Sunday, November 30, 2008

Need to Know Basis

First Sunday in Advent
Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2008
Mark 13:24-37

Beginning tomorrow the month of December will occur. Today is the last day of this month and after December it will be the first day of January. These two days, January 1 and today, have something in common: both days begin a new year. New Year’s Day, of course, begins the new calendar year and today begins the new Church Year. On January 1 we will look ahead, wondering what new challenges and opportunities the new year will bring. Some things will stay that same, but there will be new things that come our way. In the Church Year, we know exactly what will happen. We know the festivals and the seasons, when they’ll happen, what we’ll be celebrating and observing on particular days. The Church Year is all about what has happened.

The calendar year is all about what is ahead of us, what we will do. The Church Year is all about what God has done for us and what that means for us in our lives and for eternity. The reason God gave us the Bible is so that we could know what we need to know. Sometimes that means being aware of what we don’t know. Jesus is telling us in the Gospel reading of things that we know and of things that we can’t know. We will know when we’re in the End Times, but we don’t know when the end will come. Jesus lays out the things we will know and the things we won’t.

What we know is the signs of the times; that’s how we’ll know when we’re in the End Times. Looking at His description, what we know is that we’re in them. The end is near. Jesus is warning of us of the end and that it is near. He’s equally clear that we don’t know exactly when it will come. On that we’re on a need to know basis, and we don’t need to know. The angels don’t know either. I wonder if they spend time time wondering why they don’t know, that they’re in the same boat with us on this. I doubt not. Because they’re content. They’re on a need to know basis also, but content that they know all they need to know. Being in the presence of Jesus Christ is enough for them because it’s everything. The fact that He knows is enough for them. They know that His knowing, and His decision that they don’t need to know, is enough for them. And that should be enough for us, as well. We don’t need to know because our Lord has told us that we don’t need to know. If we did know, where would our need for trust in Him be?

Still, it’s hard, isn’t it? Children always want to know what they’re parents are keeping from them. We’re the same way with God. When He keeps something from us, that’s what we want. We’re not content with what He gives us—which is countless blessings.

Perhaps it will help us to know that Jesus speaks of that which He knows, so to speak. In other words, when He is saying that no one knows the hour of His Return in glory, He says that even of Himself! What?! He doesn’t know? How can that be? It seems to be a denial on His part of His deity. He is true God—we believe that, we confess it, He claims it. And yet, here He is, saying that even He doesn’t know when He Himself will return in glory on the Last Day. Remarkable. Even troubling. Why does He say it? And how is it true?

He says it because it’s true. It’s true because He is God and can do anything. Including becoming man. Including laying aside the full use of His glory and power in order to live on this earth as a man, in flesh and blood as you and I do. Including humbling Himself to be born of a woman and suffer at the hands of men like you and me. Including submitting Himself to the Heavenly will of His Father even though He is one with Him. Including placing Himself in the position of being on a need to know basis, although He Himself is true God of true God and knows all things in heaven and on earth.

Jesus is not just saying that you and I don’t know. Not just that the angels don’t know. He is saying that He Himself doesn’t know. He is saying that though He is very God of very God He has humbled Himself to lay aside the full use of His glory and power so that He could become one with human beings in order to save them. He is true God and true man. He is fully God and fully man. As God He knows all and can do all. As man He is limited, truly one with us.

That is how we are saved. Not by anything we do. Not in some grand fashion by the Almighty Power of God. We are saved by the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His becoming flesh and living the moral life we have not; obeying God’s holy will in perfection as we have not; submitting His will to His Heavenly Father’s will which we certainly have not. It is not beneath Him to serve us though He has created us. It is not drudgery for Him to submit to the One with whom He is one so that we may be joined with Him in eternity. It is not remarkable to Him at all that He would humble Himself to be born of a woman and suffer in our place; only what makes perfect sense to Him: to do all within His power to save us—including serving us as the Lamb of God.

