Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Leading the Way”
Text: Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 2:1-5

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

Blue paraments. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (LSB #357). The wreath. It’s Advent. The start of a new church year. The church doesn’t wait for the calendar to turn from one year to the next. She takes the lead, she doesn’t follow. To lead the world in a new direction, to a new place. To lead us in a new direction, to a new place. Because the truth is, far too often this year we have followed, not lead. We followed the world’s thinking, the world’s desire, the world’s agenda, the world’s words. 

The world said: You should want this! And we said: Yes, we want that. 
The world said: You should do this! And we said: Yes, we will do that. 
The world said: You should be this! And we said: Yes, we will be that. 

We want to be at peace with the world. But that peace comes at a high price. It will cost you your life. Your life with Christ. 

For a sinful and sin-filled world and a holy church should not be at peace. The church is here to call the world, to call people, to call you and me, to something more. To follow Christ. To desire His peace. And that’s what the season of Advent is all about.

For the purpose of this season is to make you discontent with your life as it is now. To call you to repent of being satisfied with the status quo, of how things have been this past year, and the direction you’ve been going, and stir up in you a hunger and thirst for something more, for change - a change inside of you. For by the Holy Spirit’s power there is so much more and better - to dream for, hope for, reach for.

And so we heard from St. Paul: 
Now is the time to wake up from our spiritual slumber
Now is the time to cast off the works of darkness
Now is the time to put on the Lord Jesus Christ
Because our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed

Or in other words, it is time to stop your spiritual sleepwalking through life. The dullness, the grogginess, the haze, that makes our life of faith so much less than it could be. Than it should be. 

And those works of darkness? You know what they are. Those things in your life - those thoughts, desires, words, and deeds you want no one else to know; that you never want exposed to the light of day. 

And put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t look like the world and the way it is - put on His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His life. Don’t follow the world into sin and death, but follow Christ to holiness and life. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says, and make no provision for the flesh, - for the world - to gratify its desires. Its desire that we be like it and follow them.

The prophet Isaiah said something similar and put it this way: O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks.

His words there sound like being at peace with the world, but no - it is rather to fight a different fight with a different weapon. To fight not with the weapons of war, with swords and spears, but with the weapon of the Word of God. To plow up the weeds of sin that have grown in our hearts and prune the wild growth that has spread its branches in our lives. That new growth come. New life. New possibilities. Better. That we not be content, but discontent. That we look to Christ for more.

Which is what the people of Jerusalem were doing when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. They were not content. They were looking for more. They hailed Him as the king that had come to set them free. For they thought that freedom from Roman rule would be nice. But Jesus was thinking that freedom from their sins would be even better. 

For that was Jesus’ discontent. If you are discontent with your life, Jesus is even more. He is not content with the reign of sin in us. He is not content with the death that robs us of life. He is not content with the hurt and pain we cause one another. He is not content with our selfish devouring one another. He is not content when we put the things of this world before Him and follow them rather than Him. And He will not make peace with those things.

So He rode into Jerusalem to do something about it. He didn’t just sit in heaven and demand we change. He came to do it.

And so the crowds that day were quite right. He was the blessed one who had come in the name of the Lord. He was the Son of David. And He had come to Hosanna them - to save them now. And so by the end of that very week, the one they welcomed with palm branches would be as dead as the palm branches they had cut from the trees. But not in defeat, but victory. For by His death came the blessing of the blessed one. His death paid the ransom that set all people free. That set you and I free. And from a tyrant far bigger and stronger than Rome - from the tyranny of satan and the bonds of sin and death. And to set us free from just trying to make the best of this life to looking forward to a life that has no end.

And so the blessed one wore a crown not of gold but a better one - of thorns. The Son of David took His place not on a throne of gold and jewels, but a better one - on the throne of the cross. And His royal decree was not that we might have the things of this world, but better - Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). And He has. And so the shouts of the crowd and our prayer today is fulfilled. Jesus has Hosanned us.

