Sunday, November 18, 2018

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)

Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:3-14; Daniel 7:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” What does this mean? This does notmean that when the Scriptures state that God created the heavens, the earth, and everything in them in six days that we are to understand the word dayto mean millions of years. That is a clever sophism of the devil who delights in twisting and misapplying God’s Word in order to deceive you and to lead you into unbelief. Christians who are quick to appease the world and human reason are all too ready to embrace this Satanic teaching in order to somehow make evolutionary theory appear compatible with the Word of God so that they might not feel so uncomfortably out of step with the world and our culture. However, evolutionary theory and the Word of God are not compatible. In fact, to embrace evolutionary theory is to do extreme violence to God’s Word. It is, in fact, to overthrow it completely, insisting that the word daydoesn’t mean an ordinary 24 hour day, which, consequently, means that the word incarnationdoesn’t mean that God became a human man, that the word virgin birthdoesn’t mean that a virgin miraculously conceived and bore the Son of God, and that the word resurrectiondoesn’t mean that Jesus really and truly rose from the dead in a glorified flesh and blood body and that you will, likewise, be raised from the dead in a glorified flesh and blood body. No, that, to the Lord, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” does not mean that all of God’s Word is metaphorical and is not to be taken literally. Quite the opposite, these words mean precisely and exactly what they say.
The LORD does not experience time the way we do. How could He, for the LORD is the author and creator of time? The LORD is not part of time, or bound up in time, the way we are, but He stands outside of time and He views every moment of time at the very same time. That is what it means that He is “the Alpha and the Omega,” “the First and the Last,” “the Beginning and the End” – and truly He is everything in between as well. This is the LORD our God who has revealed His Name to be YHWH, “I AM,” which means something like, “I AM He who exists, or I AM He who is existence.” The LORD is the source and origin, the Creator and sustainer of all things. All things that areare, and continue to be, because of the ongoing creative and upholding activity of God through the power of His Word which has gone out from His mouth and will not return until He has completed all for which He was sent. This means that the LORD knows you intimately. It is He who created you and formed you and redeemed you, who knit you together in your mother’s womb, who has numbered the very hairs upon your head, who knows your sitting down and your rising up, in whose Book were written every one of the days formed for you when as yet there were none of them. Before you were conceived and born, the LORD knew you and loved you and set in motion a plan of redemption to purchase you back from sin and death and the devil in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus. The LORD can do this because he sees all time at the same time, because to the LORD, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
And so, let us keep this in mind as we consider today’s lections concerning judgment on the Last Day when Jesus returns in the flesh, in glory and with great power as King. In a very real sense, this judgment has alreadyoccurred. The LORD sees it now, before it happens, and He saw it beforeyou were made. Before you were conceived and born in sin, before you committed your first actual sin of thought, word, or deed, the LORD had redeemed you in Jesus. That is why Job could confess over 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, “I knowthat my Redeemer lives.” That is why Abraham was called and Israel was chosen – they were called and chosen in Jesus who, alone, is the Chosen and Elect One. All who are called and chosen, predestined and elect are called, chosen, predestined, and elect in the Called, Chosen, Predestined and ElectOneJesus Christ. That is why, when you show mercy and love and compassion to the least of your brothers you do it to Jesus, for they are called, chosen, predestined, and elect in Him even as you are. Likewise, if you refuse to show your brother mercy and love and compassion, so you refuse, neglect, mistreat, and reject Jesus who dwells in them. To reject your brother is to reject Jesus, and to reject Jesus is to reject His Father, your LORD and God, who sent Him. The end for those who reject their brother in whom Jesus dwells, who reject Jesus and who reject the LORD is eternal punishment in the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Truly, the LORD’s judgment was rendered in Jesus’ death upon the cross. There, the LORD judged Jesus guilty and condemned Him to death for your sin, and my sin, for the sin of all people of all times and all places, for the sin of the world. Jesus satisfied that debt and its punishment until it was finished and was no more. Jesus’ death was God’s judgment of “Not guilty!” upon humanity in Jesus Christ, but onlyin Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Book of Life. Those whose names are written in Him were written there before the foundation of the world and will never be blotted out. Some falsely devise a doctrine of eternal securityor “once saved, always saved,”from this truth, but that is the result of rationalism and of man’s fallen reason. Eternal security and confidence are not to be found in your name being written in the Book of Life, but eternal security and confidence are to be found in Jesus Christ alone received through faith. Many who once had faith and believed nevertheless rejected Jesus and believe no more. Many others who did not believe were brought to faith in Him or will be brought to faith in Him. Either way, the LORD knew His own before the foundation of the world, and He called, chose, predestined, and elected them in His called, chosen, and elect One, Jesus Christ. Their names were written in Him, the Book of Life, and they will not be blotted out.
Thus, you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. And, this is true freedom. Nothing is required of you. It is all grace, all gift, free and without strings or condition. Therefore, you are free to love and to serve your brother. Therefore, you must love and serve your brother, for the love and mercy, grace and forgiveness of Jesus has been given to you and fills you and flows through you. Loving and serving your neighbor should not even be something you have to think about, but it should be natural, flowing from you and through you because you are filled with more love and mercy, grace and compassion than you can possibly contain. But, there is a great temptation to be greedy and selfish, to be only self-interested and not selfless and sacrificial, because the deceiver deceives you into believing that the Lord is not coming, at least not soon, and that this life and its pleasures and pursuits is all there is. Don’t you believe it! It is a lie, and you know it! St. Peter warns you that scoffers will come in the Last Days with scoffing. They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming? Things only continue on as they have before.” And, you know that this is true. But, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Likewise you must be patient with your brother and your neighbor. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
What “will be exposed” are your works. But, you need not fear that embarrassment anymore than you should put your trust in your works, for your works are not meritorious, but they are the fruit of your faith in Jesus. Your works are, in fact, the work of the Lord performed through you. For, you are a branch grafted into the True Vine Jesus, and it is His lifeblood that flows through you to make you fruitful with His fruits, the fruits of faith which are all good in the eyes of the LORD. And, because your works are the fruit of the True Vine Jesus borne in you and through you, oftentimes you are not even aware that you are performing and bearing them, no more than an apple tree is aware that it is producing apples. It is simply what you do because you are a branch of the True Vine Jesus, because you are a Christian. That is why those on the right, the sheep, in Jesus’ prophetic parable do not recall feeding their hungry Lord or giving Him drink. They do not remember welcoming Him, clothing Him, or visiting Him. Yet the Lord replies that, whenever they did these things to the least of His brothers they did it to Him.
The point is that, when the Lord returns in glory on the Last Day to judge the sheep and the goats, they, we, are already sheep and goats. This is easily discernable to the Lord, though it is difficult for us to discern. The Lord will know His sheep by their works of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness – sheep do sheepy things. However, the sheep are simply being sheep, doing what sheep do. Therefore, they are surprised when the Lord praises them and rewards them for simply being sheep. This is how it is for those in Christ: Doing good works, loving and serving your neighbor, forgiving and bearing with and enduring one another – this is simply what you do, without thinking of it, without counting the cost, without resentment or sense of loss. For, there truly is nothing to lose, for this world and life are passing away and are “stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” Just keep doing sheepy things, all the while being cared for and protected, fed and nourished and equipped by your Good Shepherd in the pasture of His Church.