Maybe this is why Jesus mentioned the angels. As they are content, so we can be. What do they know? What they need to know. So with us. We know what our Lord has given us to know. We are indeed on a need to know basis and we give thanks that we know all that we need to know. We give thanks for the beginning of a new Church Year where we are guided on our lifelong journey of fixing our eyes on Jesus. Where we are constantly guarded in our faith with the holy Sacraments our Lord gives us. This is what we know: we know our Lord has saved us and we know how. We know the Holy Spirit gives us faith to receive that salvation through the Gospel and our Baptism and the Supper of our Lord. We don’t know how He works these things in us. We can’t quantify them or scientifically explain them.

But we can be content—we’re on a need to know basis. And just as our Lord was content in His sojourn on earth not even to know the day and hour of His Return in glory, so we can be content in not knowing the same. All we need to know is that He will indeed return in glory. All we need to know is that He comes to us often with His grace and forgiveness in the Gospel, our Baptism, and His Holy Supper. All we need to know is what the angels know: that they are in the presence of the Lord because He has welcomed them into His presence, even as He will us. Amen.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anything and Everything

Day of Thanksgiving
November 26, 2008
Philippians 4:6

What do you do when you’re in distress over what will happen or you’re not at ease with the way things are going? The Bible’s answer is, don’t be. “Do not be anxious about anything.” There are some things we might feel we ought to be anxious about—you lose your job, your relatives are causing you grief, you’re under a lot of pressure at work—but the word “anything” means just that, anything. Bad things will happen to you, of course. There will be things that will cause you hardship. But that is because we live in a fallen world. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom allows certain things to befall us. That doesn’t mean He wishes bad things upon us, but He allows them even as He uses them for our good.

This is why we aren’t to be anxious. About anything. Because if our Lord can—and He does—use things that cause us distress and unease for our good then being anxious about them will get in the way of His powerful work.

So if your natural response to difficulties is to worry, how do you stop worrying? How do you keep from being anxious and dwelling on your uneasiness? This is very hard, because it’s front and center in your life at the moment. The key is to look at the big picture. What you’re going through right now is temporal. It will not last forever. And, yes, that includes things that last your entire life. Nothing can take you away from God’s eternal care for you, not even struggles that seem never-ending.

Remember that what you experience in life, whether good or bad, will not remain. We’ve all heard the saying, “This, too, shall pass.” We normally think of hearing that or saying it when things aren’t going well. But it’s true of good things, also. If you’re going through a rough spell, remember, this, too, shall pass. However, if you’ve got a spring in your step because everything seems to be going your way, remember, this, too, shall pass. If it didn’t, you might think that everything is just fine, and before you know it, you’ve drifted away from God.

It’s in the hard times of life that God strengthens you. So don’t be anxious. Rather, let your requests be made known to God. It’s a simple thing, really. It just seems difficult, but that’s why they’re called difficulties. We often make the difficult times in our lives more difficult by worrying, being anxious, dwelling on our uneasiness. There’s a simple answer to this—prayer. Let your requests be made know to God.

It sounds easy. It is easy. So why does it seem so difficult? One is because we’re sinful. Two is because we’re often so busy worrying and being anxious. But a third reason may be the most difficult of all. We are not just to pray, to bring our petitions to God, but with thanksgiving. And it’s not just for the things we think we need or the things we want, it’s in everything. In everything we are to give thanks. When we’re so busy worrying, we can’t imagine how there’s any reason to give thanks in the midst of difficulties.

But the reason we must give thanks in all things, both good and bad, is because then our prayers aren’t just about what we want, but about what God wills for us. His will is perfect and His will is what is best for us. That’s why praying in thanksgiving is the solution for our being in distress and our uneasiness. When we give thanks to God in all things then our focus is on Him rather than on our distress and uneasiness.

Is this possible for us to do? We are only human, after all. It is extremely difficult for us to get our thoughts and emotions off our troubles and onto Christ. The truth is, it’s not possible. Our sinful nature is going to bring us down every time. But that’s where the thanksgiving comes in. We give thanks that though we are weak sinners, Christ has drowned our Old Adam in Baptism. What has come forth is a new creation that is forever united with Christ and His perfect life.