And He still is. His work in us goes on. In this world and life we are always arriving but never arrived. For how often still do we find ourselves discontent with Him and following after the world instead of discontent with our life and following after Him? So repent, He says. Turn around. Come back to the font, come back to the altar, come back to the Word. That the Holy Spirit work in you that holiness the once-dead-but-now-resurrected Christ has for you. That there be more and better for you. That there be forgiveness and life in you. That you hunger and thirst for the life Jesus has come to give to you. That you be satisfied and content. In Him.

So today the call goes out not just to move full steam toward Christmas, as the world is doing right now, as an end-of-year, blow out, celebration, but to celebrate Christmas as a beginning-of-year celebration. Not as the end of 2016, but as the beginning of more, of better. To look through Christmas, and to how the God who came as the babe of Bethlehem comes to us now, here. That the same Body and Blood that was laid in a manger and held in Mary’s arms, is now on this altar and laid into your mouths. That your life be changed; your hunger and thirst for more fulfilled. 

And then this too - that the God who came as the babe of Bethlehem is coming back again. For you. This time not in humility, but in glory. Not in bread and wine, but on clouds. Not on a donkey, but with His angels. And as both Bridegroom and Judge. 

To think in that way is to lead and not follow. It is to lead in a new direction, to a new place. Not to bemoan how the world celebrates Christmas, for if anything, we should celebrate even more! But to show the world there’s more, there’s better. That’s Jesus’ birth means a new birth for us. That’s Jesus’ life means a new life for us. And that Jesus’ death and resurrection means a resurrection for us after we too die. And so Christmas really is not just an end, but a beginning.

And then maybe, just maybe, we can tell the world: 

You can have this. And the world say: Yes, we want to have that.
You can do this. And the world say: Yes, we want to do that.
You can be this. And the world say: Yes, we want to be that.

And if we are asked, like Jerusalem asked that day, Who is this? We can tell them: This is the Saviour, Jesus. Who has come, is coming, and will come again. For you.

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

[Thanks to Rev. William Weedon for the direction and some of the thoughts in this sermon.]

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Eve Sermon

Jesu Juva

“That We May Realize This”
Text: Luke 17:11-19

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

The story of the ten lepers is a familiar one. Jesus heals all ten, but only one - a foreigner, a Samaritan - returns to give thanks. The other nine were ungrateful louts who couldn’t be bothered. Or so it is often said.

But that’s hard for me to believe. Leprosy was such a terrible disease, a slow death surrounded by others who were also dying slow deaths, separated from family and society, with little or no hope. To be healed of such a disease, to be given your life back again, to be able to go back to your family and town, that was no small thing! And the nine weren’t thankful for that? I think they were overwhelmingly, joyously thankful. I think they were like the folks the prophet Malachi once described, those who would go out leaping like calves from the stall (Malachi 4:2). Of course they were thankful.

But there was a difference, between the Samaritan and the other nine. But it wasn’t that one was thankful and the others not. And it wasn’t who they thanked - I’m sure they all thanked God for their healing. It was, rather, that the Samaritan realized that to thank God He should go and fall at the feet of Jesus. That Jesus wasn’t just a prophet who spoke the Word of God, who channeled the Word of God to these lepers - He was the Word of God Himself. God in the flesh. The Saviour. And so the leper falls on his face at Jesus feet - and act of worship.

And by so doing, he receives another gift. A greater healing. For then Jesus says to him: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” But he was already well. And so were the other nine. They had all been healed by the Word of God. So this healing, this wellness, was something more. Something the others did not receive. Not just cleansing from his leprosy, but cleansing from his sin. For what Jesus said there could also be translated in this way: Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you

And that story, I think, is a pretty good snapshot of our world today. On our National Day of Thanksgiving, people are thankful - I have no doubt about that. Not just Christians, but believers and unbelievers - peoples of all kinds of faiths and religions, and those with none at all - will gather tomorrow and say what they are thankful for. And they’ll mean it. And the lists will undoubtedly be long. In our country, we have a lot to be thankful for.

The difference is like it was for the lepers - knowing who to thank. That the source of all that we have and are thankful for is not us and what we can do and achieve; it is not the inevitable progress of man getting better; and it is not just a generic “god” or the god of all religions, but specifically this God: the God who came to us in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The God who loved you so much that He died for you on the cross in order to give you more than physical healing or blessings of this world and life - but to save you from your sins and give you eternal life. And so the God who gives you Himself. That is the God who is the source of every blessing, and who is truly due our thanks this night.

