Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Zephaniah 1:7-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that is what contemporary popular Christianity has become. It is Deism, because, while some sort of god or deity is believed in, he, she, it, or they are not believed to be present, active, and involved in our world and lives, but rather distant and far off, to be called upon only when needed, but paid no heed when things are going well. It is Therapeutic, because what god wants for us most of all is that we be happy. And, it is Moralistic, because what god wants from us most of all is that we be kind to each other and tolerant. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the religion of those who are “spiritual, but not religious.” It is the religion of Joel Osteen and Norman Vincent Peale who preach The Power of Positive Thinking and how to live Your Best Life Now. Accordingly, god doesn’t expect you to be perfect, and it goes without saying that things like sin, repentance, and judgment are not to be mentioned. All god wants is for you to try your best to be good, to be happy and feel good about yourself, and to not judge other people. That’s it! And, that’s what constitutes Christianity for the vast majority of Americans today. God help us. Only He can.
Our God is not distant and far off, but He is ever present and fills all things. Not only is He involved in our world and our lives, but He upholds, sustains, and directs all things in accord with His holy and righteous Word and will. Those “who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘the LORD will not do good, nor will He do ill’,” those who say, “There is peace and security,” deceive themselves and the truth is not in them, for “The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast,” and He “will come like a thief in the night” “as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Such people are guilty of the sin of acedia, spiritual sloth, indifference, apathy, and lukewarmness. They go about their lives without regard for the Word and Commandments of the LORD, without regard for God at all until some trial comes upon them. They think themselves wise while denying the Truth, that sinful immorality is real and has real temporal and eternal consequences, claiming to worship the LORD and follow Jesus while blessing and practicing immorality and teaching others to do the same. They call evil good and good evil. They think they are enlightened, while they walk in the darkness of sin and death. They consider themselves woke, when they are deep in spiritual drunkenness and sleep.
Once were all of you. Once you were children of darkness, but now you are children of light by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God made flesh Jesus Christ into Whom you have been baptized and in Whom you place your faith and trust for salvation. Still, the lure of man’s wisdom, which is foolishness, is intoxicating. If you are not vigilant in maintaining your Spirit-created faith through Word and Sacrament, you will most certainly become drunk and sleep with the children of the night. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Faith and love are what was lacking in the man who buried his master’s talent in the ground. He did not have faith and love for his master whom he considered a “hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed.” And, because he did not have faith and love for his master, neither did he love his neighbor – he buried his master’s talent and failed to use it for himself and for others to the glory of his master. All of the LORD’s Commandments are summed up in the Great Commandment: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Indeed, all the Commandments of the LORD as fulfilled in love. If you do not love God, you will not and cannot love your neighbor.
There’s a whole lotta preaching and exhortation about love in our world today. However, what most people seem to have in mind when they speak of love is tolerance, and a new definition of tolerance which means, not bearing with those with whom you disagree, but blessing and accepting their immorality and sinful behaviors and lifestyles. But, this kind of love is not loving, for it does not flow from God but from the fallen, sin-wrecked reason and treacherous heart of man. It is not loving to permit someone to persist in sin and its end, death and eternal punishment in hell. But, because people do not have faith and love for God, they do not and cannot love their neighbor, but they allow them to continue in darkness, sin, and death and they accept, bless, and support them in it. They take the talent the LORD has entrusted to them and they effectively bury it in the earth so that it benefits no one. Or, they take the light that the LORD has shined upon them and they place it under a basket so that it enlightens no one.
Those who practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are like the servant who buried his master’s talent for lack of faith and love for his master. They neither love God nor follow His Commandments, and though they speak of love and peace and tolerance, they have not love for their neighbor, and they deceive themselves believing that the LORD will not punish those who refuse to hear His Word, keep it, and do it. The Master has been away for some time, but He will return at a day and hour we cannot know. The Bridegroom is delayed, but He will come, maybe at midnight when all are sleeping. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” What will He find you doing? How will He find you managing His gifts? Are you actively, intentionally, in faith and love for God and neighbor, using His gifts in service of others to the glory of His Name? Or, have you buried them in the ground or hidden them under a basket, thinking that He is not coming today, or that He doesn’t seriously expect you bear His fruits for the sake of others? Examine yourself! Do not be deceived! The LORD is not mocked!
