Thursday, November 29, 2007

When Will Jesus Come?

We all know the most famous prayer of the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer. But do you know what the last prayer of the Bible is? If you don’t know, it’s easy to find because it’s at the very end of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). This is the response of the apostle John—and the entire Church—to Jesus’ words Himself, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:19).

These words might be familiar to us as the opening words of the “common table prayer”: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”

The Lord’s Prayer is the preeminent prayer of the Christian Church. But the last prayer of the Bible is not a bad one to keep in mind in our daily life. It is even found in the Lord’s Prayer as the second petition (“Thy kingdom come”).

This prayer really captures the Work of God in bringing salvation to human beings. He does it by bringing Himself to people. Jesus, who is God, comes to earth. He comes as a baby/man. He comes to His people in His Holy Supper. He comes to His people in the Gospel, spoken and proclaimed. And He will come again in glory on the Last Day.

The answer to the question “When will Jesus come?” is really a “now/not yet” answer. When it’s asked when Jesus will come again on the Last Day, the answer is that we don’t know, but it’s not yet. But when the question is asked, when does God come to save His people, the answer is that He has already come and continually comes to His people.

God has come to you in your Baptism. He comes to you at His altar when you receive His Body and Blood. He comes to you when you hear that word of forgiveness spoken to you by His servant in the absolution. He comes to you when you hear the Gospel proclaimed to you in all its comfort.

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off?” (Jeremiah 23:23). That’s why He has given us the prayer He has given us. We pray to Him to come to us because He has promised to come to us.

We are weak. We need His help. “But You, O Lord, do not be far off! O You my help, come quickly to my aid!” (Psalm 22:19). He has come to us in our need. He comes to bring help:

“I bring near My righteousness; it is not far off, and My salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel My glory.” (Isaiah 46:13)

We know Christ will come again in glory because He has been faithful to His promises. He has always come to His people. He will come again.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Path to Life Goes through Death

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Luke 23:27-43

We have to change the way we think about death. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is on the path that leads to death. We usually don’t spend our time thinking about the end of the world, but today in the Church Year we are reminded that it is coming. On the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are reminded that this will all pass away. We will all one day die. The question is, what does that mean?

We don’t want to die, but we will. We don’t want to think about death, but we should. Jesus here helps us not only to think about death but to prepare properly for death. Part of thinking about life is thinking about death.

But not just our own death. Jesus’ death. This is what it is all about, really. That’s why this passage has been chosen for the Last Sunday of the Church Year. It’s always about Christ’s death. The apostle Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified.” And, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” It is always about that, here in this life, and in eternity.

What is the vision the apostle John receives in the Book of Revelation? The Lamb who was slain. Eternal life comes through death. Our life eternally with God in heaven is through the death of God’s Son on Calvary. Our life is like a path. The path is leading to life with God, but it goes through death.

On this last day of the Church Year there are people with Jesus on the path to death. A multitude, in fact, and women who are mentioned in particular. The path to death is never without sorrow. How could this be happening to Jesus? The women expressed what all decent people would, it was wrong for an innocent man to be treated this way and to have to march the path to death.

But Jesus doesn’t see it this way at all. If you think this is bad, brace yourselves. Don’t weep for me but for yourselves and your children. Be aware that there will come a time when the fortunate ones will be those who don’t have to fear the loss of their children because they had none in the first place. Prepare for the time when you will long to be overtaken by a quick and painless end to the suffering.

This is truly remarkable that Jesus has no thought for Himself as He walks the path of death. Always with His eyes on others. With His thoughts toward those who are not in the dire condition He is in. Jesus shows us here, even before He dies, why He did. Why He chose that path to death. He was always looking out for us.

There were also two particular individuals on that path to death with Jesus. Two criminals. These two men represent all mankind. This is our warning to us what Jesus was talking about when He spoke to the women. If you think it’s bad now, just wait and see. Here we see this in the flesh. These two men are going to die. They are on the path to death. We are told why—they are criminals. They deserve it.

But we also see something remarkable from one of them. One of them realizes that there’s something very different from the one in the middle to the ones on each side of Him. They are there because they deserve it; Jesus is there but is innocent. One of them joins in reviling Jesus. The other criminal rebukes the criminal who’s reviling Jesus. Luke doesn’t tell us which one, the one on Jesus’ left or right, but in the great picture Jesus gives elsewhere of Judgment Day He separates the sheep from the goats, the sheep on His right, the goats on His left.

