Monday, November 25, 2013

Last Sunday of the Church Year Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What’s Going On?”
Text: Luke 23:27-43 (Malachi 3:13-18; Colossians 1:13-20)

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

Somebody, it would seem, messed up. The Holy Gospel we heard today seems better suited for Good Friday than today, the Last Sunday of the Church’s Year. 

But this reading was selected because Good Friday is the beginning of the end. Good Friday is the lens through which we as Christians see everything. Everything before that day was leading up to it. Everything after that day is flowing from it. That was the day that changed the world. That day is the center of history. The center from which we even number our years. 

So today on this Last Sunday of the Church Year we consider the end through the lens of the cross, and our life leading up to the end through the lens of the cross. For Jesus’ death has something to say about our life and our death. 

And so today to do that, I want to focus your attention on just one little sentence from the Gospel; one little sentence Jesus spoke from the cross. You’ve heard it before, many times I’m sure. But maybe today you can hear it a bit differently than when we hear it on Good Friday. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Most of the time when we hear that we focus on what great love Jesus has that He could pray such words! And that’s not wrong. We hear Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those who put Him on the cross. Those who drove the nails through His hands and feet. Those who mocked Him and despised Him even as He prayed for them. Those whose appetites would not be satisfied until they had taken His life. Father, forgive them. Make this forgiveness that I am here winning available for them. No small thing, that. For you know how hard forgiveness is, and for much lesser things than that. So how great and wondrous these words. And how precious for us sinners still today.

But it’s that second part that I really want to focus your thoughts on today: for they know not what they do. Now, in context, as Jesus spoke those words, certainly the people who put Him on the cross didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t know that the hands they were driving nails through were the hands that had created all things and had even knit them together in their mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:13). They didn’t know that the feet they had fastened to the cross were the feet that had walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8) and would soon make the earth their footstool (Isaiah 66:1; Hebrews 1:13). They didn’t know that the head they pressed that crown of thorns into was the head of the One who knows all things. They didn’t know. They didn’t know that in this death was their life. They didn’t know.

But we think we know. That’s the problem, you see. From Adam and Eve down to you and me today. We think we know. We think we know what we’re doing. And therefore we think we know what God should be doing.

Those who put Jesus on the cross thought they knew what they were doing: getting rid of a troublemaker and a blasphemer and someone who was going to bring the wrath of Rome down on their nation. And they thought they knew what God should be doing: that if Jesus really was God that He should jump down from the cross and save Himself. And then those who believed in Him, who believed that Jesus was who He said He was, the very Son of God in human flesh, probably were wondering: What in the world . . . ? Does God know what He’s doing?

That question has often crossed the minds of God’s people, ‘cause how often it seems to us like He doesn’t! We heard it again from the prophet Malachi today. The people were saying: We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, what God told us to do, mourning our sins and repenting and sacrificing, but what is it getting us? The arrogant are the ones who are blessed. Evildoers are the ones who are prospering. They are putting God to the test with their sins and evil and perversion and getting away with it - nothing happens to them! Does God know what He’s doing?

Because, after all, we know what God should be doing, right? He should be prospering us, blessing us, giving to us, helping us, making our life easy and punishing them! Does God know what He’s doing? for evil keeps advancing. Does God know what He’s doing? for I keep struggling. Does God know what He’s doing? ‘cause things don’t seem to be getting any better.

But maybe . . . maybe Jesus was right. Maybe it’s WE who don’t know what we’re doing . . .

For how often do things turn out differently than we expected? When what we thought would be good turned out bad? When what we thought would help actually hurt? When we thought we had everything planned out and then . . .  And the other way too: when what we dreaded actually turned out good.

The truth is there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. God tells His people through the prophet Malachi: The day is coming. THEN you will see what you do not now see. 

But we want to see it all now. We want God to punish evildoers now. The problem is, if He did so, what would happen to you? You who hurt, you who lie, you who lust, you who doubt and disbelieve, you who covet and take, you who rebel, you who do not love God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength all the time

There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Paul told the Colossians that Jesus is the creator of all things visible and invisible, as we also confess in the Creed. And there’s a lot more invisible than you know. I tend to think of all that God is doing like an iceberg. The part of the iceberg you see floating on the water is only a small percentage, maybe 10%, of all that’s there - most of it is hidden beneath the surface. So we too do not know all that God is doing, how He is working, what He is doing in the world, in your neighbor, and in you

There’s more going on than meet the eye. And especially is that true of the cross. For yes, contrary to what the eye can see, this is no criminal - this man is the very Son of God, the Lamb of God, the atonement for your sins and mine and the sin of the whole world. Though it doesn’t look like it. Though it look about as far from that as you can imagine. For, in fact, God does know what He’s doing.

And the Day is coming when that will be seen. Malachi’s THEN. The disciples saw it three days after the cross when Jesus rose from the dead. The before looked bleak. The after revealed the truth and the joy.

And so also for us on the last day it will be seen, and not before. Now, in this before time, we have words, we have promises, we have faith. Then it will be seen. But now, we say with the criminal hanging next to Jesus: Remember me! Remember me in my sad state. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.

And He does. For now ascended and in His kingdom, ruling all things for us and for our salvation, Jesus is remembering us and forgiving us and acting for us. And like to the thief next to Him, telling us too: you will be with me in Paradise. When a child or an adult is baptized, Jesus is saying: you will be with me in Paradise. When you believe the Gospel and are absolved, Jesus is saying: you will be with me in Paradise. When you come to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, He is saying: you will be with me in Paradise. Just as I came to be with you in your misery, so you will be with me in Paradise. And just as I died your death, so you too will awaken and arise with me into Paradise. 

When that TODAY will be for you, I do not know. And how it will be for you I do not know. Maybe it will come for you in a peaceful way, maybe in a hard and gruesome way, like that thief on the cross. But however it is for you, it will be a day of joy, when as Paul said, you are delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kindgom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins

And as you have Him now, so you have His forgiveness now, and so you have that kingdom now, even if you cannot see all that now.

For, in fact, God knows what He’s doing. Always. Always working for our good. Always working that we hear those precious words: Father, forgive them. Those were the words Jesus spoke from first to last, and the words He wants you to hear and to have, from the beginning of your life to the end. That on that Day, the last Day, that great and final Day, the One who would not come down from the cross pull you up from the grave and say: Welcome home, my child! Welcome to Paradise.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pentecost 26 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Day of Fear or a Day of Joy?”
Text: Luke 21:5-36 (Malachi 4:1-6; 2 Thess 3:1-13)

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

I cleaned up the leaves that had fallen in my yard this past week. A yearly ritual. The trees are almost all bare now. The reds and yellows that just a few weeks ago were so brilliant and made the trees bursting in color and so beautiful, are now curled up and dead on the ground . . . and now in bags, waiting for the trashman to pick them up. The wind is going to start to howl now, without the leaves to break its path, the temperatures are dropping, and maybe even soon some snow is going to cover the ground in a blanket of white, burying nature.

We know its only temporary though. Even beneath its white blanket of cold and death, signs of life appear. And springtime will come.

But it will not always be so. There’s going to be an end. There’s going to be a time when the heavens and the earth will die and not awaken. The heavens and the earth that God created in the beginning, so perfect and good and filled to the brim with life, and never meant to die, will die. Just like men and women, specially created by God in the beginning, unlike anything else in all creation and never meant to die, will die. 

Because this good and perfect creation of God was hacked by satan. A virus of sin and death implanted in us just like so often happens in computers today. When that happens your computer doesn’t think like it should, and neither do we. When that happens your computer acts in unpredictable ways, as do we. When that happens, your computer sometimes dies, as will we. Though for us, no sometimes or maybe about it. 

This is all what Jesus is talking about today, His words to us today. Look at the trees, He says, and take a lesson. Look at the upheavals in creation, like in the Philippines, and think about it. Look at the havoc men heap upon each other in wars and tumults . . . this should tell you something. And it does, if we will listen. It does, unless we choose to ignore it because, well, it’s just not very nice to think about. 

But Jesus will not let us forget. And so the Church which proclaims the Word of God will not let us forget. The Church Year - not the calendar year but kind of it’s fiscal year, if you will - comes to an end next week. And in the last few weeks of this year every year, we hear these words again. To remind us of this truth. 

And Jesus, in fact, from the words we heard from St. Luke today, goes on and on about this. This is one of the longest Gospel readings we ever hear. So much so that by the time we get to the end, you probably want to say: Alright Jesus! We got it! Can we talk about something else now? Something a bit more cheery? A bit more upbeat?

But here’s the thing you need to realize: for Jesus, this is cheery! This is upbeat! Not because Jesus delights in our misery, but because when you see these things taking place, Jesus says, you know that the kingdom of God is near. And the day of the kingdom of God is the day Jesus is waiting for. It is the day Jesus is working for. It is the day Jesus cannot wait for. It is the day when all His own, all His children, will finally be all gathered into His house, one family, together, for all time. It’s like the holidays that will soon be with us when many families get together and houses are full and filled with joy and laughter. That’s what’s going to happen on that day, and Jesus is excited for it.

Or maybe another way to think of it is as a student in high school or college (or since George is here today, seminary!). Before you get to the end of the semester, you have to go through finals and projects and finish everything up. And that’s a hard time. But when it’s over, there’s joy! You get to go home and relax and be with family and friends. So for us, before the end, there’s going to be a tough time - all those things Jesus talked about. And its not going to be easy. But it all just means that the joy is coming, and almost here. The joy that the prophet Malachi spoke of, when he said that when that day comes, you shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. Now, I’m no farmer, so I don’t really know what that looks like. But I can imagine it. The calves running out into the meadow on the first warm spring day, filled with joy, exploring everything, happy to be alive. So will that day be for you - happy to be alive in the kingdom of God.

And that it may be so for you, that’s why Jesus came. That’s why the kingdom of God drew near to us first in the flesh and blood of Jesus. And why Jesus said truly this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Until all that is necessary for our eternal life has taken place. Until the cross has taken place. 

Until Jesus passes through death to life again, so that death and the death of this world be not the end for you, but that you too pass through these times and that day to life with Him. To the life promised you in your baptism, begun in your baptism, and brought to its completion on that day.

And though everything else pass away, though the heavens and the earth pass away, Jesus says, my words will not pass away. For Jesus, the Word made flesh, having already died and already risen from death, cannot pass away again. And so His words are as eternal as He is. His Word will not pass away. His baptismal word-promises will not pass away. His promise that He is your anti-virus, your anti-death, that your sins are forgiven. His promise that you are His child. His promise that He has gone to prepare a place for you. And His promise that He will be with you through these dark and difficult days. You will not be alone. 

And so yes, heaven and earth are going to pass away, as we see with our eyes. But when they do, this will still be left - your Saviour, His Words and promises, His kingdom, and your life with Him.

Yet though the signs are all around us, still we do not know when that day will come. And don’t believe those who think they know, Jesus says. So far, all who thought they knew have a perfect record: they’ve all been wrong. So instead of worrying about it or trying to predict that day, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians: the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ. Which, I would say, is another way of saying the cross. That as we wait for that last day, while all these things that Jesus talked about are coming and happening, direct your eyes and your hearts to the cross. For there you see the love of God for you, that so important are you, so valuable, so precious, that God would send His Son to die for you so you could live with Him.

Now the world, in these gray and latter days, measures your worth quite differently than that. The world measures you by your job, by your wealth, by your weight and looks, by your achievements and accomplishments. The world sets its own standards - which, by the way, are constantly changing. Athletes so overpaid and revered now were not always so. Teachers which used to valued highly are now in many places overworked and underpaid. And how often do standards of beauty change? And so measured by the world, you may be worth something today and nothing tomorrow. You may be in today and out tomorrow. And if their judgment is how you judge and measure and value yourself . . . well, no wonder there are so many in our world today who are confused, depressed, worn out, and who don’t know what to think.

But the cross . . . the cross says something much different. Your value, your worth? The Son of God. Who traded His life for yours.

And there you see not only the love of God for you, but the steadfastness of Christ for you. The steadfastness of Christ who would not be deterred, who would not come down from the cross, who would suffer all that for you. Because you’re worth it. And if He did that for you, fulfilling all the promises of God and all the prophecies of God and all the plan of God, you can count on Him. He will come back for you and keep you until He does. And so He comes for you now in His Word, in His forgiveness, in His Supper, to feed you and keep you. Or as Paul put it, to establish and guard you against the evil one. The evil one who hacked us in the first place. The evil one who wants you to think that God is not for you but against you, that you are not in His favor, that you need to worry. But the cross teaches us otherwise. Keep your eyes on that, and these places where Christ and His cross and His promises and His forgiveness are for you today, and you’ll know the truth - the truth that sets you free.

And so until that day, Paul says, as you keep your eyes and hearts focused on the cross, repent and believe; but do this too: pray, and do not grow weary in doing good. Don’t be idle, thinking that there’s nothing you have to do and so there’s nothing you’re going to do! No, your neighbor needs you. He needs your prayers. She needs your love and mercy. And do all this all the more as these things happen, as the last day grows ever closer, as the kingdom of God draws closer. You see the signs, don’t ignore them. Rather, let the death that you see be the rising of your life. Let the evil that you see be the rising of your good. Let the sin that you see be the rising of your forgiveness. That the death and rising of Jesus be lived and be a reality in your life. 

Until that day does comes when there is no more death, only life. No more evil, only joy. And no more sin, only love. As it was in the beginning and will be again, forever.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pentecost 25 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Tree-Climbing Sinner; A Tree-Climbing Saviour”
Text: Luke 19:1-10 (Isaiah 1:10-18)

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. Most of us learned that song as children. But there’s more to Zacchaeus than meets the eye. You see, Zacchaeus wasn’t only short in stature, but short in character and probably short in self-esteem. Short in character because he had most probably earned his wealth from extorting and defrauding it from others because of his position as chief tax collector. And short in self-esteem because tax collectors were hated and shunned and considered just about the worst kind of people in Israel at that time. They made the IRS today - even when you’re being audited - look good. So Zacchaeus was, in many ways I think, a wee little man.

What he wasn’t wee in was money. He was rich. But his riches don’t seem to have been enough for him. For when Jesus comes to his town, he wants to go see who this guy is.  . . .  Why? Maybe because he heard that Jesus befriends tax collectors and sinners and doesn’t shun and hate them.

So Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see Jesus. Which is quite ridiculous, really. Rich men don’t climb trees. Businessmen in expensive suits and imported shoes don’t climb trees. Children climb trees. But Zacchaeus climbs a tree, for the Lord he wanted to see, right? That’s how the song goes. But maybe, Zacchaeus didn’t just want to see but to be seen. To be seen by this one who befriends tax collectors and sinners and doesn’t shun and hate them. Who might even befriend . . . him. 

And that’s exactly what happens. And no accident that, I would say. Jesus sees this ridiculous little rich man up a tree and as so often happens, Jesus’ heart goes out to him. Jesus has compassion on him. Jesus sees yet another sheep without a shepherd and wants to be his shepherd. So Jesus calls out to him: Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today

Don’t hurry over that line before noting how remarkable it is. First, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name. Jesus knows who he is. Zacchaeus is not just another nameless face in the crowd. He is known by Jesus. And so are you. It’s easy to feel forgotten and lost in the crowd among the thousands living here at Greenspring, or in your school, at your work, or in your community. But Jesus knows you and knows your name. He called you by name in Holy Baptism and made you His own. For He wants to be your shepherd, too. That you be not harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, but one of His flock, in His care and keeping, in His feeding and protection. 

Hurry and come down. Don’t stay where you’re at. Come and receive the gifts Jesus has come to bring. For I must stay at your house today, Jesus says. I, the God of creation in human flesh; must, this is necessary for me, this is exactly what Jesus has come to do; stay, or abide, to grace you with my presence; at your house, Jesus comes to us in our need; He doesn’t command that we clean ourselves up and make ourselves right and make an arduous journey to Him - He comes to us; today. This today was going to be a day unlike any other day for Zacchaeus. This today would change everything for him. Today He will be made a new man. Today, as Jesus will say, salvation has come to this house. And not just salvation to eternal life, but salvation to a new life even now. To the life Zacchaeus went looking for when he climbed that tree.

Now the crowd, we are told, grumbled at that. He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner. Yes. Precisely. But not only that day, but every day of His life. This is who Jesus is: the God who has come to live with sinners. To live in our world, to come to our houses, to abide in our churches. Everywhere sinners are, that’s where Jesus is. To bring us salvation. To bring us the new lives that we need. 

And He did it by Himself climbing a tree. The tree of the cross. To be seen by us. That we see the love of God for us. And just as Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down from the tree that He might bring salvation to Him, so Jesus would not come down from His tree - even though many yelled at Him to come down - in order to bring salvation to us. He must stay. He must die. For in His death is our life. In His staying is our freedom. For in Jesus’ death and then resurrection - not His coming down from the cross but His coming up from the grave - salvation has come not just to a house, but to the world. To you and to a whole world of Zacchaeus’.

That today was a new day for Zacchaeus. It changed his whole life. I think if you knew Zacchaeus before and after, you wouldn’t recognize the man he had become. His stinginess changed to love. His extorting and defrauding turned to generosity. But that’s what happens when your sins are like scarlet and then are white as snow. When they are red like crimson and then become like wool. When the sin that weighs you down is taken away; when hatred and shunning are replaced with love and forgiveness. When you have a Good Shepherd.

Maybe you know a Zacchaeus. Maybe you’ve been a Zacchaeus. Maybe you’ve been part of the crowd that grumbled and complained at what Jesus was doing, how He was doing His job, what kind of people He was welcoming into His family, into His church. Maybe, like me, all of the above at some point or another. However it is with you today, Jesus is here for you today, to give you a new today. To abide at your house, in your life, and make it a today filled with His forgiveness and grace. To wash you of your sins, to feed you with His Body and Blood, and satisfy your every need. For He knows your name too. That you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness

For truly there are no wee little men in Jesus’ sight. Only great big sinners that He wants to befriend and make sons of God. And He has. Until that day when Jesus comes again and calls out Zachaeus’ name, and your name again, from the Book of Life. That day when He will not come to abide with us in our houses, but when He comes to take us to His. Forever.

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pentecost 25 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Life and Hope, Now and Forever, in Jesus”
Text: Luke 20:27-40

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

What’s heaven like? How old will I be there? If I die old will I be old, or if I die young will I be young? Will I have gray hair? Will I have hair? What about babies who are aborted, or those people who die in horrible ways? Where are we all going to live? What will we be doing? Aren’t I going to get bored? Will I know everybody? What will I remember from this life? What is heaven going to be like?

You know people who have asked questions like that. You have asked such questions. Sometimes those questions are asked because we’d really like to know the answers. But sometimes questions like those are asked not for an answer, but to mock belief in heaven. To try to show how ridiculous it is to believe that there is a life after this one. To try to mock our belief in something we know, really, so little about. 

So it was with the Sadducees, who came up to Jesus that day and asked him a question about heaven and the resurrection. They weren’t really looking for an answer because they didn’t believe that there is a resurrection. This was their latest attempt to trick Jesus, mock Jesus, discredit Jesus, and eventually kill Jesus. So, a resurrection, huh Jesus? What’s it going to be like, in this life after death? What about in a case like this, this woman who had seven husbands . . . that’s kind of a stickler isn’t it Jesus? Maybe this “life after death” is not all its cracked up to be.

Well, it’s not a stickler for Jesus, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, though, think about these Sadducees for a moment. They denied that there is a resurrection, which means that for them, this life is all there is. Long life, short life, rich life, poor life, hard life, easy life, this is it. This is it. And even though the Sadducees as a group disappeared a few years after Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, there are many today who follow in their footsteps and believe that there is no resurrection. This life is all there is. Whether it’s those who believe evolution, those who believe in reincarnation, or those who don’t believe anything at all. You live for a while, you die, and that’s it. So eat, drink, and be merry.

But I’m not really concerned about those people today. I mean, I am concerned about them; we should be concerned about them - but they’re not who I’m talking to today. They’re not who I’m preaching to today. I’m preaching to you, who confess yourselves Christians; who confess that you do, in fact, believe in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting (Apostles Creed). I’m concerned with you who confess this with your lips, but live like a Sadducee. Who live as if this life is all there is.

And we do, don’t we? I’m afraid more than we’d like to admit. We do when we get so busy and so wrapped up with the things of this world and life that we give little thought to the bigger picture, that there’s more to life than this. It’s why we get so upset when something is taken away from us here, or when we think we’re not getting what we deserve. It’s why we hold on so tightly to what we have, even when there are so many in need. It’s why in our world today, suffering and doing without and discipline have become anathema, and pleasure and fulfilling your every dream and desire have become the highest good. And woe to those who get in the way of this highest good, who get in the way of the dreams, desires, or pleasures of anyone.

But today Jesus says to the Sadducees and us who live like them: you’re wrong. And you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s more to this life, and more life after this life. This world and this life is ending, that is true. But that’s not the end. There’s more. And Jesus proved that when not too many days after He spoke these words, He Himself rose from the dead. After He had taken all our misguided “this life is all there is” sins and died for them and with them, and then rose to a new life. And then said: this is for you too. To start to live a life now that not even death will be able to end. To start to live a life now that’s more than just a rush to fulfill every dream, pleasure, and desire. To start to live a life now like there is a tomorrow, and an eternity of tomorrows after that. In Jesus.

So Jesus tells the Sadducees: you’re not thinking right. You’re trying to imagine heaven through the lens of how things are on earth. But it’s different than that. It’s more than that. It’s better than that. Marriage is an earthly thing, for companionship and for children to populate the earth. In the resurrection, however, there is no more death and everyone is a brother or sister in Christ - and so earthly marriage won’t be needed anymore. It will be better. Husbands won’t bury their wives or wives their husbands. Children won’t bury their parents or parents their children. No more separation or divorce. No more loneliness, no more need. There will be not many families, but one family around our one Father. Jesus’ Father. Who in Jesus we call Our Father.

One Father, one family, which includes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who Jesus says are still living - just no longer in this life. One Father, one family, which includes Moses, who led the people of Israel out of Egypt as God said, and who, though he could not enter the Promised Land of Canaan, nevertheless entered the Promised Land of heaven where he lives still. And one Father, one family, which includes you. You who have been baptized into this family and have a seat at the family table with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Your brothers and sisters here in this life, and your brothers and sisters in the next life. One Father, one family, one table. And we are taught, we are reminded, as we eat this feast with them, that there is more - more to this life, more than this life. Much more. 

And so taught and reminded, we repent. For when we have lived as if this is all there is. For when we have lived as if this world and life was all important. For when dreams, desires, and pleasures have become our gods and what guides and controls us in this life. And much more. We repent, for our Lord is here to restore us to life again. That life which starts now and never ends. That life which He gives to us in forgiveness when He places that forgiveness into our hearts, minds, and souls through our ears and our mouths, through His Gospel and His Supper. And He says to us: you are not now what you were before. Or as I rather like to say: you are no longer living a life that will end in death; you now die a death that ends in life

And that’s really what repentance is: a little death that ends in the life-giving forgiveness of Jesus given to you. Practice, as it were, for the real thing. But also now so taught and reminded and forgiven, we live. We live the new life given to us in Christ, by Christ. A new life in an old life world. An old life world filled with folks like the Sadducees’ hypothetical widow. Put yourself in her sandals for a moment. She’s married (joy!) but has no children (sadness). Then her husband dies (grief). Many of you know what she went through - that sadness of wanting but having no children, or of standing by the grave of your spouse. But then it happens to her again and again and again and again. Seven times. 

And what other sadness and grief is there like that in our old world today? And that so often happens again and again and again and again. The situations change, the stories change, but the sadness and grief is the same. What is the message for them? Too bad! So Sad! This life is all there is and you got dealt a bad hand. Of course not. We speak of hope and live a hope that there’s more to life than this. That even in the most desperate times and places, we have a Saviour. A Saviour who’s been through it and who gives life. A Saviour who has come to provide more than just what we see here and now. 

A Saviour who brings light into darkness, hope into struggle, and life into death. And who assures us that after the cross is the resurrection. To a life far better than we could ever imagine.

So dear brothers and sisters in Christ, live that life and hope. And take that new life here given out into our old life world - to the widows, to the dying, to the hurting, the wounded, the struggling, the desperate, and give them hope. Your hope. Give them Jesus. The Jesus who came once in the flesh to ascend the cross, and who is coming again in glory to raise us from death to ascend with Him into heaven. For yes, Sadducees, there is a resurrection and a life that never ends.

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

[The idea and direction of this sermon taken from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 23, Part 4 (Sept 1 - Nov 24, 2013), p. 48-50.]

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints Sermon

Jesu Juva

“All the Saints”
Text: Revelation 7:2-17; Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3

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

The first part of this past week I was down in Florida to attend the quarterly Board of Trustees meetings for the Lutheran Haven, our District’s adult care community. The trip started like all the others, but quickly changed when I arrived. For as I got into the car that picked me up at the airport, I was told that one of the old retired pastors that lived on campus,named Oscar, had tragically died. He was riding his bike -probably on his way to McDonald’s for coffee -and was crossing a pretty good sized road when he was hit by a car. You see, it was at exactly that time of the morning when the sun is coming up over the horizon and when you’re driving - as most of you know and have experienced - that light can come right through your windshield, hit you right in the eyes, and suddenly blind you. And you can’t see anything.

So it was for a 21 year old young lady, a member of the same congregation as this 90 year old retired pastor. She suddenly couldn’t see. She couldn’t see him right in front of her car and hit him. Almost right in from of the Haven campus.

The community was pretty shaken, as you can imagine. There was a prayer service in the afternoon. And at this prayer service, I was told that this old pastor - whom I did know - would always say, whenever one of the folks there would die, that we shouldn’t be sad, but rejoice! For our brother or sister in Christ is now at peace and rest; is now with our Saviour. And the people smiled at that; at this good news. And knew that so now it was for the one who always spoke those words, for Oscar. So they would rejoice for him. Even in their sadness and shock, they would rejoice for their old friend.

That’s what All Saints Day is all about.

But it’s not just about that. It’s about more than that too. For All Saints Day is not just about the saints in the next life, but all the saints, including the saints who live now. The saints who still live on earth. You. All three of the readings we heard today spoke about that. This dual reality. And that good news was demonstrated this week at the Haven also . . .

For Oscar’s widow and family, in the midst of their pain, shock, and sorrow, weren’t just thinking of and concerned for themselves - in fact, they were even more concerned for someone else . . . for that 21 year old young lady who hit and killed their husband and father. They reached out to her. They wanted to comfort and care for her. As did the whole community. Saints doing what saints do. Showing the love and compassion of Christ. Rejoicing in the transfer of the one to the Church Triumphant, and caring for the ones who remain in the Church Militant. 

That, too, you see, is what All Saints Day is all about.

All the saints, from every people, tribe, nation, and language - but one Church. All the saints, living here or living there - but one Church. All the saints, from the very oldest to the very youngest, in one Church. All the saints, baptized into and together in Christ.

And that’s what we rejoice in today. This fellowship we have that not even death can end.

The reading from Revelation today spoke of this one Church. It was kind of a tedious reading though, wasn’t it? 12,000 from this tribe, 12,000 from that tribe . . . couldn’t we have just skipped over those verses, Pastor? Well, yes, but they serve a purpose. For though the numbers in Revelation are symbolic numbers and not literal numbers (sorry Jehovah’s Witnesses!), they do tell us that the people of God on earth, the saints on earth, are numbered. The saints in heaven? They are a great multitude that no one could number! But the saints on earth . . . God knows precisely how many; God knows every one. None will fall through the cracks. None will be forgotten. You will not be forgotten.

And the names of the tribes? Well, they’re instructive too. We’re not all the same. And like these twelve sons of Jacob, some of us have pretty colorful backgrounds! So of all those tribes, what tribe are you from? Maybe Reuben, who shamed his father and his family. Maybe you’ve done some shameful things in your life. Or maybe you’re from the tribes of Simeon and Levi, bold in their sin, those two. And maybe you’ve been a pretty bold sinner, too. Or Joseph, who languished in prison and felt forgotten. Or Benjamin, the smallest. Insignificant. Or maybe you’re from the tribes of the sons born to the maidservants - those who don’t really fit in. 