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day.” “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” The LORD has sown faith into your hearts, and He will collect a harvest. Therefore, you must be vigilant to maintain, to keep, and to grow your faith. This is not a work that you do, but it is a work that is done for you and in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD and His Word made visible, touchable, and tasteable, the Blessed Sacraments. These things you have, for they have been given to you, and the LORD has promised that, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” But, He also warns that, “from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” How can something be taken away from one who has nothing? The master gave all his servants something, each according to his ability. We have all been given gifts from the LORD according to our abilities, our vocations. We all have, but if we do not use His gifts and press them into service of others in faith and love for God and for our neighbor, bearing His fruits, then even what we have will be taken away from us. To not have, to not bear fruit, is to be cut off from the LORD; fruitless branches are cut off from the Vine and are thrown into the fire, for there is no life in them and they are truly dead and have no place among the living. LORD, save us from this fate, increase our faith and make us fruitful, for the sake of Jesus and all for whom He died.
Thanks be to God He is not distant and far off, but He is present in love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to feed, nourish, equip, and send you bearing His gifts of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to others. He is present in His Word, in the Water, in the Bread and in the Wine; He is present in you, His body and branches through which He brings His fruits to others. Come, and be filled with the oil of faith that your lamps may burn brightly with His light and His love. Encourage and build one another up in this way, as you are doing, and you will be prepared and ready for His coming at any day and hour, whether you are awake or sleeping. This is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes! Then you will hear Him say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. […] Enter into the joy of your Master.” Blessed are those, however, who recognize and confess that they are already there, in the joy of the Father! To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Amos 5:18-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the seven deadly sins is known as acedia, more commonly known as sloth. When most people think of sloth, they undoubtedly think of laziness. However, acedia is not mere physical laziness, but it is the sin of spiritual apathy, of just not caring. The Christian essayist Dorothy Sayers once defined acedia as, “A sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” Likewise, acedia is the sin of lukewarmness of which our Lord Jesus speaks saying, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
The Third Commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? Luther explains, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The spiritual sin of acedia keeps you from hungering and thirsting for the Word of God and His blessed Sacraments so that you do not attend church services and Bible classes, you do not read His Word yourselves or pray, praise, and give thanks to Him, or you grumble about the length of the service and how often the Sacrament is offered. In effect, you do not hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, but you cannot be bothered with it, despise it, and avoid it altogether. However, the commandment was given, not only because your Lord desires your attention to His Word, but because He knows that, apart from it, you will be deceived and will stumble and fall.
Further, you can only give to others what you first have yourselves. That is to say that, if you are not sufficiently fed, nourished, strengthened, and equipped with Gods’ Word and Sacraments, then you will have precious little to offer to anyone else, certainly nothing of true and eternal value. So it is that acedia was the sin of Dante in the "Inferno" (Book One of his "Divine Comedy"). It's not that Dante was so bad, but it is that he failed to do good for others. Complacency in faith is spiritual laziness and demonstrates a lack of love for God, for oneself, and for one’s neighbor. You like to think that you are ok, not harming anyone, but the truth is that you fail to "help and befriend your neighbor in his bodily needs." Thus, Dante portrays those being punished for the sin of acedia in the Inferno as lying below the surface of the river Styx, gurgling. They are alive, but not living, for they do not truly live for God, or for themselves, or for their neighbor.
Acedia, sloth, spiritual laziness, complacency, lukewarmness, and indifference – that was the sin of Israel whom the LORD rebuked by the prophet Amos. The people had fallen into apostasy, worshipping and sacrificing to false gods and idols along with the true and only God. They had no regard for God’s Word and Commandments and, through carelessness and indifference, they came to believe that, so long as they made their sacrifices, God would be appeased and they could live content and secure and at peace. However, the LORD said to them, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” For, the LORD looks upon the heart, and not upon the outward appearance, and He could see that the people were merely going through the motions of faithful worship, while their hearts were far from Him, deluded, complacent, listless, careless, lukewarm, and indifferent. Therefore, the LORD rebuked them saying, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!” The people deceived themselves thinking that the LORD’s day would be a day of light and joy for them. Because of their acedia, their sloth, their spiritual laziness and lukewarmness, the day of the LORD would be for them, instead, a day of darkness, judgment, and death.