In that picture there’s a difference between what each say to Jesus. Those on His left, the goats, are stunned that Jesus the Judge would condemn them to eternal judgment. Those on His right know that they have no appeal to make for themselves. They are surprised that Jesus is not giving them the same judgment as the goats.

We seek glory without judgment. Life without death. The rulers and soldiers could not be convinced of Jesus’ claim of being God since He was hanging there on a cross. But if He came down! That would be a whole different ballgame! But there is one small light in the midst of this scene. The one who realizes he’s there because he deserves it. He has nothing to offer Christ. He simply sees that in this dying man’s grace and mercy is something beyond what you and I know so well: this life. This life will end in death, just like those criminals.

And yet it was in that very death of Christ that that man’s prayer was granted. “Remember me in paradise.” “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Because of Christ’s death and the Holy Spirit’s bringing us to new life in Baptism our Lord’s words apply to us as well at the close of our life: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

The path to life goes through the death of Jesus Christ. A seed does not sprout to life without dying. There is no life without suffering. There is no eternal life without the suffering of Christ. He died that we may live. He walked the path of death so that we may go through it to life eternal. Amen.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Look Up and See Your Redemption

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Luke 21:5-28

In the Church Year we’re in the last part, with our focus on the end times. The Chargers this year were supposed to be better than last year. Last year looked like it was going to be their year to go all the way until it all suddenly vanished before their eyes in the playoffs. This year looked like an even better chance of being their year since they looked even better. But this season has been looking more like it’s the end times for them.

Well, sports are just sports when all is said and done. For fans, they’re entertaining, but they don’t ultimately matter. Even for those who are really into sports, there are things that are more important in life.

Some things come out of the blue like the fires we experienced not long ago. Things like sports pale in comparison. The war against terrorism continues to rage on and the horror of war is especially felt in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in our free country there’s enough crime and pain and misery to go around to remind us that things could always be worse than not playing well on the football field.

Thinking about even a few of the tragedies around the world is discouraging. If we were to take all the suffering on the global scale upon our own shoulders we would be crushed under the weight. There are people tortured by their own leaders, people ravaged by natural disasters, people that are starving to death. Sometimes it’s easier not to think about all that stuff.

But things even hit us close to home, don’t they? The wars and the rumors of war might seem tame in light of the sting of harsh words our loved ones speak to us. The loss of our possessions in a disaster might pale in comparison with the loss of respect of someone you love or being deceived by someone you trust. Not having enough to eat might seem a small thing when held up against a longing, a searching for real meaning in life. When you’ve tried everything and come up short, the despair is like a hunger that can never be satiated.

All of this brings us to today. Though it’s not part of the Church Year, in our congregation it’s Commitment Sunday. Commitment Sunday may for some of us be one of those days we think about on the day of it and that’s it. It doesn't seem to come into play in day to day life. We’ve got a lot going on in our lives. We have all the struggles in the world and in our lives weighing on us. What does Commitment Sunday have to do with all of that?

It never struck me until this past week, but our Commitment Sunday always coincides with the end of the Church Year. I wonder if this tells us something about it. What does Jesus talk about in His dissertation on the end times? That it’s going to be tough. The odds not only will be against us but will be severe. He who endures to the end will be saved.

It’s easy to be committed to something that brings you great satisfaction. But our commitment wavers when the seas get rough. That’s why Jesus doesn’t tell us about the end times and simply leave it up to us to be the tough that get going when the going gets rough.

What He does is first tell us that it’s going to be tough. And yes, He does tell us that we better put our cammies on because this won’t be a walk in the park. But the main thing He tells us is that the very fact that all this stuff around us is happening is a sign that He is still God. That He is at work. That our redemption is at hand.

God didn’t look down upon the world and just shake His head that it was going to pot. He didn’t pour out His wrath upon all, putting an end to it all. No, He came down into the midst of it all. The sadness, the tragedies, the wars, the famines, the family struggles. Jesus placed His hands on the lepers. He comforted the bereaved. He ate with the prostitutes and the outcasts. He spent time with the hardened sinners, caring enough for them not to give up on them.

He himself took upon our human flesh. He Himself suffered—being reviled, being threatened, going hungry. He Himself was brutally beaten though every act He did and word He spoke was out of kindness and compassion. He himself suffered the effects of guilt, though He was guilty of nothing. He Himself suffered the punishment for sin, though He is without sin. He Himself took on a servant’s heart though it was the way of difficulty.

God never snaps His fingers and makes everything bad go away. Our world and often our lives are in a world of hurt. He comes to us in our hurt. He doesn’t magically take all the troubles away. But He does meet them head on. When the world is going to pot, Jesus is in the midst of it. When all these things are happening, He says: Look up, and see that your redemption is drawing near.

When His disciples and loved ones looked up and saw Him hanging in a bloody mess on the cross they didn’t see salvation. They saw sorrow. They saw their loved one moments away from lifelessness. We can look now at that cross and see life. Redemption. Salvation. Joy out of suffering, eternal pleasure out of pain.

Look up, and see your redemption. Here at His very altar your Lord comes to you in the midst of your sin-filled and burdened life to give you redemption. As His disciples and loved ones looked up and saw His body hanging on the cross and His blood being poured out, so we see in Him our salvation, His very body and blood given and shed for us. He has taken away your sin and guilt and sorrow and gives you instead forgiveness, life, and salvation. This isn’t instead of all those trials going on in the world and in your life—it’s in the midst of them.

When you see them; when they happen to you, look up and see your redemption. Your salvation has come to you. Your Lord and Savior is your life and salvation. Amen.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

"The God of the Baptized"

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Luke 20:27-40

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. You may know someone like that. When you die, that’s it. You cease to exist. The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus: So if what you’re saying is really true, that there’s life after death, then how will this woman be the wife of all seven men since she was married to each of them?

We believe in the resurrection. We believe in heaven. But we have questions, too, don’t we? Why would God give us marriage for this lifetime only to take it away in the age to come? Why do we love and cherish our spouse only to have that end at death? What will our relationships with each other be in heaven?

God established marriage so that humanity could reflect the communion of God—He is a relational God. Marriage was also given to multiply and fill the earth. Because of the fall, God also established marriage so that we may receive the promise of a Savior in the seed of the woman. Specifically for Christians, marriage reflects that spiritual union of Christ and His bride, the Church, who now waits for His return in glory.

Even though we don’t deny the resurrection and heaven, we can’t comprehend its glory. Even if we were to think of the most spectacular thing we could imagine, that wouldn’t come close to describing the perfection of heaven. Spouses who are sad that they won’t be married in heaven are sad because of their love for each other, even as they are not realizing that in heaven their love for each other will be even better than it is now because it will be perfect. God hasn’t made it this way to take away our joy and love for each other but to increase it.

Similar to marriage, we rejoice that God gives us parents. We certainly aren’t aware of the care they give us when we’re infants. But when we grow up, especially if we have our own children, we are grateful for all the energy our parents spent in caring for us. Tatum and Noah don’t know anything that’s going on today or since they’ve been born, but they sure are being loved and cared for by their parents.

Yet, when they’re in heaven, their immediate relationship with their parents will not be as daughter and son but as brother and sister in Christ. What would we do in this life without our parents? Who would take care of us, especially in those first years where we’re unable to take care of ourselves? Not only does God provide for us by giving us parents, as Christians He also gives us a picture of the love our Heavenly Father has for us. How He provides for us spiritually and eternally. We are sons and daughters of the eternal God.

You see, the resurrection from death changes everything. We weren’t created to die. Sin brought about our death. Sadly, we live in that spiritual death by continuing to sin. We need to be delivered from that. That’s why God will raise us from our grave on the Last Day. That’s why Jesus conquered the grave in His resurrection.

Though we may not like to admit it, we too often are like the Sadducees when our thoughts are more on the things of this world rather than the life of glory to come. When we’re born, we’re born into sin. That’s why God gives us new birth. That’s why rejoice today with Tatum and Noah. They’ve been given new birth in Baptism. The way Jesus says it in the Gospel reading is this: “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead.” Baptism is how we are considered to be worthy by God and how we attain to the resurrection from the dead.

What Jesus said is true: God is not the God of the dead but of the living. We could say it this way: He is not the God of the dead but of the Baptized. You once were dead—dead in your sins. Now you are alive! Alive in Christ. Alive forever. Because God is eternal and has given you life that is eternal. You will see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob face to face. You will see your Christian parents face to face. You will see all your loved ones in Christ face to face because death cannot hold you. Your sin cannot hold you. Christ put it all to death. And death could not hold Him. He is alive forever and that’s why true life is in Him.

There’s quite a contrast to these two babies here today and those Christians who have lived a long life on this earth. Growing comes with trials and struggles against sin. In other words, we Christians are facing death every day until we get to heaven. The struggle against our sinful flesh is a struggle against spiritual death.

