, 643
Hymns for Sunday: 334, 357 (v. 1), 332, 642, 333, 335, 336

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

Monday:  Deuteronomy 8:1-10
“Man does not live by bread alone.” Why not? What else do we need? Why?

Tuesday:  Philippians 4:6-20
Why is the peace of God such a great gift? How does such peace enable us to live?

Wednesday:  Luke 17:11-19
Does God withdraw His mercy from the unthankful? What additional gift did the thankful leper receive?

Thursday:  Jeremiah 33:14-16
Who is Jeremiah speaking of here? What will He do? How does His name teach us of His work?

Friday:  1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How is Paul’s prayer for the Philippian Christians a good prayer for us as well?

Saturday:  Luke 19:28-40
Why were the disciples rejoicing? What had they seen? What were they about to see? Would they rejoice then?

The Catechism: Confession: What is the Office of the Keys? The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ safety and joy for all traveling the upcoming holiday weekend.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Commission on Mercy teachers.
+ the Lanka Lutheran Church (Sri Lanka), for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance and provision for Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN.
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!

Last Sunday of the Church Year Sermon

PLEASE NOTE:  The battery in my recorder died with still a sentence or two left in the sermon, so you'll notice the audio stops just a bit prematurely. But its mostly all there, so the audio link is included. :-)

Jesu Juva

“Home, Not Just for the Holidays, but Forever”
Text: Isaiah 51:4-6; Mark 13:24-37; Jude 20-25
2 Peter 3:13b (Introit antiphon)

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

We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Those words were the antiphon - the first and last verses - of the Introit we sang today. Words most appropriate for this Last Sunday of the Church Year. This Sunday when our focus is looking forward to the day when Jesus returns, and everything is made new. A new heaven, a new earth, a new you. That day when sin and death will be no more. The sin that causes such trouble and sorrow; the death that stings so much - no more. It will be the home of righteousness. The home, our home, where everything is right.

The holiday season is just about upon us with Thanksgiving this week, and with it the thoughts of many turn to home. Travel plans are made, I’ll Be Home for Christmas remains a favorite holiday song. But the truth is, our homes here are not homes where everything is right. In fact, they are often far from it. Our homes can be nice places, but they can also be messy places; they can be places of refuge from a harsh world, but the harsh world also often invades our homes. Our homes often have troubles, problems, and sorrows, which the holidays sometimes can make better, but can also make worse. 

That’s what happens when sinners live in our homes. And they’re in all of our homes. And when sinners sin - as they always will - our homes are not places where everything is right. So the home of righteousness is something to look forward to indeed. 

But before that home comes, this home, this old sinful world, must first die. For that is the way of it with God; that’s the way He makes all things new - through death and resurrection. That’s how makes us new, by joining us to the death and resurrection of Jesus in Holy Baptism. Through water and the Word, drowning and killing the old sinner in us, and then raising to life a new man, to live a new life. And everytime that old sinner reappears and resurfaces, to drown Him again and again in repentance, and strengthening the new man with absolution. A process that continues until the promise of our Baptism is finally fulfilled, when our bodies succumb to death and then are raised new - wholly new, new creations, completely free from sin and death. When our tombs are as empty as Jesus’ tomb, and His home become our home, the home of righteousness.

And so it is with the world also - it must die to be made new. We heard of that in the readings today, Isaiah telling us that the heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment. Jesus said it too - heaven and earth will pass away, He said. And this too: The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Which all sounds very frightening, and it should. For death is frightening and this is creation dying. But with Jesus, death is not the end. Death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23) and a creation plunged into sin will die. But Jesus’ resurrection means that sin is atoned for, and if sin is conquered, then so is death. And so creation, too, will be re-created, as Isaiah goes on to say, with words very similar to Peter’s in the Introit Antiphon: For behold, I create a new heavens, and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind (Isaiah 65:17). A new reality. With all things new. The home of righteousness.

But it is not yet. Now we sit at the bedsides of dying family and friends, and we watch our world passing away. But in the midst of death, our Lord has not left us with nothing to hold onto, with nothing of permanency. That would be too much. And so Isaiah tells us that even as the heavens and earth are vanishing and wearing out, that [the Lord’s] salvation is forever, and [His] righteousness will never be dismayed. His righteousness will never die. Those are words talking about Jesus, for He is the salvation of the Lord. He is the righteousness of God. And because He died and then rose from death, defeating death, He cannot die again (Romans 6:9). And so in an ever-changing and dying world and passing away world, we have something to hold onto: Him. Or as Jesus put it: heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

And so we hold onto Jesus, the one who cannot die again, by holding onto His words - which will not pass away. Or maybe better to say: Through His Word He hangs on to us. His Spirit, working through His Word, working in us, keeping us in the faith, strengthening us, holding us.

