Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: Mark 11:1-10 (Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9)

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

The first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday of a new church year, which means this one thing: another church year has gone by and Jesus didn’t come again. There have been almost 2,000 of them now and the church is still waiting. Every year we proclaim Jesus is coming back, and every year - so far - He has not. 

Are you disappointed? Admit it - you’re not, are you? Because if you’re like most people, you really don’t want this world to end. As bad as it is and as bad as the news gets, it’s home, and the thought of it ending frightens you. So better to not think about it. Just keep on the best you can.

And also because you’ve got stuff to do and things you want to enjoy: kids and grandkids to watch grow up, careers to pursue, tickets to the game, and Christmas is coming - wouldn’t want to miss that! For imagine finding just the right gift for that hard-to-buy-for person who has everything. You searched and searched and thought and thought and found just the right gift that is going to both surprise and delight that special someone . . . and Jesus comes again and you don’t get to give it! What a bummer that would be, huh?

But the truth is, as much as the church speaks of Jesus’ return at the end of the church year, we really don’t give it much thought. We just expect things to continue as they have for so many years.

But it was not always so. The Jews in Isaiah’s time - when another year went by they were disappointed that God did not rend the heavens and come down to save them and deliver them. And the Christians in the city of Corinth, Paul says, were eagerly waiting for the revealing - or, for the apocalypse, in the Greek - of our Lord Jesus Christ

So, what would change your mind? What would it take for you to be like the Jews of Isaiah’s day or the Christians in Corinth, truly disappointed when not another year, but another day went by without Jesus coming again? Maybe if you were in prison, serving life with no chance of parole; or if you were on death row. Jesus coming again would be a relief and a release for you. Or maybe if you had a terminal disease, or a disease that won’t kill you but just lingers and makes life tough - Jesus coming again would mean less suffering for you. Or what if you had overwhelming debt that you could not pay, or ISIL terrorism starts infiltrating our communities, or riots like what we saw in Ferguson start burning your home and your business and your car. What would it take for you to pray “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come now!” and really mean it?

Well, I’m not going to pray that any of that stuff happens to you. But every Advent we are reminded that all that stuff I just described is exactly the situation we are in spiritually, whether we realize it or not. You have a disease called sin that is eating away at you and has put you on death row. Satan is terrorizing you and your own sinful urges join in the spiritual rioting of anger, bitterness, and rebellion against God and against others. Jesus not coming again means we’ve had another year of amassing a debt of sin we cannot pay, of doing what our Lord has forbidden and not doing what He has commanded. And maybe that has caused you to look at yourself or look at the world and wonder: When is it going to get any better?

Advent tells us: when Jesus comes again. That’s what it’s going to take. We can’t do it, no matter how hard we try. Our elected leaders can’t do it, they’re sinners too (in case you haven’t noticed that!). 

So in Advent, we turn our eyes again to the One who can. Not that we haven’t been looking at Him all year - we have, for forgiveness, for help, for strength, for wisdom, for the new life we need. All of that, yes. But Advent is different. Advent means “to come.” And especially this season we pray for that. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come now! We sing it in our hymns: O Come, O Come, Immanuel and Savior of the Nations, Come. We pray for it in our collects, that the Lord would stir up His power and come, and that the Holy Spirit would come and stir up our hearts to repent. You may not pray for those things at home, on your own, so we pray them here. And fix our eyes on the One who has promised to come and save us.

And how we do that, how we look to the One who has promised to come again, is by looking back to when He did come, the first time - when He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He came, as promised, though it took a long time. He came, as promised, and took your place on death row with the guilt of your sin. He came, as promised, right into the rioting madness of evil. He came, as promised, into Jerusalem that day and went to the cross. To give Himself and all that He is for you. To Hosanna you, to save you. 

Now, the people then didn’t understand the significance of what Jesus was doing - not even the disciples. Just like us today, most of them were probably looking to be saved from the things and problems and fears of this world, not from their sins. They probably were shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” because they wanted Jesus to restore the kingdom of Israel and free it from Roman rule and be that kind of king. Just as we often want a Jesus who will be that kind of king and stop the rioting, stop the wars, stop the hatred, so we can live in this world in peace.

Now, it’s not wrong or bad to want those things, but Jesus didn’t come to be that kind of king or to give that kind of peace - for them or for us. His chosen mode of transportation made that obvious! Kings and warriors don’t ride young, untamed colts or donkeys, they ride strong, well-trained stallions. His honor guard showed that, too - not soldiers but common people and children with coats and tree branches. But it was His chosen throne that shouted it the loudest - for earthly kings rule from bejeweled thrones, they don’t reign from a cross. And so with colt, coats, and cross, we see that Jesus has come to do something quite different, something much better. To provide for us a peace and salvation not just for a time, for the eight or nine decades we have on this earth, if we’re given that many, but peace and salvation forever. 

And so in the midst of this world of trouble we sing our Hosanna too - to our King who comes to us in just as unlikely a way as on colt, coats, and cross - as He comes to us in the simple bread and wine of the Supper. It’s not even really good bread and wine; it’s ordinary at best. But whether it’s on the donkey’s colt or in the bread and wine it is (as we sang in the Introit) your King coming to you, righteous and having salvation. Your King with His forgiveness and with His life for you. So that in the midst of the rioting, wars, troubles, and hatred of this world, we have hope and we have peace - a peace that surpasses understanding and supersedes time and space. A peace with God to have now and that lasts forever. 

So Advent proclaims: Behold, your King is coming to you - now! - just as He promised. And He is coming again - He will! - just as He promised. For He came, just as He promised. He is faithful. 

And you who sang earlier O Lord, How Shall I Meet You? come to meet Him in the same way as He came to meet you - not in your strength, but in humility; not in pride, but in repentance. Bring your sins for your King to take away and Hosanna you. And as you do that, this season, every week, and even every day, you are focused on the better, you are looking at your King, and preparing for the end, for that day when Jesus comes again as He promised. And as you do that you are looking, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, to the One who enriches, supplies, and sustains you to live now, to live in your vocations, to serve and to love until He comes again. That you be ready, if this be the year, if this be your final Advent. For one year, one day, it will be; He will come. And when He does, you will not be disappointed.

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Lord, Help Us Realize This”
Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-10; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Luke 17:11-19

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

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer asks: Give us this day our daily bread.
The catechims then asks us: What does this mean?
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

To realize this. To open our eyes and ears and hearts to all that our Lord is doing. That He is giving us and all people more gifts than we can even imagine. On a good day, like Thanksgiving Day, we might remember to give thanks for all the gifts and blessings we realize and can think of, but in truth, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. There is so much more God is doing that we don’t even realize. Like an iceberg in the ocean, with only the topmost five or ten percent visible, when you realize a gift from God, you can be sure there’s ninety percent more behind it than you even know.

So in the Lord’s Prayer we pray: Lord, help us to realize this. Open our eyes and ears and hearts to believe. 

And to help us with this, Luther then asks: What is meant by daily bread? What are some of these gifts for which to give thanks that God is giving to all people? And though the list here is long, it again doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, good, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. 

I suppose when you don’t have those things, or when you had them but lose them, you realize what gifts they are and how much you need them. Help us realize this too, dear Father in heaven. All Your gifts, so richly and abundantly given.

But still there’s more. Moses also told the people of Israel: Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. This too is a gift from God, His discipline. When we try to “count our blessings,” we usually try to think of those things we think are good - but God’s gifts are not limited to what we enjoy. He sends good in ways that are sometimes tough and difficult, that involve struggle and perhaps even suffering. Lord, help us to realize this too, and receive this daily bread with thanksgiving as well.

And Moses then gives us some insight concerning this, why God gives gifts in this way too, saying that it is that he might make you know that may does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. It is so easy to focus on the gift and not the Giver. Look at the nine lepers who did just that as an example. But all the gifts of this world and life will one day go away - all those things Luther listed in the catechism. But this one will not: the word of the Lord. This is the gift not only behind every gift and that speaks every gift, but the gift that is superior to every gift. The word of the Lord, and that Word made flesh.

And this is the gift that has not only been given to you, but just as with all His other gifts, God desires to give to all people, for He desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth that just as the people of Israel were on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land, so are we. And that as good as the Promised Land might be for them, and as good as the gifts we might receive here are, there is more. The gift of life with our Father in heaven, through the death and resurrection of the Son, by the working of the Holy Spirit. 

And to give this gift, how much is our God doing! Beginning with the promise made to Adam and Eve, down through time to the Incarnation, and now to the gifts given here, to you. These gifts that give THE gift. The gift of the Son, His Word, His forgiveness, and His life. And these gifts not just given once, but continually, to bless you and keep you, to feed you and sustain you in this life, for if it were up to us, if we were on our own, how quickly and easily we would lose it all. Lord, help us realize this, too. And give thanks.

So we’ve gathered here this night to do so. Not only this night, but especially this night. To give thanks not only for what we know God has given us, but for what we do not know. To give thanks not only for what we think is good and enjoy, but those things through which God is working a good of which we are not aware. And to give thanks not only for ourselves, but for those who are not here tonight, and for those who do not even believe. For all God’s gifts deserve thanks and praise, and it is good to give thanks to the Lord (Ps 92:1). Good for us.

That, as Luther once said, we may realize and believe that our God is an eternal fountain that gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good (Large Catechism, First Commandment). And in return, we may gush forth abundantly a constant thanksgiving for all these gifts. Thanksgiving everyday, in word and deed. 

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Last Sunday of the Church Year Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Judge Is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Fear”
Text: Matthew 25:31-46; Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24;
1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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

I’m going to string some verses from the Bible together for you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  . . .  And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:1, 6).

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Psalm 95:7).

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it (Luke 15:4)?

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.  . . .  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:14, 3).

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6).

And from the Old Testament reading today: I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord.  . . .  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:15, 23).

And then there is the hymn we often sing:
I am Jesus’ little lamb, Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me, Knows my need and well provides me,
Loves me everyday the same, Even calls me by my name (LSB #740 v. 1).

And I could go on, but you get the picture. These are important verses to keep in mind when you hear the words of Jesus that we heard today, when He said:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

That same Good Shepherd throughout all the Scriptures is the Shepherd you will meet on the Last Day. It will not be a stranger or a different Shepherd with a different attitude toward you. It’s not that Jesus is one way with you now, as a caring shepherd, but another way with you then, as a stern judge -  no! The same one who sought you out, cared for you, provided for you, protected you, and rescued you all through your life now will do so at the end as well. He is the one you will come before on the Last Day. And He will separate the sheep from the goats because He knows who are the sheep and who are the goats. He knows those who are His and those who are not. He knows you by name.

He knows. For He baptized you. He gave you His Spirit. He spoke to you through His Word and Absolution. He fed you, placing into your mouth His very Body and Blood. And how many times. He knows you. You belong to Him. And so on the Last Day, He will put you on His right hand, as He is on the Father’s right hand. For you are sons of God in the Son of God. By faith. By the fact that you are His child. You are Jesus’ little Lamb.

And then comes the evidence. Did you notice that? It comes after the separation, not before. It is not the basis for the separation. It cannot be. For Scripture also says:

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).

And [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Or as we sang in the hymn today:
Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer (LSB #555 v. 1).

Faith looks to Jesus not just now, but on the Last Day, too. To the One who can - and will - shepherd us from this life to the next.

So you are not a sheep because of what you did. That is a misunderstanding of this text. You are a sheep because of what Jesus did for you. And then what you do comes from that, from faith. For Scripture tells us this too: So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).

Or again, as we just sang:
Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known, With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living (LSB #555, v. 9).

So on the Last Day, Jesus points to the works you did as evidence of a faith living and active. Works done not to earn forgiveness, but because you are forgiven. As we heard and considered last week: your works are important, and they matter. And your Good Shepherd knows all of them; all the good you’re doing, no matter how small. And it is all small, especially compared to the good He did for you! And you won’t remember it, or even realize the good you have done. But He does. All of it. For you did these things to Him, for Him, even though you weren’t alive when He was, some two thousand years ago. No matter. What you did in faith you did for Him and to Him. 

But what is done without faith is no good work. It cannot be. Scripture tells us that Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). For without faith, all that we do is tainted with sin and not good - not of God - no matter how good it looks to us. 

But what about your sins? You have a lot of them! As do I. Where are they on that day? The Shepherd doesn’t mention them. Indeed He cannot! Why? Listen to more Scripture:

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:10-12).

For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

So your sins? He doesn’t mention them because they’re not there! Your sins of commission, your sins of omission, your really big sins, your little sins - not there! They have been forgiven, because they went with your Good Shepherd into the grave with His dead body, and when He rose again on the third day, they stayed there! Dead and buried. So as St. Paul wrote in the Epistle we heard today: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). Or in other words: you will rise like Him, and you will be like Him. You, perfect and glorified and sinless. Your body, finally, as it was created to be, to live with Him in His kingdom forever. 

And so will the Scriptures be fulfilled on that Last Day, all of them, from beginning to end, with (as Ezekiel wrote) the promised Son of David on the throne forever. The One to whom so many cried our: Lord, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! The Son of David, your Shepherd, on the throne. The Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God, given for you and here given to you. That His life be your life, both now and forever.

What other judge would you want? What better judge could you ask for?

So as I have been saying these past few weeks, do not fear that day, whenever it comes, but look forward to that day with joy! For your Lord is looking forward to that day, you know. For Scripture again tells us: The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.  . . .  The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:15, 17). How incredible! A day of joy for our Lord, too.

That indeed is a day to look forward to. Described for us also in one final Scripture, which we heard on All Saints just a few weeks ago:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  . . .  “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  . . .

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:13-14, 16-17).

That is the future, that is the promise, that awaits you. Spoken by God throughout time. Recorded in Scripture for you. Accomplish by Him.

So come now and once again receive the Body and Blood of the Lamb - your Lamb, who is also your Shepherd and your Judge. Or to paraphrase the Scripture we started this whole sermon off with: The Judge is my Shepherd, I shall not fear. For know that He who shepherds and feeds you now is He who will shepherd and feed you forever.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pentecost 23 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Good and Faithful Servants Know Their Master”
Text: Matthew 25:14-30 (Zephaniah 1:7-16)

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

[Delay] You don’t like waiting, do you? Neither do I. Waiting in line, waiting for your web page to load, waiting in traffic, waiting for your meal to arrive at the restaurant, waiting for pastor to begin this sermon . . .  So fast is big business in our world today. Fast food, fast HOT lanes on the highway, faster internet and cell service, fast church. Don’t make me wait, make it short and sweet and to the point. Whether all that’s good or bad I’ll let you decide.

Last week the parable Jesus told talked about waiting - waiting for the end, waiting for that day when Jesus returns. We noted that while many fear that day - judgment day! - Jesus described it for us as a day of joy, the start of a wedding feast that has no end. So we can look forward to that day and wait for it not in fear, but with a joyful anticipation.

But here’s the question: what do we do until then? How do we who do not like waiting, wait for that day? That’s what Jesus’ parable is about today. Because Christianity isn’t just about “getting into heaven” - it’s about life now, too.

Now, this is a really important parable to get right, because there are two equally dangerous errors people fall into about this. As many of you know, I often describe it as the two ditches along the sides of the road - we don’t want to fall into either ditch, but stay on the road. The road of the right teaching and understanding of Scripture.

So the ditch on the one side of the road is the: you have to do certain things, or enough certain things, in order to be saved ditch. That your Christian life now is about earning your way into heaven - like maybe what those first two servants in the parable today seemed to do. This is what could be called the works righteous ditch, and this can get so bad that faith and Jesus and forgiveness do not enter the picture at all. All that matters, all the focus, is what you do, your goodness, your effort. Your good works, your church attendance, your serving. Doing enough to get in. We don’t want to fall into that ditch. And we Lutherans are usually pretty good at avoiding that ditch . . . most of the time . . . except when we think we’re a little higher on the pecking order because we come to church more faithfully than the next guy, or give more, or show up and do more . . .  that somehow because of those things God should be more pleased with us. So maybe we’re not all the way at the bottom of that ditch, but slip that way sometimes . . .

But the ditch on the other side of the road is just as bad. This is the ditch - called the antinomian ditch, or anti-law ditch, or anti-works ditch - which thinks that what I do doesn’t matter at all. I can do whatever I want, I can sin as much as I want, because all that matters is that you believe and so Jesus will forgive you and it’s all good. That’s maybe the side of the road we Lutherans tend to slip into a bit more. And if you think that way, I think the prophet Zephaniah would like to have a word with you later! We don’t want to be there either. 

Both of these errors come, I think, from the thinking that Christianity is just about “getting into heaven” - and so you either have to be obsessed about doing enough to get yourself there, or you can live footloose and care-free because you know you’re already there. Woo-hoo! But notice - in both of those pictures, those errors, those ditches . . . where’s Jesus? Not really there, is He? Or if He is, He’s not really all that important. It’s all focused on me - what I have to do or don’t have to do.

Which is really quite a minimalist view of the Christian life. One that I think has spilled over from other parts of our life. The “what is the least I have to do to get by” thinking that we tend to have. You know that thinking. It’s: exactly how much dinner do I have to eat to get dessert? Exactly how clean do I have to get my room? Exactly how long does that school paper have to be? Exactly how much do I have to do to get that promotion? Exactly how much do I have to do to get into heaven . . . because I certainly want to make sure I don’t do more than I have to!

Is that what the Christian life is all about? Really? Is that it? Or is that: it’s my life and I want to do what I want, so let me get this out of the way? Again, where’s Jesus in all that?

Instead, think about this parable of Jesus again. What do we know about the three servants and what was the difference between the first two and the third? Well, it seems to be this: the first two had a completely different view of their master than the third. The third one thought the master a hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed, and so someone to be afraid of. But while that is his opinion of his master, we don’t know that to be true. In fact, it seems by his actions that the master is really quite the opposite of that. He freely gives to his servants quite a sum of money - even one talent was the equivalent of twenty years wages for a working man. And the first two servants don’t seem concerned about what he will think when they return - if he expected an even greater return on investment than they got. You get the impression that they joyfully came before their master and was glad he was back. And he seems to be equally pleased with both of them and then doesn’t just take what they have earned (because that’s what he expected, after all), but gives them even more. So stingy? Hard? Dishonest? It just doesn’t seem so.

And so it was their knowledge of the master that made all the difference in how they lived, waiting for him to return. 

And so it is for you and I. Knowing your master, our Lord and Saviour, makes a difference and is reflected in how you live now. If you live in fear of punishment, that says something about what you believe about God. If you live thinking you have to earn His love and life, that is saying something. If you think you can selfishly take advantage of His love and forgiveness, sinning as much as you want, that speaks volumes, as does living in the joy and confidence of being a child of God. Knowing your Father in heaven and your Saviour and what He is like makes all the difference in the world.

So let us consider our Father in heaven. What kind of God is He? He is a giving God. All that you have is from your Father in heaven. If He didn’t give it, you wouldn’t have it. All is gift from Him for you to use and enjoy. To some He gives more and to some less, yes, as in the parable. But this, too, is good. He gives what He does because He knows you. Love does not treat eveyone the same, but each person uniquely and individually. He gives you what you need, but not more than you can handle. And never because you deserve it - as we confess in the catechism: all this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. Like in the parable, all gift.

Because what we deserve is . . . well, nothing. No gifts, no kindness, no consideration, no life. Only death. Because of our sin. Because we don’t just slip into those ditches, do we? Sometimes we run and do cannonballs into those ditches. And live as if God - our generous, giving God - did not matter and as if I mattered most.

But then we find out more about our giving God - that to us He has not only given all that we have, He gave His Son. He does not turn away from us in our sin, but gives even more. And so Jesus came and gave His life for yours on the cross. To pull you out of the ditch, clean you, and set you on the road again. To take all that stuff we heard from Zephaniah - all the wrath, all the distress, all the ruin and devastation, all the darkness and gloom, all the anguish and weeping and gnashing of teeth that is by right yours, and to give you instead a new life to live - not in fear, but in confidence and joy in Him and all that He has done for you.

And as if that’s not enough, He gives even more. For God has given you His Spirit, and with His Spirit the gift of faith, the forgiveness of sins, the promise of resurrection, and a life everlasting. That as His children, as His Church, we be free to live and use and enjoy all the gifts our Lord has given us, in the places He has put us. Not selfishly, or as if there were no God, nor as if there was some trick to it all because God is hard and demanding. No, but to care and give and love and serve - giving just as we have been so graciously given to. And knowing that you cannot possibly out give, out love, or out serve your Father in heaven. And living in such faith and joy now, being like those first two servants - joyful when our Lord returns, knowing that as His children, He is pleased with us.

Starting from that perspective, that understanding and faith of who our God is and what He has done and gives to us, puts Jesus in the center of your life and effects how you then live. It puts things into perspective - both our promised eternal life, but also our life here and now, that your Father wants you to enjoy too. Not in fear or in captivity to sin, but in love and freedom from sin. To live in His image. Because what you do matters. How you live matters. Not to get anything from God - He’s already given you all things! But because your neighbor needs you - your children, your parents, your spouse, classmates, co-workers, and friends - and because how you live tells the world what you believe about your Father in heaven and what He is like. And so your Father gives to you, that you be like Him and give, too. Showing others His love and care and forgiveness. Not because you have to, but because that’s who you are - a child of God. With His Spirit working in you.

And then when your brother Jesus returns, you will meet Him with the faith that you lived now, and enter into the joy that you have already begun to receive here. The joy of His forgiveness. The joy of His love. The joy of His freedom. The joy you enter into as your Saviour comes to you already now in His Supper. As Jesus comes to you in that same Body and Blood that will come on the last day, coming now still to give - to give you Himself, to give you the forgiveness and life and faith you need. To nourish and strengthen you. And this we joyfully proclaim until our waiting is over and He does come. Finally, once and for all - on the Last Day, and we enter into His kingdom. NOT because of how much you did, but because what you did, you did in faith. And so you too will hear those wonderful words: Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master.

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

Address at Patrick Henry College

Address to the Students of Patrick Henry College
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Jonah 1:1-17; 2:10

What’s your “Jonah moment?” Think about that for a moment. If you were to insert yourself into the verses we just heard, about this prophet, where would it be? What’s your “Jonah moment?”

Perhaps, like we heard in the opening verses, you feel called by God like Jonah was. We don’t know anything about Jonah before this, he maybe was just minding his own business and going about his life and maybe things were going pretty well . . . when God interrupts and tells him to go to Nineveh and preach His Word to the people there. Call them to repentance. Maybe you feel called like that. To preach God’s Word, or to serve the Lord in some other way. Yet while that may be true for you, no - that’s not your “Jonah moment.”

So maybe your “Jonah moment” is in what Jonah did next - run away. Maybe like Jonah, you’ve rebelled against God and His Word and are running away from what you should be doing. It’s actually easy to do at college - even a Christian college - when you have a bit more freedom than you had at home and maybe you’re using that freedom to run away from restrictions, to run away from some responsibility, to run away from authority. And like Jonah, plot a new course for your life. Yet while that may be true for you, no - that’s not your “Jonah moment” either.

Or what about sleeping through the storms of life instead of helping out your neighbors in need? Too concerned about yourself to pray for them or go out of your way for them? 

Or maybe your “Jonah moment” is to be hurled into the sea - giving your life for the sake of others. But no - these are not your “Jonah moments” either. 

So, there’s really only one thing left. Only one other thing that happened that could be your “Jonah moment” - and that is being swallowed by the great fish. Yes, that’s your “Jonah moment.”


Now, here’s why. Because maybe you’re thinking: He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know who I am or how I am or how God is working in me and my life. He doesn’t know what my “Jonah moment” is! Oh, but I do - not because it’s my opinion or your opinion, but because that’s what Scripture says. And that always has to be the basis and foundation of truth.

So what does Scripture say? Two texts will tie this all together. First, in Matthew chapter 12 we hear these words of Jesus: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” 

The story of Jonah, you see, isn’t just about Jonah - it’s a pointer to Jesus and a foreshadowing of His work for us. It wasn’t an accident that God decided to send that fish and it wasn’t by chance that Jonah had to be in it three days and three nights. God didn’t have to scramble for “Plan B” when Jonah wasn’t thrilled with His idea to go to Nineveh and preach. Like, what am I gonna do now? No, this is God weaving history and the story of His people together into a perfect union, that we know Him and His work for us.

But I said there are two texts that tie this all together, so here’s the second. For just as what happened to Jonah isn’t just about what happened to Jonah, so too what happened to Jesus in those verses I just read isn’t just about Jesus. It’s about you too. And so St. Paul says in Romans chapter 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried - or, swallowed up! - with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

And so there it is: You in Christ and Christ dead in the tomb, swallowed up by death and the grave. But then you in Christ and Christ risen from the dead, alive again after three days. 

You see, Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish was, in a sense, his death and resurrection. It was the powerful medicine that changed him. And that’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus has done for you. For while you weren’t thrown into the waters of the sea like Jonah, St. Paul said that when you were thrown in the waters of Baptism, that was the same thing - that was your death and resurrection. For you were joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection. And just as that was the power that gave Jonah a new life, that’s the power that gives you a new life. That changes us from scared, reluctant runaways into children of God.

For once you spend three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, your perspective changes. You begin to see things a little differently. You begin to say with the psalmist: What can man do to me?

And so it was for Jonah. He goes from one “belly of the beast” to another, going into the heart of the beastly city of Nineveh to preach to them and call them to repentance. For what can man now do to me?

And so too for you. Baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, already getting death over with in Him and receiving a new life, a resurrection life, a life that not even death can now end, what can man do to you? But not only man, but in Christ, you need no longer fear sin, death, or satan. Jesus has defeated all of these for you. For truly, He was the one thrown into the “belly of the beast,” the gaping mouth of death and the grave, and thrown there not because of His sin but because of your sin, and then emerged victorious. Victorious over your sin, your death, and your evil foe, that in Him, that be your victory too. A victory you could never win, but He could, and did, and now gives to you.

So while you may not ever be called to go preach in Nineveh, you have been called to be the Lord’s blessing to others, in the callings, the vocations, you have been given. Right now as a student, a friend, in your families, in your churches, your jobs, and wherever you are. Maybe like Jonah you don’t like them very much right now. But these are the places your Lord wants you and where He has put you, to live that new life you’ve been given. A life of repentance, a life of forgiveness, a life of blessing. 

And maybe you’ll feel like you’re in the “belly of the beast” where God puts you - in a place like Nineveh, where the sin is great and the people evil. Look around at our beastly world today with its troubles and sins, with its evil and idolatry, seeking to devour anyone or anything in their path. But God did something great in Nineveh.

But don’t look only in the world and the “out there” - look at the person next to you, and what they need. And then look inside yourself and see how great your need! And then rejoice that God did something great - not just in Nineveh, but in His Son, for you. To take you who were dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2) and raise you to a new life. To take you who was a rebellious sinner and make you a child of God.

For yes, a Jonah has come to us. A prophet. The greatest prophet. To preach to us repentance and the forgiveness of sins. To preach to us a resurrection to a new life. And to do it. To go to the cross and bring the cross to us. That joined to Him and He to us, we be as He is, and we be where He is. 

That’s your “Jonah moment.” What Jesus has done for you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pentecost 22 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Flee to Christ”
Text: Matthew 24:15-28; Exodus 32:1-20

When Luther taught the book of Genesis to his students at the University of Wittenberg, he spent some time imagining what this world would have been like without sin. Animals living at peace with one another and with humans. For people, no sickness or death, no weakness or bodies wearing out and falling apart. In our world, no drought or famine, no hunger or want, no stealing, wars, jealousy, or terrorism. No divorce, no child abuse, no children disrespecting their parents, no hatred, prejudice, lying, or taking advantage of one another. No false gods or false religions. Or in other words, truly paradise in every way.

Which is quite a contrast to what we heard in the readings this evening. The golden calf, the abomination of desolation, fleeing to the mountains, running and not turning back, great tribulation, false Christs and false prophets, corpses and vultures. Chaos. God’s perfect and orderly creation disordered and plunged into sin. And put side-by-side like that - the original and how it is now - you can begin to realize just how devastating sin really is. The havoc that it has wreaked, even if we don’t always realize it, since we’ve lived in this boiling pot so long and no longer see it or feel it - in the world or in us.

And so this world is going to end. Just as Jerusalem and the Temple came to an end at the appointed time and Israel had to flee (as we heard), so too is this world going to end because of sin. And it’s not a pretty picture.

So, should we flee too? Flee to the mountains or become doomsday preppers? Some are doing that very thing. 

But no. For when this world ends with Jesus’ coming again, there will be no place to run to or hide. His coming will be like the lightning that comes from the east and shines as far as the west. Everyone is going to know. You won’t need anyone to say ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ If you need someone to tell you, you can be sure that’s a false Christ and a false prophet. You’re going to know it when Jesus comes. Everyone is going to know.

And things are going to be difficult before then. There will be ongoing persecution and tribulation for Christians. We see it happening, the latest with the executions in the Middle East, pastors being defrocked for not going along with the world’s agenda, Christian student groups being barred from college campuses, and more. But Jesus said it would be so. That if they hated Him, they’re going to hate those who belong to Him, too (John 17).

But Jesus doesn’t tell us all this to scare you - actually, just the opposite. He is telling us this beforehand to comfort us. So that when these things happen we will not be surprised and think things are spinning out of control. Our Lord knows exactly what is going to happen and is therefore able to protect us in it and save us from it. And so Jesus speaks reassuring words here too. That the time of this evil will be cut short for your sake. That the elect, God’s children, will not be deceived or led astray. That is not possible. So Jesus lets us know that we be not unprepared.

