St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 17:11-19
November 27, 2014
This is a day of public thanksgiving to God, appointed by our government. It hearkens back to a day when, although there was no established religion, there was a shared belief in the triune God that united nearly all the people in our country.
We are, or should be, glad to have the opportunity provided by our government to have a special day of thanksgiving to God for all His benefits. Giving thanks to God is the joy, the high point of a Christian’s life.
We should realize, though, that true thanksgiving to God is a rare thing. We can’t just take for granted that people can thank God, that they know how. True thanksgiving to God, thanksgiving that is acceptable to God, is not a work that people can do out of their own natural powers. True thanksgiving that God accepts is a work of God in us.
On this day of thanksgiving, very few people make any serious effort to give thanks to God, even though He surely deserves the thanks of every citizen of our country. He does so much for everyone, even evil people, as the Small Catechism says. In the past year He has faithfully provided all the citizens of our country relative peace and security. Our government, while full of failings and sins and far from perfection, provides security and order better than that enjoyed by most nations on earth. In the past year God has guarded us from danger and protected us from so many evils that the devil would have liked to inflict on our body and property.
Yet most people this day will make little or no effort to thank God for these gifts. To most people it is a day off from work, a day to feast, a day to see family—but not a day to thank and praise God.
There will be a few to try to give thanks to God today. But most of them will not know who the true God is whom they thank. To many people in our country He is just some nameless being whose name is on our money. He wants people to be good and takes almost everyone to heaven when they die. Most people don’t know the true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so they can’t give thanks to Him.
On this thanksgiving day, may God help us to learn what true thanksgiving is, so that we may offer it with joy to our Father in heaven not only today, but always!
Today our Lord teaches us true thanksgiving through a leper, a man horribly disfigured by a disease that turns a person into a walking corpse. We find his story recorded in the Gospel reading for today, from Luke chapter 17.
First of all, we see the lepers’ thanksgiving began with their great need.
–Our great need
–Only God’s powerful hand keeps us alive, healthy, and prosperous. We have nothing in ourselves. Our lives depend on God.
–We have a grave disease—the wasting disease of sin, which makes us as needy as the lepers even if we can’t feel or see it.
–It brings down God’s wrath upon us.
Secondly, the leper believed with the others that Christ would help Him.
–where he got that faith. (the word. Jesus’ power to heal, his kindness to the desperate).
–true thanksgiving comes from faith in Jesus; we believe the message that He has cured us from the leprosy of sin by His death on the cross
Thirdly, his faith was tested.
–How? Jesus didn’t say, “You are healed,” but just, “Go to the priests.” They had to trust Him.
–Jesus tells us that all of God’s favor is turned toward us, but then in our lives we experience weakness and suffering.
–we don’t feel God’s favor, and we have to trust and believe that He has healed us of sin and that He will give us what we need; what we ask for or something better.
Fourthly, after he was tested, God gave joy to his soul.
–the leper experienced cleansing from leprosy.
–after the time of testing, where God seems to withdraw His favor from you, He will comfort you again; if we hold fast to His promise that He has forgiven your sins and will give you everything else good. Romans 8.
–Until finally He comforts you with everlasting life.
The joy of his heart overflowed from his lips in praise to Jesus Christ.
–the other lepers acted as if Jesus didn’t do it.
–sometimes Jesus helps people and they forget and think they did it themselves.
–but true thanksgiving recognizes Jesus as the giver, recognizes that God gives us every good thing through and on account of His Son, Jesus Christ.
True thanksgiving comes from faith in Jesus Christ, and God makes our thanksgiving increase and abound through the testing of our faith. Through the testing of our faith we are taught not to rely on ourselves for anything, but only on Jesus and His Word.
So, if you are undergoing tribulation now, thank Jesus in the midst of it. Through it HE strengthens your faith to trust in His goodness even when you don’t feel or experience it.
Through this testing He will strengthen your faith so that you will come to the highest good—His everlasting presence. Then there will be no more testing and you will give thanks to Him forever.
Let us give thanks for all His benefits to us—our eyes, ears, and all our members, etc.
Let us give thanks for His help in the past and for the assurance that He will do so in the future, that “we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Let us give thanks for Jesus Christ, in whom we have perfect healing, and in whom all things are ours.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
I repost this because the Gospel for the 14th Sunday after Trinity is also the Gospel for thanksgiving day, and because it is so excellent.