And we’ve been hearing those words of Jesus all through this Church Year now ending. 

We heard His words of forgiveness, spoken to sinners, prostitutes, paralytics, and even the criminal hanging on the cross next to Him. That same word is spoken to all us sinners gathered here as well.

We heard His words that give life, just by the speaking of them, as with all creation - He speaks, and it is so. For they are powerful words. Words that heal lepers, drive out demons, and raise the dead. Those word gives you life as well - now and on the Last Day.

We heard His words that give food and drink, as He changes water into wine, multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed over 5,000 people, and His words to His disciples and to us: This is My Body, This is My Blood. Take and eat. For you. Words that give you food and life in Him.

We heard His words of comfort and promise, that no one will be able to snatch you out of His hand, that He will be with you always, that blessed are you, and that in His Father’s house are many rooms and if He is going to prepare a place for you there, He will come back for you too. These words that give us hope.

Then there are His words spoken by others. His words in the Old Testament that we see fulfilled in Him. His words spoken through angels. His words through the apostles that teach us still today.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but these words will not - they are eternal words from the eternal one. Words that give us who die eternal life. Words that give us the life of the one who cannot die again. Words that will provide a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

And words that can even makes our homes here and now homes of righteousness. Not because we are suddenly going to stop being sinners, but as forgiven sinners speaking that same powerful word of forgiveness to others. Encouraging one another, supporting one another, helping one another, as we heard from Jude. That we give what we have received, Christ speaking and acting through each of us as well. His Word working, restoring the broken, raising the fallen, healing the hurt, comforting the mourning, and giving joy in sorrow. 

How important that word, since we know not when that Day of Jesus’ return will come. When time will run out and this world will finally die. So be on guard, keep awake, Jesus says. And how do we do that? By hearing and speaking the Word. By holding onto the Word. By living in the Word and living the Word. For that’s what the servants do. Prophets, apostles, angels, you and me - it’s all about the Word. The Word that created all things in the beginning, the Word made flesh that redeemed all things on the cross, the Word by which the Spirit keeps and sustains us now, and the Word which is coming again on that Last Day. The Word of Him, as Jude again said, who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy

Blameless . . . glory . . . joy. That sounds like the home of righteousness to me. And truly, a home to look forward to. To be home not just for the holidays, for forever. Come, Lord Jesus!

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pentecost 25 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Time and Eternity Brought Together In Jesus”
Text: Mark 13:1-13; Hebrews 10:11-25; Daniel 12:1-3

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

In the Holy Gospel we heard today, Peter, James, John, and Andrew were concerned. They had just heard some bad news from Jesus, that the magnificent Jerusalem Temple was going to be turned into a heap of rubble. There will not be one stone left upon another, Jesus said. And they knew it could happen, because it had happened before. They learned it in history class, when some 550 years before, the Babylonian army had come in and leveled the Temple, Jerusalem, and its protective wall. And they then took with them everything they wanted, anything of value - people, animals, and things - and left behind a city and a people in ruins. Then after 70 years of being prisoners of war, the people were allowed to return and they began to rebuild. Later, King Herod (of all people!) also helped return the Temple to its glory. And now that it was, finally, Jesus says it’s going to happen again. That’s like us getting the news that another 9/11 is going to happen. And not just might, but will. So understandably they ask Jesus: When? How will we know? What will be the sign? They want to be ready.

But Jesus doesn’t answer them. Instead, He says, that’s just one thing; that’s just the beginning of the birth pains. There’s going to be a lot more. Wars, disasters, persecutions. Deception, betrayals, hatred. It sounds like a description of what we heard from Daniel, that there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. Our world is never going to be heaven on earth. Sin and its corrosion, sin and its destruction, sin and its devastation - both in creation and in us - will see to that. And you’ve experienced it first hand: trials and troubles in your life, in your family. You see what’s happening around the world, like in Paris, and to your friends and neighbors. And just when maybe it looks like things are coming around and getting better, it happens again. Satan and his army renews the attack, finds willing allies in sinful human nature, and lives and buildings and countries begin to crumble and turn to rubble.