Christ in His suffering prayed to His Heavenly Father that His Heavenly Father’s will would be done. It’s hard to imagine Jesus giving thanks as He was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. But doesn’t the fact that He prayed His Heavenly Father’s will would be done show us that He was thankful for the suffering He was undergoing to bring about salvation? This was the focus of Jesus’ prayers and thoughts. In His distress He was not anxious or ill at ease but humble, prayerful, and thankful. In our distress we turn our thoughts and focus onto Christ and His suffering in our place. We know that all things we undergo in this life will pass, but our place in the Kingdom of God will remain. In anything and everything we give thanks because the one who endured all for us has given us reason to be eternally thankful. Amen.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

The One Thing

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Twenty-Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
November 23, 2008
Matthew 25:31-46

What shall we talk about? Today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year—what should be our focus on this day? We’ve come to the end of the Church Year —does it make a difference in your day to day life? Will it impact the decisions you make this week at work and in your home? Will it affect the outcome of the Chargers game tonight? Should we follow the Church Year like we do the weeks and months and seasons?

The Church Year is a guide, a help, a way to focus us on Christ and the salvation He brings in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection. In the case of the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are mindful that even as the Church Year has come to a close, so will this life. Our Lord will return in glory on the Last Day.

So what shall we talk about? If you knew that this were the last day on earth what would you talk about? If you knew that Christ was coming again in glory today and that you were being welcomed into the eternal glory of heaven this day, what would be your hope? There are many things to talk about; many things we could focus on. We could talk about doctrine. About how doctrine applies to life. About how to evangelize. How to strengthen our daily Christian life. The Church Year. The Bible. The different denominations in the Church.

Jesus Himself talks about a lot of things. But if you examine His teaching closely you will see that it all comes down to one thing. When all is said and done there really is only one thing. It’s the one thing that makes His Return in glory on the Last Day glorious. Jesus can’t help but talk about it because it’s the very essence of who He is.

It is the Gospel. With Jesus there isn’t an emphasis on moral living or steps to a better walk with Him or principles of evangelizing your non-Christian neighbors or ways you can get along better with your family. He may touch on those things. But those are not what He’s really teaching. No, it is always and ultimately the Gospel. The one thing that matters.

He does this in the Gospel reading for today, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, in which He pictures the Last Day, Judgment Day. Is His message to us that we ought to serve others because in so doing we are really serving Him and will thereby gain eternal life? Is His message to us that if we don’t serve others than really we’re not serving Him and will be punished eternally for that?

It may appear that way. But if that were it, then it wouldn’t be Gospel. And Jesus loves the Gospel. The one thing He always drives home is the Gospel. What is the Gospel? Why is the Gospel the main thing? How is this picture Jesus gives us of the Last Day teaching us the Gospel? Does the Gospel remove responsibility from us to live a moral and godly life? Does the Gospel take away our need to serve others?

All these questions are answered in the Gospel. The Gospel is, at its core, the suffering of Christ in our place. It is the action of God of saving us by forsaking His Son and welcoming us into His eternal Kingdom. The Gospel is the heart of the Bible. It is the heart of God. We cannot know God apart from the Gospel. We cannot be saved apart from the Gospel. The Gospel is the way God has restored His relationship with us.

Broadly speaking, it is God’s love for us. It is everything God has done and does for us to provide for us, care for us, and love us. But there is no Gospel apart from the suffering of Christ. We do not know the love of God toward us apart from the suffering and death of Jesus. Any attempt to appease God with our moral life falls flat, because there is no standard we can achieve that matches the sinless life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself. That is what appeases God and draws His compassion toward you.

The picture Jesus paints in the Gospel reading is Gospel. It is not an exhortation to good works and serving others and pleasing God; although those things are certainly there, because those things flow directly out of the Gospel. But they don’t produce the Gospel. They don’t achieve salvation. They don’t catch God’s eye and make Him turn toward you in appreciation or with the intent to reward you. The problem we run into in interpreting the picture He paints is what we force upon it, not what Jesus Himself is giving us.

