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Ad Te Levavi, the First Sunday in Advent 2019. Join the Triumph of Our King.

December 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus triumphal processionAd Te Levavi—The First Sunday of Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 21:1-9

December 1, 2019

Join the Triumph of our King

 

Jesu juva!

 

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

 

God the Father was His source

Back to God He ran His course

Into hell His road went down

Back then to His throne and crown.

 

For You are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the victory won;

By Your mighty power make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul  (LSB 332 st. 5-6).

 

In the town I grew up in the Lutheran Church of our synod worshipped in a building not much bigger than this one.  I hope no one from that church would be offended by my saying that it was not the most beautiful building in Christendom.  It was functional.  But I distinctly remember, despite its plain appearance, Palm Sunday in that church, when all the children would process to the altar with palm leaves in their hands.  I understood intuitively then what I later learned formally in seminary as I paraded into church with the other children in clip-on ties and barrettes: that Jesus Christ was there in that Divine Service, just as really as when He sat on the back of the donkey and rode into Jerusalem among the crowds who scattered cloaks and branches on the road before Him.  In flesh and blood, though invisibly, our King comes to us in this church too, 2000 miles from the church I grew up in, 2,000 years after the first Palm Sunday.

 

Our King comes to bring you with Him in His triumphal procession.

1.

Even though I sensed that Jesus was present in the Divine Service on Palm Sunday decades ago—at least that’s how I remember it—more often I am not really fully awake to the coming of our King.  I am half-asleep when Jesus comes, more often than I want to admit, both in the Divine Service and outside of it.  And it is the same with you.

 

Hasn’t that been the case with you too, in your life?  Jesus came to you.   He came to you as your King, but you didn’t recognize Him.  You weren’t prepared to fall down before Him and honor Him.  Perhaps you were a young child or a teenager in church and Jesus came to you and was warning you to watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.  But you did not heed Him.  When temptation came, you fell into sin.

 

Or perhaps you committed no great sin, but year after year you were complacent.  You did not serve your King with your whole heart.  You brought little or no fruit to maturity, because the cares and worries and pleasures of this life occupied you and not Christ Jesus the King.

 

But see what kind of King visits us.  He does not ride a war horse or a chariot; He doesn’t bring a sword or a gun.  But His knowledge and His might subtly make themselves known like a concealed weapon.  He directs two disciples: “Go over into the next town and you will find a donkey tied up with its colt.  Untie them and bring them here.  If anyone says anything, just tell him, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and right away he will let you take them.”

 

Normally we call borrowing someone’s donkey without asking “stealing.”  But it is not stealing when everything on earth is yours, when not only the donkey and her colt but also the man who owns them are yours.  Jesus is Lord by right over the donkey and its owner because He is God their Creator.  And He proves that by His knowledge.  Who but God would know what animal is tied up in the next town and what the owner will say when His disciples arrive to take it?

 

That is who the King who comes to us is.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, even though He does not make a display of His knowledge or His power.  And everything belongs to our King.  All of you.  All of your thoughts, all your time, all your money, all your property, everything He has given you belongs to Him and should be put to His service. And He knows and sees everything.

 

So He knows how you have used your body and mind, time and possessions.  Sometimes you have simply served the devil with them in a way that was obvious to you and filled you with shame.  More often you simply behaved as if your time, life, body, possessions were yours alone, and you did not think of Him when you used them.

 

And He is coming.  This is why Paul calls out in the epistle: Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we [first] believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:11-14).

 

Salvation is nearer than when you first believed in Jesus because the day of His return to judge is nearer than it was when you were baptized.  Then, His knowledge from which nothing in creation can hide, will be unveiled.  Then also His omnipotent power will be visible, to the terror of those who rejected Him as King.

 

2.

But He is coming now as well, not only in unveiled knowledge and might on the last day.  When He comes now, it is not in terror, but as He appeared on Palm Sunday, and also as He appeared on the first Christmas.

 

Matthew quotes the old prophecy from Zechariah chapter 9: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.  (Matt 21:5)

 

He says, Look at how this mighty King comes.  He knows everything.  He has all power in His hand.  Everything belongs to Him.  He sees our disobedience, our self-serving, our rebellion against Him—all the things we hide in the closets of our conscience so that even we ourselves forget about them—for awhile.

 

He does not come to excuse our sins, as though we really are justified in having served ourselves instead of Him.  But He does not come as an enemy to take vengeance.  He comes humble, gentle.  He rides a yoke animal, the lowly beast they tied to a cart to drag loads too heavy for men to carry, the animal they bound to a mill to turn the giant stone that grinds grain.  You can’t dig your spurs into a donkey and charge your enemies.  You go slowly on a donkey, because you are not riding a military animal, but an animal meant to labor and carry burdens.

 

That is how Your King comes.  All His knowledge, all His strength are bound to your service.  Jesus rode the donkey, and her colt came with.  But that was not how it was with Him.  He was separated from His mother to carry the immeasurably heavy burden of your sin.  You have lived as if everyone should serve you, as if you were king.  Jesus came to carry the burden of your guilt with his great strength.  He carried it like the lowly beast of burden that carried him when he carried the cross out of the city gates and was crucified.  And there on the cross He carried the guilt, shame, and wrath of God that was yours into the grave and death.  Away from God’s sight and away from you forever.

 

He came to serve you.  This is how your King still comes to you.  There is no doubt about His power and majesty and glory.  He is the living God.  But He comes in gentleness to bear the burden of your sin, and to serve you so that you are healed of it.  He will come as a terrible judge to His foes, but His gentleness toward troubled sinners is as great as His might.

 

He comes to be your King, to take you captive, that is true.  He wants all of you, and He keeps coming to you until you are all His and He is all yours.  But He doesn’t abandon you when you fall or even when you are an unripe fig tree for years and years.  He comes gentle, meek, on a beast of burden, to help you.

 

Now His lowly donkey is the preacher.  You could look at the pastor’s vestments that way.  They are like the cloaks the apostles put on the donkey before Jesus sat on it.  When the pastor preaches and teaches the teaching of the apostles, he is Jesus’ donkey with the apostles’ cloaks covering him.  Then Jesus comes to you through the pastor—lowly, humble, gentle, to serve you, to take your sins away, and bring you with Him in his triumphal procession.  When the pastor baptizes and absolves you and feeds you Jesus’ supper the way He said to do it, according to His direction, then Jesus the King leads you out of the nations among which you have been scattered into His Kingdom.  Then the King leads you into His chambers, brings you into His banqueting house, and His banner over you is love (Song of Solomon 1:4, 2:4).

 

Just as they laid the branches in the road before Jesus, so this righteous branch appeared not as a glorious King but as a little branch trampled down in the dust.  Yet this is where His might accomplished wonderful things.  Driven into the dust by those who hated Him, He tore the whole human race out of the power of the grave and the curse of Adam—you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  His gentleness and meekness made us great, as His ancestor David wrote in the eighteenth Psalm (Ps. 18:35).  This little branch with no splendor or beauty became our righteousness in His death, and in His resurrection opened for us a Kingdom with no end.

 

3.

 

He comes to us and calls us to awake and receive Him, to cast away the works of darkness, because the day is almost here.  To receive our King who comes to serve us.  To let His Word expose the darkness in us and then proclaim to us the light of His righteousness for us.  He calls us to join Him in His triumphal procession.