Because of that, it’s perhaps hard for the Church to gain traction in this world with our message of eternity and heavenly things at the end of the church year. Most people - you and me included - have enough trouble just trying to get through the day, or the week, or to the end of the year! It’s hard sometimes even trying to think that far ahead, let alone to eternity. And so Jesus’ return, the end of all things, the Last Day, eternity . . . most of the time it’s not even on the radar.

There’s an equal and opposite error though, too. And that’s when the troubles of this world and life get us so down that we try to escape and ignore and avoid what is happening and focus only on the end - those are the kooks you see walking around with signs saying “The End in Near!” or selling all they have and going to the top of a mountain someplace. 

Neither of those two ditches is a good place to be - forgetting about the future and focusing only on today, or forgetting about today and focusing only on the future. If only there was a way to balance the two; to bring time and eternity together; to be able to live with confidence both today and for the future. Well, of course, there is. And His name is Jesus.

For Jesus is the eternal Son of God who came and was born in time, as a man just like you and me. In Jesus, what is eternal breaks in to what is time bound and transforms it. A transformation so that we and our lives aren’t just a matter of running the rat race here and then the end; of us constantly running on our hamster wheel and not getting anyplace, but just going round and round. With Jesus, our lives and what we do has an eternal value and purpose. With Jesus, we have a sure and certain future and a destination. With Jesus, we have confidence - both for the living of our lives now and that we will continue to live forever. A single reality of time, that the life we live now is the one we will live into eternity and is never going to end. Such a view - such a faith - means that both the present and the future matter.

And it’s the reading from Hebrews that we heard today that brings these both together, and spells out for us what such a balanced and confident life looks like. That reading starts out with this: Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 

Now the first thing that’s referring to is the Old Testament sacrifices that took place in the Temple. Those priests were to offer those sacrifices not just once, but every day, twice a day, morning and evening. And they had to be everyday because they could never completely take away sins. They were what was done in time in order to look to the future, when the once and for all, eternal, sacrifice that would take away sin would be offered. When, as the next sentence says, the Christ would come, when Jesus would come, and offer that sacrifice once in time and for all eternity.

And because Jesus now has come and fulfilled that priesthood, that service, that verse is now also referring to you and me. For we are now the priests - the priesthood of the baptized - who daily stand at our service and offer sacrifice. Offering not animals, but ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). A service which still doesn’t take away sins - because it doesn’t need to. Jesus did that already on the cross. So our service, our priesthood, now, in time, comes from that eternal reality. The reality that now that the once and for all sacrifice has been offered in time, for all eternity, that Jesus has conquered sin and death for us, that effects how we now live here in time. We have been set free from worrying about eternity, since Jesus took care of that for us, so now we can live for others. Today. We can lay down our lives for others and yet never lose our lives, for Jesus is always raising us to new life.

So what do such daily, repeated offerings and sacrifices look like? Quite ordinary, actually. Like going to work or to school everyday and being a good friend. Like helping our families everyday. Like serving our neighbor everyday. Like looking for opportunities to do good and to forgive and to show mercy everyday, day after day. And while unbelievers do those things, or many of those things, too, the difference for us comes from Jesus. Knowing that in serving our neighbor we are serving Jesus. Knowing that He is providing for our neighbor through us. That in Him, time and eternity come together and give our lives a meaning and purpose far beyond the here and now and what can be seen and felt. It’s not that here and now is all there is, and it’s not that here and now doesn’t matter at all - it’s that Jesus is using our here and now for us and for others, for an eternal good. 

And that we have such confidence, the author goes on to explain. Therefore, brothers, he says, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus . . .  That’s first another reference to the Temple, where the blood of animals was required to enter the holy places. But for us, now, we come into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus, shed for us. The blood shed in time, but for all time, for eternity. 

And so, he goes on, with such confidence, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. A true heart, coming before our Father in heaven, acknowledging the truth of our sin and sinfulness, our failure to live as we should, with this view of time and eternity, but in full assurance of faith, that in Jesus, that sin, our sin, all sin, is forgiven. For our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. In other words, we have been washed in time by the eternal blood of Jesus in the waters of baptism - the water than washes our bodies in time, but cleanses our hearts for eternity

And so with this eternal assurance, now, in time, let us consider how to live now; how to stir up one another to love and good works - to live out our daily lives as living sacrifices in the confidence of our baptism. And not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Not neglecting to meet together here, at the altar, entering this holy place in time, to receive the once and for all, eternal sacrifice of Jesus in His Body and Blood. To receive the forgiveness we need and the strength we need, especially as the Day draws near. The Last Day. For as troubles and struggles increase in time, we need the eternal assurance and strength of Jesus; the confidence that we’re not on our own, that it’s not up to us, that He is working in us and for us and through us in time, for eternity. That when that Day comes, we will be counted among those who endure to end and are saved.