Part of the problem is that it may not seem like such a serious matter. Today in our country we observe Veterans Day. Talk to a veteran who has come face to face with death. When you’ve come face to face with death the rest of your life takes on a whole new meaning. When we begin to see that our struggle with sin is coming face to face with death our Baptism takes on a whole new meaning.

That’s what we need to see in our Baptism. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Since we have new life—eternal life—in Baptism, He is the God of the Baptized. When you wonder what is to come beyond this life, look to your Baptism—God is the God of the Baptized. When you struggle with the things of this life—sin, trials, doubts—remember your Baptism, God is the God of the Baptized.

Once you were dead in sin. Baptized into Christ you have life and are His child forever. He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are Baptized. He is your God forever. Amen.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Good Place to Be

All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Matthew 5:1-12

Are you hurting? Has someone you love spoken words to you that still ring in your ears and sting as if you were hearing it for the first time?

Are you feeling low? Are things so far out of your control that you wonder if God is in control?

Are you struggling with a particular sin? One that is on your mind a lot? One that racks you with guilt when you do it but that finds its way back into your desire?

Do you feel like your growth as a Christian is more like taking three steps forward and two steps back? Do you read the Bible and the words seem to fall flat?

Do you just go through the motions in life? In your faith? Are you so caught up in the day to day things that have to get done that you wonder where the meaning is to all of it?

If any of these things resonate with you then you might realize that you have an even more serious problem than these things that are disconcerting to you:

Why is it that you’re a Christian if you’re having these struggles? Isn’t being a Christian supposed to be better than not being a Christian? Doesn’t God promise to bless His people?

And yet, here we are with all kinds of struggles; with sins we continue to commit; with envy of some of those who aren’t Christians and yet who seem to not have all the problems or cares that we do.

So where is our answer? If we compare our ourselves and our situation to those in the world who don’t have a care for God then we’ll find ourselves wondering if they might really be better off.

Or, we could do what God’s people have always done: listen to the Word of God. It’s true, God’s people haven’t always done this well. At times they’ve neglected the Word of God or disobeyed the Word of God. But the Word of God has always been there.

Certainly before you and I were around. In fact, before anything that exists came into being, the Word of God was in existence. But not only is the Word of God words that are spoken or written, but Jesus Himself is the Word made flesh. He is the eternal Word and in today’s Gospel reading He speaks in one of the more famous parts of the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount.

When Jesus speaks, He brings about what He says. He is not just imparting information. The Beatitudes are not just beautiful sayings. It’s telling that you could go into a gift shop, or even the house of worship of a religion other than Christianity, and see the Beatitudes shown as inspirational material.

These words are not just telling us what we need to be like so that we may be blessed. They are telling us who Christ is and how we are blessed in Him. We are blessed because He brings it about. He blesses us through His speaking the blessing to us and placing it upon us.

How He does this is by showing us Who He is, not how we are to be. We already know how we are—we fail miserably at trying to be who Jesus calls us to be. Rather, when we see the Beatitudes, we see Christ.

And when that very Christ speaks His words to us He speaks into existence His righteousness in us. By His speaking His blessings to us we are blessed. God did not become human flesh just to tell us what to do. He did it to give us Himself.

When He speaks of the poor in spirit He speaks of who we are in Himself. It’s one thing to be poor. It’s another to be poor in spirit. Those of us who struggle as we do as Christians struggle because our sinful nature is powerful. It’s constantly trying to get the upper hand in our lives.

But we also struggle because because it’s tough to be a Christian. Christ didn’t save us to take away all our problems, He saved us to deliver us from our sin. And just as He saved us because we needed to be saved He likewise helps us because we need help!

We have no claim on God of ourselves, as shown by our struggle with sin and our struggles in general. He alone can provide all we need.

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” If you look at all the Beatitudes you will see the common theme of being poor in spirit. Of being humble and lowly.

Jesus is showing us that though He is God He has become poor for our sakes. Paul says in 2 Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”

This really puts a different perspective on our struggles! While we find ourselves wishing to be free of them our Lord embraced them! He became as we are yet without sin. And even more, He died for our sin!

Isaiah points us to our Savior: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted.” We are blessed because Jesus has come to us in our need.

We truly are poor. We are truly in need. Christ comes to us with His blessing. Namely, He comes to us with Himself. In our Baptism. In His Holy Supper.

Are we at times down and out? Do we struggle with sin? Are we at times not happy where we’re at as Christians? Christ comes to us where we’re at.

That’s a good place to be. Amen.