And that we might do that not just once a year but at all times, that’s what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. For when we pray Give us this day our daily bread, we learn from the catechism that God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, - He’s doing it already, and would, even if we didn’t pray this. He healed all ten lepers and didn’t take His healing back from the nine. - but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

That He would lead us to realize this. That He would lead us - not just other people, but you and me as well, to realize this. To be Samaritan lepers. To open our eyes, our hearts, our minds, not just to what we receive, but to realize who we receive it all from. To realize all the gifts we have been given. Because its easy to forget or get it wrong. Even for Christians.

We can rejoice in and love what we have rather than the one who gave it.
We can think we’ve earned or deserved something and give ourselves the credit.
We can take all that we have for granted, and the one who gives it all, too.
We can be dissatisfied with what we receive, and grumble for more, for better, for greater, rather than giving thanks.
We can abuse the gifts we receive, using them for sin, using them for evil and wickedness, rather than in gratitude.
We can get busy and distracted, think we have better and more important things to do; things that come before God and receiving His gifts.
We can find ourselves neglecting the gift we have in the truth of God’s Word and believing instead the thoughts and opinions of the world.

And what else? How else? What’s on your list? What other feet do we fall down before instead of the feet who came and walked with us, and then were pierced with nails for us?

And so it is good that we began the service tonight - this Thanksgiving service - not by giving thanks, but by repenting. For we do not always realize, though we should. We are not always thankful, though we should be. We do often get it wrong. But by falling at Jesus’ feet and repenting, we then receive this too: the gift of His Word of forgiveness. From the Samaritan leper’s Jesus.

And then we’ll end the service tonight by receiving another gift from the Samaritan leper’s Jesus. The same Body and Blood that the leper fell on his face before has come for us and we will receive. The Body and Blood that healed us by taking the leprosy of our sin upon Himself and having it take His life instead of ours. The Body and Blood which rose to life again, and now gives that new and death-defeating life to us. So that what Jesus spoke to that Samaritan leper, He now speaks to us: Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you. Depart in peace. Your Jesus, the one your faith is in, has saved you.

And so tonight we are reminded. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come (LSB #892). Praise Be to Christ (LSB #538) who gives lavishly and abundantly. And finally, we’ll be Sent Forth By God’s Blessing (LSB #643), His gifts and blessing received again as we receive it each and every day. Apart from whom we have nothing. But with whom we have everything. Thanks be to God.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Last Sunday of the Church Year Sermon

We were privileged to have Pastor Martin Orende of the Lutheran Church of Kenya as our guest preacher today. Here is the audio of his sermon. Enjoy!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pentecost 26 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Lord is Faithful, the Church Will Go On.”
Text: Malachi 4:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-13; Luke 21:5-28
Introit: Luke 21:33; Psalm 121:1-2, 5, 7-8

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

There have been people in every age who thought themselves to be in the Last Days and the End Times.

The early church and early martyrs thought the persecution and hatred of Christianity so bad that Jesus’ return had to be close. But no, the world went on.

Later, during the dark ages, with the wars and barbarity and plagues, people thought surely this had to be the time when Jesus would come back, especially when the year 1,000 came. But no, Jesus didn’t come then either.

Martin Luther thought his day had to be the Last Days, with the corruption in the church and the Muslims on the doorstep of Europe, close to conquest. Nope. Not then either.

Some thought the Cold War was surely the beginning of the end, that nuclear annihilation was imminent. Or when the year 2,000 came - some of you remember the hystria then, of a cyber apocalypse that was going to wreak havoc and end life as we know it! But that all has come and gone, too.

And now, we hear such talk again with the election of Donald Trump. Surely the world is going to end now.

Well it might. Someone is going to be right sometime. Not that we should try to predict it, as the date setting folks do, claiming they’ve cracked a code in the Bible telling them when Jesus is coming back. Jesus was pretty clear on that one - you don’t know and you won’t know and you can’t know (Matthew 24:36).

