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.

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