Sunday, November 29, 2020

Ad Te Levavi - The First Sunday in Advent (Advent 1)


Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Advent means to come. Our Lord and our God has already come among us in lowliness and humility as the Babe of Bethlehem born of Mary, and as the man Jesus who willingly suffered and died for the sins of all. And, our Lord is coming, as we’ve heard these past three Sundays, as King and Judge on the Last Day, at an hour and day we cannot know. Even still, our Lord comes among us today, right now, veiled in Word and Sacrament that we should be prepared for His coming today or tomorrow, whether we are awake or asleep, the Spirit-given oil of faith filling us and producing through us good fruits and works of love that serve our neighbors and glorify our Lord.

All this advent, all this coming – then why is it so hard to see Him? Because, apart from the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word of God, apart from the light the Word creates and provides in and through us, we are spiritually blind, deaf, dumb, and dead. Thus, did Jesus regularly say to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see and the ears that hear what you hear,” for these are Spirit-gifted sight and hearing and the only knowledge of the Lord and life.

How else but by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God could the magi hear of a King born for all and, after traveling far to find Him, recognize and acknowledge this King in the infant Jesus in a humble dwelling in Nazareth. How else but by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God could Simeon and Anna recognize the Redemption of Israel and the Light of the Gentiles in the same infant Jesus when Joseph and Mary presented Him in the temple. How else could John the Baptist proclaim Him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and Peter “the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” Those who received Him on Palm Sunday had also heard the Word of the Lord and by the Holy Spirit confessed Jesus to be the “Son of David” and “blessed,” having come in the Name of the Lord, though they did not understand fully what they confessed.

He was raised up as a branch, even a fresh green shoot sprung forth from the seeming dead, dry, burned out stump of Jesse, as was promised by Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others. That means, no one was looking for Him or expecting Him by human reason alone or by what the eyes could see and the ears could hear. Still, the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, gave some eyes to see and ears to hear, even if these were still hindered and obscured by sin and corruption. The Word had promised Him to be the unlikely “seed of the woman,” and even more unlikely “virgin-born.” He would be the promised descendant of aged Abraham and barren Sarah, continued not through the traditional line of eldest first-born sons, or even favorite sons, but through unexpected Judah and David. When He arrived on the scene, Israel had been without a prophet for four hundred years, political rule had transferred from the Greeks to the Romans, and the Pharisees had arisen teaching righteousness by obedience and works under the Law instead of salvation by God’s grace through faith in His promised Messiah and King.

Thus, when King Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they readily hailed Him as King, for He was fulfilling what the Word had said, yet by Friday of that same week they were calling for His death by crucifixion, because He was not the kind of king they were looking for. How can this be? This can be because, as much as faith is the creative work of the Holy Spirit and not a matter of human reason or choice, the Holy Spirit can be rejected. Men routinely stop their ears, shut their eyes, clinch their teeth, and shake their fists because their reason cannot accept the Truth, or because they do not like the Truth. The people readily heard the Word when it spoke of a King and freedom and a release from captivity but, they stopped their ears when it spoke of the death of this King and His subsequent resurrection. Like Peter, they were ready to proclaim Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” but they would not accept that the Christ must suffer and die and be raised again.

As the past liturgical Church year came to a close we were exhorted to remain watchful and vigilant for the coming of the Lord our Bridegroom, for He will come at a day and hour we cannot know. Therefore, we must be prepared, keeping the Spirit-given oil of faith in the lamps of our bodies and souls, that we should be found burning and shining forth with the fruits of faith, good works, which serve our neighbor and glorify the Lord, when He comes. Today, at the beginning of another year of grace, we are exhorted to hearken to His Word that we should recognize His coming in the ways in which He comes, not according to human reason, wisdom, and desires or worldly values, but in lowliness and humility, veiled in weakness, in people and things both flesh and world overlook and despise.

In this respect St. Paul exhorts us to remain awake and watchful, recognizing that each day “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” This is literally, logically true. The problem is that, as time passes, we become sleepy and drunk, if not with wine then with worldly and fleshly pleasures, possessions, cares, worries, and anxieties. St. Paul exhorts us to commit ourselves all the more to good works of love toward one another while making “no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” The Palm Sunday crowd were distracted by their political and social oppression and weakness; they had lost sight of their spiritual poverty and need for a redeemer and not merely a political savior. Thus, when Jesus entered Jerusalem and went straight to the temple and not to Herod’s palace or Pilate’s fortress, they were scandalized and began to reject the Christ of God. But, Jesus did ascend His throne, the cross, where He was crowned the King of heaven and earth. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for many.

And so, St. Paul’s exhortation is as true, valid, and relevant today as it was in the first century: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” You “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” precisely by doing what you are doing right now – hearing His Word, receiving His gifts, dying to your flesh and its desires, and walking in the Light of Christ. All of these things enable and equip you to live freely, even now, in faith and hope and in love. As St. Paul famously wrote to the Corinthians, “so faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Our hope is in God’s gift of love, Christ Jesus.

Come now and receive your King who comes to you, humble and hidden within bread and wine, which is His absolving, sustaining, and life-giving body and blood. He who is the love of God incarnate will fill you with His love that you may love others without fear, that you may be His gift of hope and love to the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving


Luke 12:13-21; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Deuteronomy 8:1-10 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Giving thanks is the natural fruit of justification, trust and faith in God for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Thanksgiving blooms naturally from a Christian, the way plump and juicy bunches of grapes burst forth from the vine. Yet, there are many things that will hinder a Christian from giving thanks, amongst them being covetousness and greed.