The LORD sees you and He knows you. He sees and knows your works and your fruit. He sees and knows your faith and your trust in Jesus that make you fruitful. It is your faith that He sees and knows, which His Holy Spirit created in you and sustains even still, but the LORD did not predestine, call, choose, and elect you in view of your faith, but, rather, you have faith because you are predestined, called, chosen, and elect in the LORD’s Elect One Jesus Christ. For, once you were a goat, but the LORD has called you to be a sheep. And, the LORD’s sheep do sheepy things. They are meek and humble, they are selfless and sacrificial, they are gracious and merciful, just like their Shepherd. And, they are cared for and nourished, strengthened and protected in the goodly pastures of Christ’s Church, in which they are washed clean in holy water and His precious blood, are fed, nourished, and strengthened by His holy Word and body, and are equipped and sent by His Holy Spirit to be His hands and His heart, His mouth and His voice inthe world, but not ofthe world. Indeed, you have been predestined, called, chosen, and elect to dwell in His kingdom now, and to inherit it in Jesus Christ as an heir when the King comes in power and great glory on the Last Day. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Come.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)

Matthew 24:15-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Exodus 32:1-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus speaks of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel.” I use that phrase frequently in reference to my daughters’ bedrooms. Indeed, as it is used in the Holy Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments, the word abominationmeans a detestable or a hated thing. That certainly stands in line with my usage in regard to the bedrooms. However, in the Scriptures, the detestable or hated thingis linked, particularly, with idolatry.
That is how the word is used in Daniel, where the phrase abomination of desolationfirst appears. In the second century B.C., the Syrian king Antiochus IV assumed the title “Theos Epiphanes” (god manifest) and desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig, the most ceremonially unclean of all animals, on the altar and forcing the priests to eat its flesh.Antiochus slaughtered thousands of Jews and attempted to obliterate the Jewish religion. He then set up in the temple an idol of Zeus, the pagan deity he believed himself to be. Antiochus set himself up in the place of God as an idol to be worshipped – That was the detestable and hated thing, an abomination. This abominationin turn caused the desolationin that offerings, sacrifices, and true worship could no longer be offered there to the true and only God. That was what Daniel prophesied of in the near future. However, Daniel’s prophecy was also for ages to come, fulfilled in the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
The history of Israel up until and including Jesus’ crucifixion is a continual up and down cycle of faithfulness and apostasy. In the time of Daniel, the Jews adulterated themselves by incorporating the worship of false gods and idols into their worship of the one true God. They performed sacrifices and made unholy alliances with pagans in order to secure power, wealth, and security for themselves. Because of their apostasy, God gave them over to their enemies, even those with whom they had made alliances. The result being that all the false things in which they had put their fear, their love, and their trust were proven to be worthless and useless, and some even were used against them to punish them.
The Jewish sacrifices had to come to an end, because they were misunderstood as man’s work instead of God’s mercy and grace. The Jews looked at their sacrifices and thought, “Look at how great is our obedience, O LORD!” instead of giving thanks in humility and repentance that the LORD had provided them a temporary way for their sins to be passed over. The sacrifices were never meant to take away sin, but only to point to the sacrificial offering the LORD Himself would make in the offering of His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Even the temple was not meant to last forever, but its purpose was to point to the Temple made without hands, Jesus Christ, in whom the Spirit of God dwells bodily, uniting God and man once again in a one-flesh union. And so, the LORD used the abominationcommitted by the idolatrous Jews and the pagan Antiochus to bring the Jews to the desolationof no longer being able to offer their sacrifices in the temple. If they could not offer their sacrifices, then they could not be reconciled with God. Now the LORD could show them how He would reconcile them to Himself, not by the works of their hands or their obedience under the Law, but by His own grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out in the true sacrifice of Jesus, for all people of all times and all places.
And so, Jesus reminded the people of His day, and you too, that “when you see the abominationof desolationspoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Jesus, here, interprets Daniel’s prophecy both in terms of events in the prophet’s day and in terms of events that will soon come to pass. Though the prophecy had a historical fulfillment in Daniel’s time in the apostasy of the Jews and the abominableand desolatingactions of Antiochus IV, Jesus warns His hearers to remember and to watch for the signs of a similarabominationin their own time.
Would a foreign king once again sacrifice a pig on the altar of the LORD and force the priests of Israel eat its flesh? No, not exactly. However, in the years following Jesus’ Ascension, the hubris of the Jews rose again and rebel leaders rose up to lead the people in revolt against their Roman oppressors that they might free themselves from heavy taxation and oppression and make a name for themselves among the nations of men once again. Once again, the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, sought greatness for themselves in their achievements, power, and renown, just like our First Parents before us. It may seem a subtle thing, but such is the way of idolatry, when God’s gifts become our gods, those things in which we place our fear, love, and trust before and above the LORD Himself. Idolatry is a detestable and hateful thing before the LORD, an abominationthat leads only and always to desolation. Therefore, once again, the LORD gave them over to their enemies and oppressors.
Emperor Nero dispatched the Roman governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, to quell the Jewish revolt. Despite initial advances and conquest, the Syrian Legion was ambushed and defeated by Jewish rebels and 6,000 Romans were massacred, a result that shocked the Roman leadership. Then General Vespasian, later elected Emperor, appointed his son Titus the task of putting down the Jewish rebels. Titus laid siege to Jerusalem in 67 A.D., permitting no food or supplies to enter the city and no waste or the sick or dead to leave. Moreover, there was infighting within the city between Jewish zealots and moderates. When the Roman armies finally breached Jerusalem’s third wall and entered the city in 70 A.D., they found only horror and devastation in the numbers of the dead and the diseased, the starved and emaciated, and even evidence of cannibalism. Some commentators and historians identify the abomination of desolation standing in the holy placeas the Roman Standard, the Eagle, which was carried by the Roman armies and was worshipped as a symbol of the emperor as a god. Others place theabominationearlier when Emperor Gaius (Caligula) erected a statue of himself as a god in the temple. Either way, the true abominationwasand isidolatry – the idolatry of the Jews who placed their fear, their love, and their trust in someone or something other than in the LORD.
Yet, our Lord’s warning is something you must continue to heed to this very day. For, wherever and whenever the abominationof idolatry is identified, it must be rooted out lest desolationcome upon you. Every generation of man raises up its own idols. For our First Parents it was knowledge and wisdom and pride. For the Israelites while Moses met with the LORD on Sinai it was fear, uncertainty, and impatience, the fruits of unbelief. For the Jews of Daniel’s and Jesus’ days it was political, military, and economic might and the esteem of the nations. But, what it is it for you and for your generation? Is it your desire for a god who is tolerant and accepting of all of your sinful inclinations? Is it your desire for a god who shows himself and who works in the ways you think good and wise? Is it your desire for a god who will establish peace among the nations and eliminate poverty, hunger, and sickness? Or, is it that science and psychology have explained away God for you, and that you and each and everyone else has, at last, become their own gods, judging what is good and what is evil by your own personal standard and measure? Any of these desires, and countless others, are a detestable and hateful thing, an abomination, before the LORD. Take heed and repent, before the desolationcomes and it is too late.