In today’s Gospel lesson, your Lord Jesus likewise exhorts you to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Intentional, expectant, and hopeful watching and waiting are a sure and certain antidote for acedia. In Jesus’ Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the oil in the virgin’s lamps symbolizes their faith. What makes them wise or foolish, ready or not ready when the Bridegroom comes, is not their works, their watching, or even their being awake, but it is whether or not they have oil, whether or not they have faith, and enough faith to endure should the Bridegroom be delayed. Thus, it’s not the watching and the waiting, for, indeed, all ten virgins fell asleep! But, watching and waiting is a means through which faith is obtained and is maintained. It is faith that is active, that cares enough to seek out sustenance and strength from the Lord and His Word and Sacraments, faith that does not despise preaching and His Word, but holds them sacred and gladly hears and learns them.
The foolish virgins were lukewarm; they were full of the sin of acedia. They were not concerned enough about the Bridegroom’s coming to be prepared at all times. And, they were not concerned enough about their faith to maintain it, to feed it, protect it, strengthen it, and keep it. As it happened, the Bridegroom was delayed – “for you know neither the day nor the hour” – and all ten virgins fell asleep – for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What made the five wise virgins wise was not their greater piety, their good works, or anything else concerning themselves, their reason, their strength, and abilities, but what made them wise was their faith, that they had faith, and that their faith was important enough to them that they sought to keep it strong by tending to it, caring for it, and nourishing it by regular hearing and learning of the Lord’s Word in all the ways He gives it. Likewise, what made the five foolish virgins foolish was not their lesser piety, their dearth of good works, or anything else concerning themselves, their reason, their strength, and abilities, but what made them foolish was their lack of faith, or rather, their acedia, their spiritual sloth, which caused them to care so little for their faith that they did not keep it strong, they did not nourish it, for they despised the Word of the Lord and His gifts and they did not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
When the call rang out at midnight, when all were asleep and no one was found watching and waiting, all the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, but the foolish virgins had run out of oil and were too careless and complacent to have brought extra oil with them. They pleaded with the others to give them some of their oil, but you cannot be saved by someone else’s faith, but you must have faith for yourself, you must yourself believe. So, out they went in desperation into the dark and cold of night seeking to buy oil for themselves, but it was too late, and the vendors of oil were closed. While they were away, the Bridegroom arrived and the faithful were ushered into the marriage feast, and the doors were shut. When the others arrived, they pleaded to be let in, but the Lord answered them, “I do not know you.”
“I do not know you.” What harsh, terrible, and horrible words to hear! However, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. What makes them His sheep is that they hear His voice, they listen to Him, and they follow Him. They hold His Word sacred, and they gladly hear and learn it. They do not despise the preaching of His Word and His blessed Sacraments, the Means through which He gives you His grace, replenishes our oil of faith, protects, and keeps you in the one true faith, apart from which there are no other vendors and there is no other way.
“I do not know you.” What harsh, terrible, and horrible words indeed! And yet, you need never hear them, nor even fear hearing them, if you but hold the Lord’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do not despise preaching and His Word, but find your home at the altar of the LORD, your King and God. How lovely is His dwelling place, here on earth, in your midst, with His Word, Water, Body, and Blood! Truly, a day in His courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. For, here in His house, the oil of your faith is replenished, even filled to overflowing. Those who receive this foretaste of the marriage feast to come need not fear missing the Bridegroom’s coming on any day or hour, for the Bridegroom Himself is present with His body and with His blood to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to equip and send you bearing His light in this world of sin, death, and darkness for the life of the world. You need not fear being found outside the gates of the wedding banquet, for you are already in, as heaven comes down to earth, and your Bridegroom, Lord, and God Himself is present to care for you, His holy Bride.