These are no minor sins. Indeed, God has given no less than two Commandments against covetousness and greed, the Ninth and Tenth – three, if you count the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.” These, like all sins, are ultimately sins against God, a transgression of the First Commandment, as the covetous and the greedy place their fear, love, and trust in some material or worldly created thing over and above the Creator of all things. Thus, in book two of The Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Dante described the covetous and the greedy as being bound and laid face down upon the ground for having concentrated too much on earthly thoughts.

We are all susceptible to covetousness and greed. Indeed, these were present and active in the Garden when our First Parents desired what God had forbidden, not only to eat the forbidden fruit, but to be their own gods, producing no fruitful thanksgiving and praise to God their Creator, but only the fruit of sin, which is death. We transgress the Ninth, Tenth, Seventh, and First Commandments, and probably others too, when we are anxious and worried about what we will eat and wear, and when we place our trust in our own works, wealth, and prosperity as did the man in Jesus’ parable this evening.

In answer to two men in the crowd who were disputing over an inheritance, Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then He told them a parable about a rich man whose land produced plentiful crops so that his barns were filled and he had no more room to store his grain. After considering, the man decided to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones to store all his grain and his goods. Then the man said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

To our American, independence-idolizing ears, the man’s reasoning likely sounds good, even praiseworthy. After all, it’s his grain, his barns, his land; he should be able to do whatever he likes with what is his. That’s the American dream, right? That’s what we all hope to achieve in our retirement, if not sooner – independence, the freedom to not depend on anyone: parents, children, neighbors, government, God. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Sounds good, right? In fact, most of us will be doing just that tomorrow on the day we, as a nation, have designated a Day of National Thanksgiving. But, how many will be giving thanks? What will they be thankful for? And, who will they be thanking? How many will thank no one but themselves?

The rich man who tore down his barns and built bigger ones trusted only in himself. He was pleased with himself and thankful to himself for his own efforts. Was the land really his? No. Did he produce the seed that grew into crops? Did he make the rain to fall and the sun to shine that the seed might grow and be fruitful? No. No, truly, even the man’s life was not his own, just as your life is not your own, and that very night God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Relax, eat, drink, and be merry, for I have ample goods laid up for many years? Today, you are more likely to hear this adaptation: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. For, this is the common tomorrow that all men face, sooner or later. Therefore, since we will not live forever in this life as it is, and we all know that hearses don’t pull U-Hauls – that is to say, “You can’t take it with you.” – the question is, “How, then, shall we live?” However, this isn’t so much a decision that you need to make as it is fruit that you will bear when you have faith and trust in God, the Creator and giver of all things, even your life. Better, then is the way J.R.R. Tolkien put it in The Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

St. Paul explains saying, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” For, Paul continues, “[The LORD] has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And, the result of this is that “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

This is to say that your life, possessions, wealth, time, talents, and treasure are all precious gifts to you of God’s most loving grace. He gives them to you to use, for yourself and your family, and He makes you a steward and manager of His gifts to use for others. This is, in part, how you give thanks to God for His love, faithfulness, and providence – by being generous with His gifts, you bear the fruits of faith, which are living proof that you love the Giver more than the gifts. This is your confession in action of your faith in the LORD, who graciously provides you all that you need to sustain your body and life.

No man is an island, but we are all conceived and born into families, communities, villages, and nations. We are our brother’s keepers, and they are ours. Recognition of this fact does not make us socialists, but Christians. The most important fruit that is born of such faith and trust in God is freedom from the slavery of idolatry. Because you are a slave to Christ, you are free to live in His grace and receive His gifts, no strings attached. Therefore, you are free to freely share His gifts and give them to others, knowing that you are losing nothing, for your God who graciously gives you all things will not withhold from you all that is needful and good.

On this National Day of Thanksgiving, we remember the pilgrims who came to the New World with little but the clothing on their backs. After much toil, tribulation, and suffering, they were thankful; they were thankful for the land, for food, for shelter, for friendly neighbors, and for their own lives. They were also thankful for freedom: religious freedom, political freedom, freedom to taxed only with representation, and freedom to a fair trial and justice. Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, because of our prosperity and wealth, we take much for granted and falsely believe that all we have is the fruit of our labors and rightfully ours alone. As a result, we are not thankful, and if we give, we often do so with somewhat less than a cheerful heart.

Well, charity does begin at home, and thanksgiving begins at the altar. We gather here this evening to receive God’s gifts and to offer Him thanks and praise. He graciously forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, and gives us eternal life that we can live and worship and share His gifts without fear of not having enough or running out. He fills you until you are overflowing, then He keeps on pouring and giving that you may be both blessed and a blessing. “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Last Sunday of the Church Year / Sunday of the Fulfillment (Trinity 27)


Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Old Testament lesson today is pure Gospel. The Prophet foretells of a new heaven and a new earth in which there is no inequity or strife, weeping or sorrow, and no more death. Now, who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t do anything they could to obtain it? Who wouldn’t pray earnestly for that day and kingdom to quickly come? People like you and me, that’s who. Oh, sure, we talk about the promised kingdom of heaven in wistful and dreamy ways, but do we really believe in it? Do we really believe it will come soon? Do we really even want it to come soon, particularly if it means giving up and losing what we have now? Perhaps we have become a bit too content and complacent in our lives and in this world, which are passing way, which are stored up for fire on the Last Day?