But that we look for the end, that we expect the end, that’s good. Even if we’re wrong, as all those folks I just mentioned were, it’s good. Because that keeps us focused not on the things of this world that are passing away, but instead on our Saviour, who is coming again, and when He does, this old creation will come to an end. We don’t know when He is coming, just that He will. He promised. And as Paul told the Thessalonians, He is faithful. He keeps His Word. Or as we sang in the Introit: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. They will come to pass. They will be fulfilled.

Now just talking about the end strikes fear in some people. Maybe you. It is unknown and the unknown often causes us to fear. So notice what else we heard in the readings today regarding this . . .

In Malachi, we heard that for those who fear the name of the Lord, for those who believe, on that day you shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Paul told the Thessalonians that the Lord will establish you and guard you against the evil one

And in the Holy Gospel, Jesus said that not a hair of your head will perish. And that while there will be people fainting with fear and forboding [at] what is coming on the world - which we saw a little of this week - not you! You, whatever comes, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. No duck and cover for Christians! Do not be terrified, Jesus also said. 

Easier said than done, though, right? But go back to the Introit again, and the words of the psalm we sang today:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 
Because it’s not coming from this old, dying creation! So no, not from creation, not from the hills -
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The Lord who is greater than this world and creation.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth - in this world and life - 
and forevermore - and in the next.

And we know that He will because of the words that bracketed that Introit; the words we sang both at the beginning and at the end, which I already mentioned earlier: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The words of God will not pass away because the Word of God made flesh did not pass away. He died, yes, but He did not pass away. His life did not end. He was not overcome and conquered. No, His dying fulfilled the words and promises of God, so that death would not be the end for Him or for you. And so His resurrection ensured that though you will die - unless Jesus comes first - that though you die, you will not pass away either. Your life will not end either. You will not be overcome and conquered either. You will pass from this life to the next, with your Saviour, with Jesus.

Such confidence enables us to live, then, without fear; to live in peace. We don’t have to move to Canada, or enter a monastery and escape the world - those hills aren’t going to help us. Our help comes from the Lord.

And we have the example that Jesus spoke of today as well - that time when Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies . . . and trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. A time of great vengeance and distress. That happened when Rome came and leveled Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in the year 70 AD. But the Lord was faithful, the church went on. The Gospel was proclaimed. People believed and were baptized. The Lord’s Body and Blood were given.

And so it was through all those times I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, when folks thought their day was the Last Days. The Lord was faithful, the church went on. Through persecution, through plague, through the threat of military conquest by infidels. The Lord was faithful, the church went on.

And so it will be today. For on the confession of Christ, the proclamation of His death and resurrection, and the giving of His forgiveness and life, the church will be built, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The Lord is faithful, the church will go on.

But living in these days of distress give us, Jesus said, the opportunity to bear witness. And Paul encouraged the Thessalonians, living through their own difficult times, to not grow weary in doing good. For it is in just such times that the ears and minds of those who do not know or do not believe might be open. Open to hear of the hope that we have. Open to hear that all we see is not all there is. That there is one greater than all this, and that this greater one loves us and saves us.

And so we will pray again today, as many of you pray every day, Thy kingdom come. And we pray that because while the kingdom of God comes by itself, without our prayer, we pray that it may come to us also (Small Catechism). We pray that Jesus come to us also. On the Last Day, yes, but even now. That He come to us with His Spirit, to strengthen us. Come to us in His Word, to keep our faith fixed where it belongs. Come to us with His forgiveness, to purge us not only of our sins and wrongs, but also of whatever unbelief or misbelief or fear clings to our old flesh. And come to us in His Body and Blood, as we lift up our hearts, as we lift them to the Lord, and receive Him now. Practice for the Last Day. 

Or, for your last day. For there may be a difference. Your last day may come first, from old age, from disease, from accident or tragedy, from persecution. But if you’re ready for the Last Day, in Jesus, then your ready for your own as well, whenever it comes. And you need not be afraid. Fear comes when we take our eyes off of Jesus. When we focus on the enemy and how big and powerful he looks. When we focus on death, when we focus on sin, when we focus on evil, when we focus on massive things that are beyond our control. And we should be afraid of those things . . . if we are outside of Jesus.