“And this is the method God employs with us all to strengthen and prove our faith, and he treats us so that we know not what he will do with us. This he does for the reason, that man is to commend himself to him and rely on his mere goodness, and not doubt that he will give what we desire or something better. So also these lepers thought: very well, we will go as he commands, and although he does not tell us whether he will cleanse us or not, this shall not influence us to esteem him any the less than before. Yea, we will only esteem him so much the more and higher, and joyfully wait, if he will not cleanse us, he will do still better for us than if we were cleansed, and we will not on that account despair of mercy and favor. Behold, this is the true increase of faith.
“Such trials continue as long as we live, therefore we must also continue to grow just as long. For when he tries us in one instance in which he makes us uncertain how he will treat us, he afterwards always takes another and continually enlarges our faith and confidence, if only we remain unmovably steadfast.
“Therefore observe that when God appears to be farthest away he is nearest. This word of Christ reads as though we cannot know what he will do, he does not refuse nor promise anything, so that the lepers…might have become offended at it, and begun to doubt…
Thus it also happened to the people of Israel in the desert, they thought God did not bring them out of Egypt, upon whom nevertheless they called and they knew while in Egypt that he would help them. But all this is done that we may not remain in weakness when we first begin to believe, but grow and ever increase until we be able to take the strong nourishment and become satisfied and full of the Spirit, that we may not only despise and triumph over riches, honor, and friends, but also over death and hell….
Luther, Sermon on the Gospel for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, Church Postil
Ours is an era which craves monsters, which needs demons we can all rail against in an attempt to drum up a feeling of collective moral purpose, however fleeting it might prove. And the pesky exacting standards of the justice system – which are exacting precisely because we used to take very seriously the process of ruining someone’s life by finding him guilty of a crime – get in the way of this desire to find a symbol of evil we can all be disgusted by.
from “Bill Cosby is Innocent“, Spiked Magazine.
Where does this desire in our society to burn witches and create new pariahs come from? At the same time every conceivable form of perversity is paraded across the media, we have this shrill mob justice that assumes every accused person who doesn’t carry sufficient victim status credentials is guilty.
He may be guilty, but shouldn’t he get a trial before his reputation is destroyed?
Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 25:1-13
November 23, 2014
“Be Ready for Jesus”
Beloved: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you ready? That’s the question this Gospel reading asks us on this last Sunday of the church year. Are you ready?
Are you ready for Jesus’ return? Are you ready for the end of all things and for the last judgment?
When the end comes, there will be many who thought they were ready and prepared. But when the bridegroom comes, they will not be ready.
There will be many in the church who aren’t ready for Jesus’ return. That’s what Jesus is talking about when He says “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish and five were wise.” The unbelieving world doesn’t go out to meet the bridegroom, Jesus. The unbelieving world is in darkness and doesn’t prepare for Jesus’ coming at all. It is those in the visible church that have taken their lamps and gone out to meet the bridegroom. We have been made holy, chaste virgins to Christ in Holy Baptism.
But some are wise and some are foolish.
The day we are waiting for is the wedding day of Christ to His bride, the church. Like our wedding days, it is a joyful day, but also a very serious day. Wedding days are not for play. Does the bride spend hours getting ready to walk down the aisle for a joke? No, it’s because her wedding day is a day of such great joy that it requires serious preparation. And the bride and groom also want the bridesmaids and groomsmen to make serious preparation. It is a day of such great joy that it is very serious. The bridegroom and his beloved are going to become one flesh. They will not look kindly on the groomsmen and bridesmaids treating their wedding day lightly.
But many in the visible congregation of the church are just such foolish bridesmaids. They don’t prepare sufficiently for this great wedding day between Christ and His bride. They don’t bring oil with their lamps, but imagine that they’ll be able to get by with the oil they already have. Or they think that there will be oil enough at the place of the wedding feast.
Being prepared for Christ’s coming—what is it? It’s nothing you haven’t heard before. It is faith in Jesus as our Savior. This faith makes us prepared for His coming, because faith takes hold of Jesus’ blood and righteousness—His death for our sins on the cross, and His holy fulfillment of God’s law. A person who has this oil of faith is also active in good works that please God—works of love toward our neighbor. That is how we want to be found when Jesus returns—with our lamps burning the oil of faith in Christ, and our lights shining before men in good works that bring praise to the Father.
But the oil of faith in Christ is not something we can generate ourselves. It must be given by God. He must continually give us the oil of faith through His word and sacrament, otherwise our lamps quit burning and the oil runs out.
Is your lamp burning now? Do you hate your sins and want to be free of them? Do you believe that your sins are forgiven you through the blood of Jesus? If you don’t, believe now! If you do, good.