You are not alone in feeling this way. Indeed, Christians, and Messianic Jews before them, have felt this way ever since Jesus began His ministry of teaching and miracles. His disciples and the crowds all thought He was the promised Messianic King who had come to establish God’s kingdom on earth now. However, when He failed to lead the people in uprising against their Roman occupiers, when He failed to set them free from tyranny and oppression, when He failed to restore worldly glory to Israel and reestablish David’s throne, the vast majority rejected Him and cried out for His blood. He was not the kind of king they were looking for. And, after He had been tried, convicted, condemned, crucified, and buried, they thought that was that. No one expected Him to rise from the dead. The women came to the tomb Sunday morning in order to finish the job of preparing a dead body for burial. The disciples gathered in fear and grief behind closed doors awaiting their own arrest, trial, and conviction at the hands of the Jewish Council. They, like us today, would prefer that the LORD make this present world better and more comfortable, release us from suffering and sorrow, war and bloodshed, disease and death. However, the LORD did not promise to make a paradise on earth again, but He promised to create a new heaven and a new earth, and that this old world that we both hate and love will be burned with fire and dissolve. Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.” He wasn’t kidding. Believe it and receive it for Jesus’ sake.

In many ways, that is what the end of the Church Year and the beginning of the new Church Year with Advent is all about – watching, waiting in patient hope and expectation, and being prepared for the day of Jesus’ coming, the Last Day, the end of this world and the beginning of the new heavens and earth that will not fade away. That is what the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is all about. Jesus told this parable to His disciples during the week of His Passion, during Holy Week before His betrayal and arrest. Jesus told them this parable so that they would be prepared for His delay in returning, by human standards. After Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the disciples were all on board with Jesus. Nevertheless, they expected His prophesied return to come quickly. That is why the first Christians sold all their possessions and put them in a community chest to care for those who could not care for themselves. That is why they shared all things in common. It’s not that they were socialists or communists, but they sincerely believed that they wouldn’t need such worldly and material things much longer, for Jesus would be coming soon ushering in His new Kingdom. That’s why Jesus told them, and us, this parable. He was encouraging us, exhorting us, even warning us to not grow weary in our waiting and watching, for He is coming soon – though, to the LORD a day may be as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is yet another Parable of the Kingdom. This time, the Kingdom of Heaven is like “ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the Bridegroom.” As in the other parables of the kingdom, the virgins were all invited, they were all in, they were all going to the wedding feast. However, Jesus tells us that, though they were all invited, though they were all in, “five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” The difference between the wise and the foolish virgins, Jesus says, was that the wise brought extra oil with them. Already, the oil is a matter of significance. At the beginning of the parable, all ten virgins have oil in their lamps. All seems well and good – and it is! However, then comes the crux of the parable: The Bridegroom is delayed. There they stand, all ten of the virgins, lamps filled with oil, burning brightly, and the Bridegroom hasn’t come. They were all ready to enter the Wedding Hall and partake of the Feast, but now they have to wait. Surely this is how the disciples and the first Christians felt following Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost. They were full of anticipation and excitement. They were ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and celebrate the Feast with their Bridegroom Jesus. But then, days, weeks, months, and years went by, and no Bridegroom. After a while, they began to resume their work-a-day lives, going to work, preparing meals, caring for their families, building homes and churches, still waiting, still watching, but not as fervently or expectantly as before. And, as years turned into decades and centuries and millennia, many stopped watching and waiting altogether. They became the scoffers St. Peter warned us about last Sunday saying, “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Neither are you and I immune to such thoughts and emotions. Some days we act as scoffers, as though we do not believe that Jesus is coming, as though we do believe that this life and world is all there is. Therefore, Jesus encourages, exhorts, and warns us still, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

All ten virgins were invited. All ten virgins were in. All ten virgins had oil in their lamps, burning brightly. All ten virgins were on their way to the Wedding Feast to meet the Bridegroom. But, when the Bridegroom was delayed, all ten virgins fell asleep. We are all tempted, spiritually speaking, to succumb to weariness and sleep. It’s hard to wait and watch perpetually with hopeful expectation. Even Jesus’ closest disciples failed to wait and watch, and they fell asleep while He prayed in Gethsemane. Whereas Jesus most likely has in mind spiritual slumber – preoccupation with fleshly, worldly, and material concerns, idolatry – another possible interpretation of sleep is death. All ten virgins died, and all ten virgins rose up when “at midnight there was a cry” and the Bridegroom arrived. Either way, it is clear that falling asleep was not the gravest problem for the virgins, but not having extra oil. Jesus says that five of the virgins were wise, and that five of the virgins were foolish. What made the five wise virgins wise was that they brought extra oil with them as they went to meet the Bridegroom.

Once again, I must emphasize the fact that all ten virgins had oil, that all ten virgins were invited, were in, were on their way to the Wedding feast – they were all baptized Christians, purchased in the blood of Jesus. All ten virgins fell asleep. They grew weary in their watching and waiting, or perhaps they died. However, when the Bridegroom arrived, they all rose up and tended to their lamps. That is when a distinction is made: Five virgins are said to be wise because they brought extra oil. All of this begs the question, of course, “What, then, is the oil, and how do we get it?”

Well, whereas I’ve heard and considered many answers to that question, the only one that really seems to work, that is the most supported by the Church’s interpretation throughout the ages, that is consistent with the witness and teaching of Holy Scripture, is that the oil is faith. While faith is something that can be measured to a certain extent – the Scriptures speak of great faith, little faith, faith like a mustard seed, etc. – any amount of faith in Christ at all receives justification, the fullness of all of Christ’s benefits, and the kingdom of heaven: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Therefore, it is not a question of how much faith you have, but rather, that you have it, that you have faith, period. The five foolish virgins had faith as they made their way to the Wedding Feast. However, when the Bridegroom was delayed, over time they ran out. In contrast, the five wise virgins, who also ran out of faith so to speak, brought extra with them, which enabled them to abide the time of the Bridegroom’s delay. So, if the oil is faith, the question is still begged, “How and where do you get it?”

First most, it is clear that the faith of another Christian cannot help you. No, you must have faith for yourself. Thus, the five wise virgins could not share their oil, their faith, with the five foolish virgins. Still, just having faith at one time or another is not sufficient, but you must remain in faith, so you must be sustained in faith until Jesus’ returns. St. Paul describes this truth in terms of a foot race, “Run the race in such a way that you may obtain the prize.” Those runners who stop midway and do not cross the finish line receive no prize. Consequently, in this race, all who cross the finish line, all who endure and persevere in faith until the end, win the prize, life eternal in the kingdom of heaven. And so, this parable is Jesus’ encouragement, exhortation, and even a warning to maintain and strengthen, to preserve and to keep your faith alive and shining with light until He returns. And, where and how do you do that? You do that by doing what you are doing right now – by receiving the Lord’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. These are your true food, your true bread and meat and drink throughout your earthly lives which forgive, renew, nourish, strengthen, sustain, equip, and send you as the light of Christ in a world of darkness until He comes. The Holy Spirit first filled the lamp of your body and soul when you were baptized. Then, throughout your life, the Holy Spirit continues to nurture and strengthen and preserve you in faith, even today, here in Christ’s Church, with His Word of forgiveness and His lifegiving and sustaining body and blood. The faith created in you, you made confession of before God and men when you were Confirmed in faith, whether as a youth or as an adult. Yet, Confirmation is not graduation, but the beginning of a fuller participation in the life and ministry of Christ’s body, the Church, both within these walls and, even moreso, outside of these walls in your Spirit-given vocations. Which brings us to yet another important teaching in this parable – works.

The purpose of a lamp is to shine forth light and to lighten paths and rooms so that you do not stumble, so that others do not stumble in the darkness. The people of Israel were called and chosen and elect to be Light for the Gentiles. You too have been called, chosen, and elect that you might be the Light of Christ in a world of darkness – “For once you were darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord. Walk, therefore, as children of Light. That is why the baptized are given burning candles with these words: “Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the Light of the world. Live always in the Light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with Joy and enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which shall have no end.” You keep your lamps full of oil, shining forth with the Light of Christ in good works and deeds which serve others and glorify God, showing that you are Christians by your love for one another and for all.

Still, Jesus’ encouragement, exhortation, and warning to remain full of the oil of faith and good works remains, for the day of His return will come on an unknown day and hour, and those whose lamps are shining forth with the Light of faith and works will enter the Wedding Feast with their Bridegroom Jesus, but those whose lamps have gone out, who have no more faith, will find themselves outside the gates of the Wedding Hall where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And, there will be nowhere to obtain the oil of faith and rekindle their light, for the Church will be closed, its purpose fulfilled and complete. Though they cry and plead at the gates, the Lord will say to them, “I never knew you,” for the Lord knows His people by their faith, faith that is shown to be living by good works and love.

The extra oil is needed NOW in this life. We must never think that we have enough and become complacent and content, but we must be vigilant in maintaining and sustaining our faith. Therefore, O Christian, do not delay in repentance or in receiving the gifts of Christ that strengthen and sustain your faith. Rather, embrace them often, and receive them with thanksgiving. For, through Word and Sacraments the Church fills Her lamp full with the oil of faith and trust in the Lord, that She will be ready to receive her Bridegroom when He comes again in glory. O Lord, preserve us in faith in You and make us ever to hunger and thirst for Your righteousness. Make us to shine with your True Light in our lives, words, and deeds to the glory of God our Father, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, in His most Holy Spirit our Sanctifier and Sustainer.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Because of our First Parents’ sin, and because of our own sin, all our lives will end in death – period. As Jim Morrison of The Doors put it, “No one here gets out alive.” And so, there is inherent risk in living. Literally anything can kill you, and something inevitably will. Why is it then that we do not lock ourselves indoors, stay in bed, and hide away from all potential threats and dangers? Because life is a wonderful gift, and living it is literally worth the risk of losing it. In fact, it is impossible to live without taking risks, and locking yourself in your home isn’t living and neither will it keep you from death, and moreover it is not God’s will for you and for your life.

It is a significant risk for a baby bird to jump out the nest in its first attempt at flight. Tragically, some don’t make it. But, if they don’t take that risk they most certainly will not live, so out of the nest they go. Getting married is risky. Opening a business is risky. Getting behind the wheel of a car is risky. Having a baby is fraught with risk. Going to school, going to church, going to Wal-Mart is risky. The Garden of Eden was a risky place too, having a tree that brought death and a deadly deceiving serpent. Life is full of risks. Life is risk, and we all, consciously or unconsciously assess our risk-load in every decision we make and in everything we do. The same was true then as it is now: While there are many things in this life and world that are fearful and dangerous, we are called to fear, love, and trust in God above all else.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: COVID-19 is a serious virus and it needs to be taken seriously. I believe that the vast majority of people do indeed take it very seriously. What we see is individual persons and families assessing their personal risk-load and making decisions accordingly. Now, this is NOT a political column, but a religious column, a Christian column, and I am speaking from the Word of God. God has quite a lot to say about what we should fear and what we should not, and how we should live. His first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). In his Small Catechism Martin Luther explains this commandment saying, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” We worship what we fear most, and what we’re most afraid of losing tells us who or what we worship, where we place our fear, love, and trust. Ultimately, we don’t fear a virus, but what we fear most is losing imaginary control over our lives, and that fear keeps us locked up, looking inward to ourselves and our own safety instead of outward toward others as the rest of God’s commandments direct us to do (Matthew 22:37-40).

Asked in a letter how to respond during the Plague, Martin Luther replied: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God” (Luther’s Works 43:132).

If we replace the threat of the atomic bomb with the coronavirus, C.S. Lewis also chides fear and exhorts Christians to live their lives and serve their neighbors: “It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. […] If we are all going to be destroyed by [the coronavirus], let that [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds” (“On Living in an Atomic Age”).

St. Paul wrote to young Timothy, and to us all, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Our Lord Jesus exhorts us, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). That “him” is the LORD, and no other.

There is no such thing as zero-risk faith. We are to fear the LORD and serve Him, loving no one and no thing more than Him, not even our lives, but loving all with the love with which He loves us. Taking reasonable precautions is not fearful idolatry, but it is faithful stewardship of God’s gift of reason and intellect. However, fearful paralysis that keeps us from receiving the Lord’s gifts and loving and serving our neighbor may well be fearful idolatry. Jesus was the perfect example of faithful fear and love, reaching out to unclean lepers, prostitutes, and the dead and serving them with love, mercy, compassion, and grace.

Is fear keeping you locked up, turned in on yourself? Is fear keeping you from receiving the Lord’s gifts in your house of worship? Is fear keeping you from reaching out to others in faithful love and service of your neighbor to the glory of God? What is it that you truly fear, truly love, and truly trust in? The LORD invites you to fear no man, no thing in heaven or on earth, but to fear God and find in Him freedom from all fear. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10), and the wisdom of God is Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30). The fear of God leads to trust and trust bears the fruit of the Spirit, for a harvest of blessings for ourselves and for others. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Rev. Jon M. Ellingworth

Pastor, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church – Waverly, IA

The 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.

The scene described in our Old Testament lesson today from the Prophet Daniel depicts the coronation of “one like a son of man”. At first Daniel describes the Ancient of Days, who is God the Father, sitting upon His throne in judgment, surrounded by the heavenly host as the royal record books are opened. The scene is descriptive of a king’s courtroom where he is about to pronounce a binding legal judgment. A little horn is speaking, bringing charges and making boastful and proud accusations as a prosecuting attorney. In the verses preceding today’s pericope, Daniel describes four great beasts come up out of the sea. This blasphemous little horn is but one of ten horns upon the head of the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision; Daniel describes it as having eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth.

It is enough to understand the little horn as the activity of Satan in the world through men. And, though his charges and his accusations are against men, they are truly against God Himself. Thus, he is a blasphemer. Likewise, though men are the instruments of Satan to do evil, and are guilty of their own sins and transgressions, it is truly God Himself who is on trial. This is consistent with God’s answer to Job’s pleading question, “Why my suffering?” God’s answer: “That the righteousness of God might be revealed.” When Satan asked to test Job, he wasn’t concerned about Job’s faith and righteousness at all, but he wanted to put God to the test; he wanted to pit God’s justice and righteousness against His goodness, love, and mercy. Thus, it is true that no man is your enemy, for only Satan is your enemy; and Satan is only your enemy because He is God’s enemy first.

As the little horn was speaking, however, Daniel tells us that the beast upon whose head the horn was planted was destroyed. Who was that beast but Satan himself? And what was the cause of his destruction? That is revealed in the coronation of one like a son of man. He was presented before the Ancient of Days and to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. What Daniel foresaw in prophetic vision was fulfilled in the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When Satan hurled his charges, his accusations, and his blasphemies against God’s Son on the cross, Jesus took it all upon Himself and He died in your place, in my place, in Job’s place, in Adam’s place, that we might live. And, because of His perfect selflessness, sacrifice, and obedience, God the Father crowned Him and has given Him dominion and authority over heaven and earth and all things in them, so that the same description of the Ancient of Days is used to describe the Son of Man, Jesus, in the Revelation to St. John which closes the canon of Holy Scripture.

For, the Revelation much less reveals something new, that is yet to come, than it unveils something that is already accomplished: The Lamb of God Jesus Christ has died, and yet He lives – He stands as the lamb that is slain. He reigns and He rules with the Father, the Ancient of Days, and together with Him receives blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power forever and ever. It is accomplished. It is finished. Thus, what Daniel foresaw in prophetic vision was already a done deal. God had determined it. Therefore, no matter what life lays before you, no matter what challenge or fear or frustration you may face, the end of the story is written, and Jesus has us for all eternity – we win! And, since His dominion is everlasting, those who are in it are also eternal. That means that we are not looking forward to eternal life, actually, for we already possess it. Scripture calls it a hope because we do not experience its reality fully at this point in time. But we have it already, by virtue of our Baptism, and by the gift of the Medicine of Immortality which we receive in the Holy Supper. Jesus had accomplished it all for us already, it is pure gift. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved."

The Apostle Peter expounds upon the ramifications of this reality by answering the question, “How then shall we live?” That is to say, if God created all things that exist, if Satan plunged all things into sin and death, if God redeemed all things through the victorious death and resurrection of His Son, and if Jesus is returning in glory and judgment on a day to come when all created things will burn and dissolve away, then what kind of people ought you to be? You are to live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, being diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. Of course, this is impossible for man, but it is a reality through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ. You are to take comfort and strength in the victory and eternal life that is already yours in Jesus and wait for His return in patient vigilance, in humility and repentance, in service to your brother and neighbor, persevering to the end.

In this regard, Jesus prophesied of that day, that He will come in glory and will sit upon His throne in judgment. Then He will separate the sheep from the goats. Yet, the clear indication is that the judgment will have already occurred, for the sheep are already sheep and the goats are already goats – all that is left is to separate them, a task easily accomplished by the outward appearance of each species. Still, Jesus does describe the behaviors of those He recognizes as sheep as compared to those He recognizes as goats. The sheep, Jesus says, gave food to Him when He was hungry and drink when He was thirsty, they welcomed Him as a stranger, clothed His nakedness, and visited Him when sick and in prison. In contrast, Jesus says, the goats did not do these things. Then, lest we make of His words a mere moralism, Jesus adds that the sheep did not realize that they had done these things to Him, nor did the goats realize that they had not. Thus, Jesus’ words are not a prescription for what you must do to be a sheep of His flock, but rather they are indicative that Christ is in those who trust in Him so that He counts them as His brothers. Therefore, to serve one of Jesus’ brothers is serve Jesus, and to refuse them and to reject them is to reject Him. It is much less about your deeds than it is your faith in, or rejection of, Jesus that makes you either a sheep or a goat. Yet, the truth remains that sheep will do sheepy things (love, compassion, mercy, charity, kindness, and forgiveness), while goats will be goats. The undone works are only a symptom of the real problem: lack of faith. If they had called on the Lord in faith, He would have forgiven them, prepared them, and completed good works in them.

The Judgment has already happened. Judgment Day was Good Friday. That was the day that our sins were judged and punished. It is not a day ahead of us, but the day Jesus died on the cross. So we look to the cross for comfort and hope, and we gladly bear the cross appointed for us, that we may share in the victory which Christ, the Son of Man, won for us, and was given, with us included, in Daniel's Vision of the End.
Life hurts. Dangers threaten. Illness frightens us. We often feel overwhelmed, and out of control. But God tells us that we should not trust our senses here, but listen to His Word. Already in the time of Daniel, five centuries before the time of Christ, it was a settled plan, and He locked it up in Jesus. God doesn't want us fearing what the world throws at us. He desires that we trust Him, and find daily peace and comfort in Him. Your sins are forgiven because Jesus died for you. God gives you eternal life for Christ's sake – or, as Daniel saw it, God gives you to Jesus for an eternal dominion. Either way, it is not what it may feel like at the moment that is important, but what we see in this apocalyptic vision of the end.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The 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.

The abomination that causes desolation is not a statue of a pagan god, or even of the Roman emperor, set up in the Jewish temple, but the abomination of desolation is the One True God hanging dead upon a Roman cross. Thus, there’s no need to speculate when it’s going to happen, or if it’s already happened, or what, or when, or where it was or will be, because that’s it: God, dead upon the cross, is the abomination above and beyond all abominations. And to the wise and to the strong, to those whose unbelieving eyes, ears, and hearts see Jesus’ crucified corpse as weakness and defeat, this is a cause for stumbling and for desolation. However, for the perishing, for those with eyes, ears, and hearts of faith, it is a cause for strength, and peace, and comfort.

The people of Jesus’ day lived under Roman rule. The Romans demonstrated this by placing their insignia, the eagle, upon the lands they ruled. This eagle insignia was called an aquila, and it was carried before a legion of soldiers by a standard bearer. The Romans even affixed an aquila upon the temple in Jerusalem, thus reminding the Jews that “even the temple, the center of their worship and the assurance of God’s presence among them, belonged not to them but to the Roman emperor, whose guards kept a watchful eye on it.” For the Jew, this was an abomination. It was idolatry. It was outrageous that a man like the Roman emperor, who claimed to be a god, would set his insignia upon the place where the true God dwelt on earth. The temple doesn’t belong to Rome, it belongs to the Lord.

Understandably, the children of Israel were angry and upset, even desolate at what they perceived to be the abomination the Roman’s had placed upon God’s temple. Also, in the face of subjugation, taxation, the limiting and controlling of their religious freedom, not to mention the ridicule, mocking, and degrading they suffered under the Roman occupiers, the people became impatient, wanting to be free of Rome, and their faith and trust in God to provide and protect waned, and they drifted off into idolatry just as their ancestors had done in the days they waited for Moses to come down from the mountain with God’s Commandments. They recast the temple into their own image. They used the temple as a way for them to take power, seize control, and make money. They made it into a den of robbers. They used it as a way to enslave. They created an idol, an abomination.

Yet, God, dead upon the cross, is the abomination that causes desolation. The abomination created by the Jews of Jesus’ day was but the fruit of their desolation. God gave His only-begotten Son to be the Messiah, the anointed Savior of all mankind. He had made this covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and had kept it throughout years of want and years of plenty, years of captivity and exile, and years of prosperity and peace. But they rejected God’s Christ, and made for themselves a salvation by works according to the laws of men, just as they rejected God’s commandments long ago, and made for themselves a god of gold in the form of a calf. They chose for themselves man’s religion, the religion of the Pharisee, scribes, and Sadducees, and they rejected the Good News of man’s redemption in Jesus Christ. They worshiped the temple, and they sent the Temple of God in human flesh, Jesus, to a Roman cross to suffer and die. There, upon the cross, the Roman standard and insignia, the eagle, encircled His mutilated corpse, just as Jesus had prophesied, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Indeed, vultures is a satisfactory translation of the Greek ἀετοί, but eagles is better. When God died on the cross, His corpse was surrounded by the eagle insignia of the Roman Empire. For, this was the true abomination: The Christ of God, betrayed into Roman hands, crucified and dead upon a Roman cross. This was the true abomination that brings desolation to those who do not see in Jesus’ death the victory of Christ over sin and death and Satan. Thus, Jesus squarely placed His prophetic warning of tribulation and suffering after His own death and resurrection. However, He did connect it to an event in the future, though not far off, when tribulation such as the world had never experienced before, or would ever experience again, fell upon Jerusalem and upon all of Israel. For, within forty years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, within the time of that present generation of men, the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and then invade and utterly destroy her, her walls and her temple, and leave her utterly desolate like a corpse.

When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Jews, and the Romans, indeed, all the world, thought that God had abandoned His people. But the truth was, not that God had abandoned His people, but that the people had abandoned their God. They left God’s Word behind for a god, an idol, of their own making. They worshiped a building, they worshiped men and their laws and commands, they worshiped their occupiers by placing their fear and their trust in them. But God had not abandoned them. In fact, in Jesus’ death upon the cross, God was most for His people. For, upon the cross, Jesus atoned for man’s sins, suffered in man’s place, was obedient under God’s Law, and substituted for man’s death. And, though He died, our God is not dead, but He has destroyed the power of death and set us free from sin. And He has made you to be His temples in which He dwells. He feeds you with the fruits of His cross. He marks you with His own insignia, the sign of His cross. And He places upon you His Name and covers you with His righteousness.

You look around the world today and you imagine that it is filled with abomination, things and people and deeds that are so outrageous that you recoil in horror at the sight of them. But, when you look to the cross, you see God’s true power to overcome your real problems: sin and death. When you see the cross, you see God’s wisdom. When you see the cross, you see God’s true love for you. See God, therefore, where He may be truly found. For false prophets will say “Look, the Christ is here!” or “Look, the Christ is there!” But if they point you away from the Means of Grace, away from Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, they point you where He has not promised to be. They point you to idolatry, an abomination that will leave you desolate.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Feast of All Saints


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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

What is a saint? A saint is not a sinless person. If that were the definition, then no one could ever possibly be a saint. Neither can you become a saint because of your works, even were you to perform a miracle or two – that in itself is a misguided notion. Further, you cannot earn or merit sainthood, and you cannot make yourself to be a saint. No. But, to be a saint is to be holy and blameless before the Lord and set apart. That is literally what it means to be a saint. And, since these are qualities that you cannot do or earn or merit on your own or for yourself, they are qualities that are applied to you, even credited to you, by your heavenly Father, not on account of your qualities and works, but on account of the qualities and works of His beloved Son Jesus Christ. On account of Jesus’ sinlessness, obedience, righteousness, suffering and death, your heavenly Father declares you to be sinless, obedient, righteous, holy, and set apart – that is, your heavenly Father considers you, and credits you, and declares you to be a saint in and through and because of Jesus Christ in whom place your fear, your love, and your trust. So, what is a saint? You are! Not because of anything in you, but because you are in St. Jesus who alone is holy and makes men to be holy in His innocent and holy blood shed for you and for the world upon the cross. Though you remain a sinner, your sins have been atoned for, your sins have been covered, your sins have been taken away in the blood of Jesus. Though you are still a sinner, in the eyes of God your Father you are 100% saint. Yes! This Feast of All Saints is a feast of you! But, it is not a feast of you alone – perish the thought! Indeed, the point of the Feast of All Saints is that you are not alone, but you, we, are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses to Jesus’ faithfulness and holiness and to the Father’s love for you and for all the world in His Son that we need not be afraid “though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Have no fear little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, for He is fully pleased with you in His Son with whom alone He is fully pleased.

But, what does sainthood look like? Surely there are identifying characteristics and qualities that we can recognize. Of course! The Holy Scriptures call them fruits. What are the fruits of sainthood, of holiness, of faith? Well, Jesus lays out some of them in the Beatitudes, or Gospel reading for the Feast of All Saints: Poverty of spirit which is repentance, meekness, and humility; mourning, grief, and sorrow over sin and the offense they are to our God and Father and to our neighbor; hunger and thirst for true righteousness and holiness before God; mercy towards others; purity in heart and spirit; peacefulness and gentleness; bearing with and enduring and persevering through reviling, mockery, evil, and violence for the sake of Jesus. These are but a few of the fruits of sainthood, elsewhere described as the fruits of the Spirit. Yet, these qualities are descriptive, not prescriptive. That is to say, do not turn this list of qualities and characteristics into a honey-do list that you can check off one-by-one and justify yourself. No. These qualities and characteristics are not prescriptive. They are not a new Law commanding you to go and do. No. These qualities and characteristics are descriptive. And, what they describe is Jesus Himself who alone was perfectly poor in spirit, perfectly sorrowful over sin and unbelief, perfectly meek and humble and repentant, perfectly hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of God, perfectly merciful, pure in heart, peaceful and patient, who was persecuted, reviled, and was mocked, who suffered evil and violence and even death at the hands of fallen, sinful, self-righteous and evil men – even you and me and all who have ever lived and died and will ever live and die. What does sainthood look like? Sainthood looks like Jesus, and so do you look like Jesus, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus is the True Vine, and you are His branches. Once you were not His branches; indeed you were a lifeless and fruitless branch fit only for the fire. But, God the Father, the Vinedresser, has grafted you into the True Vine Jesus Christ so that His life flows through you and makes you fruitful, bearing the fruits of the True Vine Jesus. Once you were profane and cursed, lost in your sins, fruitless, and dead, but the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and has sanctified and kept you in faith – He has made you holy; He has made you a saint – and now He keeps you with all His saints, the one, holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church, in Jesus Christ. However, to be a saint is to be holy, it is to be set apart, it is to be other. This means that you will not be comfortable in this life and world. Oh, your flesh, your passions and desires, and the devil will conspire against you, will tempt you to be comfortable and at peace with the world, to value what it values and to hate what it hates, but you must resist these temptations. For, the world and the flesh value independence, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness, but you are called to die to your flesh and its desires and passions and to think more of others than of yourself. The world and the flesh value wealth and material possessions, but you are called to live in poverty of spirit and in hunger and thirst for an external, imputed, and declared righteousness. The world and your flesh want you to find peace in worldly and fleshly things – things that are year by year, day by day, and minute by minute passing away. But there is no peace in such things at all, though you are tempted to settle for false peace at the expense of true and lasting peace with God. And so, the world will persecute you and ridicule you and mock you and revile you and speak all kinds of evil against you. But, in all these things rejoice and count yourself more than conquerors through Him who loves you.

For, you are conquerors in Christ. The First and Last Beatitudes are in the present tense: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” These Beatitudes, these blessings, are realities now in Christ though they remain unseen. You are saints now. You are the kings and queens of heaven and earth now in Christ your Lord, though realized in fullness, not yet. Or, as St. John puts it in our Epistle Lesson today, “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.” Like the saints John beheld in His vision of heaven, dressed in white robes with palms in their hands, you have already, even now, come out of the great tribulation having washed your robes white in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. The reference is to your holy baptism in which Christ washed away your sins with His atoning blood and clothed you with the robe of His righteousness. You are forgiven. You are holy. You are a saint in Christ now. And you are not alone! You are never alone!

Undoubtedly, one of the most awe inspiring and beautiful truths we remember and celebrate on All Saint’s Day is the fact that those we love who have died in the Lord are not dead. They are not as they were created to be, but they are not dead. Their souls are with Jesus even as their bodies lay in rest awaiting their resurrection and glorification when Christ returns. Our blessed dead are alive in Jesus and are with Him where there is no want, no tears, nor hunger or thirst, no sorrow, no pain, and no death. And yet, Jesus is here with us, therefore, so are they! Jesus is here with you in Word and Sacrament, most specifically and particularly in this Holy Meal, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” “All the company of heaven” includes your beloved grandparents, parents, and children, your friends and your neighbors, the elderly, the middle-aged, the young, as well as the unborn – all those saints purchased in the blood of Jesus who believed in Him, who did not reject Him. Because you cannot ascend to heaven, because of your sin that prohibits you from entering the glorious and holy presence of the Godhead, heaven has come down to earth through the humble means of Word and Water, Bread and Wine, to forgive you, to strengthen you, to equip you, and to send you.

So, if you want to be near those you love who have died in the Lord, don’t just go to their gravesite and say a prayer, but come to the Sacrament of the Altar, come to where Jesus is really and truly present in flesh and blood and spirit. As you kneel at this communion rail and receive Jesus’ precious body and His holy blood, you are not alone, but you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, all those who have died in the Lord and are with Him, along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. They are the saints of God. You are the saints of God. And, together, we are the Church of Jesus Christ, His Bride, purchased and cleansed in His precious, holy, innocent shed blood, made to be holy and set apart, saints, elect and glorious in His presence. You are God’s children now, but what you will be has not yet been revealed. This feast is but a foretaste of the Feast that is to come. It is meant to preserve you and to keep you, to equip you, and to send you until that yet more glorious day when Christ returns and our bodies are raised to be reunited with our holy souls to live in His presence and serve Him for ages upon ages that will never end.

What does it mean to be a saint? It doesn’t mean that you are sinless, but it means that you are in fact a sinner, but a sinner who is forgiven in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. Don’t forget: Only sinners can be forgiven! Only sinners can be saved! St. Mary was a sinner who confessed her faith in God her savior. St. Peter was a sinner who was absolved by Jesus after three times denying Him. St. Paul was a sinner, a murderer who murdered the first Christians, but Jesus forgave them and changed them into saints. You are a sinner. And, in the blood of Jesus, you are a saint. The Feast of All Saints is a Feast of you, and of me, and of saints like Mary, and Peter, and Paul, and a countless multitude of others who have died in the Lord, who live in the Lord now, and who will live in Him through your witness to Christ and Him crucified. Come, partake of this foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb and His Bride the Church in his kingdom of mercy and grace and forgiveness that will not end. Only saints can partake of the Feast, and partaking of the Feast makes you and keeps you in sainthood. You are not alone. You are never alone. Go and share this Good News with all in your words and your deeds and never worry about how imperfect and sinful you may be. Strive for faithfulness, and repent of your unfaithfulness. The Lord is with you, along with so great a cloud of witnesses, that you may be forgiven and encouraged, equipped and sent, to the glory of God the Father, in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son, preserved and kept by His most Holy Spirit. To God alone be all glory in your life and in your death in Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.