But in Jesus, no. In Jesus who defeated death in His resurrection. In Jesus who paid for the sin of the world on the cross. In Jesus who took on the forces of evil and won. In Jesus who made heaven and earth and so nothing is too powerful or too massive or beyond His control. In Jesus, we are safe. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

So are we at the beginning of the end? Is this the time? Will it come in our generation? Actually, the beginning of the end began already, when Jesus ascended into heaven. Since that time, He could come back again at any moment. So yes, we’re living in the end times. So keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Stay in His Word and Sacrament. Remember your baptism, when He made you His own child and gave you great and precious promises. Confess your sin and confess your Saviour. And do not grow weary in doing good.

And then when that day comes when there is no tomorrow, that will be a good day. Not because all days are coming to an end, but because we will begin living in that day that has no end. The eternal day. The church with her bridegroom. For the Lord is faithful, the church will go on

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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Pentecost 25 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“It’s Not Over ’til Jesus Says It’s Over”
Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17; Luke 20:27-40

No matter how the election turned out last night, half of America was going to wake up this morning disappointed. And fearful. Much apocalyptic language has been thrown around by both sides, that if the wrong person gets elected, that’s going to be the end.

No, it’s not.

The sun still came up this morning. Rain watered the earth. The stars are still in the sky and the planets are still orbiting the sun. The end of the world will come by the decision of only one: God. And what a comfort that is. That whether we make wise decisions or foolish ones, whether we get things right or wrong, the future is not in ours hands, but in His.

That doesn’t mean that things will be easy. We heard in the reading from Thessalonians of rebellion and lawlessness, of idolatry and destruction. For we live in a world of sin and these are the things of sin, what sin does. And they will always be with us.

But we heard tonight also that God is restraining all this. It may not always seem like it. It may seem like sin is running amok in our world. But it could be worse. And it would be worse, if God were not restraining the evil one. Luther once said that satan would have this world destroyed in an instant were God not holding him back and preserving His creation. So as bad as things might seem to get, there is a limit set by our Father in heaven. Evil can only go so far, and no further.

And while we may wonder why God allows evil to exist in our world at all, Jesus has told us why: to uproot evil now would be to uproot the wheat with the weeds, the good plants with the bad (Matthew 13:24-30). But it is not yet time for that, for the harvest. So for now, both grow together. But we have this assurance, too: that God is using all things for the good of His children and the good of His Church (Romans 8:28). Yes, even evil. Maybe to wake us from our sleepy laziness and being content with the status quo, perhaps to strengthen our faith by driving us back to the Word of God and prayer which we have neglected, or to discipline us. 

What we need God will do. His love will allow Him to do no less. And if you ever doubt that, you need look no further than the cross. There God did what we needed the most, in the person of His own dear Son. To be the sacrifice for our sin - for our rebellion and lawlessness, our idolatry and destruction - and die for it. Pay the price for it. Be crushed by the evil of it and God’s wrath against it. And then emerge victorious over it in His resurrection. And while the disciples woke up the next day, like many did today, dissapointed and fearful, the morning after that revealed the victory of God. Evil had its day, but good has eternity.

But that’s only half the story, half of America. There’s another half who woke up this morning with an opposite error, equally as dangerous: that now with the right person elected, everything is going to be good, our future is secure, and our dreams will come true. And the language is almost that of salvation.

Again, no.

The problems and sins that plagued us yesterday - in our world and in our hearts - are still with us. They may even get worse. Our next president will be a sinner, as was the one before, and the one before that, and so on. We already have a Saviour - we don’t need, and shouldn’t look for, another one. 

In fact, we have more than a Saviour - He is the Bridegroom to His Bride, the Church. For Jesus didn’t just come to do something for us, give something to us, or improve our lot in life, but to make us His own, to unite us to Himself as one flesh in a union that not even death can end.

That’s why Jesus had to correct the Sadducees’ question about marriage. It wasn’t even an honest question because the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection. They were trying to ask Jesus a “Gotcha!” question. So Jesus turns their question around - it’s not the resurrection that is wrong and that marriage will endure, it’s marriage that will change and a new, resurrection life that will endure. For marriage as we know it is for the benefit of our life here and now. But in the next life it will be different. It will be better. There will be no marriages that are childless and end in death, and no widows that mourn. We are children of God, born again and from above in Holy Baptism, to a life with our heavenly Bridegroom that will never end.