But realize that the oil of faith you have today is not for tomorrow. We have to continually receive repentance and faith in Christ through God’s Word. And we don’t know the day of the Bridegroom’s coming. It could be before the end of the service; it could be years. All we know is that it will be soon. And when He comes we need to have our lamps burning the precious oil of faith in Jesus.
Jesus has warned us that in the last days terrible times will come. People will not be willing to hear God’s pure word anymore. Instead they will pile up teachers who tell them what their itching ears want to hear. False prophets and false christs will appear, deceiving people and pointing them away from Jesus. The love of many will grow cold. Many will fall away.
Don’t those days sound like today? And in this darkness, even the wise virgins who have prepared wisely for Christ’s return fall asleep. The tribulation of the last times is too great even for the saints not to stumble. They fall asleep and neglect their lamps, just like Peter did when he was supposed to be watching and praying with Jesus.
It’s easy to think you have strong faith and everything is prepared when you have really fallen asleep spiritually. Then the voice shakes you awake: “The bridegroom is here! Come and meet Him!” And then you wake up and find that you are not prepared like you thought. When tribulation comes, we often find out how weak our supply of the oil of faith is. We begin to waver and worry and become full of anxiety. And that is just in the ordinary anxieties of this life. How much more are you likely to waver when death comes, or when the Lord appears in great glory and all His angels with Him?
When that day comes, Jesus says the foolish virgins will be running around looking to strengthen their failing faith in Jesus instead of going out to meet Him with joy. And when they finally get to the place of the wedding feast saying, “Lord, Lord”, Jesus will say, “I do not know you.”
How terrifying! How can we be ready to meet Jesus? How can we be sure our faith in Him will not fail?
Answer: Admit first that you are not ready to meet Him in yourself. If you have faith in Christ, that is the Lord’s work, not your own. Only He can give you faith in Jesus and only He can sustain it. And how does He give and sustain this faith that takes hold of Jesus and makes us ready for His coming? Only through His pure word and sacrament.
If you think that you are ready in yourself to meet Jesus, that your faith is surely strong enough to withstand all trials, you aren’t listening to the word of Jesus. His word tells us that the faith that saves is the work of God. Only God can give faith in Christ. Only God can preserve it. We can’t do it.
Only Jesus can give the faith that withstands the darkness of death and the last days. He can give it because He has it. He suffered death and abandonment by God and yet was able to pray, “Into Your hands I commend My spirit.” Only He can give that faith.
And He does give it. Not through our own efforts, but through His Word and sacraments. For in the word He proclaims that He has overcome all the darkness of our sin. He has overcome the fearsome abyss of our unbelief. He has taken it all upon Himself and borne the punishment for us and saved us. In the Word He says—this is yours. In place of your powerlessness and weakness I clothe you in my strength. In place of the guilt of your sin and unbelief I give you my righteousness. By His word we are sustained in faith in Christ. In His word He declares us prepared for His coming.
So we keep going to this word of Jesus to fill our empty lamps and flasks. In it He makes us confident and certain. Not in ourselves and our ability. But in the all sufficiency of Jesus the bridegroom, who has atoned for our sin and who even now lives to intercede for us at God’s right hand.
He has come, after all, not to be the bridegroom to someone else, but to you. To be our bridegroom He took on flesh and blood so that He might be one body with us. To be our bridegroom He paid the price of our release from slavery to the darkness, shedding His blood for the full remission of our sins. He took what is ours, and, as a bridegroom, gave us what is His. He gave us His righteousness, His life. He shares with us the full rights of sons of God. When Jesus comes again, He comes to be united to you forever. And as a pledge of this He comes to us today in His flesh and blood and unites Himself to us. His holy body and blood are given into these bodies of death so that His life may dwell within these vessels.
In Jesus there is an infinite store of everything we need for life and salvation. From Him comes the Holy Spirit without limit, and with the Holy Spirit comes the faith in Him that saves.
Do you want to be joyfully prepared for Jesus when He returns? Then each day go to His word with prayer that He would supply you with faith in Him. Don’t try to get by on as little of His word as possible. Drink deeply. Take with you flasks of oil by hearing and receiving His word and sacrament constantly. Hide His word in your heart, and rejoice in the righteousness He gives you in it through His death on the cross.
Soli Deo Gloria
Prayer in Great Weakness of Faith
Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz
O Lord, I now experience it in truth, that not everyone has faith. I believe, dear Lord, but help my unbelief! You who would not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smoldering wick, O Jesus, You who sit at the right hand of God, intercede and pray for me, that my faith may not cease. Be the beginner and the finisher of faith, wherewith I extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one. Let me believe, even if I cannot see, and so be saved. Amen.