And Jesus tells us this so that in the midst of the sin and chaos and whatever comes your way, you look to Him for all that you need. For protection and forgiveness and hope. For protection from the evil one and his schemes and temptations, for forgiveness for your sin, and for the hope of life both now and forever. And that’s why Jesus came - to not only speak those things, but to do it. To conquer sin, satan, and death through His own death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, and then baptize you into that victory. So that if you’re going to flee you flee to Him and look to Him and His cross for all that you need. 

And so flee to Him where He has promised to be - He and the power of His cross in the waters of Baptism, in His Word, in His Supper. For there He is for you with the help, comfort, and strength you need. There He is for you as your true God, giving what the golden calf never could. For all the golden calf could give the people was a stomach ache after Moses threw the word and law of God against it, ground it up, put it in the water, and made the people drink it. But after the word and law of God was thrown against Jesus on the cross and He was ground up (so to speak) for our sin, He was put in the water of Baptism to wash us clean, and His Blood then given us to drink in His Supper. Israel had to drank their god in punishment, but Jesus drank the cup of God’s punishment and wrath against sin so we wouldn’t have to. That instead, we now drink His cup filled with life and grace and blessing.

So that whenever and however the end comes, whether it be sooner or later, we be ready and safe. In Him. For He is our hiding place, our refuge, and our fortress. The only one who can protect us and save us.

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pentecost 22 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Worth Waiting For”
Text: Matthew 25:1-13; Amos 5:18-24

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

There has always been a certain fascination with knowing how and when the world is going to end. Those who hold to a naturalistic view of things, that the world happened by chance, usually think it’s going to end by chance as well - the sun is going to blow up and incinerate the earth, or it’s going to go out and freeze the earth; or a meteor is going to smash into the earth; or some other cosmic event is going to wipe out life on this earth as we know it. Some think man is going to be responsible - either killing ourselves with global warming, through a nuclear holocaust, a because of some genetically-engineered disease that we’ve produced but cannot control. And then there are those who most folks would consider “on the fringes” (Is that a nice way to say it?) who think it’s going to come because of aliens or something like that. Any way you slice it, it’s frightening stuff. And so most people don’t even want to think about it at all.

But how should we - the Church, Christians - think of the end? Well, Scripturally, of course. And the End of the Church’s Year, today and the next two weeks, gives us a chance to do that. Very generally, the first half of the Church’s Year focuses on the life of Jesus and the second half on the life of the Church, and at the end we focus on the end. And we believe that the God who began this world purposefully will end it in the same way. But an end that is really not an end at all, but a new beginning. A new heavens and a new earth for a new you. That just as you and all believers in Christ will be raised from the dead not with your same old, sinful flesh but with your same bodies glorifed and purified from the sin that right now so burdens us, so, in a sense, will all of creation. A new heavens and a new earth for a new you. And if you want to know more than that and know exactly what that means and what that will be like, you’ll have to stayed tuned and experience it yourself. We’re just not given much more information than that.

But this we know: it’s going to happen not by chance or by accident - but purposefully, when Jesus comes again. God is in control. 

But still - what should be our attitude toward that day? Should we just not think about it? Should we be afraid of it? The Bible speaks of the final judgment that will come with that day, so should we fear that? Your life, on trial! All those mistakes, all those regrets, all those purposeful sins and shameful things you’ve done and thought and desired! Those things that up until that day you’ve been able to keep secret but then will be exposed and judged? Judging by my life that would be a reason to fear that day! And, in fact, we’ll consider all that in a couple of weeks with the readings a couple of Sundays from now - that’s your teaser! But here’s a preview, to calm your fears: would not a God who comforts and cares for His children now do so also at the end, on the last day, as well? Would He help us now but make us fend for ourselves then? No. You have a Saviour. You need not fear.

But what, then, of the words, for example, that we heard from the prophet Amos today? Words that seem to indicate that we should fear that day. For in the words of Amos we heard that it will be a day of darkness, not light; as if a man fled a lion and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. That sounds pretty frightening to me!

And it would be, were it not for Jesus. You see, Amos was speaking to an Israel who decided to go their own way. Who decided they wanted a different god or gods but at the same time wanted to hedge their bets - so they kept the Temple and continued to do all the rituals there, but their hearts and delight and trust and worship were really with others gods, false gods. And that’s why God told them through Amos: I hate your feasts, your assemblies, your music, and your offerings. You’re just going through the motions. I know you don’t mean it. I know where your heart is, that it’s not with Me. And so He sent Amos to warn them. And then He put it in His Word to warn us. That if you come here on Sunday and just faithlessly and thoughtlessly go through the motions and then leave this place and live as if this God and these gifts didn’t even exist . . . well then maybe you should fear that last day. You’re no different than the Old Testament Israel of Amos’ day.

Now if those words just pricked your conscience and churned your gut - and they should have for who of us is not guilty of that? - then good! They’ve done their job. Repent, and then know this too: that darkness, those beasts, and that serpent - your darkness, your beasts, and your serpent - were given to Jesus in your place. That’s what happened to Him on the cross. He went through your judgment for you. That’s why He sweat drops like blood, that’s why He prayed in agony, that’s why He cried out of forsakenness from the cross - when all of our awful Last Days descended on Him in our place, that you be spared. You can still have it if you want it, but Jesus came and lived and died to take it for you. That you here instead, in faith, receive His forgiveness and life, and then leave this place and live as the child of God you are. Because here - to use the words of Amos again - the justice and righteousness that God seeks has, in fact, rolled down like waters and an ever-flowing stream from the side of Jesus on the cross. He provided it for you. To wash you clean in the water of Baptism and the Blood of His Supper. To give you the forgiveness and confidence you need to live a new life, not the same old life. A selfless life, not a selfish life. A joyful life, not a spiteful life. A confident life, not a fearful life.

Which then means that we can view the Last Day, that day when Jesus comes again a bit differently - like what we heard in the Holy Gospel. Like the joy of a wedding day. That when the Last Day comes, it will not be a day of fear and dread (since Jesus dealt with that already), but of celebration. The day awaited so long, finally come. 

But there’s a danger here too: the danger that we grow tired of waiting, or bored of waiting, and so be unprepared when Jesus comes.‘Cuz we come to church every week, and it’s the same old thing every week, and we have plenty of time . . .  So it’s really kind of foolish, don’t you think, to worry about what’s going to happen who knows when, when I’ve got lots of practical stuff to worry about! Life to worry about, job to worry about, school to worry about, family to worry about, bills and problems to worry about. And the joy of the wedding fades - like in Amos’ day - as hearts once filled with the bright light of faith grow cold and go out . . . That wasn’t the intention, they didn’t think that was going to happen, Lord, Lord, I really didn’t mean for it to be this way . . .  I guess it was the five maidens who looked so foolish lugging around their gas cans the whole time who were the wise ones in the end.

For isn’t foolish-looking how it is? Think about it: how foolish does it look for a bridesmaid, all dressed up, hair and make-up done perfectly, nails carefully manicured, perfume on - to have flowers in one hand and a dirty, smelly can of gas in the other? Wouldn’t we call them stupid, crazy, obsessed, fanatical girls?  . . .  Yet isn’t that how Christians look to those outside the Church? To a world that thinks: we don’t need all that religion stuff. We’ve dressed ourselves up good. How foolish we look lugging around the baggage of God’s Word and truth. How foolish to come to church every Sunday; how foolish to waste our time in prayer; how foolish to call innocent little babies sinners and have them baptized; how foolish to think this Supper we call the Lord’s, with its little morsel of bread and sip of wine, can really do anything; how foolish to trust in a God you cannot see; how foolish to confess your sins. Relax, the world says. Don’t worry about all that baggage. Its not so important. You’ll be fine. But things will look quite different in the end.

So these words of Jesus today help us keep things in perspective, and that what the world thinks is foolish just might be the way of wisdom. For when it comes to the things of God, we cannot count on ourselves and what makes sense to us - we need the guidance of the Word, the forgiveness of our Saviour, and the faith that only He can give. 

Or maybe think of it like this: it’s like when you buy something at the store and it’s in one of those packages that seems like it’s been sealed tight enough to survive a nuclear blast. But you can’t wait to get it out and so begin cutting and hacking and stabbing at the package and you cut yourself and it’s a mess and you still don’t have the darn thing out! And then in your frustration you look at it see this fine print where it says: open other end. And then how foolish do you feel?

Well are we striving so hard for life that we don’t realize we’re at the wrong end? That life comes through death. The death and resurrection of Jesus. And that it is only by dying with Him that we live. Sounds foolish, right? But it’s really the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God which says that the best way to wait for Jesus’ second coming is to keep our eyes fixed on His first coming. To see in His death and resurrection our own. That His death and resurrection is the door through which we enter that wedding feast that has no end.

So do that, you wise but foolish-looking Christians. And think of this Church and what happens here as your own open and empty tomb. That here at this font Jesus slew your old man and raised a new man, and that when you repent He does it again with His absolution. And that here at this altar, the slain but risen Body and Blood of Jesus is given to you as a pledge - that just as this Body and Blood that you eat was laid in the tomb and then raised back to life, so will your body and blood be. And through these things, these means, you see and yet do not see. You wait and yet receive what you are waiting for. Until that wonderful day when your waiting will end and your eyes will see. And you will be ready. For the feast. 

Which is really another thing quite different from the world, this feast. For most marriages in this life begin with a honeymoon, which lasts only a short time, and then comes the everyday: the struggle, the sin, the forgiveness. And finally, the day when “till death parts us” comes true.  . . .  But imagine a marriage where the honeymoon comes at the end, and lasts forever. A marriage where not even death can separate what God has joined together. That’s the way of it with Jesus. And that’s something worth waiting for, even if it takes a little longer than we want or expect. 

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