So today no doubt you heard the phrase: the voters have spoken. Indeed they have. You have. Your vote has been counted and new people elected. But long before men spoke, God spoke. His Word brought this world into being, His Word continues to give life, and it is His Word that will end all things. The breath of His mouth, as we heard, will bring it all to an end.

But before then, the breath of His mouth is giving life. His Spirit, breathed out into the world, calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His truth, and sanctifies us in our Lord Jesus Christ. That when we despair, we have hope. That when we put our trust in the people or things of this world, we repent. That when we sin, we hear His Word of forgiveness. So that when we die, we then hear His Word calling us from the grave to life everlasting. 

Until then, as Paul said: Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. Until then, we have good works to do and good words to speak. And we do so not to gain a future, but because our future is secure. For since our future is secure, we can do as Jesus did for us - lay down our lives for others in love and service. We already have what we need. Now we can give others what they need. Especially the love, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ.

So the latest “most important election of all time” is over. Finally. Until the next one. So as Paul reminded the Thessalonians, do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, whatever happens and whatever you hear. God chose you in His Son Jesus Christ. And He is not God of the dead, but of the living. That’s you. For you live to Him now, and you will live in Him forever.

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

All Saints Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Living in a World of Death”
Text: Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

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

On All Saints Day, many churches will remember their members who died this year. They will read their names, perhaps toll a bell, and give thanks for their lives and the blessing they were. We have never done that here, because many years, like this year, we have no one to remember. None of our members died this year. That is partly because we are a smaller congregation and do not have a great number of elderly members, and those we do have are remarkably healthy. But it’s not just older people who die - younger folks do too, even children. Some from military sacrifice, others from disease, and some because of accident. But we have been spared this sorrow too.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t know the sorrow of death. You do, and have felt its icy, horrid grip again this year. You have family members, friends, and neighbors who have died or are in danger of death. We see death on our TVs from war, violence, and terrorism, as well as the continued intentional killing of babies in the womb, the elderly at the end of life, and of those suffering or disabled. We see it in nature, the changing seasons reminding us that creation, too, is dying. All around us we see sin collecting its terrible wages. The sorrow of life ended.

But there is one who does not sorrow, but rejoices over all this: the father of death called satan. He loves death for he hates God. And as life is the gift of God, so he desires to take that gift away. So he makes death look good, to deceive people into suicide, mislead them into abortion, seduce them into mercy killing, and to think things are better this way. And sadly, we see him succeeding. And not just in others. If you’ve ever rejoiced in the death of another, then he has succeeded in you, too. If we rejoice that the terrorist, or criminal, or speeder recklessly going 100 mph on the Beltway, or that bully, or that stupid politician that never voted the right way, or . . . who else? If we rejoice in their death, that they got what they deserved, is it not our hearts that have been hardened? For is that not a life Jesus died to save? And do we not deserve the same?

So satan hates today. Because today we trumpet his defeat. Today, All Saints Day, trumpets our hope in the midst of a world of death. For who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. These are the ones who have died, but through death have escaped death and now live beyond the reach of death. Because of the One who entered death and defeated it for us. The One who allowed Himself to be devoured by death, in order to devour it in His resurrection. The One who creates life, gives life, and would not stand idly by when that gift was taken away, but came to restore life. That His resurrection, Jesus’ resurrection, be but the first of many, many more. That we rejoice not in death, but in the life after death, the life beyond the reach of death, provided for us and given to us by Jesus.

And we hear that today. In John’s great vision of heaven he saw a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. All who were washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. For life is in the blood (Deuteronomy 12:23). His blood. And so all who are washed in His blood have the life that conquers death and that death cannot end. And so we have hope in Jesus. There is hope for us who are living in the midst of death.

Hope, for John’s vision is of heaven, not of earth. For as the same John also wrote in his epistle that we heard today: what we will be has not yet appeared. In fact, I think, John could have been a bit stronger in what he wrote. For judging by appearance there is no difference at all. We look like everyone else, get sick like everyone else, have problems like everyone else, and die like everyone else. . . . And yet there is a hidden reality here. There are conquerors among us. Secret agents, if you will. Those whose bodies are dying yet filled with life. Children of earthly parents yet children of God, John says. That’s who we are. That’s what your Baptism has done. Washed you in the blood of the Lamb, made you a child of God, and given you a sure and certain hope. That though we are here poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting, reviled and persecuted, there is a kingdom waiting for us. Or as John’s fellow apostle Paul would put it: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

So when John saw that great multitude, when he saw all the saints, He saw you. Future you. And this too: he saw the Beatitudes fulfilled.

He saw the poor in spirit, poor no more, but given the kingdom of heaven.

He saw God wiping away every tear from the eyes of those who mourn.

He saw the meek who inherited not this sinful, old, dying earth, but the new heavens and the new earth.

He saw those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness hungering and thirsting no more.

He saw the merciful mercied, the pure in heart before the throne of God, and the peacemakers with their Father.

He saw those coming out of the great tribulation, those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, safe and sheltered by the Lamb in His kingdom, now their kingdom, too.

Yes, despised and scorned they sojourned here, but now how glorious they appear.
O blessed saints in bright array, Now safely home in endless day (LSB #676 v. 2-3).

Because of Jesus, death no longer has the final word. Those who speak no more here are speaking, praising the God they once confessed by faith, now by sight. The God they were once reviled and persecuted for, but who fulfilled His promise to them, of a great reward in heaven. They really were blessed all along. Blessing here and now hidden, but there revealed.

And so are you. Blessed. Here and now. Though now it may not seem so. Though it seem like the church and the truth are losing. Though it seem like there are more tears than joys, more struggles than triumphs, more persecution than reward. Yet all these promises of God are already being fulfilled in you and for you. For you are mercied, comforted, fed, sons of God, and yes, the kingdom of God is already yours. 

Which is good and important to remember especially two days before our national elections. That you are citizens of heaven. That the kingdom is already yours. That you don’t have to build or maintain kingdoms here and the future does not depend on what we do. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to God and the Lamb, no matter what those running for office may tell you. And no matter what happens on Tuesday, that won’t change. No matter what persecution comes, that won’t change. No matter what challenges the future brings, what attacks evil brings, what immorality erodes, that won’t change. You belong to God. You are blessed. You are children of God. John’s vision is the reality that has already begun, and will one day be finished.

So yes, blessed are you. A blessing that not even reviling and persecution and all kinds of evil uttered against you can change or take away. For your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. And look at them now! Where are their revilers, persecutors, and slanderers? But the prophets and those who went before us, we know where they are. John saw them. Cared for. At home forever. 

And they are waiting for you to join them. For as Jesus came and spoke to us of blessing, so He will take us to that blessing in all its fullness, that we may speak together with all the saints around the throne of God. 

They will come and join us today, in fact, and help our praise. For here, as Jesus feeds with His Body and Blood those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are here, too. Every time we gather around this altar to receive Jesus, John’s vision is fulfilled. We just can’t see it yet. But we will. And what a glorious, joyful day that will be.

I don’t know if Tuesday will be glorious and joyful. Well, I know that for half the country it won’t be. But already having a king and a kingdom, and a future that is secure, we don’t vote to benefit ourselves - we vote in love for our neighbor, to benefit them. They need it. We vote to give, not to receive. And that is more blessed (Acts 20:35)

Things may very well get worse before they get better. In fact, the Scriptures say to count on that. So we will, as they say, bake that into our expectation of the future. And know that whatever tribulation we may be in, now or in the future, we will come out of. It will not, can not, defeat you. For your white robe has already been given to you at the Font, your food and drink at the Altar, and Your Shepherd is already here and now giving you the quiet and peaceful waters of His Word to drink deeply. 

For the book of Revelation - think of it this way - it is like John’s Wikileaks of how things look from heaven’s perspective. That we may see it too, what is hidden now. God Himself has leaked it out for you. To undermine our confidence in ourselves and our world, that we put our faith and hope where it belongs: in Him alone. And for all who do, this is your day. For all who so are saints.

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