 

And already, at least in our word and singing, we do that in every Divine Service.  We sing: Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

 

The words of the Divine Service tell us “The King is coming; Jesus is coming, just like on Palm Sunday—to us!”  They proclaim this just before we eat the bread that is His Body and drink the wine that is His blood.  There He gives us His righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins.

 

And in heaven, in the highest place, the angels and victorious saints echo our hosannas.  They join in our praise of the King who is coming to save us.

 

These are not idle words.  The angels shouted Hosanna with the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem to die.  They do so now when Jesus comes here to give us the body and blood He gave for us in Jerusalem long ago.  They rejoiced then and they rejoice now as they see the King come to us in salvation.

 

And yet His Kingdom didn’t come in a way that made sense to the people in Jerusalem.  The crowds expected paradise to begin that day or soon after.  Here we have high hopes too for what Christ will do among us now that, after years of vacancy, God has sent you a pastor.

 

But Jesus does not bring His kingdom in a way that is comfortable or sensible to human wisdom.  He brought it through His death on the cross in Jerusalem.  He brings it to us through the strange means of bread, wine, water, and preaching.  And as He comes in this way He no doubt will work in us and lead us in ways we cannot understand.

 

But as Advent returns our King does not tell us we need to understand what He is going to do.  He calls us to recognize Him as He comes in His Word and Sacraments and to join Him in His kingly procession.  Follow Him with hosannas to this altar.  Ask Him to visit you with His Spirit this Advent and show you where He would have you serve Him.  Go with Him to your brothers in the church and those who are apart from our king, and serve them with Him.

 

How blest the land, the city blest

Where Christ the ruler is confessed!

Oh peaceful hearts and happy homes

To whom this King in Triumph comes!

The cloudless sun of joy is He

Who comes to set His people free.

To Christ the Savior raise

Your happy shouts of praise!  (LSB 340 st. 3)

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Thanksgiving for Others. Thanksgiving Day 2019

November 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 Timothy 2:1-4

November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving For Others

 

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

The English Puritans were in the habit of holding public services of thanksgiving whenever they received a special benefit from God, whether a victory in battle or a bountiful harvest.  According to my brief research the Pilgrims did not hold a thanksgiving service like this until 1623, when a ship came from England with supplies and more settlers.  But what we think of as the first thanksgiving, which happened in the fall of 1621, was more of a harvest festival.  A couple of the men went out “fowling,” bird-hunting—and got enough ducks, geese, turkeys, grouse, and quail to feed the whole colony for more than a week.  But when they returned to Plymouth town, which was just a few houses, they had a visit from around ninety Wampanoag Indians.

 

Yet instead of this turning into a battle, which the Pilgrims probably would have lost—since there were only around fifty men, women, and children left, about half having died during the winter of 1620—instead of bloodshed there was a feast.  They drank beer, ate game birds, seafood, and venison, and a peace was forged that lasted about seventy years.

 

That first feast is the illustration of the theme I want to present to you, taken from the Epistle reading.  The theme is that Christian thanksgiving is the kind St. Paul describes: First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim. 2:1).  Christian thanksgiving is a priest’s thanksgiving.  We don’t merely give thanks for ourselves but for “all people”, for those even who do not know God, even who are enemies of God, and cannot and do not give thanks to Him for the blessings they have received.  In Christian thanksgiving, we serve others who cannot enter the presence of God by entering His presence on their behalf.

 

Thanksgiving entered American lore and became a holiday because people saw in it God’s providence.  They recognized that it would have been very easy for the Pilgrims not to have survived in the new world.  But they survived because God showed them mercy and had a plan for them and their descendants.  And so it became a holiday because for a long time many Americans believed God had chosen this country, and it was necessary to recognize His hand in creating and preserving it by giving Him thanks.

 

But in my lifetime the place of Christians in this country has been very complicated.  We are in a similar situation to the one the Puritans and Pilgrims experienced in England; we feel ourselves to be a minority with limited political and cultural power, facing a rising intolerance from the broader culture.

 

St. Paul also experienced something similar; but the weakness of the Church politically and the hostility of the surrounding culture in his day were far greater.  And Paul’s words in the Epistle reading remind us of the most powerful way we can respond to our nation and our neighbors when they appear to us to be hostile to Christ, the Church, or to simple morality.

 

He urges that our first work after having received the grace of God is to act as priests on behalf of “all people,” to serve our neighbors by bringing them before God in supplication, prayer, intercession and thanksgiving.

 

Let us examine

  1. These four types of prayer mentioned by Paul and
  2. Why this prayer pleases God.

 

1.

Having heard this reading many times, I always assumed that supplication, prayer, and intercession were all basically the same thing, and that in this passage Paul was simply urging us to pray.

 

In reality, each of these four words used by Paul indicate a specific type of prayer that he urges that the church in Ephesus offer on behalf of “all people” and particularly “kings and all in high positions.”

 

Supplications are prayers asking God to help in a certain need, a certain trouble.  St. Paul urges as of first importance that the Christian churches carry the needs of their neighbors (and rulers) to God.  It’s important to realize that rulers in Paul’s day were quite likely to be more hostile and dismissive toward Christians than judges and authorities in our time—even though it is evident that some are very unfriendly today.  Also many of the neighbors of the Christians in Paul’s time would have been unfriendly.  Many Gentiles hated Jews because they denounced all their idols and separated themselves from Gentile society, and most Gentiles in Paul’s day would have seen the Christians as a sect of the Jews.  On the other hand, Jews saw Christians as heretics and apostates.

 

But Paul says that it is of first importance that supplications be offered by the church on behalf of their neighbors, particularly rulers.  So whatever trouble or calamity the churches saw their neighbors in, even when those neighbors were hostile, they were to carry that trouble or need to God as if it were their own.

 

Why was this so important?  Because Christians, then and now, have access to God through their faith in Jesus.  And just as Jesus used His access to God the Father on our behalf, by praying for us, by teaching us, and by dying for us, so the Church carries out His work with Him in this world by interceding on behalf of all people.

 

The second word Paul uses is prayers.  The word can mean many things, but in this setting it probably refers to prayers for the general welfare and prosperity of our neighbors and rulers.  Even when you don’t know what need your neighbor might have, you can still pray for God’s blessing on his work, his family, his children and grandchildren.  You can pray that God would prosper him financially and in every other way.  We often pray this way for ourselves.  But here Paul is teaching that we identify with our neighbors and pray for their blessing in this world, that we use our access to God to seek their blessing.

 

Third Paul urges that intercessions be made.  This refers specifically to prayers for forgiveness of sin.  Oftentimes in the church and in society we become aware of someone’s sin.  Our inclination is to get angry, to indulge in self-righteous anger.  This is particularly the case when we are dealing with politics.  This or that ruler is doing something wrong, proposing legislation that would take away our rights or harm us.  We get indignant.  It happens in the Church just as often.  Leaders in the church push false teaching, or they abuse their authority.  Members of the congregation engage in behavior that harms others.  What do we do?  Often we vent our spleen to those who will listen.  We divide into parties.  But when God makes us aware of someone else’s sin He doesn’t do so so that we can defeat them or so that we can exalt ourselves over them.  He makes us aware of it so that we can do as Jesus has done with our sin.  He took it upon Himself and made it His own.  We cannot carry our neighbor’s sin and make atonement for it, because Christ has done that already.  But we can take it upon our heart, mind, and conscience, and intercede with God for their forgiveness.  And God will hear us, because He has given us access to His throne by clothing us with the righteousness of His Son.