But all these, we find out, are among the saints. All these together in one holy Church. For all are forgiven, by grace through faith, in their Saviour. Like you. For them, He hadn’t come yet - they were still looking forward and waiting for this promised Messiah. For us, Jesus has come. But it is the same faith for us all - just different sides of the cross. It is the same forgiveness for us all - the forgiveness that joins us to Christ; the forgiveness that makes us saints.

Saints, though you may not look or act like a saint now. Those twelve colorful sons of Jacob didn’t always look or act like saints - maybe they never did! - but you are, not because of what you do, but because God says so. His word does what it says. His word in the beginning that created all things out of nothing also creates saints out of sinners. His Word which you heard again today: I forgive you all your sins . . . or to put that in other words, in creation words: Let there be saints. And there were saints. Saints blessed by God.

Which is what Jesus told us in the reading from Matthew. Blessed are you. Nine time he said it. Blessed are you. Almost like He’s trying to convince us of the fact. And maybe He is. ‘Cause if you’re like me, you don’t feel blessed a lot of the time. In fact, you feel under fire a lot of the time. You feel attacked, threatened, unsure, worried, depressed, worn out, used up, empty - everything but blessed. Welcome to the Church Militant.

For that’s what it’s like for the saints on earth. The book of Hebrews (11:36-38) tells us that some suffered mocking and flogging, chains, and imprisonment. Others were stoned, sawn in two, and were killed with the sword. Some went about in the skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. And what are we told of those this happened to? The world was not worthy of them (v. 38). The truth is that saints will come under enemy fire, and sometimes even friendly fire! 

But blessed are you. Blessed are you when you are worn out and used up. Blessed are you who forgive. Blessed are you who show mercy to others, even to those who persecute and mistreat you. Blessed are you who resist temptation and stand up for the truth. Blessed are you who get walked on so much you have athlete’s scalp! Blessed are you who mourn with the mourners. Blessed are you who are cursed and belittled for your faith. Blessed are you who know that this is not your kingdom, but that yours is the kingdom of heaven.

And you really are blessed - this is not just wishful thinking. John reminded us that what we will be has not yet appeared. Who we are now is hidden. But when He appears we shall see. When He appears we shall be like Him. When He appears, we shall see Him as He is. 

The Apostles struggled with this too. When Jesus was being rejected and mistreated, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, He didn’t look like the Son of God! But when the Son rose, when the Son rose from the dead, then they could see Him as He is.

And so for you and me, in rejection and mistreatment, bearing the cross, falling into sin - we may not look much like saints. But when the Son rises and His light hits us in the eyes, we won’t be blinded by the light, we will finally be able to see! To see Him as He is, and to see for us what He has promised all along. And there won’t be death, only life. 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. You are. 

They are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; you are still in it. We feebly struggle, they in glory shine (LSB #677 v. 4)

But though you struggle, you are among the number who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The stains of your sin have been washed away. For the Lamb of God, the Saviour of sinners, Jesus, has come for you and died for you. And His blood poured over you in the waters of Holy Baptism have washed you and made you a child of God. His blood poured over you in the words of the Absolution and of the Gospel continue to wash you and keep you in that great multitude that no one could number. And His blood along with His body now given to you in the bread and wine of Holy Communion not only wash you but also gathers the whole Church of Christ around His throne. For here you join not just your fellow members of Saint Athanasius, but the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Or in other words, all the saints. Including 90 year old retired pastors now residents of heaven, and 21 year old young ladies who struggle on with us.

And maybe, just maybe in this fellowship, we get a glimpse of the glory that will be revealed on the last day. A glimpse of the glory of our Saviour shining through us in this one holy and apostolic church. A glimpse of the glory of a Saviour who laid down His life for us, as we lay down our lives for others. 

It is just a glmpse though, for the day is still coming when the Son is going to come up over the horizon in all His brillance and the glory of His light hits us in the eyes. When the yet more glorious day breaks, and the saints triumphant rise in bright array. And we will not be blinded, but see and rejoice in our Saviour who was with us on the way, who has returned to take us home, and who will wipe every tear from the eyes of a widowed pastor’s wife, from the eyes of a traumatized 21 year old young lady, and from your eyes too. And all the saints will from their labors rest (LSB #677).

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