However, do not slumber and sleep in spiritual apathy, laziness, lukewarmness, indifference, and complacency, but wake up! Today your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed! This is no time to count minutes and hours. This is no time to capitulate to fleshly wants, pleasures, and desires. There is but one thing that is truly needful, and that is to have oil in your lamp, to not despise preaching and the Word of your Lord, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. May His Word and Sacraments be your heart and soul’s true desire, that the Lord may fill you to overflowing with His forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, and love, and preserve and keep you in the one true faith, that you may be well prepared should He come today, tomorrow, or the day after.

In the + Name of  Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

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.
It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps, when it comes to well known and beloved Bible passages, it can be said that familiarity breeds a sort of “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” kind of contempt, a contempt that causes us to neglect revisiting the text and wrestling with it, so as to “suck the marrow” out of it, assuming that we know it well enough and understand it well enough so that there is no need to study it again.
It seems that the opening words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five, the Beatitudes, are like that. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek…, etc., etc.” You know those words well. Perhaps you believe that you understand them well enough? Well, maybe you do, and, maybe you don’t.
The common and popular understanding of Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes goes something like this: If you want to be blessed, then be meek, mild, poor, and merciful, etc., and you will be. In other words, the Beatitudes are a guide to living the Christian life or a sort of moral checklist by which you can chart your progress towards achieving blessedness. Though it may be common and popular, however, this understanding of Jesus’ teaching is dead wrong. This understanding makes the Beatitudes to be all Law and, it makes Jesus out to be a new Law-giver. But, worse yet, it makes your blessedness a work that you do. And, so we come full circle, and, we can understand why this understanding is so common and so popular. For, you like to think you can contribute to your sanctification. You like to think that you are making progress in becoming more and more blessed. Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you are in good company, for, the Pharisees thought this way too, especially, when they compared themselves to others whom they judged to be less sanctified and less blessed than themselves. It’s only human; sinful and damned, to be sure, but, human.
But, blessedness is not something that you progress toward or that you achieve by your works, rather blessedness is a state of being in which you find yourself wholly apart from your works, merit, or worthiness. Blessedness is not something that you achieve, it is something that you receive and thus you are, blessed. And, the first step in receiving such blessedness is to recognize that you are not it, and that you do not have it, in and of yourself, and that you cannot gain it by your merits, and that you do not deserve it, because you are a sinner. So, if you are to be blessed, then you must receive blessedness as a gift; you must be made to be, declared to be blessed by the one and the only one who is blessed, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior. Thus, it is, that the people whom Jesus addresses as blessed are not the “haves” of this world, but they are the “have-nots,” they are the crowds, the hoi polloi, both Jews and gentiles. “Blessed are the poor in spirit .... Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst … Blessed are the merciful … Blessed are the pure in heart … Blessed are the persecuted… etc.” The great crowds came from all over, from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan, even from the land of Syria, and they brought to Jesus their sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them.
Jesus’ blessing brings comfort and fulfillment at once now and not yet. In the now of this life, those who are emptied of self-righteousness and are impoverished of spirit are filled with the righteousness and the Spirit of Christ. Their hunger and their thirst are sated and quenched by His life-giving Word, body, and blood. In their mourning they are comforted in the Peace that is Christ Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil. In persecution and reviling they do not strike back in anger or revenge, but, they remain steadfast in faith in the Christ who has suffered for them, the Christ who suffers with them now, and the Christ who is their unconquerable strength in weakness. That is now, in this life, this side of heaven.
What we see in the Revelation, however, is the other side of the coin, the not yet for us, but, the reality now in heaven for the Saints in Christ. Once again Jesus, the Lamb of God, stands in the midst of a great crowd of people, a multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” asks the Elder. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is said that this great crowd, this multitude that no one can count, no longer hunger, no longer thirst, and no longer mourn. They are in the kingdom of heaven and they see God with their own eyes. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” They are the remnant of Israel and countless gentiles from the east and the west, the north and the south. They are the blessed of the Lord, made clean in the blood of the Lamb, gathered together around the throne of God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship now, for them, and not yet for us.