 

Finally Paul urges that thanksgivings be made for all men.  Sometimes we become envious when God blesses other people—especially when those people seem as though they do not deserve it to us.  But Paul urges that we not only pray for the needs of our neighbors, but also give thanks for their blessings as though they were our own.

 

If you practice praying in this way as a Christian, you will find how powerful it is.  This is our most powerful work—prayer.  Because God has given us access to Him through faith in Christ, we have access to His power to work not only on our behalf but on behalf of those around us.  We often wonder and worry about why the Church and its preaching no longer seems to touch our neighbors.  The proper response to this is not to wring our hands, nor first brainstorm ways we can make Christianity more appealing to the world, but to carry out the calling God has given us as priests, and carry our nation and its leaders, our neighbors in the community, our families and loved ones, to Christ and to His Father in prayer, just as when Jesus walked on earth people brought their sick relatives to Him so He would heal them.

 

2.

Why should we do this?  Paul says, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim. 2:2-4)

 

The first reason is that we may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  We should not be troublemakers.  The Word of God does not bring peace, Jesus tells us, but a sword.  There will be uproar when His Word comes.  But there should not be uproar because we live in a way that causes people offense—because we are rude and contentious, or because we are insubordinate and unwilling to submit to authority God has instituted.  But if we are carrying our neighbors and our rulers to God, asking Him to bless them, to help them out of trouble, to prosper them, to forgive their sins, and giving thanks when they receive benefits, how can we be seeking to harm them?

 

And the second reason is because prayer for our neighbors and the result—a godly, dignified life—pleases God.  It pleases Him specifically because He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

It is not hard for you, if you are honest, to recognize that it is God’s pure mercy that you can say, “I am saved.”  It is not because you have done well and earned it.  It is because God did not look on your sin, your trouble and need, and say, “They are getting what they deserve.  I wash My hands of them.”  Instead God got dirty; He became a man born of the dust.  He went beneath the dirty waters of the Jordan River and identified Himself with all the sin of all men.  And then He shed His red blood for your sin.

 

It was because Jesus did not turn away from us and our debt of sin that the Father declared Him His beloved Son.  Paul says it was because Jesus humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, that the Father exalted Himself to the highest place.

 

But now He has saved you and given you a holy calling, to be a priest in His priesthood.  He has called you to join in His ongoing work as a priest, praying for the salvation of the world and the blessing of the world.  That is what we are here in this world to do, even as we carry out our holy callings as father, mother, pastor, hearer, citizen, ruler.  We have works to do with our hands, but before we do those, He calls us to come to Him in prayer—and to do so not only for help for ourselves but for our nation and its rulers and its people, our church, our families—especially those most in need, the fallen, the enemies of God.

 

Paul probably had a special reason for wanting this done.  He was a persecutor of the church, and no doubt it was through the prayers of the church that Paul was saved.

 

God wants all people to be saved.  What wonderful news that is!  No matter how far our country has fallen, no matter how far our synod has fallen, or someone in our family, God desires their salvation.

 

So let us carry out our callings as priests and carry our nation, church, neighbors, and families to God through Christ.  Let us pray for their salvation and their blessings in earthly things and give thanks when they receive them.  Let that be our first work.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Fire of the Day of the Lord. Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Malachi 4:1-6

November 17, 2019

The Fire of the Day of the Lord

Jesu Juva!

 

Beloved: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed

In all His power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.

Then fright shall banish idle mirth,

And flames on flames shall ravage earth

As Scripture long has warned us.  LSB 508 stanza 1

 

Our God is a consuming fire, says the Scripture.  And the day of His return in judgment is a day of fire.  The prophet Malachi says it is a day burning like an oven, and all the arrogant will be stubble.  But for those who fear the name of the Lord the same fire heals.  For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings (Mal. 4:2). 

 

The same day and the fire will set some people ablaze and bring healing to others.

 

It is difficult to imagine “flames on flames” ravaging earth and the world as we see it coming to an end.  But two years ago there was a total solar eclipse.  I don’t remember it being that impressive where we were living at the time, but I gather from the internet that the eclipse was pretty intense here.  That was nature proclaiming the coming end of this creation, giving a preview of when the sun will be blotted out, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall and the sky rolled up like a scroll.  Nature proclaims this every year.  The days get shorter and shorter, darkness comes sooner and sooner.  The trees give up their leaves.  Every year ends, just as every human life composed of many years has its end, and so nature bears witness that this creation also has its allotted number of days.

 

And the world understands this on a gut level.  That is why the world is full of fear about various calamities that may end life on earth.  Climate change is one.  Not that many years ago we feared nuclear annihilation.  What the world doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, is that when the world ends, it will end at the hand of the Crucified.  The One who was rejected by His creation will return and bring an end to His Creation by judgment.  God the Father has appointed a day on which this will happen.

 

And the prophet Malachi described this day four centuries before Jesus was born.  For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming will set them ablaze, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch (Mal. 4:1). 

 

If we lived a hundred years ago and wanted to bake a loaf of bread, we wouldn’t turn on a gas oven.  We would build a fire.  And besides sticks we might well throw in “stubble”—leftover bits of hay, grain, cornstalks.

 

When I was young, my dad would build a fire in the fireplace, but I didn’t know how to do it.  What I liked to do was throw pieces of paper, dry leaves, and Kleenexes into the fire.  And this “stubble” would quickly ignite and go up in a big flame.  All that would be left would be little black ashes floating up the chimney.

 

The day of the Lord will be like that.  The stubble, the paper thrown in the flame, will be the arrogant and all evildoers.  They will go up in the flame of God’s judgment and be utterly consumed—except that their burning will never be finished.  The prophet says—they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.  They will be like hay stubble tossed in a fire.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  They will have nothing left.  The name, the wealth, the beauty, the glory they had here—their branches—will be consumed and gone.  So will their root—that which they grow from—their body and soul, to which everything else in life is added.  When this fire burns them nothing will be left to grow back again.  They will endure an everlasting destruction.

 

John the Baptist echoed Malachi’s prophecy when he preached to those he baptized about the One who would come after him: He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.  (Matt. 3:11-12)  And before either Malachi or John, God had foretold this judgment of the unrighteous through David in the first Psalm: The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous (Ps. 1:4-6) 

 

How many times have you been jealous of people who seemed to be great and important, beautiful and wealthy in this world?  Yet the Lord says that those who are merely rich, merely powerful, merely beautiful and popular, but do not fear Him, will be like stubble in the fire.  They will not stand in His judgment.  Every good thing they have and boast in will be consumed in a moment.

 

But what about you?  Malachi says that those who fear the Lord’s name will experience something different.  But he says, the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble.  David says the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the church of the righteous. 

 

We would like to believe that we have done well enough to escape the fire with which the Lord will cleanse the earth, which will burn the chaff without quenching.  We would like to believe that there is at least something good in me that will cause God to spare me, the way He spared Noah in the flood of His wrath.  After all, at least we listen to God’s Word.  At least we confess our sins and are not proud and arrogant.

 

But no, that is not enough to save us.  If we actually listen to God’s Word and believe it, that didn’t come from us.  There is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom. 7)  We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2).

 

But the same fire, the Lord, comes with healing on the day of judgment.  For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.  (Mal. 4:2)  The Lord arises like the sun on those who fear His name and heals them.  Does the sun heal?  David reminds us in the 19th Psalm that the sun comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.  The sun makes its joyful, brilliant circuit across the heavens and kisses the green plants and they bear fruit and flower; it smiles on the grapes and they ripen into wine.  The sun leaves fruitfulness and life in its wake as it visits the earth.

 

So it will be on the day of the Lord.  His coming which sets the wicked ablaze will be like the sun rising on those who fear God.  Their eyes will shine.  Their faces will be radiant.  And the righteousness of Jesus will enfold them like wings of warm light and heal them.  For when Jesus comes in radiance and power, and the earth is shaken, and the sky rolls up like a scroll, He will judge the world in righteousness.  He will condemn sin and sinners and purge the creation corrupted by sin with holy fire.  But He will judge those who fear God’s name—righteous—and pronounce them worthy to enter the new heavens and the new earth.

 

How will the fire of the Lord meet you on that day?  As an oven, or as the sun?  If you scoff at the idea that the crucified Lord will return in power to judge, or if you comfort yourself with the vain hope that God cannot possibly have such unrealistic standards as you hear about in church, the day of the Lord will set you ablaze and leave you neither root nor branch.

 

The Lord is as John the Baptist preached—one who holds a winnowing fork in his hand to separate wheat from chaff.  It is arrogant to disregard God’s Word.  Every time you have set aside the commandments of God you have been arrogant and set yourself above His Word.

 

Then how can we imagine the Lord will rise upon us with healing?  Because we rely solely on His grace.  Only by pure mercy.  And that mercy has already dawned upon us when our Lord appeared on earth.

 

First He sent Elijah the prophet to prepare His way.  John came clothed like Elijah, living in the desert like Elijah, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  And those who came confessing their sins to John heard John preach the mighty one who was coming next, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Who would not merely pour water on us, but who would make us new as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters that covered the earth at creation.  He would bring a new creation out of the dark chaos of our nature.

 

The one John proclaimed is the one who comes to you in the Gospel.  He is mighty but came as a helpless infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as a man who did not lift a hand against His enemies, but went like a lamb meek before its shearers to the slaughter.  He was crucified for our offenses.  His blood stained the doorposts of the cross to cover us and cause wrath and judgment to pass over us.

 

He is the sun of righteousness.  Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces are never ashamed.  He has washed us in water with the Holy Spirit and made us new, so that the fire of the Lord does not burn us.  In that water He placed God’s name upon us, and we fear His name because we believe what He has done for us and what He says about us.

 

He has burned up our sin by His appearing in the flesh and His death on the tree.  He has also burnt up our attempts to cover our sins like the sun burns away the morning mist.  He is our covering on the day of judgment, our tabernacle.  He is our righteousness.  He is our shade from the wrath of God.  He enfolds us with His arms that were extended on the cross to fulfill all righteousness.  When He comes He comes like the sun for us.  He fills the earth with life and fruitfulness.  He will bring us forth from the earth healed from death and corruption.

 

Malachi says that when He comes we will be like calves released from the stall.  I have never seen a calf do this but I guess that at least a few of you have.  What I have seen is Joseph’s rabbit, who sometimes when he leaves his cage runs out and for no reason jumps in the air and kicks his legs sideways.  Joseph says he does this for pure joy.

 

This is how it will be for us who rely solely on the Lord’s mercy when He appears.  We will have joy because we are free—from death, from sin, from guilt, from persecution.

 

Come to the Lord who visits you at this altar like the sun to heal you.  Then go forth from this place, not idly waiting for His coming, but living with the certainty that the sun will rise upon you.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not. All Saints’ Sunday 2019

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

All Saints’ Sunday

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 John 3:1-3

November 3, 2019

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

Behold, the life- giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.

 

As the pastor says these words on Good Friday, he lifts the black cloth and reveals one arm of the cross.  He says the words a second time: Behold, the life-giving cross! and bares the second arm.

 

Then a third time he says the words and takes away the black cloth entirely, and the cross is revealed to the congregation, perhaps with the image of Jesus’ body.  Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.  And the congregation answers: O come, let us worship Him.

 

There are things God has uncovered and things that He has left hidden.

 

He has uncovered the salvation of the world just as the Good Friday service does.  And in uncovering the salvation of the world, His only Son, He also reveals His children, the holy ones, the saints.  But He has not yet revealed the glory of His saints.  This is what John the apostle says in the Epistle.

 

But how has God revealed His saints?  Who are these who have a right to be called “holy ones” and where do you find them?  And who dares to number themselves among “the saints”?  Do you?  Did you hear how Jesus described them?  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:6, 8, 10).  In the same chapter He says, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).  And it is written: You shall be holy, for I [the Lord Your God] am holy (1 Peter 1:16).  And as we approach the table of the Lord we join in the song of the seraphim who covered their eyes as they sang Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth.  I have known some wonderful Christians, but I have not known any who were so holy even the angels dared not look at them.

 

But when God uncovered the salvation of the world on the cross, He also uncovered His holy ones.  They are found where the salvation of the world is lifted up.  They receive their holiness from Him.

 

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given us!  (1 John 3:1)  Just as it is strange on Good Friday when the cross is uncovered, and the pastor says, “Behold, the life-giving cross,” so these words of the apostle are strange.  As though you and I don’t know what’s under the cloth!  As though we have never heard before how the Father loved us!

 

He so loved us that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  But where and how did He give His Son?

 

He gave Him into the hand of the high priests, the soldiers, Pontius Pilate.  And into your hands, for it was your sins for which He was handed over to die.  He gave His Son to us hung on the cross by the nails, so that the cross of death would be the life-giving cross upon which we find the salvation of the world.

Behold, the man, Pontius Pilate says, moved to pity by the bloody, bruised face and back of Jesus.  Behold with John the spear entering the side of Jesus, the water and blood streaming from His heart.  Behold the manner of love the Father has given us, giving His Son into death for our sins.

 

Behold, what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  Not called God’s enemies for causing the death of His Son.  Called children because sanctified by the death of God’s child.

 

God called Jesus His child, His beloved Son, when John plunged him into the water of the Jordan.  Jesus came to that baptism offering Himself to fulfill all righteousness for us, to make an end of our unrighteousness on the cross and bestow on us a seamless, spotless righteousness before God.  Then the Father’s voice said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, and the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him.  The Triune God uncovered Himself.  And such love the Father has given us—to uncover Himself to us, and to enfold us into Himself as at the Baptism of Jesus.  We are called His children in our Baptism, sealed with the name of the Triune God.

 

What love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 

 

Behold the love the Father has given you.  You are not only called God’s child.  You really are His child.  The Scripture knits us to Jesus.  John says, “The reason the world doesn’t know we are saints and children of God is that it did not know Him.”  Jesus said, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14).  John says, Whoever knows God’s Son knows us.

 

Jesus has fastened Himself to us.  He was knit together in His mother’s womb, like us.  He became sin and a curse, because that was ours.  He gave us the divine name, which was His.   And what He calls us we truly are.  We are sons of God.  We eat His body, we drink His blood.  We live in Him and He in us.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:56). 

 

With Thee, Lord, I am now united;

I live in Thee and Thou in me,

No sorrow fills my soul, delighted,

It finds its only joy in Thee.

Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood

Be for my soul the highest good.  (LSB 619 st. 2)

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  He has revealed His love to us in the preaching of the cross; He has declared us His children in Baptism, and affirmed that we are united to His Son in the holy supper.

 

But there remains something that God has not uncovered.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. 

 

We did not become Christians for the benefits that it brings in this world.  St. Paul says, IF in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15: 19). 

 

Our hope is for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Sometimes it takes pain to remember this; it takes standing at the graveside of parents and friends.  Or it takes having people revile and speak evil of us because we believe in Jesus.

 

Then, we are reminded that our hope is not in this life, where we are called and truly are God’s children, but are still suffering the poison dart of our sinful nature, and the hostility and deceit of the devil and the world, where we are still dying and living in the midst of death.

 

Our hope is for what we will be when the dead are raised and our Lord appears in the clouds.

 

But what will we be then?

 

That is not yet revealed.

 

Just as the cross lies hidden under the black cloth on Good Friday at the start of the service, so what we will be is not revealed.

 

All we know is that we will be like Jesus when He returns.  That will happen because we will see His glory.

 

When Jesus prayed the night before He gave Himself for us in great love, He had this in mind: Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see the glory that You have given me because You loved me before the foundation of the world.  John 17:24

 

The weakness of our fallen minds can’t comprehend this great reward of seeing Christ’s glory and being transformed into it.  But you may remember, how in Exodus, Moses asked God to show him His glory.  The Lord said, “No one may see My face and live.”

 

So He put Moses in a rock and covered it with His hand and walked by, proclaiming His name; then Moses came out and saw God’s back as He walked by.  Moses did not ever see God’s face.  But only seeing His veiled glory made Moses’ face shine for days.

 

We will see the unveiled glory of Jesus.

 

No angel in the sky

Can fully bear that sight

But downward cast their wondering eye

At mysteries so bright.  (LSB 525 st. 3)

 

But we will be able to gaze into the brilliant sun of the eternal glory of God the Son.  And we will be like Him, just as Moses’ face bore the fading radiance of the glory he saw.

 

This glory is not yet revealed, but because it is our hope, and is promised to us, we run to make it our own now.  Everyone who has this hope in himself purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).  We don’t wait for it to come lazily; we press on to make it our own.  We come and confess our sins and are absolved; we come and eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus that put our sins to an end.

 

Each day we purify ourselves and put to death our old self that Jesus crucified and buried on the cross.  We do this because we have a hope—we belong to the one who is pure, and one day He will be revealed, and we will be uncovered too.  And we will be like Him.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Has Made You Clean for the Eucharist. 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Oct. 13, 2019. Luke 17:11-19

October 31, 2019 Leave a comment

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23 Series C)

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, Oregon

St. Luke 17:11-19

October 13, 2019

Jesus Has Made You Clean For The Eucharist

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

Jesus has made you clean for the eucharist.

 

We know that failure to keep things clean frequently comes with serious negative consequences.  We put antiseptic on wounds, sterilize operating rooms, and we consider it gross if a person doesn’t shower every day.

 

But being clean, and avoiding uncleanness, is an even bigger deal to God.  For us keeping clean is just hygiene.  Being clean in God’s eyes encompasses far more.  This is why God gave His people in the Old Testament hundreds of laws about what was clean for them and what was not clean, how they were to maintain their purity before Him and how they could be cleansed once defiled.  He wanted to teach them, and us, just how serious a thing it is to be clean in His sight, and how much it entails.

 

Many of these laws are difficult for us to comprehend.  We can’t understand why He makes laws about not eating certain types of meat, or about how to deal with mildew.  But there is a reason.  Most of God’s Laws about purity declare things unclean that are associated with the demonic.  The demons brought sin into the world, and with sin, corruption, sickness, and death.  When you smell a dead animal rotting in the sun, when you smell gangrene coming from a wound, when you smell a full outhouse, you smell uncleanness.  You know it is unhealthy.  Those are physical reflections of the uncleanness the evil one spreads and which he has made us participants in when he seduced our first parents into rebellion against God.

 

Nothing unclean can enter God’s presence.  He is the life and there is no death in Him.  He is holy, and nothing impure or unclean is in Him or can be with Him.  That is why we sing, “Holy, holy, holy” in the Sanctus before we come to the table and eat the body of Jesus; it’s why Isaiah heard the seraphim singing it when He saw the Lord as they covered their feet and their eyes with their wings.  He is holy and we must be holy to enter His presence.  Holy in our lips, as Isaiah realized, and clean in our hearts too, as Jesus taught us: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5: 8). 

 

The good news is: Jesus has made you clean for the Eucharist.  He has made you clean not only externally, so that you are permitted to enter an earthly dwelling place, like the Jews.  He has made you clean inside and out, so that you are able to go into the presence of the Holy One and give Him thanks forever.  That is what eucharist means—“thanksgiving.”

 

In the Gospel reading we are presented with ten men whom Jesus makes clean outwardly, but only one is made clean inside and out.  They were afflicted with one of the worst kinds of uncleanness—leprosy.

 

Most kinds of uncleanness in the Levitical law went away after a period of time with a bath.  If you ate unclean meat, you had to wash your clothes and be unclean until evening, which meant you couldn’t have contact with other Israelites, who were clean.  And you couldn’t enter God’s presence in the temple.  You were separated from the holy place and the holy people, but only briefly.

 

But lepers were in a state of ongoing uncleanness.  Until they stopped being lepers, they were cut off from God’s presence and blessing in the temple and from living among God’s people.  The Hebrew word for leprosy is literally “stroke”—meaning that God has struck you.  God strikes you with leprosy, and only he can remove his hand and cleanse you.

 

Lepers were required by God’s law to be separated from everyone else, to go around with their hair unkempt and their clothes torn, like a person mourning the dead.  They were required to cover the bottom part of their faces and to cry out “Unclean!  Unclean!”  whenever someone else was coming by—so that person wouldn’t be defiled by them.   Their entire life was lived like one in mourning for the dead, and the dead person they mourned for was themselves.  They were stricken by God and cast out from His people.

 

Yet the lepers in today’s Gospel have hope.  They see Jesus coming down the road toward them.  And they call Him “Master.”  They believe that He has authority over uncleanness, sickness, death, demons, and over leprosy; they believe that Jesus can make them clean where only God can make a person clean.

 

And their faith is proven by their actions as well as their words.  When Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” they go.  They go to see the priests and have the priests certify that they are clean from leprosy, going even though they do not see themselves cleansed, merely because Jesus has spoken.  That’s how highly they regard the authority of His Word.

 

So when they go to the priests, they believe that just by Jesus saying so, they will be made clean.

 

And then something sad happens.  You can hear it in Jesus’ voice. Were not ten made clean?  But where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this alien?  (Luke 17:17-18)

 

What is sad?  That the other nine cured lepers did not run and fall at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him and glorifying God with a loud voice.  Maybe they were planning to come see Jesus after they got through seeing the priests?  But no.  Hearts that recognized what Jesus had done for them would have driven all ten to shout with joy and fall at Jesus’ feet in thanks.  God did not give the healing through the priests or the Law.  He gave it through Jesus.  The priests could wait.  But the nine forgot about the One who healed them and did not return.