Your Lord exhorts you to get out of Dodge and to waste no time to collect your possessions. Whatever it is that gets between you and God, whatever your idols may be, leave them behind and flee to the mountain of the LORD and His Temple, Jesus. Further, He continues, beware of false prophets and false Christ’s, for the Deceiver will be attractive in the ways of the world and the flesh and he will tell lies that are appealing to fallen human reason and wisdom and he will lead many astray. But, those who cling to the Lord and His Word will not be moved, for His Truth is not hidden or unclear, but flashes like lightning across the heavens from the east to the west. Such abominationswill continue to be raised up for seventy weeks, for a time, times, and half a time, for forty-two months, for 1,260 days, or, in other words, until the appointed time the LORD has set which even the Son of Man according to His flesh does not know.
But, in the meantime, in this little whileuntil your Lord returns, He calls you to gather here around His body and His blood as vultures gather around a corpse. For, Jesus has suffered and died for all your idolatries and adulteries, and He offers you His precious body and His innocent shed blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Do not be deceived by His delay and turn once again to making your golden calves or to fear, love, and trust in your works, but fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He has purged your sins in the sacrifice of His Son, and He offers Him to you now that you might eat and drink and live.
The Lord has come, and He is coming, and even now He comes. For those who hide themselves in the cleft of His Rock, the LORD’s holiness and righteousness will not consume. For those who are washed in the holy water and bathed in the innocent blood of His pierced side, God’s wrath against sin passes over. For those who eat His sacrificed and resurrected flesh and drink His blood as vultures a corpse, death cannot harm you, but you will pass through it victorious even as His corpse saw not decay, but was raised glorified never to die again. For, you must die to this life and to all meritorious works. And, that is why, on the day of His coming, those who are alive will not precede those who have fallen asleep, but the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. For, those who have died in faith in the Lord cannot be tempted by idolatries and abominations, to put their fear, love, and trust in anyone or anything other than the Lord alone. Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. They are with the Lord and, if you do not let go and give up, you will always be with the Lord as well. Hide yourself in Him now, every day of your life, and especially on the Lord’s Day, and encourage one another with these words.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Feast of All Saints (observed)

Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A saint is one who has been set apart by God for salvation in Jesus Christ. Therefore, one is not a saint because of his good works, his piety, or even his faith, but one is a saint because of the work of God in Jesus Christ – period. The Lord’s saints are both in heaven and on earth; some have died in the Lord, and some live in Him now on earth, set apart from the multitude of sinners, just as Noah and the children of Israel were set apart from the multitude of sinners around them. Again, they are not saints because they are particularly good or because they chose to follow the LORD, but rather because the LORD has called and has chosen them in His Son. Another word for saint is holy; the words saint and holy are synonyms, they mean the same thing: set apart. The saints are not holy in and of themselves, but they have been declared to be holy by God through Jesus, even as they are being made to be holy, a work that will be completed in the resurrection of their bodies on the Last Day. Thus, we are not to pray to the saints, though Scripture is clear that the saints in heaven do indeed pray for the saints on earth, the Church, even as we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor do the saints contribute to some heavenly treasury of grace from which we withdraw in times of need, but they are recipients of the Lord’s grace and mercy, just like you. Likewise, the saints are not only those who have died in the Lord and await the resurrection, but you also are the LORD’s saints, His holy ones who have been set apart from the multitude of sinners that fill this world for life and salvation in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the saints are that countless multitude in St. John’s vision wearing white robes and holding palm branches before the throne of God and the Lamb, all those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the Church of Jesus Christ in heaven and on earth, the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all times and all places, the Church that will persevere until the end, over whom the gates of hell cannot prevail but must fall before the victory of the Her Lord, Jesus Christ, the Lamb.
The Feast of All Saints is a chief festival of the Church’s Year of Grace. It is a day of remembrance and encouragement for the saints on earth for whom the saints in heaven pray, “How long, O Lord until You avenge our blood?” It is a day of remembrance and encouragement that God keeps His promises, for the saints in heaven are with Him, just as He promised, and He is with us, just as he promised. It is a day of remembrance and encouragement for the saints on earth who mourn the deaths of their loved ones, for their souls are very much alive with Jesus where there is no hunger or thirst, where there is no sadness or mourning, suffering or death, and where God Himself has wiped away every tear from their eyes. It is a day of remembrance and encouragement, comfort and peace in the knowledge that, when we, the saints on earth gather here in this place, and particularly at the altar of our LORD, heaven comes down to earth and we join our voices with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” in the communion of saints, both in heaven and on earth, and the Church of Jesus Christ is as one, as catholic, and as visible as it can possibly be until that day when our Lord returns and raises our bodies and reunites them with our immortal souls to feast with Him forevermore in His heavenly kingdom.
The saints in heaven are examples for us, not primarily of what the Christian faith and life look like for us to emulate in our own lives, but rather of God’s faithfulness and promises kept to those who have finished the course of their lives in faith. Thus does the preacher to the Hebrews exhort us saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Because of the promises of God fulfilled and kept in Jesus Christ, we must lay aside the desires of our fallen flesh, the values of this fallen world, and even the thoughts of our sin-corrupted reason and wisdom and listen to the Words of Jesus and copy and emulate Jesus’ faith and life.
Our Lord Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes, the first part of His Sermon on the Mount, of what true blessedness consists. The truly blessed are those who are poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It goes without saying that poverty, hunger, and thirst are not considered a blessing in our world and culture, but rather a curse. But, then, it is not physical and material poverty, hunger, and thirst our Lord has in mind, but spiritual. The problem is that, when we are satisfied, comfortable, and fat with worldly and material blessings, we often forget and deny that we are spiritually impoverished and starving to death. Jesus also teaches that there is blessedness in mourning, for only those who truly mourn the loss of holiness and what we have truly earned, merited, and deserved for our sin, death, can appreciate the comfort that comes from the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus who suffered and died in our place, giving us His life in exchange for our death. We are to be meek and merciful, pure in heart, and peaceful. Truly, these are fruits of the Spirit borne in those who are empty of themselves and all self-righteousness and are in turn filled by Jesus with His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Such saints will suffer reviling, persecution, and evil at the hands and mouths of this world, just as Jesus did for you out of love for you and His Father. When such things happen, Jesus teaches, you should rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. However, do not treat these Beatitudes as a commandments or as prescriptive, turning them into works that you must do; rather, they are descriptive, first of Jesus, and second of you who are in Jesus through Baptism and faith. What Jesus has described in these Beatitudes is Himself, and in so doing He has described His saints who are in Him.