And what is He giving us? The Gospel. The one and only thing in which there is salvation. The one thing in which we have hope. The words that come out of His mouth to those on His right are these: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The Kingdom the sheep on His right receive is not one that God has prepared in response to anything they have done or any morally upright lives they have lived. It is a Kingdom which was prepared before they were ever around. Before they even knew what it is to help someone in need. The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing good works when it comes to our salvation. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for them.

That’s why He continues in this way: “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” Jesus isn’t talking about what we do that gets us into haven. He doesn’t say, as the Word of God clearly says, Be perfect for I the Lord your God am perfect, that you were perfect. No, He talks about the small ways they served the least of these. You didn’t fix their problems, you simply helped them out in small ways.

This is the way it is with our Lord. His glorious spiritual blessings are given in simple ways. He comes to us in the nakedness of our sinful nature and clothes with His own righteousness in Baptism, just as He has done so today with Jeffrey. He comes to us in our spiritual hunger and feeds us in a simple way, with bread and wine, in order to give us His Body and Blood.

With God the one thing is never slippery, or general, or out of reach. It’s not just God’s love for you, but God’s love for you in Christ. It’s not just that God gives you His grace, it’s that God is gracious to you in His only-begotten Son. It’s not just that He would have you believe in true doctrine and learn the Scriptures, it’s that all of that doctrine and every Word of the Scriptures is bound up in the Gospel, delivering Christ to you.

That’s the one thing we have that will get us through on the Last Day. It’s the one thing we have that will remain when all else is destroyed. It’s the one thing we have when we’re tempted to look in satisfaction at all that we’ve done and instead say with the sheep on His right, “Lord, when did we do those things to you?” and look to those simple ways in which our Lord comes to us with forgiveness—Baptism and His holy Supper. For with Him, it’s always about the Gospel. By this Gospel it is the same with us and we see today, on the Last Day, and for eternity that it is always about Christ. Amen.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Difficult God

Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2008
Matthew 25:14-30

The First Commandment says it all: You shall have no other gods. The fact that God has to say that to us shows us that we do, in fact, have other gods. We put all kinds of things before God, including ourselves. God also says that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. It stands to reason that we are not going to view God the way we ought to. That our sinful minds cloud a true understanding of who He is. It’s no wonder that we may say and believe things about Him that are offensive. We have to be careful, we want to believe and say what is true about Him.

The first two servants didn’t state anything about why they did what they did. They just said, Here you go, Master, you gave me so much and I made this much more. It was the third one that felt compelled to explain what he thought of his master in order to explain why he did what he did. We assume that what he said is wrong.

But what happens when the master agrees? What happens when, when Jesus is telling us a parable and teaching us about who God is, and that He obviously is the master of the parable, the master himself agrees with the assessment of the unfaithful servant? He is a man who reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he has scattered no seed. The third servant was bold, or perhaps foolish, to tell his master what he thought of him. But the master isn’t angry at the servant for speaking in such a way about him, he’s angry precisely because the servant did know that his master was that way! Since you knew I’m this way, why did you do nothing?!

The servant knew what kind of master he had. But that’s not the kind of master he wanted. Better not to take a risk and face his wrath than to take a risk and possibly fail, and, who knows what kind of reaction he’ll get then?! The servant is not dealing with a patsy here, but a difficult master. One who has expectations, one who makes demands. And one who does not let one off easy if those expectations and demands are not met. He’s a difficult master, because there’s always that warning hanging over your head when he entrusts you with what is his.

If you want an easy god, you’ll have to look outside the Bible. The Bible famously says that God is love. And it’s true, God is love. But God is also difficult. You think love is easy? Love is difficult. You think it’s easy for God to love us? Not because it’s hard for Him to love us, but because we try so hard to go against Him that it makes it tough for Him to shower His love upon us. So what does He do? He goes into stealth mode. As Isaiah says, He does His alien work, His work that doesn’t come naturally to Him. But nothing will stop Him from loving us, reaching out to us.

When the Bible gives an endless list of the characteristics of God—His love, His mercy, His grace, His patience—we can be thankful for the great God we have. But what do we do with the God who is difficult? What should we expect from the God who reaps where He has not sown, and gathers where He has scattered no seed?