For how else can we be sure of that? That we will endure? On our own, with our own strength, we can’t. But in Jesus, we can. For He did endure to the end, remaining faithful with every breath until His sacrifice on the cross was complete. And then victorious over sin and death in His resurrection, He lives forever that we do too. He lives to give that victory to us. He lives so that no matter how many wars, disasters, persecution, deception, betrayals, or hatred there are, we need not be anxious or worried, and we need not despair. 

For like a child being pushed out of the womb, when the travail is over, there is joy and a life to live. Jesus said these will be the birth pains of the new life. But when they come to an end, there is joy and an eternal life for us to live. 

So we live now, in time, in that confidence in the end. We know not when it will come - today, tomorrow, or many years from now. Jesus didn’t tell them when then, and He hasn’t told us when now. But neither does it matter. Jesus has brought time and eternity together for us. That’s His gift for you. That when the last stone on earth is thrown down, when everything totters and finally crumbles, when the sun goes out, or that asteroid finally hits the earth, or the terrorists finally get their way and World War 3 incinerates the earth, when time ends, that will not be the end. That will just be when the eternal breaks into time once again, when Jesus comes again, and transforms it once again. And so it will not be the end for you, but in Jesus, in the eternal one, just the beginning of your life that has no end.

So how do you live now? Live in time, but live for eternity.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pentecost 24 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Don’t Miss It!”
Text: Luke 17:20-30; Job 14:1-6

Don’t be deceived. When things look normal, when things look ordinary, they may not be.

As we heard, things looked ordinary and normal in the days of Noah. They were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. In the days of Lot, they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Normal. Ordinary. Until it wasn’t. Until the rain started falling from the sky and welling up from the ground. Until the fire and sulfur started raining from heaven. 

Why is that? Jesus told us today: the kingdom of God does not come in ways that can be seen. It comes by faith. In fact, when the stuff comes which you can see - the flood, the fire and sulfur, and the lightning that flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other - it is too late. For when you see those things, it is not the kingdom of God coming, it is judgment. Judgment against sin. 

And so, Jesus says, the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed. Because, in fact, the kingdom of God, He says, is already here! It is already in the midst of you. So if you’re looking for the big, the fantastic, the spectacular, you’ll miss it. You’ll miss what is right in front of you.

And they did. The Pharisees couldn’t see what was right before their eyes. They couldn’t see that in Jesus, the kingdom of God had come to them - not to judge them or condemn them, but to save them. 

But Jesus didn’t look the part, if you were looking with your eyes. A baby in a manger. A boy growing up in Nazareth. A man being rejected even in His own hometown. A man dying on a cross. Not the stuff of kingdoms, they thought. Not the stuff of God.

Except it was. And the Word of God had said that it would be; that this is the way the kingdom of God would come. For the kingdom of God is not about power and worldly glory and wealth. It is about the forgiveness of sins, about mercy, about love and grace. And so Jesus would come in exactly that way. He looked normal and quite ordinary. But faith knew He was anything but. Faith could see that the Word of God was being fulfilled. The kingdom of God had come.

And so it is today. The kingdom of God is still in the midst of you. And you see it. You see it not with thunder and lightning, but when the Word of God is preached, or spoken in homes or among friends. You see it when not water from the sky but from the font is poured out with the Word of God and a sinner is baptized, a child of God is born from above. You see it when bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus and what looks like normal, ordinary eating and drinking becomes something quite extraordinary. You see it when instead of yelling, resentment, and hostility, forgiveness is given. In all these ways, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you, for in all these ways, Jesus is in the midst of you, and working in you and through you.

If you’re looking for the kingdom with your physical eyes, looking for the big, the fantastic, the spectacular, you’ll miss all that; you’ll miss Jesus and how He is working in your midst even now. But the eyes of faith see. The eyes of faith see that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Much more. Just as in the manger was much more than a baby, and on the cross was much more than a man. Namely, that with His life, death, and resurrection, the kingdom of God had come for all people.