So, being a saint means to be set apart by God from the sinful masses all around you. This means that you often will not participate in the godless things that they do. This means that you will show mercy when others are unmerciful, that you will show love when others show hate, that you will call God’s commandments right and good even when the world calls them wrong, backward, intolerant, and evil. This means that you will likely not be popular and praised by others, but more likely will be reviled, mocked, ridiculed, hated, and even persecuted. Guess what, you’re in good company! For so they treated the prophets, the saints, and your Lord Jesus before you. Blessed is he whose fear, love, and trust are in the LORD, who is His child, having God as his Father. The world has not known Him, rejects and reviles Him, therefore the world does not know you, rejects and reviles you. But, you are God’s children now, and what you will be will be revealed when He appears. You will be like Him and you will see Him and all His saints face to face. And, no one will take your joy from you.
We gather here as God’s holy saints, set apart from the world of unbelievers and sinners. We come here in meekness and poverty, hungering and thirsting for the Lord’s righteousness. He fills us to overflowing and He sends us back into the world to share His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness with others to the glory of His Name. And, we are not alone; not only do we have each other in this family of faith, but we kneel here at the altar and receive Jesus with the saints in heaven who are with Him always. Only here, in the communion of saints, does heaven come down to earth to encourage and preserve the saints on earth in faith. For, God has knit His faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of His Son, Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Festival of the Reformation (observed)

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In his vision, St. John saw an angel soaring through the heavens proclaiming an eternal Gospel. Think about that for a moment: an eternal Gospel; a Gospel that has no beginning and no end; indeed, a Gospel that exists before, after, and outside of time, creation, and men. It is this Gospel that God proclaimed to Adam and Eve and the serpent moments after their fall from grace, that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. It is this Gospel that God proclaimed to Abraham promising him that he would have a son and an heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. It was this Gospel that was re-confirmed to Isaac and Jacob and Moses, to David and Isaiah. It was this Gospel, proclaimed continually by the Prophets right up until St. John the Baptist, that prepared the way for the revealing of the fulfillment of that Gospel in the death and resurrection of the eternal Gospel made flesh, Jesus Christ – the lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world. An eternal Gospel that is to be proclaimed to all “those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”
The eternal Gospel is the LORD’s work, proclaimed and offered to everyone without exception as a free and perfect gift, pure grace. But, men stubbornly, sinfully, rebelliously refuse and reject it. The Gospel seems foolish to our perverted wisdom, weak and pitiful to our false conception of strength and glory. It can’t be that easy. Surely it can’t be that universal and equitable, after all, some people are better than others, right? And so, we try to change the Gospel to say what we want it to say: You have to make a decision, to accept Jesus into your heart. You have to behave in a certain way, dress in a certain way, pray so many times a day, and never sin. We twist and bend and misconstrue the Gospel. We pile human traditions and commandments upon the Gospel. We obscure it. We cover it up. We bury it. Or we so transform it that it is not the Gospel at all any longer.
That is what had happened leading up to the Reformation. No, it did not happen all of a sudden, culminating in the 16thcentury, but it had been building over hundreds, even thousands of years. There had been many attempts at reform before Martin Luther. Some had been successful to a point, but most had ended in failure and martyrdom. And yet, since the Gospel is eternal, predating creation and humankind, it cannot and will not be buried forever, thanks and glory be to God alone. In His time and in His way, through the preaching and teaching of His Word, inspired and guided by His Holy Spirit, the LORD graciously and mercifully works His will and His way and accomplishes His purposes despite our best and worst efforts to obfuscate it.
The LORD gave His written Law, not that we might do it and live, but rather that our mouths would be stopped – that we would be forced to shut up – that the whole world would be held accountable to God. No one can be justified by obedience and works of the Law – that is not its purpose – but the purpose of he Law is to show our sin that we might despair of our justification and salvation and receive the eternal Gospel by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, whom God has put forward as the propitiation for our sins. Therefore, just as all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so also are all justified by His grace as a gift through Jesus’ blood. Thus, the LORD is both just and the justifier of all who have faith in Jesus. There can be no boasting of works or merit, inheritance or bloodline, for the Law of the eternal Gospel is God’s work and gift alone, given freely, that can be received by grace through faith, or rejected in unbelief. There is no other option.
But, the flesh hates this and always wants another way. Thus did our Lord compare this generation to fickle children who are never satisfied. Men rejected John the Baptist because he preached the Law, and they rejected Jesus who fulfilled the Law and proclaimed the Gospel. We want things our own way. We want to be our own gods and to justify ourselves.
Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” This ought to be a shocking statement! How can the kingdom of heaven suffer violence? And, how could anyone think that they might take heaven by force? Yet, is that not we attempt to do when refuse God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ and attempt to justify ourselves in some other way? No, God, I will not enter through the Way and Door you have provided, but I will enter on my own terms and in my own way. That is what the man found at the King’s wedding banquet not wearing the provided wedding garment sought to do. He was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth. No, you cannot justify yourself, nor can you take or enter the kingdom of heaven in any way. But, you must receive it as a gift, by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. This, once again, is the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angel of Revelation, the same Gospel proclaimed by the prophets and John the Baptist and by the faithful preachers and undershepherds of the Reformation and by the same still today and tomorrow until the Lord returns.
Grace. Amazing grace. The sweetest sound to ring in the ears of those who rightly hear by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. This eternal Gospel, this amazing grace, was what the Reformation dusted off and set free from the chains of manmade traditions, misconstrual, commandments, and obfuscation. And the Reformation must continue ever that the eternal Gospel may continue to be proclaimed “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”
The eternal Gospel is this: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Lord, keep us steadfast in this, Your Word, for it is life and salvation for all who will believe. My dear Lutheran Christians, you are the heirs of this amazing grace. But, it is not a treasure to keep to yourself, but it is a beacon light of hope to all who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. Therefore, you must strive always to hear this Gospel in its truth and purity and, receiving it daily in Word and Sacrament, live, breathe, and share it with all in your lives, words, and deeds to the glory of God. For, you are called to be angels, that is messengers of this amazing grace to all the world. However, you can only give to others of what you first have yourself. Therefore, come and be filled with the LORD’s grace: Word and water, body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, for life, and for everlasting salvation. You are blessed to be a blessing to the glory of God’s holy Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)

Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-11; Malachi 6:6-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” You see, the Prophet Micah gets it. The answer to all his rhetorical questions is an unequivocal “No! Nothing!” All that the LORD requires of you is that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. What does this mean?
This means, don’t try to offer the LORD anything. It’s all already His anyway. Truly, it’s not even thanks and praise that pleases Him, but the thing that pleases the LORD is when you sacrifice of yourself and give to others on account of His sacrifice and love for you. Then you confess the LORD to be God and yourself to be the recipient of His gracious gifts. Then you confess that you fear, love, and trust the Giver of the gifts more than the gifts themselves, when you willingly and freely give them away. Likewise, don’t try to offer anything to the LORD for your sin. You don’t have enough to pay, even if you could, not even your body, soul, and life. Rather, let Him forgive you in His love, mercy, and grace, and then live with Him and walk humbly with Him, always aware that you don’t deserve it or merit it, but that you have your life because God is love and He loves you.