All who have died in the Lord, they are part of that blessed throng, they have come out of the great tribulation that is this life and have entered into Life Himself. They are your mothers and your fathers, your sisters and your brothers, your sons and your daughters, all who have died in the Lord. But, they are not dead; in some ways they are more alive than you! They enjoy in full, now, what you only know in part, but that doesn’t make it any less real and true for you who live in the not yet. Indeed, you blessed of the Lord in the now also live in the not yet; it as though you have one foot in the grave and the other in heaven. But you are destined for heaven, when, with both feet, you will stand with that blessed throng, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, before the throne of God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship. That is a guarantee, backed by the blood of Jesus, sealed in baptismal waters. And, until that day when you come out of this great tribulation into heaven, heaven comes down to you as you kneel before this altar, the throne of the Lamb of God, who is truly present, and you behold with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, handle with your own hands, and taste with your own tongues, and you receive, as foretaste of the feast to come, blessedness Himself in holy communion with your flesh and blood.
For, you are His saints, made holy in His blood, and you are His blessed, now and not yet, destined for life with Him, in Him, and through Him for all eternity. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. […] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Your Lord Jesus guarantees, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure,” and that is blessedness. And all the Saints of the Church of Christ in heaven and earth cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, come.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Christian Funeral for Ralph Eugene Bloker

John 14:1-6; Revelation 7:9-17; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dearly beloved family and friends of our departed brother in Christ Ralph Bloker, sons Steven, Kenneth, Roger, daughters Cheryle, Marie, Laurie, sister Evelyn, adored grandchildren and great grandchildren, friends – Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ. We are gathered here today to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks for the faith and life our Lord granted to His servant, His child, and His son Ralph, whom the LORD in His providence has seen fit to call home to His heavenly pastures where His sheep may safely graze.
Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms.” I expect that you Blokers could say the same. Indeed, these past seven weeks I have observed the immense love you hold for one another, for Mom and for Dad, for grandchildren and great grandchildren. Indeed, each time I paid a visit, whether to the rehabilitation in Tripoli, to the hospital in Waterloo, to the rehabilitation in Waterloo, back to the hospital, and finally to the rehabilitation in Denver – relatively large rooms were filled beyond capacity with hearts, and hands, and voices of love. How many rooms there must have been in that farmhouse in Janesville where you all grew up! Many rooms, filled to overflowing with love. But, that’s how it is with our God and those who trust in Him and obey His Commandments; He fills us full with His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and then He keeps on pouring, filling, and giving until we overflow with His love and gifts towards others. Indeed, that is the image He presents us with in Psalm 23, isn’t it? “My cup runneth over.”
Tears and laughter, hand-holding and kisses, stories and remembrances, and Gospel bluegrass too! – That’s how love was shown and shared these past several weeks as you walked with Ralph through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s how love was shown and shared all your lives together, from the farm where you ate Dorothy’s home-cooked meals together as a family, to your own homes today. Today, there is great grief and sorrow, and rightfully so. You feel this way because death is not natural. In truth, death is the most unnatural thing there is. God did not create us to die, but He created us to live with Him. God did not create Ralph to die, therefore He did the unthinkable, the unimaginable – He sent His only-begotten Son Jesus to die for Ralph, for you, for me, and for all the world.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” says your Lord Jesus. That is not a command of the Law, but a promise of the Gospel. I know that your hearts are indeed troubled, your hearts are grieving and rent asunder, and rightly so! But, Jesus speaks to you a word of comfort, of hope, and of peace. “Let not your hearts be troubled” is not a command, but a proclamation: For those who believe and trust in Jesus, there is peace and comfort for troubled hearts, for Christ has defeated death and the grave for Ralph and for us all so that He can also proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” So certain is this new life that cannot die that Jesus had already prepared a place in His Father’s house for Ralph. And, so also has He prepared a place for you and for all who will believe.