And especially for those in desperate situations, like Job. Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble, Job lamented. And maybe you feel a bit that way, your days filled with troubles, pains, problems, and struggles. And if the kingdom of God is the big, the fantastic, the spectacular, then a life that is not is . . . what? Cursed by God? Rejected by God? Punished by God? 

But it is not so. Such a life - Jesus’ life of troubles, pains, problems, and the cross - is exactly how the kingdom of God came. And if that’s what your life looks and feels like, it is not a sign of rejection by God - faith clings to the Word of God and His promises. That even in such times, the kingdom of God is in your midst. That even in such times, the Word and forgiveness of God is there for you. Jesus is there for you. For He went through it all - and more - and has promised to be with you now. To be your strength when you are weak, to be your hope when you despair, and to be your life in death. 

And so in the Lord’s Prayer we pray: Thy kingdom come. And we don’t ask when, like the Pharisees did. The end will come when the time set by the Father arrives. That’s going to happen whether we pray the Lord’s Prayer or not. And when that time comes, it will be big, it will be spectacular . . . and it will be too late. 

So we pray, Thy kingdom come, and ask that it come to us now, while it is not too late. That His forgiveness come now, His mercy come now, His Word come now, His Spirit come now; that Jesus come now. Come flood my life with His love and rain down from heaven His mercy and forgiveness. That may not look like much, but it is exactly what you and I need.

So maybe it’s time to take another look at your life. It may be few of days and full of trouble, it may look ordinary and normal, but in reality it is anything but. For the kingdom of God has come to you, and through you it comes to others. And those around you, they need it. They need the kingdom of God. No matter who they are - unbelievers, great sinners, family, friends, even pastors. To hear a word of forgiveness, the embrace of God’s love, His Word of promise, in the midst of a world of ever increasing opposition, hate, and fear . . . yeah, we need that. And in such a world, such things are not longer ordinary and normal. They are the kingdom of God coming - to you, to your home, to a broken and hurting world. They are Jesus, in the midst of us, where He has promised to be.

Until we are in the midst of Him, with the angels and archangels and the great cloud of witnesses and saints around His throne. That’s when we’ll see. And it will be bigger, and more spectacular and fantastic than any of us could ever imagine. Not a new kingdom - the same kingdom that is here hidden, but will then be revealed. And we’ll finally see how it really was here, all along.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pentecost 24 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Faith of Widows and Brides”
Text: Mark 12:38-44 (1 Kings 17:8-16; Hebrews 9:24-28)

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

Just about a month ago, as we gathered here in this place to receive our Lord’s gifts, we heard the story of a rich man who came up to Jesus and asked Him: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And after some conversation, ultimately the answer Jesus gave him was this: You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Mark 10:17-22). But the rich man could not do it. He could not let go of his wealth to follow Jesus. It was the one thing he could not let go of. He was willing to do anything and everything . . . except that. And we considered that day: what is the one thing we have? The one thing we cannot let go of?

Well today we heard a story - two stories, actually - that are the exact opposite of that one. The stories of two people who did let go of everything they had. And they weren’t rich folks, they were . . . very poor widows. The first was of a widow and her son who lived in the city of Zarephath during a time of severe famine. All she had left was enough food for her and her son for one more meal, and then, she expected, they would starve to death. So she goes out to gather the firewood to cook their last supper, when a prophet from Israel comes and asks for her food. But he does so with a promise: the Lord God of Israel will give you daily bread everyday. He will take care of you and provide for you. He will do for you what no one else can or will. And without any evidence to support this claim, and with this claim coming from a prophet who is in need of food himself, this widow does it. She gives all that she has. She clings to the promise of God, and God keeps His Word. 

Then we heard the story of the second widow, this time in Jerusalem, at the Temple. Now the Temple at that time had 13 metal tubes - called trumpets because that’s what they were shaped like, wide at the opening and then narrowing down - for people to throw in their offerings. And since they were metal, you could hear the coins going in and clamoring down the tube. So when the rich came by and put their offering in, all their coins made a lot of noise, announcing to everyone in the area how generous that person had been. But Jesus does not praise them. Instead, He says beware of those who like to make a show of their piety and want the admiration of men. And then He praises a poor widow. A poor widow whose two tiny copper coins probably barely made a sound before men, but were like a clanging gong before God. For she put in all she had, everything she had to live on. But actually, if you translate the Greek very literally there, it’s ever greater than that. It says: she put in her whole life

What that rich man could not do, these two widows did. And I don’t think it was any easier simply because they were poor. And, quite frankly, they put us to shame. But not because we don’t give everything we have - as I said a month ago, so I say today - this is not a command from God to us. You don’t have to empty your wallet or your checking account into the offering plate today! You can, you’re free to, but you don’t have to to please God. This story’s really not about money - it’s about faith. For in doing what they did, these two widows showed a faith that is rarely seen. A faith that God really will provide all that we need.