You see, it’s impossible for you to be shorted or cheated, particularly with the LORD’s spiritual gifts, but, truly, with anything at all. Everything is His: Your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses; clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that you have; everything that you need to support your body and life. And this is especially true with the LORD’s spiritual gifts: grace, mercy, love, peace, kindness, gentleness, charity, self-control, and forgiveness. These are the selfless gifts given to you by your selfless God for you to selflessly share and give away to others as you selflessly received them. When you give of these gifts you lose nothing at all, for you are giving of the LORD’s gifts that you yourself have freely received. More than that, you show mercy with the LORD’s mercy, grace with the LORD’s grace, love with the LORD’s love, and forgiveness with the LORD’s forgiveness. Moreover still, you have this promise: With the measure you use will it be measured back to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, filled to overflowing will be poured into your lap. It’s grace upon grace without limit.
That’s what the servant in Jesus’ parable received. The master forgave him his enormous debt because he pitied him – period. The master had compassion on his servant and he released him, he forgave him. The servant was a debtor and nothing to offer to the Master, just like you before the LORD, but the master had pity on him and showed him mercy, just as the LORD has done for you, and he forgave his servant who could not pay him back, just as the LORD forgives sinners like you who are indebted to Him with your life and your soul and have nothing with which to pay Him back for your trespasses – the LORD has pity for you, He loves you and He shows you mercy; more than that, He showers you with His grace and forgives you completely, even paying the debt you owe Himself, in the innocent shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
However, the gifts that the LORD gives you are living gifts; they are gifts that literally give life, the LORD’s life. That means, the LORD’s gifts do not remain stagnant and lifeless, but they change you and they make you fruitful. When the LORD blesses you with His gifts of life, love, and forgiveness, you will not remain the same. As our Lord Jesus teaches, “I am the vine and you are the branches; remain in me, and I will remain in you, and you willbear much fruit.” That means that you must give of the LORD’s gifts, love with the LORD’s love, and forgive with the LORD’s forgiveness. Not “must” in the sense of works that merit forgiveness, but of works that are the fruit of forgiveness.
The forgiven servant in Jesus’ parable failed to produce the fruits of forgiveness. He took the gift of his master’s forgiveness, but he refused to forgive another who was indebted to himself. He received the seed, but the seed did not produce fruit. There was nothing wrong with the seed, the problem was the soil. The servant’s heart was hard; the soil of his heart was fruitless. The master was angry and he had his pitiless and merciless servant thrown in jail. Jesus concludes His parable with the warning, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Does that sound harsh? It is harsh. Jesus pulls no punches with the Law of God. He expects there to be fruit: Those who have been loved are expected to love. Those who have been given to are expected to give. Those who have been forgiven are expected to forgive. Remember, Jesus told this parable in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him: As many as seven times?” Jesus means to teach you, “Don’t ask such a question.” You simply forgive because you are forgiven. You simply forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. You bear the fruit of forgiveness because you are a branch connected to the True Vine, Jesus. Bearing fruit is not an option, neither is it something that has a limit. Moreover, you are never out anything, for the forgiveness you give to others is the LORD’s forgiveness. The same is true with anything that you give or show to another. If you are receiving, then you will be giving. This is what James means when he writes, “Faith without works is dead” and “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” However, the works are always, and only, fruit. An apple tree produces apples because it is an apple tree. A grapevine produces grapes because it is a grapevine.
Still, you must resist the temptation – and that is precisely what it is, a temptation – to attempt to name and quantify your works or the works of another. One of our Synod’s theologians, Norman Nagel, has written: “‘Good works do not have a name,' said Martin Luther. The moment we honor good works with a name, they are no longer good works, that is, they are no longer done in faith. They are no longer within and from the giving hands of the Lord. They are slipping towards becoming a basis for boasting and making demands.” All good works are the LORD’s, thus there is no place for boasting. All good works are the LORD’s, thus He alone, not you, or I, or anyone else, is the measure of the fruitfulness of His branches. “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Nothing. There is nothing additional that the LORD requires of you through faith in Christ Jesus who has done all things well.
Thus, St. Paul exhorts you saying, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” St. Paul’s prayer for you is “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
The LORD who created you to be fruitful and multiply has redeemed you and forgiven you that you may be fruitful once again, bearing His fruit of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, giving His life to others to the glory of His Name. He who has begun this good work in you in Holy Baptism and faith is, even now, bringing it to completion. You are a fruitful branch, and a work in progress. But, the harvest is coming, the day of Jesus Christ, when you will be complete in Him. Until then, you have the fruits of the True Vine Jesus Christ – His Word and Absolution, Baptism, and Supper – through which He fills you to overflowing with His gifts, that you may freely give to others without counting the cost. Go, and be fruitful.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)

John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There’s a lot of talking going on in that first chapter of Genesis. There’s a lot of talking going on, but, there’s no people, it’s allGod. And, yet, look at all the stuff that happens: The heavens and the earth are created. There is light. There are oceans, seas, and land. There are stars, the moon and the sun, and all the celestial bodies. And, then there are living things, first grass, plants, and trees, but, then, birds and fish, and, finally, land animals of all kinds --- all this from God, and from God alone, talking, speaking His creative and life-giving Word, bringing all things out of nothing. As St. John the Evangelist writes in the Prologue to His Gospel, “All things were made through [the Word], and without [the Word] was not anything made that was made.”All things were made through the Word of God, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was God and is God still.
It was that Word that became fleshand, in the person of Jesus, made His dwelling amongst us. So, God continued to talk, God continued to speak His creative and life-giving Word, and creation continued to happen, through the Words of Jesus, who is the Word of God become flesh. The people of Israel understood that God created all things out of nothing by His powerful and creative Word, but they did not understand that God’s creative and life-giving Word could possibly stand right there in their very midst to re-create His fallen creation. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was able to turn water into wine, to heal the sick, and to raise the dead by His Word alone, still the people demanded signs and wonders in order to believe. Sometimes Jesus granted them signs and wonders, but ultimately He invited them to believe that He was the Word of God incarnate, the glory of God and His Word of creation, present in their very midst. It’s still all God, and it’s still all by God’s Word. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
When Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons it was by the power of the Word of God. In all such cases it was God’s creative Word re-creating His creation ruined by sin and the temptations of the devil. Each and every case was a confrontation between the Word of Life and the powers of darkness. When Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus drove away the devil by the Word of God alone. In His death on the cross, the Word of God, Jesus, was triumphant over the devil, destroying his power forever.
Your old evil foeis defeated, but still he tempts you, and often convinces you, to believe that this is not so. Each day of your life, therefore, you are under siege from his temptations. Yet, still, for you, now, the Word of God alone can drive away the devil. Thus, Paul instructs you to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”Such armor is defensive, not offensive, for, it is not you who will be doing the fighting. Indeed, the fight is already over and the victory is won for God through Christ’s death and resurrection. But, you need protecting, still, from the temptations of the evil one; you need defensive armor. God supplies you that armor in Jesus Christ: He supplies you with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace as shoes for your feet, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. These are defensive armor; they will protect you from the assaults of the devil if you trust in them. Indeed, the only offensive weapon that is given you is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is the Word alone that heals the sick, that raises the dead, that casts away demons, that drives off the devil.
