Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sermon for 11/30/11 "How Will They Hear?"

Sermon “How will they hear?” May we see Jesus, the Lamb of God. Amen. Today is the feast of St. Andrew, the apostle, the first of the apostles Jesus called. Tradition tells us that Andrew was crucified on a Greek cross, in the shape of the letter X, and that he suffered on that cross for over three days. When his followers wanted to take him down by force he told them it was not necessary to revolt against the government, that God would take care of him soon enough. Andrew was a man who left everything to follow Christ. And through his following Jesus, through his proclamation of God’s Word, many others became followers of our Lord as well. The proclamation of the Gospel by his servants is so important, in fact, that our season of Advent, the beginning of the Church year, begins on the Sunday which is closest to St. Andrew’s day. The growth of the Church, after all, depends on the proclamation of the Gospel. How do we believe? Faith comes by hearing. Hearing comes by the Word of God. And how does the Word of God go forth? It goes out through his faithful servants, those who are called by him and appointed to proclaim the good news of Jesus crucified for sinners, died and risen again for your sins and for mine. I think we want to be sure we are aware, though, that the job is not done. Just because we have a pastor in our church, someone to try to proclaim God’s words of Law and Gospel faithfully, day after day, does not mean that everyone has heard. And just because the Word of God is available to people in this country quite freely we cannot assume that it is being applied correctly, that people are hearing, that sins are being forgiven and that they are receiving life and salvation. We can’t assume it. It isn’t happening. Our culture is not by and large Christian in its makeup. Our culture is not eager to hear the Gospel. Even in a part of the country where the majority will claim to believe in God we have no assurance that they believe in the true, triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, nor that they understand that Jesus came to live a perfect life, die a perfect death, and rise again from the dead so they can be partakers of that life, death, and resurrection. We have no reason to think that the job is done. The battle is over. Jesus has died for the sin of the world. Yet the battle is not over. The battle against unbelief, the battle against sin does not end until the last day when every eye will see, every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God. That is when the battle is ended. Until then we have a holy commission. We are called, each and every one of us, to bring the Gospel to all those around us. Some will receive callings as pastors. Some will not. But every believer has a responsibility before God to allow others to hear the Word of God. This can be as easy as bringing ourselves and our families to church regularly. It can be as easy as reading the Scriptures in our homes. It can be as easy as supporting the local church and its missions outreaches. It can be as easy as talking openly and freely about Jesus and his work on our behalf when we visit with our friends and relations. Yes, it may be more difficult as well. It could lead us to long hours, adventures among foreign people, even opportunities to bring the Gospel to people who will kill and eat us. Yes, they still exist in the world. While we don’t know what our Lord will lead us into, we do know this. First, we know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Second, we know that God uses people like you and like me to bring his word to our world. Third, we know that our God will supply all our need. If he wants you to do something in his kingdom, he will make it possible. If he wants me to do something in his kingdom, he will make it possible. And he will never leave us, never forsake us. He is with us, in the power of his resurrection, even to the end of the age. Lord, make us faithful in our hearing of Your Word. Give us a desire to bring your word to our community. Draw people to yourself by the power of your Holy Spirit so they too may hear and believe the Gospel. We pray this in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 123, Isaiah 6:1-7:9, 1 Peter 2:13-25 - Lectionary for 11/30/11 - Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

Today is the Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle. Today's readings are Psalm 123, Isaiah 6:1-7:9, and 1 Peter 2:13-25. The idea of Christian submission to government is a difficult one, especially in the United States, and particularly in the past fifty years or so. We as a culture find it difficult to submit to authority. We like to think we are rugged individualists who shake off the bonds of tyranny and boldly blaze our own trails. And there's something to that philosophy. There's a right time to stand up for a point of view. And there's a right way to do it. Yet in our reading from 1 Peter we see that we are to submit to authorities placed over this. Does that mean that we lie down and let our governmental leaders trample on everything no matter what? Not in any way. When there are means by which we can take a stand for what we know is right as opposed to what our leaders may think, we take that stand. When our leadership commands us to do something which we know is opposed to God's Word we refuse to do so, and we accept the consequences of our refusal. When we have the opportunity to influence people toward what is good and right in the eyes of God we take that opportunity. And in all things we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, the giver of all good things.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Psalm 118:19-24, Isaiah 5:1-25, 1 Peter 2:1-12 - Lectionary for 11/29/11 - Commemoration of Noah

Today is the Commemoration of Noah. Today's readings are Psalm 118:19-24, Isaiah 5:1-25, and 1 Peter 2:1-12. Today we read Isaiah's parable of a vineyard. See how in this parable the walls are built to keep intruders out. They are walls which create safety and peace inside, an environment where the vines can grow and the grapes thrive. What happens when God's people choose to run their own ways, making up their own ideas of right and wrong? God breaks down the wall with which he has been protecting them. He allows all manner of evil to come upon his people whom he leaves unprotected. But there's more to the story than that. He has not left his people unprotected. He is still there. Wherever we call upon him in faith he builds that wall of protection, guarding us against every destructive force. Wherever we look to him for provision we find that he is there meeting our every need. Our Lord has built a vineyard. May we grow and flourish there, trusting in him rather than in ourselves.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Psalm 102:13-17, Isaiah 2:1-22, 1 Peter 1:13-25 - Lectionary for 11/28/11

Today's readings are Psalm 102:13-17, Isaiah 2:1-22, and 1 Peter 1:13-25 God's word remains forever! This is the good news that Peter tells us. Yet while the Bible proclaims an unchanging revelation of God, always relevant to all people in all times, our culture wants to erode this idea. We seem bent on the concept that everything needs to change. We seem obsessed with change to the degree that any old ideas are immediately discarded out of hand. What an irony, though, when we see politicians come up with new ideas which we can trace to Greek philosophers some 2500 years ago. What an irony when we want to do something new in ministry and come up with a plan which was tried and demonstrated to be a heresy some 1700 years ago. Why is it that when we try to do something new it is invariably a form of something quite old? Why our dissatisfaction with that which is tried and true? Thanks be to God who has revealed his good news in the Word of God who never changes. Let us look to the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Sermon for 11/27/11 "Lacking Nothing"