Not only has Jesus prepared a place for you, but He has prepared the way for you to get there as well! Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Jesus has already walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in which you live your lives, and He has knocked down the gates at the end of that valley that would have kept you in your graves. And He has made them to be an open door into His Father’s house and kingdom. Moreover, He who has passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death has defeated death for you. And, now He accompanies you as you make your way through the Valley. He is your Good Shepherd who guides you and leads you on your way, who nourishes, cares for, and protects and defends you, who, in fact, is the very way upon which you walk and enter into the Father’s house, for Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “no one comes to the Father except through [Him].”
That’s how that multitude of saints no one could count got there; they entered the Father’s house and kingdom through Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” In Holy Baptism, they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have come out of the great tribulation that is our lives in the Valley and they have passed through death into life that cannot die. They are with God and with the Lamb, Jesus, and they lack no thing whatsoever, they have no want or need for anything at all. They hunger and thirst no more, they struggle to breathe no more, they battle cancer and disease no more, for the Lamb in the midst of the throne is their Shepherd, He guides them to springs of living water, and God Himself wipes away every tear from their eyes.
And yet, Ralph’s new life did not begin at physical death, on Monday morning October 30th, but in spiritual death and rebirth in Holy Baptism many, many years ago. Indeed, it is not only the blessed dead who stand amongst that heavenly host, but it is all who have been washed in the blood of Jesus in Holy Baptism, who trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. For, you too are in that number, if you trust in Jesus and are washed in His blood. Yesterday was All Saints Day, and we will commemorate that this Sunday here at St. John. On All Saint’s Day we give thanks to God for His promises kept for His people, His saints, all those who have lived, died, and who live in faith and trust in His Son and bear His fruits. Truly we remember and give thanks for them every Lord’s Day when we pray the liturgy singing “with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” All the company of heaven includes the blessed saints who have died in the Lord, a number in which Ralph is now blessedly included. But, we join with them, the saints, in singing praise to God and the Lamb as we gather at the communion rail and receive His precious body and His holy blood. For, the saints are there, even if we cannot see them – Indeed, the Preacher to the Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – even if we cannot see them, they are there, on the other side of the altar, completing the circle of all the saints, on earth and in heaven, the family of faith, the body of Christ, the Church, His Bride. I often share with those mourning the death of a loved one, “You can go to the graveside, kneel down, say a prayer, and leave some flowers to be near your loved ones, but how much more can you be with them, sing with them, and bask with them in Jesus’ glory at the communion rail in the presence of the Lamb of God.”
Now, I can’t say that Ralph had a lot in common with Job, except that both men were blessed richly by God. As Job’s story goes, however, Satan challenged God saying that Job only loved Him because God had blessed him so richly – take away his blessings, Satan accused, and Job will curse you to your face. So, God gave Satan permission to afflict Job that His righteousness might be proven as Job remained faithful in spite of severe affliction and suffering. Satan attacked Job’s wealth and possessions, killing all his herds and flocks. Then Satan attacked Job’s children and killed them. Lastly, Satan afflicted Job’s body with horrible sores so that all he had left was his life. Throughout it all, Job would not curse God and die. Instead Job confessed, “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” I believe that Job’s confession is a confession that Ralph would make as well, for his faith and trust was not in material possessions or even family or health, but in the LORD. In the midst of His suffering, Job was able to make a powerful confession of faith in the resurrection of the body even two millennia before the birth of Jesus saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” That confession must be our confession too, now, as we mourn and grieve that the LORD has taken away our Husband, Father, Grandfather, brother in Christ, and friend. We confess that, in Jesus Christ, we will see Ralph again with our own eyes, hear his voice with our own ears, and hug him with our own flesh and blood arms.
That is why your hearts need not be troubled. You believe in God? Believe also in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the way to the Father and life now and forever. Ralph was a baptized child of God who trusted in Him throughout His life. All that Jesus died to give to Ralph, Ralph received through baptism into Christ and faith. God has kept His promise to Ralph, and He will keep His promise to you. This is God’s gift that we celebrate on All Saints Day and every day. Let us remember and trust that we may be encouraged and have hope all the days of our lives, through death, unto life that never ends.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.