And that’s remarkable because judging by what could be seen, it certainly didn’t appear that way. Both women were widows, deprived of their husbands. Both had become staggeringly poor. It didn’t seem as if God was taking care of them at all. And yet both believe; both give all they have, all their life. 

Does that describe your faith? I know it doesn’t describe mine! How quickly we tend to doubt and struggle and disbelieve when things start going south, when trials and troubles and difficulties come. How quick we can be to grumble and complain when life isn’t going as we want. How quick we can be to accuse God (if not in our words then in our thoughts) of not coming through for us, of not caring, and reneging on His promises. 

So the faith of these widows? Yeah, it puts me to shame. But even better if it drives me to repent.

For how will I get the faith of these widows? How can I be like them? By forcing myself to give more? No. For if the giving is not from a willing heart, it will only breed resentment. Or it can lead to the spiritual pride of the scribes, who thought God owed them something for what they did. 

So what about trying harder? If you want to get better at math, you work hard at it and do your homework. If you want to get in better shape, you exercise. So too with faith? No again. You can’t make yourself believe more. Faith is a gift, and the building of that faith and the strengthening of that faith is gift too. The gift of the Holy Spirit, working through His Word and Sacraments. 

So it starts with repenting. Confessing that my faith is not what it should be, and so my thoughts and word and deeds and desires aren’t either. And so repenting and then hearing how God really did keep His promises - to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and all the people we hear of in the Bible, including these two widows; repenting and remembering the same promises God made to you in your baptism; repenting and hearing again the promise of God and the reality that your sins are forgiven; repenting and receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus that won that forgiveness for you on the cross and is now being given to you to eat and to drink -  these are things things of faith, that build and strengthen faith, that we might be like these two widows. For all this is not what we do, but what God does. For you. Gifts from Him, for you. 

And with that as our focus - not how much we have to give, but how much we need to repent of; and not how much we do, but how much God has done, and is still doing, for us - with that as our focus, God will make widows out of us yet. And not just in faith, but also from a world that increasingly no longer cares much for us and what we believe, and has issued the church a certificate of divorce from the public square. And as that happens more and more, we will more and more have to be widows relying on Christ alone.

And that’s okay. More than okay, actually. For the Scriptures are filled with the truth that those who have nothing, those who are in the greatest need - widows and orphans - are the special object of God’s care and concern. And by faith, it is those who have a bridegroom who will never leave them as widows. For He can no longer die. He did, once, on the cross, but then He rose from the dead, defeating death and the grave. And so, in Jesus, we have a forever bridegroom, who as we sang will soon call us to the wedding feast (LSB #514). And not clinging to the things of this world, widowed from the life of this world, we will rejoice in that call. For that day will be like the weddings we see so often here - the joy of bride and groom being united as one. But it will be even better - for on the Last Day, when that call will take place, there will be no more “til death us do part,” for death will lay defeated at our Saviour Jesus’ feet. And it will, therefore, be a feast forever.

That’s what makes the story of these two widows perfect for the end of the church year, which we’re now in; this being the third-last Sunday in the church year. At this time we focus on the end times, the Last Day, when Jesus will come again, as He promised. When He will come again, as the reading from Hebrews said, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Who are waiting for their bridegroom to come. 

For that’s what widows do. That widow in the Temple that day is surely an example of faith to us. But even greater is the One who sat in the Temple that day, saw what she did, and commended her faith. For in just about 72 hours, He would be the one giving everything He had, His whole life, for your life, and for the life of the world. In just about 72 hours, He would be on the cross, and it would not be gold or silver, but His holy, precious blood that would be pouring into the heavenly treasury for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus filled that treasury, so there is nothing more we can give or put into it. Jesus filled it, and we receive from it, as He fills us with Himself, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness. And says: I am coming soon

So with all that - His treasure, His promise, His life - what’s in your hand? What are you holding onto? A handful of flour? Two small copper coins? Really? Is not hanging on making you poor, and letting go making you rich? 