SERMON “Lacking Nothing” Audio link (1 Cor. 1:3) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s here. At long last, what we have been looking for in these past weeks, we have begun the new Church year. Advent has begun, the time for self-examination, the time for repentance, the time to look eagerly to the coming of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. It is the time, not for celebration, but for humbling ourselves before the Lord, looking to his mercy and grace, and asking him to come and deliver us from our sin, for we see that our sin is always before us. At the start of the Church year we who are adult converts to Christ remember the start of our Christian walk, as the Lord convicted us of sin and called us to himself. And we can relate to the encouragement Paul gives to the new Christian community in Corinth. This Christian life, as we read in 1 Corinthians 1, is evidence of the grace of God given in Christ Jesus. But sometimes we wonder about this. Our lives in Christ don’t always seem full of the grace of God. We don’t always see beyond the thorns and thistles of life. Especially at this time of year, when we are surrounded by our culture’s version of joy – mechanized, electronic, well-marketed and beautifully packaged joy – we find ourselves deeply disappointed. Our merchandising culture would tell us that the day before yesterday started the most beautiful time of the year. It’s the time to get up altogether too early in the morning. It’s the time to fight crowds, sometimes literally fight them. It’s the time to try to grab those bargains which cost so much you break your budget. It’s the time to save so much money you can go bankrupt bringing all this love and joy to your family. It’s the time of year when wishing someone grace, peace, and the lasting cheer of Christ’s redemption won’t go far enough unless you have spent $29.95 for that “inexpensive” stocking stuffer. It’s the time of year that your family celebrates togetherness by running from one social engagement to another without stopping. It’s the time of year when you are faced with the fact that your beloved relatives who are no longer with you will not be with you at yet another family gathering. It’s the time of year when all your living relatives will gather, possibly out of obligation rather than joy. The packages that you spent too much to purchase and too much to wrap become objects of contention, the labor you put in to make everything beautiful is reduced to tatters in a matter of minutes, and everyone was so excited to see what was inside his own present that he couldn’t enjoy seeing others receive their presents. And if that’s all our culture can give us in the name of Christmas we may as well put it off and change our name to Bob Humbug. In the Church we have something a little different. We can see that our joy does not consist in the possessions we have. Our joy does not consist in the opportunities to buy something and spend months paying for it. Our joy does not consist in becoming impoverished once again. Rather, our joy is in Christ who has enriched us. He has given us his bounty. He has filled us with every good thing that we need. Does this mean we will be wealthy? Does it mean our bank accounts will be full? Not at all. That would be very nice, and we hope and pray that everyone will be healthy and prosperous, well supplied with money, food, clothing, shelter, and every good thing. Yet we will not always find ourselves enriched in the ways our accountant can measure. How has Jesus enriched us then? He has enriched us in speaking and in knowledge, confirming his testimony. We find that as Jesus’ testimony is confirmed we have all the spiritual gifts we need. We look to our Lord’s coming, his revelation of himself, as our great hope and joy. How does our Lord enrich our speaking? As God’s word dwells in our hearts and minds we find that we always have something to talk about, and it is God’s truth that we find on our tongues. We realize we can look to the promises of God and was are always ready to speak out. Does this seem unlikely? I know some of us think the Scripture is the last topic in the world we would be able to talk about. And with some people this is true. It’s very difficult to talk about God’s word with someone who has decided God doesn’t have anything worth saying. Yet among our family and friends who trust in the Lord we should always find that we can talk about the loving works of God. There should be no hesitancy there. Have you ever tried talking through a passage of Scripture? Maybe it’s a foreign idea to you. Here’s what I encourage you to do. Take the Bible reading schedule I print in the bulletin each week. And when you read from it, take one of the passages, maybe start with the Psalm or the New Testament reading, they are often easier to deal with, and tell yourself what God has said in your own words. Take the ideas he’s talking about in the Scripture and pray about those things. Pray specifically. Ask the Lord to help you understand what his desires are as well as what he has done for you, revealed at this place in the Scripture. As you practice that you will get better at it and you’ll be able to speak the word of God to all your situations. This brings us to the second way the apostle says the Lord has enriched us. He has enriched us in knowledge. This is shown as we understand the Word of God better. The more we read it the better we will understand how God has given us his Word, and that Word is the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. All the Bible is about Jesus. As we read the Bible carefully we see him on every page. This is part of knowing about our world. Knowing Jesus through the Bible gives us a perspective, a framework through which to view our world. As we look to our Lord and his mercy we see that he has given us all the gifts we need. We see gifts of people, like the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers Paul talks about in Ephesians. We see gifts like the elders and deacons we can read about in Scripture. We see gifts that are not so much bound up in individuals – gifts like the fruit of the Spirit, like prophecy, healing, administration, helps, gifts of charity, and various verbal and knowledge-based gifts. Above all we see that God has supplied all our need through Jesus Christ, who has come to dwell with us, fortifying us, strengthening us, guarding us in this position of forgiveness he has given us. This is what we need, then. We need Jesus. He is all we need. He is the one who sees to it that we will lack nothing. And he is the one whom God the Father has promised to send, the one we long for and call upon during the time of Advent, the one who will be revealed to us on Christmas, in less than a month. This Jesus is the one who comes to be born a perfect birth, without sin. This Jesus is the one who comes to live a perfect life on our behalf, a life of perfect fear, love, and trust in God. This is Jesus who has promised to give himself as an atonement for sin, taking our sin once and for all, upon himself, so we should not have to bear it any more. This is Jesus who did all he promised by dying on our behalf. This is Jesus, whose death broke the power of sin, defeating death itself. This is Jesus, the one we are not worthy even to follow, who has adopted us as his sons, heirs in his kingdom by faith in his name. And this is Jesus, the one before whom we can stand boldly, clothed in his righteousness, standing faultless before God the Father. We are lacking nothing. He who has Jesus has everything. Our Lord, keep us blameless to the end. Thank you for calling us into fellowship with your Son. Thank you for being the faithful God who loved us and gave yourself so we could have life, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Psalm 66:16-19, Isaiah 1:1-28, 1 Peter 1:1-12 - Lectionary for 11/27/11

Today's readings are Psalm 66:16-19, Isaiah 1:1-28, and 1 Peter 1:1-12. Isaiah's message, God's message really, should effectively stop all our boasting. What sacrifices does God require of his people? What do we bring before him that will make him take pleasure in us? Do all our offerings, all our finances, all our acts of service add up to righteousness before God? No, they don't. In fact, they are not acceptable offerings to God. They do not make us righteous. They will never cleanse us from sin and shame. The things we do as service to God are a foul smell in his nostrils. They are fit only to be rejected. Only true faithfulness and justice are acceptable to God. And where will we find those? Surely not in the check we can write to the church. Surely not in our work with Sunday school or with the choir. Surely not our activities of sitting on committee after committee. No, the true faithfulness and justice are found in Jesus' righteousness being placed upon us by the grace of God, received by us in faith. This and this alone is acceptable before God. Thanks be to God that he has sent a savior whose perfect faith and obedience can be credited to us by faith in the name of Jesus.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Psalm 75, Daniel 6:1-28, Revelation 22:1-21 - Lectionary for 11/26/11

Today's readings are Psalm 75, Daniel 6:1-28, and Revelation 22:1-21. As we reach the end of the Church year we finish reading the book of Revelation. See how everything has been restored to its right order. All those who look to God in faith, believing that Jesus is who he said he is and that he has done what he said he would do have full and free access to all heavenly blessings, the throne of God, and the tree of life. We are no longer separated from God by sin, as we have been ever since the third chapter of Genesis. I fear that we often think God is not really in the business of forgiving and restoring his people. We try to work out our own salvation by our good works. We try to persuade God that he should save us, when we actually have no good reason. We try to say that God's will should work in this way or that way because it makes sense to us. The Bible doesn't allow for that. Rather, God works out salvation for his people in his own way and delivers it to them according to his good pleasure. There's a liberation in all this. If God has proposed to rescue us we can have confidence that he will rescue us. Let us rest in the freedom of that thought, which is thoroughly biblical. We bring nothing to the table. There are no negotiations. Let God be God.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Psalm 48:9-14, Daniel 5:1-30, Revelation 21:9-27 - Lectionary for 11/25/11

Today's readings are Psalm 48:9-14, Daniel 5:1-30, and Revelation 21:9-27. None of us likes to be confronted with our wrong. We normally have a pretty good idea that we have done something wrong and are fairly sure what it was. And yet sometimes we need to be told exactly what we have done. We need someone to stop us and make us think about our attitudes that led to our actions. And we need to realize that the consequences we are receiving are related to what we did. This is Belshazzar. He knows his arrogance. After all, you can't be a king of Persia without being arrogant. He knows that he and his people are acting like the haughty conquerors of the Hebrew people. That's the intention behind bringing out the golden vessels from the temple. And he knows the humiliation Nebuchadnezzar (probably his grandfather, not his father, the word can mean "ancestor") suffered. He knows that his reign over Persia is tenuous, just like the reign of any monarch in that time. Yet Daniel reminds him of all this. He points out the whole situation which could lead to the arrival of the handwriting on the wall. Belshazzar is warned quite specifically of his evil. How has our Lord warned us of our evil? Have we heeded his call to repentance? May we be ready to repent and believe in our God's promises, trusting in his goodness rather than our own.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Psalm 41:7-12, Daniel 4:1-37, Revelation 21:1-8 - Lectionary for 11/24/11

Today's readings are Psalm 41:7-12, Daniel 4:1-37, and Revelation 21:1-8. People have often made a lot of Nebuchadnezzar's vision and his humiliation. But I fear we tend to focus on whether or not it can be documented that he went through this humiliation. We look for evidence of any form of insanity or disease that could drive someone to act as he did. This is missing the forest by looking at the trees. What's the big picture of the passage? Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself as the great ruler over things of this world. He was confronted with the fact that those things are temporary and that he himself is also bound by time. His realm will pass away. Whose reign will never pass away? As we read in Revelation 21 it is the reign of Christ the Lord. His realm is eternal and imperishable. Rather than look to the things all around us, often very good things, works that we and others we love have created, let us look to the eternity of God. There we find true wonders.

Sermon for 11/23/11 "All Things"

Sermon "All Things" May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19.14). Amen. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! God will provide all your needs! What kind of confession of faith do we have? This celebrates God’s power, his providence, his care for us in every situation. Do we realize what Jesus has given us? I wonder. The same God who brought a whole nation through a desert and sustained millions of people for some forty years is able to care for you. The same God who healed the lepers is able to heal you, body and soul. The same God who provides food for the wild animals is able to provide you and me with food. There should be no doubt. Our hearts do not need to be fearful, for our God is with us. He has made us to do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us. He is the God who will supply all our need. There’s no need for doubt, no need for fear. How has God blessed you this year? We gather on this eve of a national day of thanksgiving. We look to the Lord who has provided all our needs. And so I’m going to run a risk here. I’m going to turn a little bit of the sermon over to the congregation. What blessings has the Lord poured out on you? I get to start. He has granted us forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in Jesus. He has brought my family safely to this place. He has restored the health of my daughter. He has allowed me the privilege of proclaiming his mercy to his people day after day and week after week. He has given us our daily bread and more than we need. Now it’s your turn. How has God blessed you? Keep it short and sweet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Psalm 39:4-12, Daniel 3:1-30, Revelation 20:1-15 - Lectionary for 11/23/11 - Commemoration of Clement of Rome, Pastor

Today is the commemoration of Clement of Rome, Pastor. Today's readings are Psalm 39:4-12, Daniel 3:1-30, and Revelation 20:1-15. In our readings today we see kings entering into judgment. We see Nebuchadnezzar sentencing the Hebrews to death because of their failure to participate in worship as he commanded. We see God sentencing all unbelievers to eternal torment because of their failure to look to him in faith. The irony in all this is that the Hebrews who were condemned by Nebuchadnezzar are exactly the kind of people who are rewarded by God in eternity. We often wonder how we will do if we are pushed in our faith. We think we will hold fast to Christ but we may not know that until we are under stress. Today's readings act as an encouragement. What is the worst that can happen if we are persecuted for our faith? We may die. Yet if we die in faith we will live in God's blessing forever. So having someone kill us is not at all the worst that can happen. What if we deny God's word, his grace and mercy? We are faced with very hard consequences. Let us take courage then. The body they may kill, God's word abideth still.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Psalm 111, Daniel 2:24-49, Revelation 19:1-21 - Lectionary for 11/22/11

Today's readings are Psalm 111, Daniel 2:24-49, and Revelation 19:1-21. Durable goods - we often think of those as things which will last us a long time, even "forever." The house I live in, for instance, is older than I am and I fully expect it will last longer than I will. We generally consider the organization of the country we live in to be permanent, at least for all practical purposes. But governments rise and fall. Buildings wear out and tumble down. Long-lasting institution have a life cycle including birth and death. They all pass away. In Daniel we see a prophecy of nations rising and falling. In Revelation we see that the kingdoms of this world will come to an end. Yet we see that God, who existed before anything was created, will endure forever and will conquer all the nations which have risen up. Do we look for our Lord's coming? Are we eager for him to bring his reign to this world, or to bring this world to an end and institute the new heavens and the new earth? Do we look to the resurrection of the dead as our hope and help, our eternal healing? May we have grace to see that his kingdom endures forever and that he will put all the unrighteousness and death that surrounds us to an end.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Psalm 114, Daniel 2:1-23, Revelation 18:1-24 - Lectionary for 11/21/11

Today's readings are Psalm 114, Daniel 2:1-23, and Revelation 18:1-24. There are times when we wonder if God's grace is really and truly active in our life. We find ourselves in ill health. We may lack prosperity. We find our friends and even our families are not as loyal to us as we had hoped. We miss that promotion at work. Our lives even may seem to fall apart. We spiral into homelessness or into a chronic medical condition. What's happening here? Isn't God on the throne any more? Has he turned against us? In today's readings though we see how dreadful God's hand of judgment against sin is. We are told of the destruction to come on this world of sin. Frankly it's a picture we all would like to avoid. The fact is we have consistently not received the penalty due us for our faithlessness. We have consistently received God's blessing, no matter how grim our circumstances may seem at times. In Adam all have sinned and deserved eternal torment of the worst kind. Yet in Christ all the riches of God have been poured out. He has been reversing the curse on this world, giving us forgiveness, life and salvation by his grace. Some of God's providences are difficult. Yet they are God's providence. Thanks be to God that we have not received what we deserve.

Sermon for 11/20/11 "The Right Shepherd"

Sermon for 11/20/11 "The Right Shepherd" Ezekiel 34 audio link May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19.14). Amen. Shepherds and sheep. There are some times when you read the Bible and you realize that God was speaking first to people who lived in an agrarian society. The whole idea of livestock, people caring for animals and plants, and the serious business of managing to grow your own food is a concept that has been common to almost all people in almost all times, at least until recent years. I’m sure there was a time in this community, and some of you remember it well, when a lot of people had a few chickens or even a pig or a goat in town. That’s just one of those things people do. Until recently, when we decided to make every city a cultured and clean metropolitan area, people kept a few animals about the same way that I try to keep a few green beans. But here we are, divided from that culture by some forty to sixty years, and we really don’t know what we would do with any animals but dogs and cats. So here it goes. And remember, some of you know a lot more about animals than I do. You’ll correct me, gently, I hope, later. What happens when you have a number of sheep and you need to protect them, keep them together where they won’t be in danger, and be sure they are getting the food and water they need? I know that sheep are largely self-sustaining animals. They seem to have an amazing instinct for being able to eat, drink, and wander around. There isn’t much to governing their society. But they have predators. After all, they are tasty animals. And like all the rest of us, they are able to end up eating food that’s bad for them. They are perfectly able to find themselves in an area that doesn’t have adequate water, or where the water has been contaminated in some way. So they need help. And the shepherd’s job is to seek out his sheep, to be sure they have what they need, to protect them from dangers, and to raise them in such a way that they will produce a good crop – wool, offspring, milk, cheese, even meat – sorry about that one, but it’s true. If the sheep wander away the shepherd needs to go gather them. If they place themselves in danger, the shepherd comes to rescue them. In the same way we see that God seeks out his flock. And what did he do in today’s passage from Ezekiel chapter 34? In the last few verses we saw that he placed his blessings on those who were faithful, those who look to God for all their provision. Those are the sheep that are easy to deal with. The shepherd turns around and sees them all watching him and following him around. They like to stay close. They seem to think the shepherd is responsible for the tasty flowers, and they thank him for them. As a teacher for close to two decades now I can tell you that some students are a true delight to teach. They seem to think that I have all the answers, that I always know what I’m doing, and that the hard work I assign them is a treat. Those are pretty easy people to deal with. And they aren’t really that uncommon. I have a good handful of them, probably about a quarter of my students each year seem to be like that. Are we people who follow God around? Are we the people who look to him and thank him for all our circumstances? Are we the kind of people who are glad to take on the tasks he has placed before us? Are we the ones who trust in his provision and accept his providence without grumbling or complaining? Do we view hardships as challenges? Then our Lord grants us many many blessings. He takes delight in us as we take delight in him. He pours out his blessing without measure. But there are people in this passage who incur God’s curse. In the very same passage in Ezekiel 34 we see that there are some who would harm and trouble the other sheep. They push the others away from the good food. They kick, they bite, they shove, they trample the food, they stir up mud in the water. They make conditions very difficult, not only for the other sheep but also for the shepherd. I’ve got news for you. Those difficult sheep? They are the ones who get retired to the meat market first. Are we some of the difficult sheep? Do we complain against God? Do we make life difficult for other believers? Do we complain about God’s providence, seeing the mercy of God as an imposition on us? Do we doubt God’s word? Do we reject God’s promises? Yes, I have a few students like this every year also. They are overt complainers, they don’t do their work, they assume I’m wrong in everything I do, and they want to have extra credit because they didn’t do their regular work on time. No, they don’t get extra credit. Don’t even ask for it. What kind of mercy does God show upon these sheep, both the pleasant ones and the unpleasant ones? He has promised to set up one shepherd, “his servant David” – the one who is the good shepherd. This good shepherd is the one who can care for the flock no matter where they are. This good shepherd is the one who leads his sheep in peace and safety. And he is the one who would go to rescue any sheep that goes astray. This is Jesus, the true shepherd, who has given his life for his sheep. This is Jesus, the one who gathers the faithful to himself. This is Jesus, the good shepherd who, in his death, destroys death itself. This is Jesus, the good shepherd, who leads us, his sheep, through his life, through his death, and through his resurrection, bringing us to life from the dead. I’ll ask again. What kind of sheep are we? Do we recognize and follow the good shepherd? Do we fight against him? Do we fear, love and trust in God above all things? Or do we exalt ourselves as a law of our own? At this time, the last Sunday in the Church year, as we prepare to enter the season of Advent, the season when we mourn for our unrighteousness and plead for the coming of a savior, do we realize our need for Jesus our good shepherd? Or will we continue to push and shove, take all the good food, foul the water, and deprive the other sheep and ourselves of the blessings of God? May the Lord grant us repentance and life. May our Lord give us an eager desire that he should come. May the Lord bring us into the fullness of his blessing, pouring out blessing upon blessing, showing us that we can walk in his paths and trust in him as he brings us to the true life, life eternal in Christ Jesus our Lord. Lord, grant us repentance. Turn our hearts from our own attempts at righteousness. Make us to look to you and walk in your paths, for you, the good shepherd, ever live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, the God of all mercy and grace. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Psalm 20, Jeremiah 38:1-28, Matthew 27:57-66 - Lectionary for 11/19/11 - Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary

Today is the commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary.

Today's readings are Psalm 20, Jeremiah 38:1-28, and Matthew 27:57-66.

We see today both Jeremiah and Jesus being entombed - Jeremiah in a mostly-dry cistern, Jesus in the tomb. Both are put there due to man's hatred for God's truth. Both are subject to the will o4f men. Both are raised from their tombs by the mercy of God and go on to show Gods' glory.

How do we respond to the fact that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us and suffered even to death, giving his life so that we could receive life by God's mercy? How do we respond to the fact that like Jeremiah we are entrapped and have no escape from the mire of sin without God providing for our rescue? May we be filled with gratitude and go our way, giving praise to God and showing mercy as well, knowing that we live only by the mercy and grace of our Lord.

Psalm 118:19-29, Daniel 1:1-21, Matthew 28:1-20 - Lectionary for 11/20/11

Today's readingsa re Psalm 118:19-29, Daniel 1:1-21, and Matthew 28:1-20. Lutherans talk a lot about distinguishing between Law and Gospel. We remember that the Law is that which we do and the Gospel is what God has done for us. I've been working with the idea that the very same situation may be both Law and Gospel. There's an example in today's reading from Matthew. The Law, because it places demands upon us, serves to condemn us. We see by the clear word of God that we have not kept the demands God has made. At the tomb, when Jesus has been raised, the angels appear to the soldiers who become like dead men in their presence. They are confronted by God's Law. They had a job to do, keep Jesus in the tomb. They were unable to do it. They have failed and they know their penalty before their government is death. Confronted by the glory of God and their failure, they are unable to function. Yet what happens in the same situation when the women are confronted by the resurrection and the angels? Certainly they are terrified. Angels are fearsome! But they realize this is very good news for them. On their behalf, Jesus has risen from the dead. They have the best of all possible good news to bring to the apostles. And they were favored over the apostles as they received the news first! The same situation is Law for some, Gospel for others. Is the Gospel truly Gospel for us? Are we freed by the works of God? Or are we condemned because we end up seeing our sin? May the Lord grant us repentance an belief that the Gospel may always be Gospel indeed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Psalm 22:1-5, Jeremiah 37:1-21, Matthew 27:33-56 - Lectionary for 11/18/11

Today's readings are Psalm 22:1-5, Jeremiah 37:1-21, and Matthew 27:33-56.

Sometime what we believe is impervious to evidence. Jeremiah, scouting out the positions of invaders, was arrested for treason. It didn't matter that he was not guilty. He was penalized just the same. And what of Jesus? Though he gave every indication of telling the truth he was sentenced to die a terrible death. When he died, he did so with such power that nobody could miss the results - an earthquake, a partial resurrection of the dead, incredible signs. Yet the reality and importance of Jesus' death is rejected to this day.

It would seem we are left with salvation by grace through faith, and that the faith to believe the facts laid down for us is not something we can muster up ourselves. The Lord has to give us eyes to see what's right in front of our faces or we will continue to deny the truth.

May God have mercy on us.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Psalm 148:1-6, Jeremiah 33:1-22, Matthew 27:11-32 - Lectionary for 11/17/11

Today's readings are Psalm 148:1-6, Jeremiah 33:1-22, and Matthew 27:11-32.

Our God is the God of promises. This sets the Bible apart from pagan literature. In the other religions the deities make few promises. Their promises seem to be extracted from them by effective wheedling. And they tend to speak only to momentary situations. Not so with God in the Bible. He is the one who comes to his people in their suffering. He makes his promises based on his own character and his desire to bless his people. And his promises are lasting. See how today through Jeremiah he renews his promises of blessing and descendants which he had made to Abraham some 1000 years earlier. This promise of an everlasting king is then fulfilled in Jesus, the Son of David, who takes on his eternal kingdom and has many children, all adopted by faith in his promises.

We look to a heavenly kingdom ruled by the great king of all promise.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Psalm 54, Jeremiah 31:1-17, 23-34, Matthew 27:1-10 - Lectionary for 11/16/11

Today's readings are Psalm 54, Jeremiah 31:1-17, 23-24, and Matthew 27:1-10.

Today's readings speak to me very powerfully. I have recently been involved in several situations where I have tried to encourage people who are fighting with anxiety, even bordering on despair. When will the Lord deliver his people? Will we always toil with our sin? Who will deliver us? Are we, like Judas, condemned by our leaders and our own conscience, having to work out our own salvation?

Thanks be to God for the gospel as proclaimed by Jeremiah. We do not have to mediate salvation by ourselves. He gives us hope. He rescues people - fully, freely, and finally, according to his good pleasure. Let us look to him in hope, for he alone has accomplished all the redemption we could ever need through Jesus, God the Son, who has given himself for us. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Psalm 51.10-19, Jeremiah 30:1-24, Matthew 26:57-75 - Lectionary for 11/15/11

Today's readings are Psalm 51:10-19, Jeremiah 30:1-24, and Matthew 26:57-75.

In his wrath against sin how does God treat his chosen people? He rebukes sin and places it under his curse. Yet see in Jeremiah that he promises not to forsake the people of his promise. He will not forget them despite the opposition they face. How does this play out in our Gospel reading? The pain and suffering fall to Jesus while Peter warms himself by a fire. Jesus does not deny himself though Peter denies Christ three times. In all this our Lord never denies his people. Rather, he takes our denials upon himself, suffering and dying in our place.

Have mercy on us, Lord. Restore to us the joy of your salvation. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Psalm 53, Jeremiah 29:1-19, Matthew 26:36-56 - Lectionary for 11/14/11 - Commemoration of Emperor Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ

Today is the commemoration of Emperor Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ.

Today's readings are Psalm 53, Jeremiah 29:1-19, and Matthew 26:36-56.

I know there are a lot of people these days for whom the idea of a "wartime mentality" about Christianity has become a watchword. By this they mean taking care to use our resources aggressively to promote the Gospel. They intend that Christians should avoid putting too much time and resource into long-term development of their assets, retirement portfolios, caring for their homes and grounds, and working on sinking that perfect putt.

There's something to be said, really quite a lot to be said, for taking the Gospel seriously. We are engaged in a spiritual battle with eternal consequences. But does this preclude planting flower gardens? Does it mean that Christians should not spend their leisure time reading and even writing great books? Does it mean that all Christians should essentially take a vow of poverty in order to use all the resources God has given them to engage in ministry?

The crux of the matter is what we consider "ministry" to be. If it means engaging in our vocation, given us by our Lord, which effectively loves and serves our neighbor, yes, we are all to be engaged in that, or rather in those, for we have many vocations, all the time. Yet part of that vocation is beautifying the surroundings we have. Part of the vocation is spending time with friends, building them up, showing love for them. Part of that vocation is saving money and gathering resources to provide for ourselves later in life and to leave to our heirs. Consider what God says to his people in exile. They are prisoners. What are they to do? They are to earn money, invest in livestock and real estate, and make themselves at home. He'll come to rescue them and they can sell out then to move back to the land of promise.

May the Lord keep us busy about using the blessings he has given us.

Sermon for 11/13/11 "Prepare for the Coming Lord"

SERMON “Prepare for the Coming Lord” audio link May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19.14). Amen. I’d like to remind you very briefly about the details of our Gospel reading today. There’s a man, a very rich man. He’s going away on a journey and plans to be gone for a very long time. We can tell from the return that two of his servants get on the investment that it’s a very long journey. So this master puts his servants into positions of stewardship. He expects them to care for his business while he is gone. They are to act as good stewards, caring for matters according to his desires and his principles. When we have a trustworthy steward we can know that everything will be taken care of. We have no reason to doubt it. I have an example of stewardship in my older daughter, who isn’t here, so I can say something about her without embarrassing her too much. This daughter of mine spent many years learning what I valued and what I didn’t value. As she grew in responsibility and Christlike character I saw in many ways that I could trust her. There came a time when, though still in high school, there were some responsibilities I wanted her to take on. One of these situations took her on a pretty long journey to a different state. I wanted to be sure she had what would be required to accomplish what she was doing. In addition to her car and her personal effects, she had authority to use a credit card of mine. She knew that there would be problems if she acted irresponsibly. When she had a difficult decision to make she would consult with me. In other instances she acted as I would want her to act without a need to ask me. Generally she showed herself to be a good steward and was quite trustworthy. She was able to give me a more detailed account of what she had done than I actually wanted. She accomplished the goals I had in mind. This is what a steward does. So we go back to our parable. God, the very wealthy master, has gone on a journey. Since the day of Jesus’ ascension into heaven until now, he has been “away.” Though he is with us always, according to his promise, in Word and Sacraments, we have been entrusted with stewardship over his affairs on earth. What has our Lord given to his Church? He’s given us all the resources he desires us to use. He’s given spiritual gifts to his people, most notably described in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. And he’s given some people as spiritual gifts described in Ephesians 4 and elsewhere, particularly the people he describes as bishops, elders, and deacons. How do we use these gifts God has given us? Do we put them to use with the reasonable care the first two stewards in the parable do? One who has been entrusted with a lot makes wise investments and doubles the investment. The other who has been entrusted with less makes wise investments and also doubles the investment. These people have put God’s gifts to work. They are praised by the master upon his return and they enter into his blessing. But what happened to the one who took the gift, still a big gift, and buried it to keep it safe? We know what can happen to something we bury in the back yard, don’t we? Could it be endangered there? Could it even be destroyed? It certainly could. We may think with today’s investment market and interest rates that we’re safer putting money in our mattresses. But nobody is going to insure both our mattress and its contents in case of fire. They might replace the mattress. They won’t believe that you had your life savings stuffed inside it. Those things we take and hide rather than using them are out of circulation. They aren’t any good to anybody. When we show our master that we have not used what he provided for us he will be displeased. We have not been good stewards. He is the kind of master who uses his property. Going against that is bad stewardship. It’s violating the principles of God to take his gifts and prevent others from receiving blessing through them. So here we start seeing what we are about today. God has given us gifts. He has given us enormous gifts, gifts of the Holy Spirit, people sent by God, the gifts of Word and Sacrament. And he has given them to us to use them in our society. In these last days, as we look to our Lord’s coming, how will he find we have used what he gave us? Have we invested what he left us with? Have we hidden it? Will he grant us rewards? Will he condemn us out of hand as bad stewards? May he be pleased in his coming. Now at this point in the sermon you might be asking yourself what I want you to do. It’s a fair enough question. If you know me well you’ll know that I really don’t want to tell you what to do. I always hesitate because I don’t have a particular “thus says the Lord” about specific behaviors here. Our Gospel passage speaks in more general terms than that. And I’ve seen people hurt, and hurt badly, by the idea that they need to pray a certain way or read the Scripture a certain amount so God will be pleased with them. I’ve known people who have a tremendous burden of guilt laid upon them because of the amount of money they are able to give, or what they are not able to give. I’ve known people who have been taught that if they don’t go on short-term or long-term missions or go to youth conventions, or respond in worship in a certain way they are missing the mark and don’t have God working in their lives. So I’m not going to tell you any of that. Here’s what I am going to tell you. Our Lord has given you and me his perfect Word – not only the written Scriptures but also the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, to be with us and to dwell in us. We sum these gifts up with the shorthand “Word and Sacraments.” We are pleasing to God as we, by faith, are good stewards of these gifts. And every last one of us is guilty of neglecting the Word and Sacrament. Every one of us is guilty of being more interested in other things than the things which God has revealed to us through the Word. How many of you know the divisions of the football, baseball, or basketball leagues better than you know the promises God made to the different tribes of Israel? How many of you can list the ways you can score in football but can’t list all the commandments of God? How many of you know more about the history of your favorite political candidate than you do about the life and times of Jesus? How many of us decide to read the Scripture for a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon? How many of us decide to watch a movie or read another book and would find the idea of picking up the Bible in that way completely foreign? We are all guilty. Did I just tell you that you should only read the Bible? No. Did I just tell you that you should read the Bible the same amount you read other things? No. Did I just tell you that we show ourselves as good and interested stewards of God when we are interested in his priorities and in what he has revealed to us? Yes. How does that play out in our lives? It will be different for each person, but every last one of us can purposely take the Scripture more seriously. What about the Sacraments? Do we truly believe that God is delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation in baptism and in communion? Do we really believe that these are God’s promises for us? Do we really believe that when we gather around the Lord’s Table he is there to nourish our faith? Do we take this life in him seriously? Or do we find ourselves guilty of looking to our mortal life, life in this sin-cursed world, and deciding it is the best one we have? Do we truly realize that when he has proclaimed us forgiven we are forgiven? Do we realize that he does have the words of life? Do we yearn for the opportunity to receive communion? Do we eagerly look forward to seeing God implant faith into the hearts of others at baptism? These are gifts God has given us. And as good stewards, we are to see them as our Lord sees them. When our Lord comes back, may he find us faithful, occupied in using his gifts, bringing his blessing to every nation through faith in his name, abiding in his Word, rejoicing in his Sacraments. Lord, find us faithful, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Psalm 116:12-19, Jeremiah 26:1-19, Matthew 26:20-35 - Lectionary for 11/13/11

Today's readings are Psalm 116:12-19, Jeremiah 26:1-19, and Matthew 26:20-35.

In the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples we read not only that Jesus blesses the bread and the cup, instituting communion, but we also see that Jesus knows all about his disciples and their fears. He knows more than they do about how they will respond when put under the stress of having him taken away to die in their place.

How do we plan to react when we face opposition for our Christian life? It is easy for us to say that we will not fall away, that we will not flee, that we will not deny Christ. History is full of examples of people who did not flee, who faced torture and death for the testimony of the Lord. Yet history is also full of examples of those who feared, who faced opposition and compromised, even people who denied they knew Jesus at all.

What do we know about the rest of the story, after Matthew 26? Jesus restored his disciples to himself. Though they fled he gathered them back again, granting them repentance and forgiveness. In like manner, though we try to be courageous for our Lord, we may also find ourselves taking flight. May the Lord grant us repentance and restoration, pouring out his forgiveness upon us once again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Psalm 137, Jeremiah 25:1-18, Matthew 26:1-19 - Lectionary for 11/12/11

Today's readings are Psalm 137, Jeremiah 25:1-18, and Matthew 26:1-19.

A pastor friend was talking with me once. He was a little discouraged about his congregation. It seems he'd been serving there for a couple of years and he thought they were a little slow to accept his leadership and take up his ideas. I asked him how much contact he thought the average person in the congregation had with him. It wasn't that much. People usually came to church services about once a week and most of them had only a little contact with him at other times. I observed that his time spent with most members of the congregation was then comparable to being at a full-time job with them for about two weeks, but with the time spread out considerably.

We tend to be quick in assuming everything's going wrong, don't we? How many of us will stick it out like Jeremiah did for twenty-three years, pleading with people to repent and believe God, then allow God to finally announce that there will be an exile? Most of us would rather stick with it for twenty-three weeks and then tell the people they are condemned. We'd like to pull out the end of Psalm 137 but skip over the fact that our sins have condemned us and brought us into this state of captivity in the first place.

May the Lord grant us patience and perseverance, realizing that his longsuffering is much greater than ours.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Psalm 143:1-10, Jeremiah 23:21-40, Matthew 25:31-46 - Lectionary for 11/11/11 - Commemoration of Martin of Tours, Pastor

Today is the commemoration of Martin of Tours, Pastor.

Today's readings are Psalm 143:1-10, Jeremiah 23:21-40, and Matthew 25:31-46.

How can we describe our service to the Lord? Jesus' words in the Gospel reading today have been taken amiss. Let's look again at Matthew 25:40. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (ESV). This verse has been used to defend all sorts of social gospel movements in which people, often Christians, have gone to poverty-stricken countries and provided food, clean water, clothing and shelter to people who are less fortunate than themselves. This provision for the poor is good. It's necessary. But we don't want to confuse it for a proclamation of the Gospel. Do we feed the hungry in Jesus' name? Then let us do it in Jesus' name, proclaiming that he is the source of all our daily bread. Do we give thirsty people drink in the name of Jesus? Then let us proclaim that he is the one who, as we believe on him, we will have streams of living water. Do we clothe the poor? Then let us do it while telling them that Jesus clothes all who believe on him with his robe of perfect righteousness, a garment which will never wear out. As we go and serve the needy in the name of the Lord, let us be sure we are doing it in his name, not simply as a social service, but as motivated by the Gospel.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Psalm 24, Jeremiah 23:1-20, Matthew 25:14-30 - Lectionary for 11/10/11

Today's readings are Psalm 24, Jeremiah 23:1-20, and Matthew 25:14-30.

God's judgment is upon people. The Scripture says that the one who does not believe in Jesus has been condemned already (Jn. 3:18). Yet what do we hear all around us? God is a God of love, he wouldn't ever condemn anyone. Did you ever notice that when you hear people talking about someone who has been deep in a coma or appeared dead and has come back to life, the person, if he has a report, always seems to say that everyone is fine and that their dearly beloved relatives say there's no need to fear? Yet look at the prophecy of Jeremiah today. It announces woe on the false prophet who says everything is all right. On the contrary, God's judgment is on his people. He expects no less than perfect obedience, perfect righteousness. And lacking that, what does he do? In the Gospel reading today he throws the unfaithful servant to a place of darkness and torture.

How are we to stand up to that judgment? I referred to it already. In John 3:18 we see that the person who believes on Jesus is not condemned. It's the one who doesn't believe that is condemned. And our deliverance from condemnation comes simply through trusting in Jesus. We are unable to do enough good well enough to deliver ourselves. A demand of perfection is something none of us can reach. It is only through Jesus' righteousness applied to us by faith in him that we can stand in God's judgment.

Thanks be to God that he has raised up Jesus as a deliverer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Psalm 147:1-11, Jeremiah 22:1-23, Matthew 25:1-13 - Lectionary for 11/9/11 - Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz (birth), Pastor and Confessor

Today is the commemoration of the birth of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor.

Today's readings are Psalm 147:1-11, Jeremiah 22:1-23, and Matthew 25:1-13.

The Gospel reading for today teaches us to be prepared for our Lord's coming no matter the cost, no matter the requirements, no matter that it may seem foolish to prepare well. Yet today we find more and more people who have a flippant attitude toward personal holiness, who take devotion to God through reading the Scripture and praying lightly, who have a casual attitude toward attending church and receiving the blessings of God in Word and Sacraments. This ought not to be. Are we prepared for our Lord's coming? Do we desire to be ready regardless of the circumstances of his arrival? Is it our intention to have enough oil to keep our lamp burning all night if we need to? What kind of a celebration are we prepared for? Let us take heed to the preparations we make. Rather than assuming the Lord will not mind if we are a day late, a dollar short, and have to look up the answer when he comes, let us look to him eagerly, anticipating his arrival. By the way, what is that answer that we shouldn't need to look up? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Believing on the Lord we can have confident assurance that we are saved and will be delivered from all evil. There's the answer - Christ alone for the sins of the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Psalm 143, Jeremiah 20:1-18, Matthew 24:29-51 - Lectionary for 11/8/11 - Commemoration of Johannes von Staupitz, Luther's Father Confessor

Today is the commemoration of Johannes von Staupitz, Luther's Father Confessor.

Today's readings are Psalm 143, Jeremiah 20:1-18, and Matthew 24:29-51.

We are truly approaching the end times in our readings today! Let us be fairly warned and be on guard, lest the Son of Man come and find us inattentive. We do not want to be among those taken, as the people in Noah's day were taken away while only Noah and his family were left. God is coming in judgment in the end of days. We who are waiting for his coming, trusting in faith that he lives and reigns to eternity and that he will come to usher in his kingdom - we will be left, busily about the work God has given us, while those who are not waiting in faith will be taken in the terrible judgment of God.

Does the terminology I used seem backwards? Many people in our country in recent decades have made much of the idea that some will be taken and others left behind, but they have turned the concept on its head compared to what God has given us in Scripture. In the Bible, those who are taken are taken away to destruction while those left behind are the people who are protected, who are children of God's promise. May we have faith to be left behind.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Psalm 121, Jeremiah 11:1-23, Matthew 24:1-28 - Lectionary for 11/7/11

Today's readings are Psalm 121, Jeremiah 11:1-23, and Matthew 24:1-28.

Where do we see Jesus? Ask this question in an adult Bible study if you dare, but be prepared for a lot of turmoil. Along with answers like "the Bible" or "in Word and Sacraments" you can expect some people, maybe many people, to assert that Jesus is best found in natural revelation or in a spiritual impression such as a warmth of spirit or a burning desire.

Where does Jesus say we can find him? We find him right where he has revealed himself, in Scripture. We find him where he has promised to be, in our gatherings around his body and blood. This is where we look for our Lord. Nowhere else. Does this mean God is not present in individual believers or in natural revelation? Not at all. But we will not reliably understand him there. We want to seek him where he has revealed himself in a definitive way. We can count on our Lord revealing himself in his mercy in Word and Sacraments. Let us look there.

Sermon for 11/6/11 "Awake, Awake!"

SERMON “Awake, Awake”

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19.14). Amen.

We’re approaching the end of the Church year. It’s almost time to start the new year. That time will be here after just two more Sundays. Since the start of Advent last year we’ve had a time of mourning and begging God to send a redeemer, we’ve celebrated the coming of the redeemer, we’ve wondered as we realize what kind of redeemer Jesus is, we’ve humbled ourselves to walk with him through forty days of temptation, we’ve rejoiced in our risen savior, and we’ve spent many weeks now, twenty, to be specific, in the Time of the Church, the Pentecost season, living through the life cycle of the Church. And today, as we approach the end of the Church year, we have come to our observance of All Saints’ Day, which was actually last Tuesday. This fits in well with the theme we’ve seen in the last several weeks’ readings. We are moving closer and closer to the end. We’ve started seeing God’s judgment upon sin arising. And what is God’s judgment on sin? The wages of sin is death. We see as we end the Church year that God has prepared a way for his people to leave this sinful world. He has prepared a way of salvation, and that way follows him through death on the path to resurrection.

Let us never forget, then, that those who die in Christ are following him through the tomb. Let us always remember that those who have died with Jesus are also partakers with him of the resurrection. Let us remember that our Lord rose from the dead in part to show us that he is victorious over even death itself. And today we realize that many many generations of Christians have died before us, living and dying in the hope of the resurrection. So what is God’s judgment on sin? It’s death. Has he not already judged sin in his death? He most certainly has, yet we who belong to Jesus are still sinful beings. We confess it regularly. So how is our Lord going to separate us from our sinful condition once and for all? In the end he will take us through death and strip us of the sin which has so dominated us. How will he raise us? When Jesus raises us from the dead we are like him. The sinful nature has been stripped away. All that remains is pleasing in God’s eyes. Unless the Lord comes first none of us gets to skip the grave. Since Adam and Eve we’ve all been very mortal, more mortal than we like to think at times. Even teens are mortal. Did you know that? Think about it when you get into the car. And if we had some travel brochures to print here we might put in a nice picture of your final destination – Shady Gardens Cemetary. We’re all headed to the cemetary in one way or another. Some of us sooner, some of us later, but all of us are headed for death. We were born that way and we have lived all our lives that way. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t the way God created it to be in the beginning, in a world without the Fall. But it’s the way the Scripture portrays us. Every last one of us has an appointment with death. Does that make us grieve? Does that bother us? It should bother us. It should make us grieve. It’s a very bad thing to see someone we love ripped limb from limb, or rather ripped body from soul. We were never created to be anything but body and soul together. Yet our bodies wear out, thanks to the curse of sin. We have no option but the resurrection. It’s sad to get there. But there’s a glorious promise waiting for us. We can know with confidence that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. We can know that he has borne the penalty for our sin. We can know that he will keep us perfectly safe. As we trust in our Lord we know that nothing will harm us. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.

Yet I fear we look at our impressions of death too much. This is an area of life where people seem to make up their own minds and then ignore everything God has to say about it in the Scripture. But if we’re going to die, and we all can expect to do that one day, we should see how God pictures death. And here in 1 Thessalonians Paul, speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pictures death as sleep. Some Christians have fallen asleep in Jesus. In his coming he will raise them from their sleep and then bring us who are still awake along with them. You may also recall that when Jesus hears of the death of his friend Lazarus he tells his disciples that Lazarus is sleeping. He does the very same thing when he is called to the house where he raises a little girl from the dead. What’s happening here? Doesn’t God know the difference between sleep and death? Why, looking around the congregation right now I can see that there are a number of people sleeping, but they aren’t dead . . . not yet. But we need to take this seriously. God compares sleep and death, and they have a number of similarities I’d like to point out briefly.

Death, like sleep, is unavoidable. Do you know what happens if you try to kill yourself by staying awake? There are several things that happen to your body, and they are bad things, if you are sleep deprived. If you were to stay awake for a very very long time you would likely develop heart irregularities, trouble with your brain’s ability to regulate your bodily systems, and you would die. Then again, what’s really going to happen if you stay awake for a long time? Maybe you’re someone with a whole lot of energy and self-discipline. But have you ever been up all day, stayed up all night, then tried to have a normal day the next day? Know what’s going to happen when you end up sitting down and being still for ten minutes? You’ll fall asleep. Sleep will take over and take you away from the things which have been going on. In the same way, when you have lived as long as your Lord intends you to live he will take you through death. It’s unavoidable. By the way, there’s an odd little indignity that you have to undergo at the end of your life. In almost all states the death certificate requires someone to say your cause of death. But they can’t say “failure to live” or “time ran out.” So they have to assign your death to some cause other than “divine appointment.”

Like sleep, death is timeless. When you’re asleep you really have no idea if you’ve been out for ten minutes or ten hours. You don’t realize that until you wake up. When God takes us in death he is ushering us into his timelessness. We are no longer subject to time. We won’t know whether we’ve been with our Lord for a long time or a short time. We won’t know whether we’re waiting for our loved ones to arrive and be with us. We are ushered into eternity. It isn’t bound by time. That means we won’t ever be an hour late or an hour early. There are no time zones or time shifts after death. It’s a matter of no consequence, for God is always NOW.

Like sleep, death is inexplicable. There’s a whole branch of medicine dedicated to finding out what actually happens when we are asleep. Nobody knows for certain all that is going on when we are asleep. It’s a state that defies complete explanation. Death is the same way. We don’t know quite certainly when someone is dead. I talked with someone very briefly about this not long ago. She had pronounced someone dead. But it was several minutes after everyone in the room knew the person had died. Why did she wait? The moment of death isn’t quite precise. And some of us think the various monitors you can have in a hospital serve more to complicate matters than to explain them. We can’t quite explain what happens. It isn’t merely physical. There’s something that goes beyond the body. But it’s something we can’t measure, it’s something we can’t explain.

Like sleep, death is healing. There’s something I’ve been saying, and have not said to many people when praying for them, but it’s true anyway. I just prefer saying it to people who seem healthy. What do you expect to happen if I pray that you will be healed? Well, some of us expect nothing at all will happen. But some of us expect that God will in fact undertake and do something as we pray. But what kind of healing are we looking for? What do we expect? Do we expect a physical rest from suffering? Do we expect God to raise up someone who can help our bodies find rest? There are several people I pray with regularly who are elderly and whose health is declining. If I pray for God to heal them, what if he heals their spiritual wounds? What if he heals their fallen way of looking at suffering? What if he makes it possible to count it all joy when they suffer in this world? What if he makes them more eager for their heavenly home? What if he heals them by releasing them from life in our sin-cursed world? There are so many ways that we can see healing. We see some of them in sleep as well, don’t we? We can forget what’s happening while we rest. We find our bodies recover from illnesses as we give them rest. And our Lord himself, the giver of life, will give us rest and healing at the end of this life.

Finally, like sleep, death is temporary. Just as you cannot remain awake forever you cannot remain asleep forever. Even teenagers eventually wake up! And in the last day we who are asleep in Christ will awaken. We will be raised with him and be awake to life, to eternal life. There is nothing that will stop our Lord from waking us up. And who will be there with us when we awaken? Not only Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, but all who have died in Christ. We will awaken to be with our eternal family together in a place and time of bliss.

So today, as we recognize All Saints’ Day, we should also realize that those who have fallen asleep in Christ are not gone from us. They are as alive to Christ as they have ever been. In fact, they are more alive to Christ than ever before. We who believe in the resurrection of the dead should also look to our Lord in eager anticipation of his coming for us. And while we wait, let us realize that in our worship we are joining in with Christ’s people from all ages. We are not alone. We are not isolated. We are part of a great multitude which nobody can number from every nation, people, tribe, and tongue. We are able to join with angels and archangels crying out the praises of God. We are able to look to our Lord for all the hope and comfort we could ever need in this life and in eternity.

Now may the God of all comfort guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, building you up with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Psalm 118:25-29, Jeremiah 8:18-9:12, Matthew 23:13-39 - Lectionary for 11/6/11

Today's readings are Psalm 118:25-29, Jeremiah 8:18-9:12, and Matthew 23:13-39.

As we look at today's readings we may see a theme of the destruction of Jerusalem. In the time of Jeremiah the people were looking at a literal, physical destruction. In Jesus' time that sort of destruction was not to come for another forty years, more or less. But see how Jesus points to the faithlessness of the Pharisees as that which brings destruction? The situation in Jeremiah's time was not so very different. At all times and in all places we destroy ourselves and our society when we depend on our own efforts, our own righteousness, our own ability to please God and to make others pleasing to God. Rather, we are to look to our Lord in faith, becoming partakers of his covenant of grace, by which he said he would bless the children of Abraham. Abraham believed God and it was accounted as righteousness. If we strive for holiness even as much as the Pharisees we earn nothing. If we trust in Jesus Christ given for us we still earn nothing. But Jesus earns the righteousness of God to be placed on us. His works become our works. We end up walking in the life he gives. And he is our promised rest, our home, our place of life and safety, never to be destroyed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Psalm 38:9-22, Jeremiah 7:1-29, Matthew 23:1-12 - Lectionary for 11/5/11

Today's readings are Psalm 38:9-22, Jeremiah 7:1-29, and Matthew 23:1-12.

It is becoming clear from our readings that we are approaching the end of the Church year. We see more and more of God's judgment against our foolish, no, even sinful practices. It's a time to consider ourselves and repent. Are we trusting in our sacrifices and good deeds? Or do we trust in God's redeeming love? Do we think we are worthy of honor before God or do we see him as worthy of honor before man? Do we actually think our pomp and circumstance is to bring us glory? Should we not rather be looking to God who brings glory to himself?

May the Lord grant us repentance and a wholehearted trust in him, that he should be shown to be the one and only God, to whom be praise forever and ever.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Psalm 110, Jeremiah 5:1-19, Matthew 22:23-46 - Lectionary for 11/4/11

Today's readings are Psalm 110, Jeremiah 5:1-19, and Matthew 22:23-46.

I'm sure I am not the only one ever to notice this. We can see in today's readings that Jesus doesn't always answer questions. There are times when he simply asserts himself and lets people have unanswered questions.

Is there any question we should not ask our Lord? No. We can ask him anything we desire. But let us ask in faith, trusting that he is who he said he is and that he has done what he said he would do, and that he has done it all for us and for our salvation. Has Jesus given his life for us? Then he will surely give us all we need and answer every question which needs an answer. What if our questions go unanswered? Does that mean we did not ask in faith? It may. Or it may simply mean we were not ready for an answer. But we are free to ask.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Psalm 15, Jeremiah 3:6-4:2, Matthew 22:1-22 - Lectionary for 11/3/11

Today's readings are Psalm 15, Jeremiah 3:6-4:2, and Matthew 22:1-22.

In our reading for today Israel is compared to a prostitute and an adulteress. We see that the spiritual life has many comparisons to a marriage. We are called to be faithful to the Lord who called us. We are not to form close alliances with others. To do so is to take what belongs to God and give it to someone else. This will not do at all, for it turns our affections from the one who loved us beyond measure and gave himself for us.

What do we do then? We give to God the things which are his - love, trust, and obedience - and we come to him gratefully, recognizing that he has given us forgiveness and life through trust in him.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Psalm 118:22-24, Jeremiah 1:1-19, Matthew 21:23-46 - Lectionary for 11/2/11

Today's readings are Psalm 118:22-24, Jeremiah 1:1-19, and Matthew 21:23-46.

Jeremiah is possibly one of the most interesting of the prophets. He is brutally honest and fearless in calling the people of Israel to repentance. Yet he cries out to God because the people are intent on rejecting the will of the Lord. In today's reading God appoints Jeremiah as a wall of defense for Judah. Through his preaching and prophetic words God will continue to protect his people.

This is a word of encouragement to all who seek to handle God's word carefully, whether pastor, scholar, or simply friend. As our Lord has promised, his word is effective. It is profitable. And God uses his servants, speaking his words, to change this world. Do we always see results? Like Jeremiah, we also see results. Sometimes people heed God's word and grow in grace. Sometimes, like Jeremiah, we are imprisoned, even tortured or killed. Yet we do not know how God is accomplishing his will. We simply obey, pray, and let God bring his results through his word.

Sermon for 11/1/11 "Who Are These Saints?"

Sermon “Who Are These Saints?”

Let us see you in the beauty of your mercy, Lord. Amen.

Today, on All Saints’ Day, we join with believers of every age in worship and praise to the Lord. We join in with all the saints. But who are these saints? Why are they called saints? Are we among them or are we just watching from afar?

In our reading from 1 John 3 we are called children of God by the hope in Christ crucified for us. This, in the Scripture, is what makes us saints. It is what makes anyone a saint. There is no other qualification. We are made saints by hoping in Christ. Do you hope in Christ Jesus? Do you realize with gratitude that he gave his life as a substitute for you so as to rescue you from sin? Then you are a saint.

But there’s a little more to joining with the saints than simply saying that you’re a saint and I’m a saint. How does God see these saints? We see in Revelation chapter 7 that there are four very important aspects of sainthood.

First, the saints are pictured as those who gave their lives in a time of tribulation. Tribulation is a fancy word that means persecution, opposition. And while there are some people, probably many people in this country, who look to a time of tribulation that will be a literal seven years starting sometime in the future, most of historic Christianity, and all Lutherans, according to our confessions, say that we are now in a time of tribulation. We see the Church age as that tribulation. The figure of seven years indicates a time which will be fulfilled. Seven is a number of completion in Scripture. So we have been in a time of sorrow and trouble ever since Pentecost and will continue in that time of sorrow and trouble until Christ comes to claim us again. We are both in a time of God’s blessing and a time of tribulation. Unless Jesus comes for us first, every last one of us will die in a time of sorrow. Our world is cursed, we become aged, we become diseased, we have pain, and we die. That’s God’s view of tribulation. Some of the people who die in this time of tribulation die of injury and attack, often attacks against them because they are Christians. The 20th century was the most dangerous century on record so far to be a Christian. More people died for their faith in the 20th century than in any other time period in history. The 21st century is shaping up about the same. May the Lord protect us and his other saints through this time of tribulation. And we see in Revelation 7 that he does protect his people. They may die from having their heads severed from their bodies, but they are not deprived of the eternal comforting presence of God.

Another feature of the saints in Revelation is that they have been clothed in white robes. This is God’s symbol of purity. We all know that we are impure. We confess our sin day after day, and no matter how forgiven we are, we end up in sin again. Yet the saints have been dressed by God. They have put on white robes of purity which will remain on them in eternity, never staining, never wearing out, because the saints are dressed in the righteousness of Jesus. And you and I can have confidence that Jesus dresses us in his righteousness as well. Do we need forgiveness? We look to our Lord who has purchased forgiveness on our behalf. We too are dressed in those white robes.

How about the purpose of the saints? They serve a purpose, and that purpose is that they should live in the blessing of God. Do you know why God loves you? It’s because he decided to love the whole world. Do you know why God forgives your sin? It’s because he decreed that whoever looks to him in faith and repentance is forgiven. Do you know why God keeps you around? It is because it is his good pleasure to have you live in his blessing.

So what are those saints doing in eternity? They live now and forever to praise God. This is what will consume our lives. We will have nothing to do, and we will desire nothing other than to praise God forever. Does this seem uninteresting to you? I’ve had conversations with people, especially young people, who wonder if it won’t be boring to spend eternity in worship. Let me ask you this. If God gives you a desire to do something, a consuming desire to do something, are you going to find it boring? Not at all. It will consume your interest. That’s what you’ll want to do. The fact that we find ourselves wandering in worship is explained by the fact that we are not glorified yet. We still have the sinful nature which doesn’t desire fellowship with God. But when we have been glorified in the presence of God we will no longer have those other desires. We will be wholehearted and focused on our Lord forever.

Is this a blessed life? Yes it is. Even in this time of tribulation we see that we are blessed. And we see it in our passage from Matthew 5 when we see that Jesus is our perfect peacemaker, the one who is perfectly poor in spirit, the one who is perfectly humble, the one who is described as blessed. Do we find it a difficult life as well? Of course we do. We’re in a time of tribulation. But we see that Jesus is applying his perfect righteousness, his perfect life, death, and resurrection to us, so as to make us like he is. He has proclaimed us saints. So we join in the fellowship of the saints through all the ages, bringing him praise and worship.

Our Lord, give us a heart to praise you. Draw our attention, our trust, our hope, and our worship to you as we join with all the saints, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Psalm 150, Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Matthew 21:1-22 - Lectionary for 11/1/11 - All Saints' Day

Today is All Saints' Day.

Today's readings are Psalm 150, Deuteronomy 34:1-12, and Matthew 21:1-22.

Today, on All Saints' Day, we see Moses passing his anointing on to Joshua. It strikes me today that Joshua received his wisdom for rule by the laying on of Moses' hands. We see in the New Testament that Timothy received his gifts as hands were laid on him. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles by breathing on them. People heal others in Jesus' name by laying hands on them. Elders anoint people with oil and pray so they are healed. And Jesus washes people from sin using water and the hands of his servants.

This Christian faith is a very concrete thing. It's tactile. We see, touch, and smell the ways that God imparts his gifts. So let us pass the faith along to future generations as it has been passed along in the bygone generations - hand to hand, face to face, dwelling with one another, dwelling in the Word and in the power of God.