(Johann Albinus, Pastor at Naumburg. d. 1679)
- Prayer for the Church in a Congregational Meeting
(Israel’s Comfort and Joy, 1660)
Lord and God, indeed the number of Your saints has declined, and Your believers have become few on earth. It is to be feared that the godly might become so few that everywhere the godless will abound. Therefore up! Rouse Yourself, and help Your poor and miserable ones, that we, who now are sighing to You, may not be totally destroyed.
Let Your divine truth be confidently taught and confessed without hypocrisy before men. Spread Your Word, which is pure as refined and tested silver, far and wide. Protect us from the evil generation which professes and pushes unprofitable things, or would otherwise not allow religion to be a serious thing among us. Increase the little flock, that it stand firm against the great crowd of the godless and all the gates of hell might do nothing against it, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 25:31-46
November 16, 2014
“According to what they have done”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This Gospel tells about judgment day.
It tells us that Jesus will come again. And when He comes He will not appear with His glory and splendor hidden. He will come in the fullness of His divine splendor, majesty, and power.
Heaven and earth will flee from His presence (Revelation 20?). All the holy angels will be with Him as His entourage and He will take His seat on the majestic throne of God as the world’s king, ruler, and judge.
All the world, every person, great and small, from every nation to the end of the earth, will rise from their graves and come to stand before Jesus the King. And be judged.
We should remember this when we speak God’s Word. We are often timid, afraid of people’ s reaction if we say something in Christ’s name that offends them. But we should remember that every person on earth will have to give an account to Jesus on His glorious throne. We should not be afraid or ashamed of the words of this great king.
Scripture then says that Jesus, sitting on the throne of God, will separate the people from each other like a shepherd separating sheep from goats.
The world will be divided. On the right hand of Jesus will be those who inherit God’s kingdom and eternal life. At Jesus’ left hand will stand those who are to be cast out from His presence into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
And how will Jesus make this separation between the righteous and the wicked, the blessed and the cursed?
Will He separate people by age, sex, race, income, political orientation, musical preference?
No. He will divide them according to what they have done.
The more you have been to this church and heard the word here, the stranger this will seem to you.
Because we are always saying that God counts a person righteous by faith in Jesus, without works.
But Jesus clearly says here that He will separate the sheep from the goats according to what they have done.
And this is something the bible teaches repeatedly, not just here.
In the 16th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:27)
In John chapter 5, Jesus says: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
The apostle Peter says: “If you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” (1 Peter 1:17)
And Paul writes in Romans chapter 2: “God will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8)
On the last day Jesus will judge according to what we have done.
Does this cause you anxiety? It should.
“Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’”
And then the goats will say, “Lord, when did we ever see you in need and not help you?” And the great and exalted king will say, “Whatever you didn’t do for the least of these my brothers, you didn’t do for me.”
So how about it? Have there ever been any sick Christians you could have visited, but didn’t? Any hungry or thirsty Christians you could have relieved, but didn’t? Any Christians in prison you could have visited or written a letter, but didn’t?
Who knows how many there have been who were Christians and needed help from us, but we never acquainted ourselves with their needs.
There are plenty of Christians suffering in prisons across the world, but few Christians who make the effort to find them and care for them.
There is no shortage of missionaries, pastors, and teachers to support. But we hardly provide for our own congregation’s needs for pastoral care and Christian education, much less for mission outside of our congregation.
But there are needy Christians who it costs nothing to show mercy. Sick, hospitalized, homebound members who need phone calls, prayers, an occasional visit, a card.
I remember one time a new member was surprised that so few members of the congregation attended the funeral of a certain member who had died. She had grown up in a congregation where everyone came to any member’s funeral. It was a way of showing love and compassion within the body of Christ.
What is the point of bringing these things up? Not to tell you you are not doing enough, but to ask the question: Can it really be that we have always been there for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, even for the least of them? Or have we lacked compassion at times, neglected our brothers?
But even if it were only an occasional negligence, Jesus the great King says, “Whatever you didn’t do for the least of these my brothers, you didn’t do for me.”
How many times would you like to remember on judgment day that you saw Jesus hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison, and you did nothing for Him?
But surely, if we are to be judged by what we have done, Jesus will have to say that about us.
Surely if we turned away from Jesus only once that would be enough to condemn us.
But it hasn’t been only once. We are self-seeking. Our own happiness is so often our chief concern, not the glory of God and the needs of our neighbor. When we are focused on our own happiness we can’t help but often be ignorant of what our neighbor needs.
And in ignoring the needs of other Christians, Jesus says we ignore Him. We leave Him hungry, naked, alone, sick, or in prison, and do not feed Him, clothe Him, take Him in.