 

It’s not the ten lepers who are our concern this morning.  This is our story.  Jesus has made you clean.  And He made you clean for the Eucharist—for thanksgiving.  Not because He needs our thanks, but because thanksgiving follows where Jesus’ cleansing has been received, not rejected.  When we hear “eucharist,” we think of the Lord’s Supper, even though it literally means “thanksgiving.”  We do thank God at the Lord’s Supper, but that is only because that is the natural response of receiving so great a gift—of being invited to sit down at wedding feast of the new heavens and the new earth.  Jesus cleansed you so that you can come to His feast, and feasting, give thanks to God at all times and in all places.

 

But how has Jesus cleansed you?

 

Your skin was not white with leprosy or covered with open sores.  But you were in a state of ongoing uncleanness that kept you exiled from the Holy One.  You inherited a state of rebellion against God from your father and his father before that.  The unclean spirits ruled over you and kept you sick and filthy.  Your sickness was incurable.  Human beings have no medicine that can cure it, and they never will, except that which comes from the God-man.

 

You were born without true faith in the triune God, without true knowledge of Him.  So you were thankless.  You didn’t recognize your life as His gift, nor your loved ones, nor the food and clothing and daily bread He provided you.  You were incapable of being truly thankful to God because, not having Him, you never felt secure.  You never had enough.  You were unclean and could not enter God’s presence, like a leper who needs to come to God to be cleansed, but cannot come to God until he is cleansed.

 

But God came out of His sanctuary to you.  He made Himself unclean.  He drew the poison out of you into His own body.

 

Surely he has borne our [diseases] and carried our pains [caused by our sins], yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God [as with leprosy], and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed (Is. 53:4-5).

 

On the cross Jesus became unclean.  He was stricken by God with the uncleanness of your sins.  He became the leper and the castaway, thrown out by God.  All the uncleanness of your life, the rot hidden away in your conscience and you heart was on Him, when His body was open wounds on the cross.  And when He rose it was with a white garment—not the white of sickness and leprosy, but of purity and cleanness.

 

And that white garment he placed on you in Holy Baptism.  So you no longer have to stand far off from the saints on earth, the saints in heaven, the Holy angels, or even the most Holy Trinity, because you have been cleansed for the Eucharist.

 

You have been cleansed to draw near to Christ and to His table to eat His body and drink His blood.

 

The ten lepers were also cleansed by Jesus.  And they were cleansed for eucharist, for thanksgiving.  They were cleansed so that they would recognize Jesus not only as the one who healed their bodies but cleanses them completely—and to give thanks to Him.  But only nine lepers came back to Jesus.

 

And that is what so many do, isn’t it?  Many are cleansed in Baptism, but they do not come back to receive the eucharist and to give thanks to Jesus by receiving His body and blood.

 

And even you who are here today.  You are here to come to the feast of thanksgiving.  And yet how many times have you left this place only to return to the familiar uncleanness you lived in before?  And if not that, how many times have you left here not eager to become partakers of the divine nature and to grow in the image of Christ?  How many times has your zeal become cold?  St. Peter in his second epistle describes us well—Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins (2 Peter 1:9).

 

But Jesus has cleansed you.  And He has cleansed you for the eucharist—so that you may continue to receive His work that He completed in His death and resurrection.  He has cleansed you so that you may continue to receive His body given into death for your uncleanness and His blood poured out to purify you from all unrighteousness.

 

And then to give thanks from your heart.  This comes naturally when you hear the good news that He has cleansed you of every last particle of sin and made you clean to stand before His Father.  At His table He strengthens you in the faith that He has done this, and He continues to destroy the leprosy of sin that remains in you by it—until all that is left is Christ in you.

 

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification. Trinity 11, 2019

September 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus pharisee tax collector11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

September 1, 2019

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

This is the last Sunday I will preach here as your pastor.  That makes it a sad day, because God has bound us together over these years.  He has taught us together.

 

But in our Lord Jesus’ kingdom, sadness never has the final word.  Joy has the final word.  I will not be the called servant of God’s Word at St. Peter anymore, but I will always be your pastor.  It was through you God called me into the office of preaching the Gospel.  And because we are members of one holy communion, I am yours forever.  That is what “the communion of saints” means.  A communion, a fellowship is a sharing.  We share in the one body and blood of Jesus at this altar.  All He has he shares with us.  And we who have a share in Jesus through faith in Him also belong to one another.  One bread, one body.

 

So that is joy in the midst of sadness.  And our Lord has given us other joys, great joys.  You have two new sisters in Christ, newly risen from what St. Paul calls the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), the washing of Baptism.  They stand among us today with the cross of Jesus marked on their brow, made holy, clothed with robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  We have waited and prayed for this.  About a year ago, Amber, you asked to be baptized at VBS.  I told the church council about it because I was excited.  And here you are, together with Breanna—you went through catechetical instruction many years ago.  Now both of you are going home from St. Peter justified, as Jesus said about the tax collector in the Gospel reading from Luke.  And that is joy for every Christian here.

 

And after the sermon, Billy and Breanna will confess that they believe Christ’s teaching that they learned from me, found in the Scripture, witnessed by the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.  How can we not be overjoyed to hear that you have been made disciples of Jesus as He commanded—Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you?  Every Christian has to rejoice that you have been taught all of Christ’s Word and now confess that you believe it and intend to live and die by it.

 

Understand though, that there is pain in the Christian life.  You have been marked with the cross.  There is pain at the beginning of the Christian life, at the end of it, and all the way through.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  (Romans 6)  Paul asks that at the beginning of Romans chapter 6.  When you are baptized you are joined with Jesus in His death; that is not a one-time thing.  It continues throughout our life on earth.  But pain and sorrow do not have the final word in Christ’s Kingdom.  Joy has the final word, and Christians come to know God’s joy in the very midst of the cross that God sends them.

It was joy that drew me into the ministry.  That was the bait on the hook with which Christ hooked me.  And joy in a specific teaching of the Bible—what we call the doctrine of justification.  It is the part of Christian teaching that Paul said in the reading from Corinthians is of first importance.  Justification is what Jesus came into the world for.  It is what pastors are here for.  It is what Baptism is about.  And when it is taught rightly and believed it brings joy.

 

So it is my joy to preach my last sermon on the doctrine of justification, which our Lord Jesus teaches about in the Gospel reading.  If you have that teaching and believe it and stay with it—you newly baptized and confirmed, and you who were baptized and confirmed a long time ago—and you who have not been baptized or confirmed—if you believe this teaching you will be saved, and you will have joy.

 

Jesus pictures this doctrine in the parable we heard of the tax collector and the Pharisee.

 

He tells us about two men who go into the temple to pray.  He tells us what their prayers are like and what kind of people they are.  Then we hear him say: I tell you, this many went down to his house justified, rather than the other (18:14), that is, the tax collector.  But what does Jesus mean by that word “justified”?  He is saying when the tax collector goes home, he goes home with God having declared him righteous.  God judges him to be right and good in his sight.  The other man, the Pharisee, goes home not righteous in God’s sight.  That means, he goes home guilty, not a friend of God but an enemy.

 

Even though “justification” is not a word we use a lot except in church—and in many churches, not even there—you can see why it is important.  We need to be righteous before God, He needs to regard us as righteous, if we are not to be His enemies, if we are to be saved after we die.  But we also need to be righteous in His sight if we are going to live in this world with the confidence that God is with us.

 

But what Jesus teaches about justification before God goes against the way everyone thinks.

 

People of course have all kinds of different religious beliefs—in this country and across the world.  But there is a common idea that unites everyone, and that is that the way to being right with God is being right and doing right.  People have different ideas about what that means.  The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable had his ideas about “being right and doing right” shaped by God’s commandments that were given through Moses to the people of Israel, including the ten commandments.  So when he prays, he comes into the temple and thanks God that he is righteous, at least compared to other people, because he does not cheat people out of their money, commit adultery, and do other unjust things.  In addition he gives ten percent of everything he gets in income to God.  These were things he knew he was supposed to do or not do because God commanded “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not commit adultery.”  He also told the people of Israel they were supposed to tithe ten percent of their income to God.

 

In other places and times people haven’t always had the ten commandments.  In our country today people don’t know the ten commandments like they once did.  But people still know that there is a right and wrong, even if they are misguided about what it is.  And people today generally think along the same lines as the Pharisee—God loves me because I basically am good.  I’m certainly better than all the hypocrites over there anyway.

 

Some people say they don’t believe in God, or He doesn’t factor much into their thinking.  But you will never find a person who doesn’t care if they are justified.  Everyone wants to be recognized as worth something, as having meant something.  Everyone looks for this.  Even people who don’t care much what other people think want to be able to say that their life on earth was valuable, not a waste.

 

Everybody cares about justification, and everybody goes about different ways of trying to justify themselves.  But we can’t justify ourselves, because we are not the judge.  God is the judge.

 

And see what happens with the Pharisee.  He was a man who seemed to be very concerned with God. But he went home “not justified.”  God did not justify him because, though he kept away from adultery, though he engaged in spiritual practices like fasting and gave his money to God, it wasn’t enough.  He believed that doing more than other people made him righteous and good in God’s sight.  But it doesn’t.

 

To have God regard you as righteous is not a matter of doing better than other people but a matter of doing what God requires of you.

 

To be good in God’s eyes means to love God and trust Him above everything else—money, your health, your family.  But anyone who says he loves God like that without wavering is in denial.  The Bible says that he who does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).  And who loves the people around him perfectly?  Our selfishness, our self-love keeps us from seeing the people around us and caring about them as we should.

 

Why does the tax collector go home justified?  Jesus says, because Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).  Jesus doesn’t mean humiliating yourself wins God’s favor.  He is saying that when you come to God admitting the truth about yourself—that you have broken His commandments, that you are not righteous but a sinner, that you do not deserve His praise but His punishment—that is the beginning of the way to God.  The kind of humbling yourself Jesus is talking about is admitting what the ten commandments reveal about you—that in yourself you keep falling short of what God requires.  This is painful.  And it isn’t just at the beginning of being a Christian that we experience this pain, but all the way through.  We grow as Christians not by becoming more able to stand on our own; we grow as Christians by becoming more dependent on God’s mercy.

 

But there is something else in this tax collector’s prayer.  When he says, “God be merciful to me,” the word “be merciful” actually contains the word for “a sacrifice that atones for sin.”  He’s not just asking for God to be merciful in a general way, but to forgive his sins on account of the sacrificial blood that covers his sin.

 

In the temple in Jerusalem there was an altar.  Every day many animals were sacrificed at that altar.  The one who sinned would lay his hand on the animal’s head and confess his sins that needed to be covered.  Then the animal’s throat would be cut and the priest would catch the blood in a bowl, because according to the book of Leviticus, the life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood.  And God told the Israelites, I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (or the soul) (Lev. 17:11).  The blood of the animal contained its life, and when the priest sprinkled the blood on God’s holy altar or poured it on the base of the altar or put sprinkled it before God’s presence in the most holy place, the animal’s life or soul was for atonement, or covering.  The penalty of sin is death, but God accepted the animal’s life in place of the sinner.

But this was only temporary, because it is actually impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  Just like ordinary water can’t make a person clean from sin, an animal’s life is not sufficient to make us right before God.  But God accepted them temporarily until the sacrifice came that was enough to cleanse us from our sins.

 

That sacrificial victim was the one who taught this parable.  Jesus is human, like us, but He is also God.  When He suffered on the cross, God suffered.  His blood is not merely human; it is the blood of God.  When this blood was shed, this life was offered up, it truly took sins away, not just from one or two men, but all people.

 

The person who comes to God acknowledging that he is the sinner, and clinging to the sacrifice God provided for us, the blood that purifies and atones for our sin—Jesus’ blood—that person goes home justified before God.  Just like that.

 

We call it “justification by faith alone.”  The Pharisee tries to approach God with his own works and is not justified.  The tax collector clings only to the atoning blood to cover his sin and goes home righteous before God.

 

Jesus does not talk in His parable about the joy of justification.  But joy is what flows from this teaching, and without it being taught clearly we cannot know real joy.  Certainly not in the church.

 

When you see your sins before God like the tax collector did that hurts, but to hear God announce your sins forgiven is a joy greater than the pain.

 

And there is another joy—the joy of someone else being set free from their sins.  The joy of seeing tears run down someone’s face as they are released from the burden of their sins that they carried alone.

 

Pastors experience this joy, but it is not just for them.  It is meant for all the Christians in the church.

 

My friends, you are uniquely situated to experience this joy.  You have been given this pure teaching of justification, where our works are strictly separated from God’s work in shedding His blood for our justification.

 

You have preserved in your midst the means of grace that God uses to confer the forgiveness of sins won by Christ’s blood.  You have baptism, not just as water that symbolizes something we have chosen, but God’s baptism, where the water is joined with His Word and we are washed and presented before God spotless in Christ’s blood.

 

You have the absolution Jesus gave to his church, the authority to forgive sins: Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.  (John 20)

 

You have the sacrament of the altar where we receive not just bread and wine and say “This symbolizes Christ’s body and his atoning blood.”  No, you receive His body and the blood that atones for your sins.

 

You have these gifts of God preserved among you.  Jesus wants to bring tax collectors in here and send them home justified.  He is doing it today.

 

You will know His joy in justifying tax collectors as you grow in Him, as you grow in the painful realization that you are tax collectors.  As you come to see your sins as great, not small, many, not few, you will experience the joy tax collectors and sinners experienced when they met Jesus and God justified them through Him.  It is not a joy for the beginning of our lives as Christians but for the middle and the end as well.

 

And how will this happen, that you will grow and learn to see your sins as great?  Luther told you that in the catechism a long time ago when you were being prepared to be confirmed, in the questions he wrote for you to use to examine yourself before you go to the Lord’s table.

 

What should we do when we eat His body and drink His blood, and in this way receive His pledge?  We should remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood, as He taught us: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

Why should we remember and proclaim His death?  So that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins…that we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and regard them as very serious…Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

 

So come then with your great sins and receive the blood that cleanses them, and keep coming, and let His justifying word be your all.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Right Use of Beauty. Martyrdom of John the Baptist/Altar Guild Service 2019

August 29, 2019 1 comment

john baptists headMartyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29

August 29, 2019

The Right Use of Beauty

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

For the last several years at this service we have observed the festival of John the Baptist’s martyrdom, because it is the closest festival day to the last Thursday in August.  But this year the last Thursday in August actually falls on the day of John’s martyrdom.  And so my robes are red.

 

Red goes with Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It also goes with blood—the blood of the martyrs, who, by the burning faith and love worked by the Spirit, bore witness to our Lord Jesus not only with words but with their red blood.  With their blood they testified to the salvation won by Jesus Christ, and the power of faith in His name.