So instead, come now to the feast, and don’t hang on, but receive. Come now to the feast, where your bridegroom is even now for you. Come and receive from Him a treasure greater than any other. Come and be filled with Him. Be a widow to the world and the betrothed of Christ. And rejoice in your bridegroom, who is coming soon. For you.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Blessed Reality”
Text: Matthew 5:1-12 (1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:9-17)

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

When we hear the Beatitudes - those declarations of blessedness that we heard this morning from Matthew - our first inclination is usually to hear them as “if-then,” conditional statements; a roadmap to blessedness. If I do this, then I will be that. If I do these things, then God will bless me in these ways. In such a scheme - which seems quite natural to us because, after all, that’s by-and-large the way our world works - blessedness is something earned by us from God. Like at school - if you study and work hard and do well on the test, you will get an A. Or at work - if you work hard and are successful, you will be promoted and get a raise. That must be how it is with God as well.

Except it isn’t.

For upon closer examination, it seems there’s something else going on here. For if you look at what is said, of the nine declarations of who is blessed, six are future tense - “they shall be;” but the other three are present tense, statements of fact - theirs “is.” And these three present tense statements of fact bracket, or frame, the other six. They are the bread of this blessed sandwich, which holds it all together. They are the reality from which all the blessedness comes. And those three all state this, this reality: you are blessed, already here, already now, because yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Or you can think of it like this - suppose I was to say: Blessed is the son of Mr. Jones for he will inherit the family business. The son is not working to inherit the business - he already is, by virtue of his being the son. He already has that blessing by virtue of his relationship with his father. Knowing that, then, impacts how he lives; how he works; and his view of the future.

And so it is with Christians, with us. The Beatitudes start off with Jesus stating: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. So who are so blessed? Those who know they have nothing to offer God; they are spiritually poor, spiritually bankrupt. In fact, even worse than that - they are hopelessly in debt for the sins they have done and the good they have failed to do. To be poor is spirit is to tremble before such a God and His Word. The poor in spirit are, therefore, those who know that not only do we need everything from God, but that all that we receive is, therefore, undeserved; a gracious, generous gift from Him. And to such poor, miserable sinners, God says: I forgive you. Your debt is cancelled. And even more, I will adopt you into my family. I will care for you and provide for you. I will have you live in my kingdom forever

That, Jesus wants you to know, right off the bat, is who God is; who your heavenly Father is. The One who to the spiritually poor, the spiritually bankrupt, is kind, merciful, and gracious. If you come before Him with your list of demands, thinking that you deserve something from Him or have earned it, you will leave with nothing. But to those who come trembling, to the poor in spirit, you have this kind of God: yours is the kingdom of heaven.

And that’s what we confess at the beginning of every service here. That’s what we’re saying. And we speak this confession every week not just because it is the truth, but so that we may learn this truth; so that we may slay once again that ugly monster of spiritual pride within each of us, who wants to come here with something for God, who comes for a pat on the back for all the good we think we’ve done this week, while at the same time ignoring all the sin we’ve done in thought, word, deed, and desire, through action and inaction. We speak the truth when we confess that we deserve nothing but God’s present and eternal punishment. But in response, God speaks the truth too, when you hear Him say: I forgive you all your sins. They are. You do not get what you deserve; instead, yours is the kingdom of heaven

And that because the Son of God, whose kingdom it is, has made you sons and daughters of God in Him. He took all those sins you confess, including that ugly monster of spiritual pride, and with them your punishment, to the cross, to give you a kingdom. He was condemned that you be forgiven. He became poor to make you rich. He entered into your death to give you resurrection and life. And when you were baptized, all that became yours. You who have nothing were given everything. The spiritually poor made rich. Or as John put it today: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Present tense, statement of fact. This is who you are. In Jesus. 

And then from that reality, from what you are in Jesus, flows everything else. Not because you earn it, but because of who you are, a child of God. Promise upon promise, gift upon gift, blessed upon blessed. 

You will mourn. Mourn your sin, mourn the sin in the world, mourn death, mourn the godlessness of many . . . but you will not go comfortless.

You will be meek. Which is not to be arrogant and aggressive and violent; not grabbing and getting at the expense of others . . . and yet you will not suffer want. 

Your hunger and thirst for the righteousness, the holiness, that you know you do not have . . . will not go unsatisfied; you will receive and be filled.

Your mercy to others will not leave you without mercy.

Hearts washed and made pure from sin and from the clouds of fear and death will see God - see Him here where He has promised to be, and also see Him in others, those He has gathered to us and given to us.

Your peacemaking, your forgiveness given to those who sin against you, will reveal the son of God you are.

And when you are persecuted for all this, your is still the kingdom of heaven. It is not a sign of God’s disfavor or disapproval. It is what they did to the prophets who were before the apostles, and the apostles who were before you, and to you before the saints who will come after you.

All of that is exemplified in Jesus, but is also in His children; is also now in you as you live in Him and He in you. As you are fed with His Body and Blood and become what you eat. As the Spirit lives and works in you all that is pleasing to your Father in heaven. That’s the reality that is you and yours, Jesus wants you to know, in Him.

But it is a reality that now, however, is hidden. That’s what John went on to say after naming our reality as children of God. He said: The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.

What we are, John says, is not what we appear to be. And you could reverse that too: what we appear to be is not what we are. For when you look at yourself, when you look at other Christians - both your fellow Christians here and around the world - what do you see? You see people who do not look holy, but who look like sinners. You see folks who often do not look blessed, but in fact cursed. You see men and women who look perhaps just like everyone else, with many of the same troubles and struggles and failings.

So John’s words here are an important reminder to us: who we are is not who we say we are, or what we feel like, or what seems to us. That’s the way the world is going these days, right? You are whatever gender you say you are. What you feel is the truth. Judge by what seems good to you. But the Scriptures say something quite different than that. That who we are is not from us or what we say, and blessedness is not what we say it is either. We are who God says we are, and blessedness is what He says it is. And it must be that way. For our perspective is limited - like with an iceberg, we see only a fraction of what God is doing in this world. Our knowledge lacking - you know who the smartest people in the world are? Those who know how much they don’t know. And our judgment often wrong - how often do things turn out quite differently than we expect? But not with God. Who sees all, knows all, and judges justly. We are who He says we are, and blessedness is what He says it is.

And so we are perhaps like children who want ice cream for breakfast but get oatmeal instead. Such children often think they are cursed with mean parents, when the reality is quite different - they have been blessed with loving parents who want them to be healthy and so will give them only what is good for them, even if it might not be exactly what they want or crave. How blessed we are to have such a Father in heaven, who will give us only what is good for us. Who calls us His children and we are. Who calls us blessed and we are. Who speaks and it is so.

And the time is coming . . . the time is coming when we will see the reality that has been true all along. When we will look and see what John saw: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. And even better: we will experience and live in what John saw: we will be sheltered in the presence of God; we will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; we will rest beside the living water our Shepherd provides for us; and have every tear wiped away from our eyes by our Father.

Like John, we only see that now from a distance, by faith. But on this All Saints Day, we rejoice that those who have gone before us in the faith now enjoy that blessed rest. That their hidden blessedness in this world and life has been revealed in the next. God is faithful.

And when John looked and saw that vision of heaven, who did he see? The prophets of the Old Testament. His fellow apostles, including his brother James who was martyred. His father Zebedee, perhaps, and his mother. 

Who do you see? A parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, a brother or sister? Maybe they struggled mightily with cancer while they lived, or maybe they feebly struggled in other ways (LSB #677 v. 4). Maybe, as we sang, despised and scorned were they as they sojourned here (LSB #676 v. 2). The reality of who they were, hidden. But now how glorious they appear! All the saints, who from their labors rest.

And that is the rest that now awaits you. A rest that we can already now enjoy in Jesus by faith, but which will be in all its fullness when Jesus returns to take you home. That is your blessedness, even now. Even now if there be persecution. Even now if there be tribulation. Your Father, Your Saviour, and Their Spirit have claimed you as His own. He has called you His child and so you are. And so you are a saint, a holy person, who has been washed cleaned in the blood of the Lamb. And so today is your day. Your day to rejoice in your God and all His promises to you. A rejoicing that will never end, for your today is not this 24 hour day we call Sunday - but the new day you have been born again into, the day of eternity, that will never end. Blessed are you.

And so we rejoice with all the saints and they rejoice with us, with the angels and archangels, all gathered around the Lamb - the Lamb on His throne, the Lamb on His altar. One holy communion. The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s who you are. Blessed in Him. Now and forever.

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