But about those on His right hand, Jesus doesn’t say these things. He doesn’t say they have neglected Him. It is as if the sheep always cared for Him, always ministered to Him when He was in need.
Who are these people, whose works show them to be righteous in the eyes of the judge?
They are the heirs of God’s kingdom, the sons of God. And they are heirs because they have always done what is righteous in the eyes of Jesus.
They have done righteousness by faith.
Scripture says, “If the inheritance comes by the law, then it no longer comes by a promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” (Galatians 3:17)
And in Romans 4:13: “The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
Those who inherit the kingdom of God inherit it because they believe the promise that God gave to Abraham. God promised him that he would have an offspring in which all the nations on earth would be blessed and saved from the curse of eternal fire.
Abraham believed God, and Scripture says, “God counted it to him for righteousness.” That meant God accounted Abraham as having done good, nothing but good. Why did God count Abraham as having done nothing but good? He counted Abraham’s faith in the coming offspring as righteousness. Abraham believed God that his offspring, Jesus,would accomplish righteousness for all the nations on earth.
And Jesus, the coming King, has done this. He took upon Himself our transgressions against God, our failures to love our neighbor, our failure to love God. Jesus cleared away the record of our transgressions against God when He suffered the wrath of God and was forsaken for us on the cross. In its place He put the record of His righteousness. Jesus’ work ahs made it so that the human race stands before God as having fulfilled His righteous requirements.
By faith this record of righteousness becomes ours. By faith in Christ we are Jesus’ brothers. We are co-heirs with Him of God’s Kingdom; we are sons of God together with Him.
Because of what Christ did in the days of His humility on earth, God says about you and I who have turned our hearts from Him and our neighbor—“You are righteous. You have always done what is right. When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me a drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me. Always.”
God is not lying. Jesus says that what is done to the least of His brothers is done to Him. That is because Jesus has made Himself one flesh with us. Whoever does not believe in Jesus remains separate from Him and has his own works, his own guilt, his own death, and his own hell.
But whoever believes in Christ is one flesh with Him. He is a member of His body. And so Christ’s righteousness and holiness is yours, you who believe in Christ. His death for your sins is yours. His resurrection and life is yours. And His kingdom is yours. In Christ, all things are yours.
And those things that were ours in the flesh—our failure to show love, our denials of Jesus—those things are Christ’s. And He has put them away forever in the tomb. They have disappeared in His resurrection.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t mention the failures and sins of the sheep on judgment day. There will be no reading of your sins before the universe on the day of judgment. That is because they are gone. You don’t have them anymore. They are not remembered. They no longer exist. All that is remembered is Jesus’ blood. All that is remembered is His righteousness.
The only works that exist for the sheep on the day of judgment is the good works Christ does in them—to show mercy to the needy members of His body.
Now, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are sorry for your sins and want to be free of them. You believe that Jesus suffered for your sins on the cross. Then you are a member of His body. All His is yours—His righteousness, His kingdom. Whatever mercy someone shows you, they are really showing to Jesus, so closely does Jesus unite Himself to us.
See how highly Jesus esteems Christians? Let us esteem them this way also, as members of Christ’s own holy body.
The world does not regard Christians very highly, and neither even do we when we go by our reason and intellect. We don’t see any great glory attending the congregation of Christ.
What we see is weakness and poverty. Sometimes it is physical sickness and infirmity. But besides this there is often spiritual weakness and sickness in the members of Christ’s body. Sometimes they appear so sick and weak that it’s hard to see how they are united to Christ at all.
But how highly Christ exalts the ones who believe in Him! When He comes in glory, He says, “Whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine you did to me.” He says this as He sits on the throne of His majesty, judging the earth. He says this knowing what weakness and infirmity is. Because He was also covered with weakness, pain, unsightly bruises and wounds in His passion. Spit and blood covered His face. Accusations and mockery smeared His reputation. Agony and spiritual torment engulfed His soul.
By this pain, weakness, and shame, He makes us stand before the judgment throne as those who have done nothing but good.
There is of course no way to pay back such goodness from our Lord. We cannot even begin to pay it.
But Jesus wants you to receive this gift of mercy from Him, and having received it, to be merciful to His weak and sick and suffering members. To look for ways of relieving their suffering as He was so zealous to relieve yours.
Jesus has made you who believe and are baptized members of His own body. He ministers to His body and cares for it. And as members of the body of Christ we minister to one another and mutually build one another up in Him. Joining with Jesus in caring for His body is part of the joy of His kingdom.
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria