Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Praying with Thanksgiving

Day of Thanksgiving
November 26, 2013
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Those who don’t have much, who are scraping by, can easily become anxious. And yet, anxiety does not afflict only those who are in great need. There are plenty of people who have plenty and yet are riddled with anxiety.

The apostle Paul’s direct exhortation is “do not be anxious about anything.” That’s easy to say. It’s hard to do. Even as Christians we suffer anxiety. Paul does not say how not to be anxious. He just says, “Don’t be anxious.” About anything.

But he does give a contrary exhortation: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Do not be anxious about anything but in everything let your requests be made known to God. We are not to be anxious about anything. Conversely, in everything we are to make our requests known to God.

On further pondering, perhaps Paul is telling us how to not be anxious about anything. It is by prayer and supplication. It is by not dwelling on those things we are anxious about but rather bringing them to God in prayer.

But Paul is very specific about the prayer we offer to God. Anxiety is not simply to be done away with. Prayer to God is not simply to take its place. The kind of prayer and supplication in which we make our requests made known to God is prayer with thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This is the antidote to anxiety. Thanksgiving. You are not to be anxious about anything and you are to make your requests known to God in everything. The way you do this is by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.

When you are anxious you are caught up in what is afflicting you. When you are giving thanks, and that is in everything, there’s no opportunity for anxiety to wedge itself in. You are too busy being thankful to God in everything to be anxious. You are too filled with gratitude to consider how you are overly concerned about what is afflicting you.

Paul is not saying to ignore those things in life that are trials. Far from it. Rather than ignore, we pray! Rather than ignore those things, we give thanks for them!

That’s easy to say. It’s easy to do a New Year’s resolution kind of thing and say, “Okay, next time I’m distressed and fall into anxiety I’m going to pray instead. Instead of worrying or getting caught up in my trials, I am going to give thanks in them.” Just like so many resolutions, these attempts will quickly fall by the wayside. You will dwell on those things afflicting you. You will be anxious about them. You will forget to pray or you will be too weary, or perhaps wary, to pray. You certainly will not feel like being thankful for these trials!

So what will you do? Will you hear the words of St. Paul, do not be anxious about anything, and quickly fall into despair because you can’t overcome your anxiety by attempting to heed the exhortation? You very well may if you hear this exhortation as, You’d better turn things around you ungrateful Christian.

His exhortation is one of grace. His exhortation is one of showing you the better way. The way of anxiety leads only to being overcome by the things you’re anxious about. Being ungrateful, even for trials, only leads to not seeing that God is gracious and merciful.

The way of prayer, that is, prayer with thanksgiving, is the way in which you see that even those things you’d rather not endure are blessings from God. Because there’s another blessing He gives that you could not see otherwise.

It is the peace of God. You cannot see it otherwise because it goes beyond your ability to get a handle on it. You think you can’t overcome your trials? You’re right. And that’s a good thing. Because it’s only by the peace of God in which you will be able to not be anxious but rather rest in His grace and mercy. It is only by the peace of God that you will be guarded in your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

That’s the blessing He gives you. But it also shows you how God works this way. Namely, in Christ Jesus. In Jesus overcoming every trial that comes your way. In Jesus accomplishing what He does so that you are granted peace.

It’s not just a nice thought to be thankful in all things, including your trials. Jesus is the actual basis for you to be able to be thankful in all things. In becoming man He endured far more than we could ever imagine. The trials He endured would bring us to our knees in helplessness and despair. We would quickly see that anything we go through is a wisp compared to His suffering He endured in our place.

Through everything—His life, suffering, and death—Jesus never despaired. He was never anxious. He only gave thanks. He prayed and made supplication with thanksgiving and made His requests known to God His Heavenly Father.

Because of this, His peace, peace that surpasses all understanding, guards your heart and your mind in Him. Amen.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

More than Waiting; Watching

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Trinity
November 24, 2013
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

Today you are confronted with who you are. You are either a Christian or not. If you are not a Christian, and no one knows this but you and God, then you need to be converted. If you are not a Christian, you are unlike all ten virgins in Jesus’ parable. They all wanted in to the wedding feast, one who is not a Christian wants nothing to do with God and His party He is throwing. If you are a Christian, though, you are waiting for the Bridegroom. You believe your Lord is coming to celebrate and invite you into His party.

But as a Christian, you are still confronted with who you are. You are waiting. But are you foolish in your doing so? Or are you wise? In the Gospel reading all ten virgins are Christians. They’re all waiting for the Bridegroom. The difference is that five don’t merely wait. They are watching. They are alert.

This wisdom comes from knowing who their Lord is. He is the Bridegroom. This is His day. It is His day to celebrate, those waiting know that when He comes He will invite them in to join in His celebration. It’s not just that it’s His day and His party. It’s also His way. He will celebrate, but He’s in no rush. He will even delay His coming. That He will means that those He will gladly invite in will have to wait.

The wisdom of five of them is in leaving it up to Him. The foolishness of five of them is expecting that since He’s going to come then He’s going to come according to their timeline. There shouldn’t be anything else needed than this knowledge and trust, wouldn’t there be? Those who were wise realized that their Lord, the Bridegroom, was indeed coming, but they were content in His coming in His own time. So what if we have to wait for the party to start? He certainly knows the best time.

The difference between the foolish and the wise was not that five were non-Christians in comparison with the other five. It wasn’t that they were waiting, either. All ten were waiting. They all believed He would come. The difference between them is that the wise virgins watched while they waited. They were on the alert. They didn’t just know He was coming, they were ready for Him. Not only did they believe He would be coming, they were prepared for when He did.

The foolish? They believed He was coming, but they just thought He would come soon and so they could just hang around for a bit and then have fun at the party. There was no thought that it might be a while before the party began! So there was no preparation. They weren’t on the alert. They weren’t ready.

The Epistle reading today has something to say about this kind of preparation. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” In Jesus’ parable all the young ladies were waiting. This is who we are as Christians. We’re waiting. We know Christ is coming and so we’re waiting for Him. Those who aren’t waiting for Christ to return in glory, to welcome them into the eternal glory of heaven, aren’t Christians. Why would they wait for someone they don’t believe in?

But those of us who are Christians, we’re waiting. He has promised to return on the Last Day and so we’re waiting for Him. The question is, are we prepared? The problem with the foolish virgins isn’t that they didn’t believe. They did. They were waiting just like the wise virgins. The problem wasn’t even that they fell asleep. The wise virgins did as well. The problem is that they weren’t ready. They didn’t come prepared. The wise virgins came prepared.

If I am going on a camping trip and I check my flashlight beforehand, that is wise. But if I see that it shines a strong bright light and so determine that it’s ready to go, that’s not all that wise. If I don’t bring extra batteries, I can’t use the flashlight if the batteries die. If I bring extras batteries and someone else asks me for batteries because theirs have died, if I give them mine then I will be out of luck if my batteries die.

Christians know Jesus coming back. This is what we believe. And we know that He said that we don’t know when. So He said, “Watch.” Stay awake, as in “be alert.” Be prepared for the day, so that when it comes, you will be ready. It doesn’t mean you can’t sleep. As Paul says in the Epistle reading: “whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” As Jesus is in the Gospel reading, Paul is preparing us for the Last Day, for Jesus’ coming again in glory. Jesus tells us the nature of this event. It will be the Bridegroom returning to His home for the big party after the wedding. It will be us, Christians, waiting and then invited in to this great wedding feast.

Why is He the Bridegroom? Who is Jesus that He tells us that when He returns on the Last Day it will be as the Bridegroom, excited to welcome those of us waiting for Him into His eternal bash? It is because we Christians are the Bride of Christ. We are His Bride and He is our Bridegroom.

That’s who He is. That’s who we are. Why has He married us? Why has He desired to join with us in this eternal union of Husband and Wife? Paul tells us that also in the Epistle reading: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” The vows husband and wife take are vows of undying love, “through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part.” Our Husband, our Lord Jesus Christ, loved us to His death. It was His very death that brought us into this matrimonial union with Him. That was the wedding. The Feast is about to begin. When He returns on the Last Day we won’t have to wait for it any longer. All preparation will be fulfilled. We’ll go into the Feast and we won’t need our lamps anymore.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” The wise virgins, like all Christians, are those who are waiting. They are also the ones who are watching. They are alert, they are ready. The foolish Christians have no need of this. It’s enough just to know that they’re Christians. The wise Christians are in eager anticipation for their Lord, their Husband, the Bridegroom, to return. That’s why they are prepared. They bring oil along with them for their lamps.

Today you are confronted with who you are. You are also invited, before being invited into the Eternal Feast, to be prepared. How do you stay ready for the Day of the Lord? The lamp you have has been given to you by God Himself. The extra oil you have can only be given you by God Himself. If you have no use for the extra oil your lamp won’t do you any good because when your Lord returns you won’t be ready for Him and you’ll be shut out.

The only way you can be prepared is by waiting in the way God has given you to wait. A waiting that is a watching. A waiting that is an alert waiting. A waiting in which you, whether you are awake or asleep, are in the Lord. How did Paul say it again? “Whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” The might is in there because even though many people are Christians, many of them are foolish. They’re in the Lord, but are they living in such a way as to remain in Him? Are they alert in their waiting for Him? No, they go through the motions. They have their lamps, but that’s all they need. They don’t need all the extra oil, because they just know Christ is coming and that’s all there is to this business of being a Christian.

The wise virgins knew their Lord, the Bridegroom, was coming. But they also knew who He was. He was the one who wanted them to be in the celebration with them! How do you prepare for that? By being in the ‘pre-celebration’ of it, so to speak. If He wants to always be with us and us to always be with Him, then what are we doing if we remove ourselves from the way He comes to us now? How do we think we’ll be prepared if we are not filling our lamps with the oil of His Gospel, His forgiveness, His grace, His strength, His love? Isn’t that foolish? Isn’t it too much to ask to just to rely on your believing and you’ll be okay on the Great and Last Day?

Shouldn’t you rather be aware, daily, that you are utterly foolish on your own and that the lamp of your faith will quickly go out apart from the continual filling it up with the oil of your Lord’s Gospel? And isn’t it a little hypocritical to think that you can just believe in your Lord and not live in the way He has given you to live? In love and service to others; in humility and grace toward others?

On this day you find out who you are. And why this day? Because that’s the reading that has popped up for this day of the Church Year? No, because this is the day of salvation. It could be any day that your Lord returns, whether you are ready or not should not be left up to chance. He has given you His warning: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” If you are wise, you won’t hear this warning in fear but rather in expectation. You will hear the message of your Lord, your Bridegroom, as the one who is calling you to His Feast, His eternal celebration of His marriage to His Bride, the Holy Christian Church. You will be prepared by daily going back to your Baptism, in which you have been united with Him in His death and resurrection. You will eagerly hunger and thirst for His righteousness you are brought into here at His Table as He gives you often His body and blood. You, dear Bride of Christ, will be wise, for your Lord Himself, your Bridegroom, has made you wise unto salvation. Amen.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Knowing the Not Yet Now

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
November 17, 2013
The delay is what always gets you. Where was Moses anyway? The Israelites were hanging out down below while Moses was up on the mountain with God. But we don’t know what has become of him, the people said to Aaron. Moses was the great prophet. He led God’s people, but he didn’t need to worry about them. They were in good hands. His brother, Aaron the high priest, would keep them safely in God’s care.

Well we know how well that worked out. The people complained and Aaron promptly led them into sin. The High Priest, who was to intercede for them on behalf of God, turned them to false gods. The famous Golden Calf incident is an excellent example of how the people of God hear God’s Word but become restless when His Word does not bring about immediate results. We want something tangible, something that we can get a handle on right now. And so Aaron gave the people what they wanted.

It’s always the delay. Even Aaron was perplexed at what was taking Moses so long. Even he was not willing to take confidence in God’s word that Moses would come down from the mountain after forty days.

From the perspective of our sinful nature, God’s response here isn’t all that satisfying. He promises things and then we wait. He tells us beforehand what is to come but then we must wait for it. It is precisely because there is a delay that He tells us beforehand.

Paul, in the Epistle, takes a similar approach. Writing after Jesus had given His predictions of the End Times, Paul likewise wants us Christians to know what will take place. He says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” If there’s something you don’t know that you need to know, then it is best to be told. Paul as an apostle takes on the role Jesus did in the Gospel reading. He tells us what we need to know ahead of time.

He says, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Right now we live in this world. We know Christ is coming in glory on the Last Day, but the delay seems long. The Israelites couldn’t even wait forty days for Moses to come down from the mountain. Jesus anticipates this kind of restlessness with us, speaking even before His suffering and death, and His resurrection and ascension, of His coming again in glory on the Last Day. Everything He spoke of the end of the world was in light of where He knew He was going first. That was to the cross. His coming in glory on the Last Day is only glorious through His humiliation and suffering on account of the sins of the world. This is why Paul speaks as he does about informing us of what is to come: “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Those who are no longer as we are, living here in this fallen world, awaiting the Last Day and Christ’s glorious Return, but who have already been called Home by our Lord, they are those who, as Paul says, have fallen asleep. They will be raised on the Last Day; and why do we know this? Paul says because we believe that Jesus died and rose again.

We know this. We have been told this. It has been promised to us in the apostolic word. But we’re restless, aren’t we? It’s going to happen, but it hasn’t yet. When will it happen? When will He return again in glory? If it has been nearly two thousand years, will it be a couple more? Will it really happen? Sounds a lot like those Israelites becoming restless with the delay. Paul’s answer to this is this: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord.” Paul knows the restless nature of the sinful flesh. So it is declared beforehand. Not too long after Christ Himself declared it. And it must continue to be declared. We must continue to hear it so that we don’t lose hope. So that when we wonder at the delay we won’t have to doubt whether it will be. We will be able to know, because it has been declared to us beforehand. It is has been declared by a word from the Lord.

And it is this very kind of thing that our Lord, in the Gospel reading, is doing when He says: “See, I have told you beforehand.” There will be persecution. There will be false Messiahs. And, perhaps the most difficult of all, there will be a delay. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. You know Christ is coming again, but man, it sure seems to be taking a long time, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. And He knew this, that’s why He told us. Not only did He know it, He knows it. He knows how we flail around here, wondering if what the world says is true. If Jesus promised to return again in glory, why hasn’t He done it? You keep holding out hope that He will, but He hasn’t. Why do you continue to believe this when the delay looks more and more like an empty promise? Yes, He knows this. He is fully aware that His promise doesn’t look nearly as strong as the evidence mounted against it.

But He knows something else, and that is what He delights in making known to us. It is that this is the only promise of His that actually has not come to fulfillment. Every single other one has. That’s a pretty good track record. That actually is much more evidence towards Jesus’ promise of coming again in glory than evidence against it.

And so we hear His word to us, “See, I have told you beforehand.” You know what is coming even if you doubt it. You know what will be even if in the delay you begin to falter. He gives us His word so that we can always go back to it. And by the way, since when is the word of the world suddenly so certain and reliable? Since when does the world seek out your ultimate good and not its own? Since when does your sinful flesh become the authority and seek out what is best for you? Jesus is aware of all of this even as you are often misled and swayed by the world and your sinful nature.

So He gives you His Word. Not only has He told you beforehand, He tells you now. Not only has He spoken His word as promise and anchor, He continues to proclaim His word to you so that you may know. So that you may not get restless and wonder at the delay.

For, in fact, the only delay is the putting an end to all this fallenness and sin and sorrow of this world. He does not, in fact, delay in coming to you. Though you do not experience it in the fullness of all His glory, as you will on the Last Day, you receive all of His blessings when He comes to you. Every day you live out your Baptism. This is how your Lord first came to you. In your Baptism you were brought from your sin to new life and you live this new life every day in repentance and rising to new life. Forgiveness is the daily sustenance of your life in Christ. In Baptism, your Lord is united to you in everlasting life.

You are still joined with your sinful nature, though, aren’t you? You are still restless, struggling against temptation every day. You wonder, “When will God come and put an end to all of this struggle with sin and all the sickness I face, and the troubles I experience and all the persecution I endure in being a  Christian?” That’s why as a Baptized child of God your Lord comes to you again and again. He prepares His Supper for you often so that you make partake of His Food. It’s not simply physical sustenance that He gives you. It is Himself, coming to you in the bread and wine. Coming to you with His actual body and blood. For forgiveness. For strength. For peace that passes all understanding and even restlessness.

Since there is a delay in His coming again in glory, He comes to you often with His full forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Holy Supper. This is a foretaste of the Feast to Come which He will usher in in His coming again in glory on the Last Day. He has told you beforehand. It’s coming, but not yet. Even so, you know the not yet now. Amen.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Declaration of Dependence

All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity
November 3, 2013
On this All Saints’ Day, I hereby make known this proclamation, which shall be called The Declaration of Dependence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all saints are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable blessings, or beatitudes, that among these are being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. To this end, and with all due diligence, we renounce as saints our independence and joyfully declare our dependence on our Lord and Savior.”

On All Saints’ Day we recognize that the saints who have gone before us model the pattern for who we are as saints today. In the same way they were utterly dependent upon their Lord, so we are in utter dependence on the same Lord.

The Beatitudes don’t tell us who we should be or what we should be like, they tell us who we are and what that means for us. They tell us who we are as saints, namely, sinners who are completely dependent on Christ and His salvation. What that means for us is that we are blessed. We are in exactly the state we ought to be in. Far from being blessed because things go so well for us, we are blessed because they don’t.

As sinners we declare our independence. As saints we rejoice in our dependence. As sinners we seek glory, as saints recognize our completely humble situation.

Perhaps the first thing to recognize about being saints is that we are indeed saints. Too often we think of the saints only as the ones who have gone before us and are now enjoying the fullness of being in the presence of the Lord, as described in the first reading today from Revelation. They are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They are indeed saints. They are the holy ones, the ones God has called Home to the eternal Promised Land.

But they were once like us, weren’t they? They once were in the situation we are in: living in a fallen world, with evil and sin and sorrow all around. They too were bound up in sinful flesh as we are. However, they weren’t first declared saints when they passed from this life to the next. They were declared saints the moment they were declared justified; holy, forgiven. This happened by the Gospel, just as it does with us. This is the way the Bible talks about the saints of God. For example, when Paul and the other apostles write to their brother and sister Christians, they write to the saints in Corinth or the saints in Colossae. Saints are living, breathing human beings, whether standing before the Throne of God or struggling down here in this vale of tears.

That’s the first thing. You and I are saints. When you are Baptized, you are washed clean and declared holy. Saints are holy ones. Saints are those whose sins are forgiven. That’s who were are. We need look no further than Baptism to know this.

The second thing, then, is to realize that what it means to be a saint is to be dependent. In our sinful nature we want to be independent. We want to go our own way. We want freedom in our desires. In the Epistle reading John says that we are the children of God. Children are dependent on their parents. And thank God for that! They need their parents. Their parents are given the vocation by God to raise them, care for them, and love them. It’s good that children are dependent. This is who we saints are, we are the children of God.

That you and I are dependent on God is a very good thing. From the world’s perspective, it doesn’t look like much. The Beatitudes express this. It is a glory, but it is hidden glory. It is found in the humility and dependence of the saints of God. It is a glory that is bestowed on you. Nothing is achieved by the saints of God as Jesus describes His blessings in the Beatitudes. Everything is bestowed, given outright. Even here the world might want to have nothing to do with this, as humility and weakness coupled with nothing to achieve seems a pathetic existence.

It is, though, a very fulfilling existence and one with great purpose. When you seek to remain according to your sinful nature and your independence, you are left to yourself. In being utterly dependent on God, you are blessed with all the eternal blessings of God. That’s why Jesus doesn’t give you a list of things you need to do or to be in order to be blessed. Rather, in giving the Beatitudes, He gives a description of who the people of God are, who the saints are, and what their lives look like. And then He simply pronounces the blessings, what they receive.

What does a blessed life look like? What does it consist of? You have the things you want? Your life goes well as you would like it to? The circumstances of your life are favorable, as opposed to trying or even brutal? If these things were the evidence of being the recipient of the blessings of God, Jesus’ Beatitudes would look very different. Blessed are the strong in sprit, blessed are the powerful, blessed are those who don’t face death and trying circumstances, etc.

His Beatitudes are sobering. The poor in sprit, the ones who mourn, the ones who are meek, those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is the painting of a description of the saints of God, of His very own children, that is very unappealing to the world. Then again, how God Himself chose to reveal Himself to the world itself is not all that appealing to the world. God, who is all-powerful, was stuck inside the womb of Mary for nine months. And talk about dependence, once He was born, He was crying like every other baby, being in need of nourishment and diaper changes and cuddling from mom and dad. And while there is certainly power and spectacle attached to His miracles—think of casting out demons, healing scores of people at a time, feeding thousands at a time, even raising people from the dead—ultimately, there is one thing we must point to to see who it is that God is.

There is one thing He shows us about Himself that reveals who He is as God and what He thinks of us and does for us. If there is any scandal or offense taken for who God is, it is in this one thing, that the God of the universe not only humbled Himself to become a man but to be utterly humbled in suffering. Not only to suffer Himself to be at the mercy of those who mocked and beat Him, but to suffer at the hands of the holy God in His righteous wrath upon sinners. If people won’t want to have anything to do with the humility and the weakness of the life of being a child of God, it is because of the humility and weakness of God Himself in suffering in the place of sinners.

In the final analysis this means that you and I and every person is not a saint but a sinner. A person created by God but steeped and born in sin. Under His wrath and utterly dependent on something outside of ourselves for deliverance from our sin. In the final analysis, there is only one thing we can look to for this help, and that is the bruised and blood-stained Lord hanging on the cross. The Beatitudes can never be rightly understood or lived out apart from Jesus hanging there on that cross delivering the purest blessing of all: reconciliation with the holy God.

Because of it the holy wrathful God is the gracious God toward us who calls us His very own children. Because of the righteous wrath poured out on His Son, the God who is forever set apart from us is the God who declares us holy, His very own saints. Washed white in the blood of the Lamb.

This is how you see that the life of being a saint is very good in being a life of dependence. This is how you see that your life has purpose. Where you do not look to strength. Or power. Not in being in command of your own destiny. Rather, dependent, completely under the grace of your God who has given you His Son.

But what about all those circumstances we endure? What about the being poor in sprit, the mourning, the being meek, and the hungering and thirsting? Why is life difficult as a saint? The answer is in the Beatitudes themselves. The blessings of God are not in given through favorable circumstances, but rather the humble, the weak, even the brutal circumstances. Once you see that your independence is your downfall, because it’s really dependence on your sinful flesh and therefore your destruction, then you will see that it is good to be humbled. That in persecution you can rejoice and be glad. The same thing happened to the saints who have gone before you. The same glory they now realize is the very glory that will be given to you.

There is one more thing, lest you think that it’s something you don’t have now and must wait. It is given to you even now, though you do not realize it in the fullness of its glory. We say it in the Communion liturgy. As we gather for this Feast of our Lord at this altar, we gather with the angels and the archangels, and all the company of heaven, and therefore we laud and magnify our Lord’s glorious name, evermore praising Him. That’s why the Communion rail is designed the way it is. Instead of completing the circuit, it is stopped by the wall, as a visual way of showing you that while you gather around this half, beyond that are the saints in glory, communing with you. Blessed are you in your dependence on your Lord that you have everything you need, even all the blessings of God. Amen.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Heart of Reformation: Christ

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
October 27, 2013
What is the need for reformation? We confess in the Creed the holy Christian and apostolic Church. Is there something deficient about the Church that it needs to be reformed? Believers in Christ make up this holy Christian Church; is there something about them that is lacking, that they need to be reformed? What do we say? “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” Saints are ones who are holy. The Holy Christian Church is the Communion of the holy ones. God’s Church is holy, pure. What is the need for reformation?

The need most certainly is not with God. His Church He created is indeed pure, holy. His saints He has gathered into His Christian and apostolic Church are indeed saints. They stand in His presence without their sins counted against them, with the righteousness of Christ accounted to them. This is you. You are a saint. You are one who is holy, one who is among the Communion of Saints.

God created the universe in perfection. He has created His Church in perfection. No evil and ungodly people will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. So, no, the problem is not with God. His Church does not need reformation, because, man, He just didn’t quite it right the first time; so we’ll try it again; we’ll reform it.

The problem, and therefore the need for reformation, is with you and me. You and I are saints. But you and I do not live as we ought, do we? You and I sin, don’t we? We fall short of the glory of God. You and I reject the notion that we are in bondage, don’t we? If you don’t think this is so, consider this: the fact that you sin shows that you reject the notion you are in bondage; just like those people Jesus was speaking to in the Gospel reading.

You don’t fully realize the bondage you’re in. That’s why you do things you know are wrong and against God’s will. You act on your emotions or you plan ahead of time how you are going to get back at someone. But you don’t even need to act on these things to willfully sins against God. Your thoughts alone condemn. The disgraceful thoughts you think toward others. The egotistical things you think about yourself. The way you go through the motions regarding God’s Word and being a steward of the time, and the abilities, and the money and possessions God has given to you. The way you hoard your things for yourself instead of being freely giving of them to serve others.

You are in bondage and you don’t even realize it. You minimize your sin. Well, that’s just the way we are, right? We can’t help sinning, so it’s not like I can do anything about it. I may be in bondage, but I can’t help it, so there’s nothing I can do about it, right?

Wrong. Stop sinning. Stop doing those things you have rationalized away. Stop thinking ill toward others and start praying for them. Better yet, reach out to them and befriend them and love them and find ways you can serve them and help them. Instead of going through the motions, be deliberate in your devotional reading of God’s Word, and your study of God’s Word in Bible Class, and your hearing of God’s Word in the worship service. Put yourself in the background and hear what God has to say to you, not what you would like to hear.

Only the truth will make you free. Your sinful nature would like for you to think that you are free already. The world and Satan would like for you to go their way because then you will not be bound by the rigidness of God’s holy will. You will be able to fudge a little or lie a little or spread a little gossip or not take to heart God’s Word or ignore the person who needs your help. Only the truth will make you free. The truth is, you are a sinner. The truth is, you are not free. The truth is, you are condemned already, you are in eternal bondage. Jesus said, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

The Jews Jesus was talking to wouldn’t hear anything about being slaves. They were offspring of Abraham. They were the recipients of the promise of God to Abraham and his descendents that they would be the ones who would inherit the earth. They weren’t slaves. But that’s the problem with our sinful nature. It wants its freedom according to the ways of the world. It doesn’t want to hear of the Law of God, which strikes through the sinful heart. You are in bondage. You are a sinner, and unless you realize this and confess it and repent of it, you will remain in your bondage; you will remain in your condemnation; and it will be forever.

Only the truth will set you free. Jesus comes with the truth. The freedom He brings is not freedom to do what you wish but freedom from your sin and freedom from the condemnation for your sin. The freedom He brings is freedom He brings about. It is not a plan for your escape from this bondage or even a guiding you out of it. It is freedom that He actually brings about. He says in the Gospel reading, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” He doesn’t say that you must become free but that He sets you free.

There are billions of people who have walked the earth, all of them sinners. All of them in bondage. You and I are numbered among them. You and I share the same condemnation. The Epistle reading says, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is one among all, though, who likewise has walked this earth, but with this distinction: He alone is without sin. Pure, holy, unstained. Jesus walked this earth for one purpose, to set you free from sin. There is only one who accomplished the entire Law God requires of us. It is this one. There is only one who has suffered the condemnation for sinners in the place of sinners. It is this one. There is only one who was confirmed in His accomplishing of salvation by rising from the dead. It is this one.

The Son sets you free. You don’t. You don’t even try. You keep sinning. You “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And yet, even as all are in sin and don’t measure up to the glory of God, the Epistle reading says further: all “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

At the heart of your life is yourself. Your sinful nature makes certain of that. You are in bondage to your sin and your sinful flesh. That is why you need to be set free. That is why you need reformation. The heart of reformation is not you, or doing what pleases God, or trying to overcome your sin. The heart of reformation is Christ. The Son sets you free. Jesus, the Son of God, your Lord and Savior, frees you from the bondage of your sin.

The Son sets you free. You want to remain in your sin. Remain in His Word. Rest in it, abide in it. Here is reformation. Here is Christ, for you, for eternity. Amen.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus?

Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2013
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? As Christians, we believe in Jesus. It would seem self-evident that we know what that means. Since today’s Gospel reading Jesus teaches us exactly that, let’s go with the assumption that we need to understand what it means to believe in Him. To understand what it means to believe in Jesus is to know that understanding Him is only part of the equation. There is an aspect of intellectually grasping that Jesus is true God even as He is true man. Not that we can understand this. But we can intellectually know that Jesus is no mere man, that He is truly God, and conversely, that God actually came in the flesh in the person of Jesus.

But actual faith, belief in Jesus, is not simply intellectual understanding. If it were, the man in the Gospel reading would not have started going back home to his son. He asked Jesus to come to his home in order to heal his son. When Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live,” the man went. He believed Jesus. It’s simply not possible that he understood intellectually how Jesus would bring his son from imminent death to full restoration. Especially since the man requested Jesus to come to his son. Jesus simply spoke to the man. Your son is going to live. You can go to him.

That the man did shows us what faith is. This is what it means to believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus is not intellectual understanding. Nor is it a general notion that God is all-powerful or that He is loving. It is specific. It is concentrated into one thing, and that is Christ. To be even more specific, it is God in the flesh. Jesus is true God and is known to us as the Person who walked this earth and did things like restore a child to life without even seeing him or going to him.

The man’s initial request actually was met with a rebuke from Jesus. Too many people refused to believe in Him unless they witnessed the miraculous. You won’t believe in Me simply because I say I am who I say I am. You must see Me do something to prove it, and then you will believe. But Jesus’ rebuke is not met with resistance or rationalization. It’s met with a simple plea. Lord, my son is going to die, please come.

At this, all rebuke is washed away. He does for the father what the father has requested. His son will live. Jesus will restore his little boy to a life in which he will play and go to school and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But Jesus did this in a way the man didn’t request. Jesus didn’t go with the man. He didn’t lay His hands on the boy. He simply told the man his son would live. And what did this man do? He believed. He went as Jesus told him. Far from requiring miraculous signs, the man took Jesus at His word. When he found out exactly when his son began to recover he was pleased to know that his faith was not in vain. Everyone in his family believed this simple thing. What was it? It was the word of Jesus.

This is what it means to believe in Jesus. It is something very specific. It is not something He does which conforms to our conditions. It is rather the gift given which He gives by speaking it. What it actually is is the Word of God that is given. The Word of God is the Person of Jesus Himself. He is the Word made flesh. The eternal God became a human being.

The man had heard about Jesus. Jesus had indeed performed some miraculous signs. I will go to Him and ask Him to come do the same for my son. Nothing else can prevent him from dying. What the man got was the Word of God. Jesus stood before Him and spoke to him, “Your son will live. You can go back to him now.”

The true miracle Jesus performed was speaking faith into that man. He believed, yes. But his request of Jesus was according to his own conditions. Jesus dispels him of any such notions. If you are going to believe, simply believe. Your request is that your son be spared death. That is all you need. I bring it about simply by bringing it about, not by corresponding to your conditions.

And because Jesus spoke faith into that man, he believed. He spoke no further. There were no protestations. No, “Are You sure you won’t come down to my house, you know, just to make sure he’ll be all right, just to make sure that there’s nothing more needed like You placing Your hands on him?” No, the man believed and went home. He found exactly what Jesus had said.

And of course, Jesus had said it. That’s what it means to believe in Jesus. It is to take Him at His word. It is not to think that you somehow have a part in it. Or that there must be certain conditions placed on it.

This teaches us four things about faith:

First, faith goes to the source. It goes directly to Jesus. It holds fast to Him. It doesn’t look within. If you are looking within yourself for some sort of feeling or confirmation, that is not faith. That is you sinful nature. Your sinful nature looks within. Faith looks to Christ.

Second, faith receives. Faith is utterly humble, recognizing that of yourself you are nothing in the presence of Christ. You will never believe unless you see signs and wonders. Faith does not count on itself to muster itself up. It simply, and humbly, receives. It hears the word of Christ and rejoices in it. It doesn’t rejoice in itself. Look at how wonderful my faith is! It sure is such a good thing I have strong faith! No, it simply, and humbly, hears Christ. This is nothing other than flowing out of number one—faith always, always goes back to the source. It also goes back to Christ and receives Him.

Third, faith is bold. Since faith receives from Christ what Christ Himself delivers, faith is bold. It has to be! If it’s timid, it’s not faith. Or at least it’s weak faith. Faith that looks to Christ, that clings to Christ, that humbly receives what Christ offers, that faith is bold. Because it simply responds back to Christ what Christ Himself has delivered in the speaking of His Word and has imparted to you.

Fourth, faith is never alone. It is not static. It is dynamic. It is alive. It brings along with it acts of love and service and compassion. It lives itself out in serving others and loving them in Christ-like love.

That faith is centered in Christ and is authored and perfected by Christ, as it says in Hebrews, means that it never rests in itself. No, it is produced by Christ and then sustained by Him. When He gives you faith, He gives you His Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit strengthens you in faith in the Gospel and the Sacraments. How can you be sustained in faith if you remove yourself from those ways He comes to you to sustain you in your faith? How can you serve Him if you are not being equipped by Him in the very means through which He equips you?

In these means the Holy Spirit delivers to you what Christ accomplished in His suffering and dying on the cross. Faith latches on to that. This is what it means to believe in Jesus. Amen.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everything Is Ready

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
October 13, 2013
One thing about Jesus, He can tell a story. Some of His parables are beautiful pictures of the grace and love of God. They come to mind when we want a picture of what kind of love God has for us and how He loves us. The prodigal son, the shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep, and so on. Today’s Gospel reading presents to us a rich, beautiful picture with a king and the lavish feast he prepares for his guests. It’s a marvelous image of all that God prepares and His gracious invitation.

But there’s something about this parable that is jarring. If you’ve ever been to a family gathering and relatives began arguing, it certainly mars the occasion. The Church is a family, and it’s sad to say, but things such as voters’ meetings sometimes have brother and sister Christians treating each other in very un-Christian ways.

This beautiful picture of the wedding feast of the king for his son is marred by the callous rejection of the invitees. It’s not just that they said, “No thanks, we have other things going on,” it’s that some of them made sport of their refusal. And what is sport to some is heinous by most peoples’ standards. Some of those invited to the feast “seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” What is going on here? Why such a horrific reaction to a gracious invitation?

And if this beautiful picture of the wedding feast and gracious invitation doesn’t come to a jarring halt with the actions of those who were invited, we are further jolted by the response of the king. “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” What should have been a joyous event turned into a murderous spree and the king responding in kind, putting the murderers to death and burning their city.

The thing about parables is that they’re stories. Stories come in two kinds. There are ‘true stories,’ as they’re often called, stories about actual events. And then there are fictional stories, or as some like to refer to them, ‘not real.’ Even so, fictional stories, that is, stories that don’t recount actual events, often are told for the purpose of delivering truth. The events recounted may not be actual, but the truth conveyed by the telling of the events is most definitely real.

This ultimately is why Jesus is such a good story-teller. It’s not just that He’s good at telling stories, and He is. It’s that what He is bringing across in the telling of the stories, is the truth. And it’s not just stuff that’s true. It’s the Truth, as in capital T truth. He is telling His parables in order to proclaim to us the ultimate truth of the Gospel.

That’s the reason why some of His parables end up being so jarring. Why we have regular people responding to an invitation with murder. Why we have the king dealing with that response with putting them to death. Why when the wedding feast is finally filled with guests, there’s a man who has no wedding garment and the king throws him out into utter darkness, where there is eternal torment.

This kind of stuff doesn’t sound like Gospel to us. Somewhere deep down we wish these kinds of things didn’t roll off the tongue of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’d much rather hear the good stuff, the beautiful portrayals of God’s rich grace and mercy and love. We’d rather not have to come to terms with the murdering stuff, and the casting out into eternal darkness stuff. Where’s the Gospel in that? Where’s the love? Where’s the grace?

It’s in this. It’s in Jesus’ brilliance as a story-teller. You can be a great story-teller and still not tell the ultimate truth. When Jesus tells His story it’s always about the ultimate truth. It is the Gospel. The Gospel is pure grace. The Gospel is the pure love of God. It is the pure giving of all blessings on the part of God with no conditions attached to it.

The sad fact is, and this why Jesus speaks the way He does, is that some people reject this pure Gospel. Some people want nothing to do with the grace of God. Some disdain the pure love of God and His gifts and blessings. Jesus knows this. He knows that we sinful people are inclined to disregard the love of God. He knows this and so He speaks to it. His beautiful picture of the grace of God is marred, so to speak, by the brutal details of rejection and murder and casting into utter darkness, because we sinners mar His gracious invitation of eternal glory.

Jesus is not afraid to speak the truth. He does it because it’s His love for us that drives Him to be utterly honest with us. He has prepared a lavish feast and we so often disdain it. That’s why He speaks as He does about the brutal details. This is His warning to us. It is His making us aware that we shouldn’t take lightly the gracious invitation God extends to us. It is to our eternal peril if we do.

The only way the Gospel can be given is with another message first given. It is the Law. The Law is the opposite of grace. The Law is not a message of a gift given, but of demands that must be met. It is the message that you do not meet that demand. It is the message that you are therefore under condemnation. That’s jarring, there’s no doubt. It’s not what we want to hear. We want to go straight to the part that sounds good. But Gospel apart from Law is no Gospel.

On the cross Jesus dealt with the demands of the Law. In other words, Jesus didn’t just die because that was part of the plan. Jesus suffered on the cross for the very purpose of meeting the demands of the Law. What God demanded of you He exacted of His Son. What God rightfully ought to have demanded of you, He laid on His Son. And when the righteous holy wrath of God was assuaged in forsaking His only-begotten Son, His only-begotten Son declared, “It is finished.” The sin of the world was paid for. The atonement of God with the world was accomplished. The peace of God toward the crown of His creation shone brightly. God and man were now at peace. Jesus Christ accomplished it all. The proof of this was the resurrection of Christ. In rising from the grave, God was saying, “What My Son accomplished in suffering and dying is good for every person for all eternity.”

It is finished. It is accomplished. It has all been done. Everything is ready. There’s nothing left to do but prepare a Feast. A rich feast. An eternal feast. A feast so lavish that it defies description. Perhaps the best that can be done is what Christ Himself did in saying, simply, “Everything is ready.” Everything, as in, there is nothing else that is needed, or can be done, or might need to be worked out somewhere down the line, or that you might have to worry about at some point. If you want to know what you need to know for your sin and how God has dealt with it, look at the cross and Jesus’ words, “It is finished.” These words flow right into the King’s words, “Everything is ready.”

All you need to do is, well, nothing. I suppose you could say that you need to enjoy it, and rejoice in it, and give thanks for it, and believe that it’s true. You might point out that it would be a good thing to marvel at the amazing invitation of God to participate in such a feast. But none of that wouldn’t really be doing anything, would it? No, it couldn’t be, because, as Jesus said, “Everything is ready.” Everything has been done. All has been accomplished, and you simply get to enjoy it.

It is the Eternal Feast. It is eternal glory in the presence of God. You don’t experience it in the fullness of this glory yet, because your Lord has not returned in glory yet. That will come in His own good time. In the meantime, every time at this His Table He prepares His Feast for you it is this Feast of everlasting glory. When you partake of this Feast, partaking of His body and blood, you are participating in this Feast with angels, archangels, and countless Christians who have gone before you, the whole company of heaven. You are participating in it in the fullness of its blessings even as it is not in the fullness of its glory. And yet it is nevertheless a foretaste of the Feast to Come.

Every time He prepares His Meal here for you, His invitation is the same: everything is ready. There’s nothing you need to do. You don’t have to bring something with you or think of something nice you can do for Him. In repentance and humility you see that your sins make you very undeserving of this rich and lavish gift. But your Lord tells you that it is for these sins He gives you this rich and lavish gift, forgiving your sins in it.

Jesus tells it straight. Our sins require that. If you want to hear Him speak of His grace and love, consider the prayer we prayed in the Collect of the Day: “O Lord, grant to Your faithful people pardon and peace that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve You with a quiet mind.” It is through pardon and peace. It is through being cleansed from our sins. Only then may we serve our Lord with a quiet mind. And when we wonder, how exactly does this happen? How do I know it’s real, because I don’t necessarily feel it, and I sometimes have doubts about it. There is a way we end every Collect, and it’s almost always the same: “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” How? It is through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord. He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

This is the God who extends His invitation to you, here at this altar often, and for eternity in heaven, “Come, for everything is ready.” Amen.