So, it was not necessary that Jesus go to the official’s dying son, but for Him only to speak His Word. The official sought out Jesus because he believed Him to be a healer, otherwise he would not have come to Jesus. The official believed that Jesus couldand wouldheal his dying son, but he wrongly believed that it was necessary for Jesus to be physically present. “Unless you see signs and wonders,”Jesus says to him, “you will not believe.”  Jesus was not sent to receive glory for Himself but to glorify His Father who sent Him by restoring His fallen creation and by redeeming men who He created in His own image.
There is a similar account in St. Matthew’s Gospel of a Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant who was tortured with palsy. In that account, Jesus answers straightway “I will come and heal him.”But, the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only speak Your Word and my servant will be healed.” Why is it that when the official asks Him to come to his son Jesus refuses to go their bodily, while, though not asked to come to the servant of the centurion, He offers to go there at once? Is it not to rebuke man’s sinful pride? Is it not to show that the ways of men are not the ways of God? Is it not to strengthen men’s faith in the Word of God alone and to demonstrate that the Word of God made flesh in Jesus is everywhere present as He fills all things? Is it not to show that faith that demands signs and wonders to believe is a little faith or no faith at all?The official came to Jesus seeking healing for his son; he went home that day with so much more, true, unshakable, unwavering faith. He who had faith to come needed a greater faith to go away, faith that believes without seeing, faith that finds peace in the Word of God alone.
“All things were made through [the Word], and without [the Word] was not anything made that was made.”Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst. Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven. In Christ’s Ascension, it was not that Jesus was taken away from His disciples and that He was no longer with them, but it was simply that they would no longer see Him in the same way. Indeed, during those forty days after His resurrection, Jesus willfully appeared and disappeared before the presence of His disciples, first at His empty tomb, then in the upper room behind closed doors, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and with his disciples on the shores of the lake. Though He has now ascended to the right hand of the Father, in so doing He fills all things and is present everywhere as He promised, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
So, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, is with you, now, to forgive, to nourish and strengthen, and to feed you, His disciples, with His creative and life-giving Word and His precious body and holy blood that you may believe and have peace and live to the glory of His Father in His most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” Martin Luther penned those words in twenty-eight theses known as the Heidelberg Disputation in April of 1518. In many ways, the Heidelberg theses were more important for the reformation of the Church than were the ninety-five theses Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg five months earlier. For, in the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther drew the Church back to the unchanging Truth of God’s Word, regardless of its making sense to human reason or whether men truly like what it says or not. The theologian of the cross believes and trusts in God’s Word no matter what, acknowledging that God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts and that man’s ways are not God’s ways; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than man’s ways and His thoughts than man’s thoughts. In contrast, the theologian of glory often has great difficulty with God’s thoughts and ways. When God’s thoughts and ways seem foolish, backward, or simply wrong according to man’s reason and wisdom, the theologian of glory bends God’s Word to make it more comfortable, omits part of it to make it more doable, and reinterprets it to make it more acceptable. And, often, God’s Word is denied and rejected altogether in favor of man’s word to the effect that the theologian of glory calls God’s good thoughts, ways, Word, and deeds evil, while calling man’s evil thoughts, ways, Word, and deeds good.
David’s father Jesse considered it foolishness that his young and ruddy shepherd son could be the LORD’s anointed, so he didn’t even bother to bring him before Samuel for consideration. Yet, as strong son, after wise son, after mighty son, was passed over, the Holy Spirit fell upon the LORD’s chosen David, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The Prophet Isaiah prophesied of Jesus’ humble and unexpected appearance saying, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” When Jesus began to preach and teach, the people were amazed saying, “Is this not the carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth?” Because He did not meet the expectations of what men consider powerful, great, virtuous, and valuable, most rejected Jesus and refused to listen to Him and trust in Him. The Pharisees and scribes and the leaders of Israel even called Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and works blasphemy and the work of Beelzebub, the devil – for, a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.
Truly, God has chosen what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God has chosen what is weak in this world to shame the strong; God has chosen what is low and despised in this world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. Look at yourselves! Take a look around at your brothers and sisters in Christ sitting next to you and all around you. Any one-percenters out there? Any of you live in a mansion, made the Forbes 500, drive a Maserati, eat steak and lobster and drink the finest wines every night? No, I didn’t think so. Most of you aren’t truly poor, but few of you are truly rich; and, none of you are truly famous, so far as I know. The best of you, by worldly standards, are likely considered quite average and unremarkable to your fellow man. Under the theology of the cross, that’s actually a great blessing. You see, maybe they don’t call you evil, but they certainly don’t think much of you, do they? They look at you and yawn; nothing to see here, move along. In Jesus’ day they would have “wagged their heads.” But, not your God; not your heavenly Father. When He looks at you He beams with joy and godly pride. When God your Father looks at you He sees someone rich in spirit, exalted in their meekness and humility, satisfied in righteousness, rich in mercy, and pure in heart; that is to say, when God your Father looks at you He sees His Son Jesus, into whom you have been baptized, purified, cleansed, forgiven, and restored to a right relationship with your heavenly Father, God, and LORD.
Truly, one of the most difficult things for the theologian of glory to understand – indeed, they cannot understand it, for their eyes and their mind are blinded to this Truth – is that we are all poor and helpless, that we are all dead in our trespasses and sin and cannot believe in Jesus Christ or make any movement towards Him. The theologian of glory cannot, will not believe this Truth. To him it seems supreme foolishness and is a detestable and evil thought. Believing themselves to be rich in knowledge and wisdom and righteousness, the theologian of glory rejects the invitation to come to the waters having no money, to come buy and eat wine and milk without money and without price. “I am not poor!” they insist. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!” “I will not be indebted to anyone.” And so, they reject the free gift of God – which is the only way – and put their trust in their own righteousness, which is no righteousness at all but filthy rags. Like the invitees to the King’s wedding banquet for his son, they refuse to come, they reject the King’s gracious invitation. When the King, in supreme patience and mercy, sends His servants to call them a second time, they react violently in anger, treating the King’s servants badly and murdering some. The theologian of glory, while feigning to praise God, truly despises and hates Him for continually exposing his sins, unrighteousness, and inability to help himself in His unchanging Word proclaimed by His servants whom He has sent to call them to repentance and faith.
Still, the LORD’s kingdom will be full. The invitation goes out to all, both the bad and the good, “Come.” The feast is prepared. Everything is ready. There is nothing to do. It is finished. “Come.” Even the wedding garment is provided, the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sins. Yes! Even that is provided you! In Jesus’ parable, there is one man in the King’s wedding hall found not wearing the provided wedding garment. Though he responded to the invitation, this theologian of glory refused to put on the provided wedding garment; he refused to be covered in Christ’s righteousness, and so he remained naked and exposed in his sin and guilt before the LORD. Undoubtedly, he did not think of himself as sinful and guilty; indeed, he called his evil sin good and the LORD’s good gift evil. The King had His servants bind him hand and foot and cast him out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth: weeping, because of the now undeniable, irrevocable, and eternal judgment; gnashing of teeth because of hatred of God’s righteousness and justice. Lord Jesus, send us Your Holy Spirit and change our hearts and renew our minds that we see with new eyes the truth of our sinful condition and the truth of your gracious forgiveness. Make us to be theologians of the cross who call a thing what it is, what You say it is in Your Word. Amen.
Another attribute of being a theologian of the cross is being prepared for the Lord’s coming in judgment at any time. In this regard St. Paul exhorts you in today’s Epistle to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” You are blessed by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and Holy Baptism to be able to see things are they truly are, not calling evil good and good evil. Therefore, you do not put your trust in material wealth and possessions and you do not permit yourself to be ruled by your fleshly passions and desires, but you receive all things as gifts from the LORD and use them for His glory. Likewise, your attitude towards your fellow man, particularly those of the family of faith, is one of mutual submission and love out of reverence for Christ, as we address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And now, everything is ready. The feast is prepared. Come to the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end. Come, eat and drink without money and without price. God has chosen these lowly things – Word, water, bread, and wine – to call, clothe, feed, keep, equip, and send you bearing His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to others to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Now there was war in heaven.” Now, there’s a remarkable statement! Do we not typically think of heaven as a serene and peaceful place? And, of course, this statement evokes the question, “When did this war happen?” Well, there is a clear answer to that question if we only consider the passages immediately preceding today’s Epistle: 
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.”
The woman is the Church of all time and all places, the spiritual Mother of all Christians. The child in the LORD’s Anointed, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, conceived and born of woman for the redemption of humankind. And, the dragon? Well, that is clear enough. He is the devil, Satan, the old evil foe who means us deadly woe. His desire was to destroy the Christ child. But, since he could not do that, he pursues the Church and he pours out his furious rage against Her. Thus, when did the war in heaven occur? It occurred in conjunction with Jesus’ death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection. That was the moment the promised Seed of the Woman crushed the serpent’s head. In Jesus’ death, Satan’s power was destroyed and he and his fallen angels, his demons, were thrown out of heaven by St. Michael and his holy angelic army. St. Michael was simply the enforcer of the judgment upon Satan that occurred when Jesus died and was raised: Satan is guilty and can no longer accuse mankind before God’s presence.
But, woe to the earth and to the sea! For the devil has come down in great wrath, knowing that his time is short. Satan knows that he has been defeated, but in his hatred for God and in his hatred for you, Christ’s Church, whom God loves so dearly that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice to make you holy, through lies and deceptions Satan strives furiously and ceaselessly to lead you away from faith in Christ and life and salvation. Satan knows that he only has a little time before Christ returns and will send him and his demons to hell forever, therefore he is always on the prowl like a roaring lion seeking to devour its prey. Though he is defeated, Satan is still dangerous. In some ways he is more dangerous than ever. As a wounded or rabid beast is more dangerous than a healthy one, so is Satan even more dangerous because of his wrath and fury and hatred, knowing that he has nothing left to lose. Moreover, in a culture like ours today, he doesn’t even have to hide or work in stealth, for we have embraced godless wickedness and labeled it freedom, rights, and tolerance. Thus has it often been said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us that he doesn’t exist.”
But, that is a terrible and deadly mistake. It is in vogue today to dismiss traditional Christianity as unenlightened, superstitious, intolerant, bigoted, and worse. Many people like to think that they can dismiss both Christ and the devil and just live their lives, live and let live, and be a good person. They are dead wrong, and if they do not repent and receive the free gift of forgiveness through faith and trust in Christ Jesus, they will join the devil in hell when Christ returns on the Last Day. There is no neutral ground, no gray area, and no fence straddling: You either belong to God in Christ Jesus, or you belong to the devil. Satan could care less if you acknowledge him, believe in him, or worship him; all he wants is for you to not put your trust in Jesus – then you are his and you are lost. The aftermath of the war continues, even though Satan has been defeated, and countless many, tragically, will become the casualties of a war that has already been won.
But, not little Evalee who was just baptized this morning. Evalee was literally snatched out of the lion’s jaws and back into her heavenly Father’s arms. And so were each of you when you were baptized. Moreover, Jesus says that God’s holy angels watch over and protect His little ones who believe in Him, just as Gabriel was watching over Daniel. Yes, there are guardian angels! Whether or not each of us is assigned one specific angel, I do not know, but the Scriptures clearly teach that God’s holy angels watch over us, defend and protect us. Thus does Martin Luther teach us to pray in the morning and evening, “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” However, the LORD’s holy angels are no Precious Moments or Willow House figurines, but they are fierce and mighty warriors deserving of respect and honor and reverent fear, for they are the LORD’s servants and they always see the face of God. That is why every mortal who beheld an angel in the Scriptures trembled with fear and expected only to die. Truly, we mock God and treat Him with contempt when we trivialize His holy servants.
The war is over. The victory is won. Jesus lives! But, our defeated enemy, in supreme hatred, is still trying to take down as many souls as he possibly can. You must never let down your guard! Jesus’ victory has been given to little Evalee this morning in Holy Baptism, but the new life she received this day must be fed, nourished, clothed, and protected, for Satan is even now seeking to steal her back. And, the same is true for all of you. Therefore, understand this: More than offering praise and thanksgiving to God, the reason you come to the Divine Service every week is to be served by God – to have your sins forgiven anew, to be fed and nourished by His Holy Word, to be strengthened in faith, and to be equipped with the armor of God that you may withstand the assaults of the evil one as you fulfill your vocations in loving service of your neighbor, through which you serve and glorify God in Jesus Christ. This church is not a memorial for saints, but a hospital for sinners. This church is no holy club, but it is a spiritual triage and bootcamp. There must be no confusion whatsoever that Christ is present here with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Anything that obscures that Truth must be removed. Things that support that Truth and cause it to shine forth more clearly should be practiced.
Just as you were invited to use the occasion of Evalee’s baptism as an opportunity to renew your own baptismal vows, so you should view each Sunday Divine Service in the same way. When you confess your sins and receive the Lord’s Absolution, Satan has been exorcised from you once again. “Do you renounce the devil?” “Yes, I renounce him.” “Do you renounce all his works?” Yes, I renounce them.” “Do you renounce all his ways?” “Yes, I renounce them.” “Be gone thou unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then the Lord feeds you and strengthens and equips you with His Word. Then He invites you to commune with Him as His holy and pure Bride, His flesh and blood united with yours, His righteousness, innocence, holiness, and Sonship with the Father shared with you as you join your voices with His holy angels and all the saints that have gone before us in the faith singing praise to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the song of heaven that never ends. My brothers and sisters in Christ: This is what it means to be a Christian – to receive His gifts and to share in His life, and then to share that life with others to the glory of His Name. Humble yourselves before the LORD and before your fellow man and keep yourself strong by receiving His gifts. Do not fear the devil, but do not become lukewarm, comfortable, and complacent. The LORD commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. Trusting in Him, they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.
In the Name of our victorious Lord and Savior + Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Christian Funeral For David Dean Wescott

John 14:1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You meet a lot of people and personalities in this world and life. Occasionally, you run across someone who’s just a good person. They’re not perfect, of course, but they are kind, humble, always ready to help, always willing to give you the shirt off their back if need be; everybody likes them, and they have lots of friends. And yet, as good as they are, as kind, caring, and giving as they are, things just never seem to go easy for them; in fact, things frequently seem to go very poorly for them. Still, you wouldn’t know it by looking at their smiling faces, for they seem at peace, content, even happy; and they still care more about you and others than they do themselves. I think that you’ll agree with me that this describes our brother Dave fairly well. It also describes our brothers Job and Paul. And, save the part about him not being perfect, it also describes their, and our, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who did all things well, and laid down His own life in selfless, sacrificial love for Dave, and for you and me, and for all the world.
Dave’s two loves in life were farming and trucking, through which he loved and served a whole lot of people. He was an active participant in FFA from back in high school to the present. Dave judged sheep at the State Fair, and he loved helping and encouraging young people, our future farmers. Similarly, Dave served over twenty years on the Blue Ribbon Foundation for the Iowa State Fair, of which he was a founding member, and he served on the Bremer County Fair Board for over thirty years. Through these boards Dave worked to create good, clean family fun and to advance the causes of agriculture and farming among the next generations. Dave was an active advocate for farmers and farming. Through his service with FFA and the State and County Fair Boards, Dave touched countless lives and had many, many friends. He was loved by both the Cattlemen and the Pork Producers, and that’s saying something! Dave was as comfortable behind the wheel of a combine as he was an eighteen-wheeler. In his youth he farmed with his uncle, and he was known to participate in the wheat harvest as it made its way from South to North. Of course, Dave spent his “summer vacation” farming with Merlin. Merlin was like a second father to Dave and he said of him, “I couldn’t have done without him.” Dave worked for Schneider’s Milling in Waverly for over thirty years where he did practically everything there was to do at one time or another; they called him their “#1 Man.” More recently he drove for Jensen’s trucking where he was so loved that Dave’s boss, Jim, called him every day in the hospital.
“Dave would help anyone at anytime.” “Dave would literally give you the shirt off his back.” “Dave had a big heart.” “Dave was concerned about others and not himself.” “Dave never said no.” Those are the kinds of things people say about Dave. Now, if only one or two people said that, there might be cause for doubt. But, nearly everyone I’ve talked to says these things. People don’t just say things like that to be nice, but they say things like that because they’re true, because they’ve seen it first hand, because they’ve been the recipients of Dave’s selfless, sacrificial kindness. But, why was Dave like that? What caused him to be so humble, caring, and giving? Was it just the way he was, like an accident? No, I don’t believe so. For Dave, it was just the right thing to do; and, for Dave, it was his faith in action.
Dave wasn’t a church-goer, mainly because he was always on the road. I hadn’t even met him until after his surgery down at Iowa City a few months ago. However, after a few minutes talking with Dave, I was filled with peace, recognizing the presence of the Holy Spirit inspiring Dave’s confession of Christ as his Lord and Savior. He was so humble, and he so appreciated my visit, even though he didn’t know me and hadn’t been to church in a long time. It didn’t really matter who I was, all Dave wanted was Jesus – and that’s precisely what I gave him. Dave wanted Jesus. He wanted Jesus’ mercy and grace. He wanted the forgiveness of his sins and the strengthening of his faith. He received all those things and more as we prayed together, and listened to God’s Word, and ate and drank Jesus’ body and blood together in Holy Communion. The last time I visited Dave his disposition had changed. Before, he had some hope that he might recover enough to return home and maybe resume driving again. However, the last time I visited him he had resigned himself to the reality that his earthly days were to be numbered in terms of weeks and days rather than years and months. That time for confession and absolution I used a rite in which the pastor asks the parishioner questions. It’s an opportunity for reflection upon one’s condition. “Do you confess to almighty God that you are a poor, miserable sinner?” Silence. Then Dave, almost groaning, said, “Yes Jesus.” “Do you confess to our merciful Father that you have sinned against Him in thought word, and deed?” “Yes.” “Do you confess that you justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment?” “Yes.” “Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?” Silence. “Oh, yes.” Do you pray God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, to be gracious and merciful to you?” Silence. “Oh, yes.” “Finally, do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” “Yes.” Let it be done for you as you believe.” Then I laid my hands upon Dave’s head and pronounced the absolution, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Silence. “Oh, wow!”
Most of you likely do not know, but Dave pretty much lost everything he had in the last few months of his life. Why is that? It’s because of the kind of guy he was – giving, loving, selfless, and humble. It’s frustrating, but if he only would have asked for help, many would have been happy to respond. But, Dave being the kind of guy he was, wasn’t concerned about himself. Dave simply wasn’t concerned with earthly possessions. Easy come, easy go, was his attitude. In this sense, Dave reminds me of the patriarch Job. As you know, the LORD permitted Job to be afflicted in terrible ways. Job lost his possessions, his wealth, his family, and finally his health. When it was all said and done, Job confessed, “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the LORD.” Even when his flesh had been reduced to sores and ashes, Job confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, … and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Dave’s was a Job-like faith. In the midst of tragedy and suffering, Dave took account of his blessings and was thankful and content. Dave’s treasures were not worldly things that rust and break, that thieves break in and steal, but Dave’s treasures were heavenly things: His Lord and Savior, his friends, people who needed his help, you. Though he should lose everything else, even his health, Dave still had all those things, and they can never be taken away from him.
Like Paul, Dave was tired and stretched thin, poured out like water. He knew the time for his departure had come. It was like someone flicked a switch from on to off. That’s how quickly Dave changed his outlook from one of hope for recovery to one of contented acceptance of his impending death. This change was accompanied by a story, a vision, a dream, likely many of you have heard. Dave saw his grandfather, just as clear as you see me – no, clearer, more brilliant and alive than that – and his grandfather said to him, “Come home.” It was after that moment that Dave began to prepare to go. Dave had fought the good fight. Dave had finished the race. Dave had kept the faith. Now was the time for rest – true Sabbath rest; to be comforted in the presence of His Lord and Savior Jesus, awaiting the Day of Resurrection when Dave and all who love His appearing will receive His crown of righteousness.
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in God’s Son Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Jesus, who had everything, gave it all up for Dave, and for you, taking up your poverty, your weakness, your sin and guilt, your death, and giving you in exchange His holiness, innocence, and righteousness, life that cannot die, and sonship with His Father that cannot be taken away. Jesus did this out of love for you and for His Father who loves you so much that He sent His only Son to die for you that you should be restored to Him. Jesus became what you are so that you can become what He is. Jesus walked through the valley of the shadow of death and suffered death for you. But, He was righteous and innocent and death could not hold Him. Jesus’ knocked down the gate that would have kept you in your grave and made it an open door into His Father’s house. He has gone there before you to prepare a place for you who trust in Him. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; there is no other way. But, for those who put their trust in Him – those like Dave – they are with Him when their earthly race is run. And, more than that, the Lord will raise them up on the Last Day in a glorified, immortal body to join with their immortal souls and live with Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in His heavenly kingdom forevermore. There you will see Dave once again, face to face, with your own eyes, hug him with your own arms, and no one will take your joy from you ever again.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.