 

So you see the red of this chasuble.  It is beautiful, but it points to something fewer people think beautiful—the blood of many Christians that poured out from their bodies, who were reflections of their Lord, from whose head and hands and feet and side blood poured and streamed.  His streaming blood, His bloody death purchased salvation from sin and hell.  With their red blood they bore witness, they testified to the certainty of the salvation won by our Lord.

 

Even today blood pours from the bodies of Christians all over the world, in streams wider and fuller than at any time in history.  The time of the martyrs was not 1900 years ago.  It is now.

 

But those suffering and dying are not, in many cases, people whose parents and grandparents and ancestors for generations have been baptized.  They are new Christians, yet these new Christians are called by our Lord to suffer or even die for His name, and they answer His call and join the souls under the altar in heaven.

 

It is different with the Christians around us.  We appear to be living in a unique time, when European culture, what used to be called “Christendom,” is shedding the last vestiges of its Christian identity.  We are having difficulty adjusting to this.  We are having difficulty losing the prestige and the numbers we once had when our countrymen all claimed to be Christians and built beautiful churches to have their children baptized and married in.  We are not being asked to lose our lives.  Christ is calling us to lose our status, to be lowly and despised, to be poor and few in number.  And we are struggling with this.  Many are refusing to give these things up.

 

Parents who still bring their kids to church usually want their kids to experience a full church, a vibrant church, with lots of other kids and lots of activities for kids, even though churches like these are becoming rarer, and those that have these things and also teach the pure doctrine of Christ rarer still.

 

Churches are still hoping against hope that the pews will become full again.  Meanwhile many of them are trying to hang on to what they had when the churches were full, even though they are no longer full.  It is hard to accept that Jesus may be calling us to let these things go.

 

Many Christians think the people and the kids and the money and the feeling of being “vibrant” and so on are necessary.  They run after these things even when doing so means leaving God’s pure word behind.  They can’t imagine church without these things.  They fear that their children will abandon Christianity if it isn’t fun and doesn’t feel like it’s growing and prestigious.

 

Those who remain in the church keep being nagged by the temptation that Moses has been on the mountain too long and now it is time to make gods to lead them out of the desert.  We are tempted to look for anything that will make Christianity appealing to our kids, grandkids, and neighbors, so that they would come back.

 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?  (Rom. 6:3)  That is a call from the apostle to remember what life we were given when we were baptized.   He does not think that the Romans (or you) don’t know.  You do know.  Death is not a special way for the elite Christians, the martyrs.  Death is the way for every Christian.   We were baptized into Jesus’ death on the cross.  We are baptized into His death—unless we turn away.  Our lives are death with Jesus and resurrection with Jesus.  There is no other way to be a Christian, no other way for the Church.  If we want to avoid death with Jesus, we want to avoid being Christians.  If we try to find a way to convince people to be Christians that does not involve dying to their desires to be rich and important and be in a beautiful religious facility with lots of other popular, non-embarrassing people—we are finding a way to be ashamed of Jesus.  Because Jesus said, If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will find it. (Mark 8:34-35)  Even if your life does not end with nails through your hands and feet, you have already been crucified with Christ in Baptism, and every day your old nature must be crucified with Christ again.  Your demands to have the love of this world, the honor of this world, the praise of this world—you must die to it and go with Jesus and accept the scorn of this world, the mockery of this world, perhaps the loss of a full church, a youth group, a church with a steeple and stained glass.

 

Christ’s church does not lie to people.  Churches do, but His true church doesn’t.  It doesn’t promise people their best life now.  It doesn’t say “Jesus will never ask you to do something really hard, or suffer.”  It tells people—Jesus calls you to repent, and to repent means to die.

 

She speaks like John the Baptist did.  A king married a woman.  The woman had divorced the king’s brother so she could marry the king.  John told the king, “It is not lawful to marry your brother’s wife.  You are lost unless you repent.”  By repent John did not mean that King Herod should feel bad but stay married to Herodias.  He meant he should send Herodias back to his brother.  He could never be married to her and be right with God.

 

But of course this would offend Herod, wouldn’t it?  Then Herod would never join John’s church.  That’s the way people in churches often talk.  John did not talk this way.  He talked like a man sent by God to turn the sinful to repentance.

 

Pastors have to ask themselves: Is that the way I speak to the unrepentant?

 

Churches have to ask themselves: Is that the message unrepentant sinners in our congregation and outside our congregation get?  If not, are we willing to say that to them, and let the pastor say it to them?  To say, “Repent, you are lost”?  To be in earnest, as if heaven and hell is real, and the unrepentant are headed for hell?

 

If not, no matter how much we talk about Jesus, we are not following Him.  We are walking in another way than His, one without the cross.  The world has to repent of its lawless immorality, but we have to repent in the church of our wanting to be Christ’s while refusing to bear His cross.

 

If what I am saying is striking home with you, then you know that you have done just as Herod did.  He was called to go the difficult way of repentance.  He chose to save face and put John to death instead.  Like Pilate also who, forced to choose between Jesus and angering the Jews and Caesar, went against his conscience and crucified the man he knew was from God.  Like Peter who, though he wanted to be faithful to Jesus, at the moment of crisis denied Jesus to save his life.  We have done this, and though it may have given us a temporary reprieve or a short term profit, when we did it we forfeited our souls.

 

Had Herod listened to John and come in unconditional surrender to God, John would have baptized him.  He would have lost Herodias his brother’s wife, but he would also have lost his sins.

 

The baptism that brought us into the church did not only forgive our sins.  It joined us with Jesus who went to death rather than turn aside from God.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?

 

You who are baptized into Christ and believe in Him are like Peter.  You want to die rather than deny Jesus.  You believe He is the Son of God.  You want to go with Him even to death because you believe in Him and you love Him.  You want to be a faithful witness.  But you falter.  You have many times.  You were afraid to stand with Jesus.  You sought to preserve your life in this world, even though Jesus said, Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  You tried to be Christ’s disciples and still please the world and your flesh.

 

Return to your baptism.  There you died with Jesus.  There your sins were washed away.  There, fleeing compromise with the world, you are raised from the dead to walk in newness of life.  Not to follow the Pharisees in a self-chosen holiness from the flesh, but to go with Jesus to the cross, to lose your life in this world, and gain what is life indeed.  Have you faltered?  So did Peter.  Return to Baptism where your faltering flesh is dead and the life of Christ has raised you.

 

Come to this altar; receive the finished salvation of Jesus.  Eat His body.  Drink His blood.  Receive His power that enables you to bear witness to Him in a world that demands you bow your knee to it and its ruler.

 

No!  You are Christ’s.  You will go to Him and conquer the world as He did and as the martyrs did.

 

As long as He continues to give us beautiful churches, robes, paraments, we will use them to bear witness to the shedding of His blood.  You can use them without fear as a Christian because they are not your gods. They are simply gifts.  You have died to this world with Him.

 

But if He allows them to be taken, don’t be afraid.

 

If we are friendless, homeless, poor, because we are His, that is a more beautiful robe than can be made with hands, or washed, or ironed by your hands.  If you are small and forsaken, if you lose people, if you lose paraments, workers, vestments because you are poor, your Lord adorns you with His poverty and lowliness.  It is a royal honor.  “Blessed are the poor.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  Blessed are you when others revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5)

 

May the Lord Jesus teach us to see and rightly use both kinds of beauty—the beauty you work with in the altar guild, and the beauty of the cross.

 

The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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