With God the way is never easy. It’s always difficult. Why did God bring about salvation in the way He did? Why was there humility and weakness and suffering and difficulty marking the action of Jesus in saving mankind? Why didn’t He make it a lot easier on Himself? Why did He go through all that? Why is it that He places expectations and makes demands on us knowing that we can’t meet them?

The parable describes the difficulty involved here. The first two address him as “Master.” And that’s it. Master, you gave me this, here’s what I turned it into, and here you have it back. The third one also addresses him as “Master,” but then goes into an explanation of how he views him. Who does God want to be to us and for us? He wants to be our Master. A master who gives. A master who entrusts to us His possessions. What about when it gets difficult, when He reaps where He has not sown and gathers where He has not scattered? There are many He spreads His gifts to that we may balk at. You mean, them? He wants to love them, those that do in public what is shameful to do in secret? He wants us to go to those people over there who want nothing to do with God and tell them that He loves them?

Our society is rapidly normalizing certain things. It has long been going the path of relativism. I’m okay, you’re okay. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. Let’s be tolerant of others. Can’t we all just get along? And so things that aren’t part of the natural order become normalized and then even good. As Christians we see that relativism is the slippery slope not to tolerance but to decay.

But what’s difficult is the Gospel. It’s difficult to see everyone the way God sees them. To rejoice that God loves them in the same way He loves us. In the way in which He sends His own Son as the one who delivers them from their sin even as He does us. In a way in which we are humbled by the fact that we are as undeserving of God’s unconditional love as they are. That we are just as heinous in our thoughts, words, and deeds as they are. God shows no partiality. We have fallen all short of the glory of God, and the soul that sins will surely die.

When the master gives, He gives. True, to some servants he gives more and to some he gives less. But when the two return with what has been entrusted to them and that more was produced, he didn’t give different rewards. It was the same: you have been faithful over a little, I will set you up over much. Enter into the joy of your master! There is no partiality, only joy! They each receive of the abundance of the master.

The third servant receives the opposite of reward, punishment. The first two servants realized that they in no way deserved what had been entrusted to them. When what they had been given bore fruit, they likewise believed that they in no way deserved it or owned it. It was still, as it always had been, the property of their master. The third servant, on the other hand, wanted to have nothing to do with a difficult master, who reaps where he hasn’t sown and gathers where he hasn’t scattered.

What about you? Who do you want God to be? Do you begrudge the grace of God for all? Does it not seem right to you that God pours out His grace upon everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done? If so, then you have met the God who is difficult. He will never forsake His own. He has created everyone in His image and will do everything to redeem us. Even the difficult path of giving over His only-begotten Son. Even placing Him on the altar of Calvary. Even forsaking His own Son so that we may enter into the joy of our Master.

There is nothing more difficult than the Gospel. It is the one thing that truly causes offense. That God would say to sinners—you, me, and everyone—there is nothing you can do to be saved. But not just because you don’t have that ability. Because it has already been accomplished. When your Lord and Master returns on the Last Day to settle accounts, you will simply offer to Him what you have. It is what He has given you in your Baptism, His own righteousness. Here, Lord, what is yours, and look at the fruit it has born! He will in joy welcome you into His eternal joy! Amen!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Stewardship Is Watching and Waiting

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Commitment Sunday
November 9, 2008
Matthew 25:1-13

One of the reasons it’s hard to listen to a stewardship sermon is because you think you know what you’re going to hear. We know what stewardship is, what new or challenging thing can we hear about it? If we hear the same old thing, that everything we have is from God and we give back to Him out of thanks, how motivated will we really be for giving to God and making godly use of our time and talents?

As you might expect, Jesus has some things to teach about stewardship. In the parable He tells in the Gospel reading He shows us what stewardship is. Stewardship is watching and waiting. A steward of God watches. A steward waits.

Our natural reaction in talking about stewardship is what we must do. How much should I give for my offering? How much time have I put in in serving in the church? How have I used my talents to serve in the church? But too often we’re left with a lot of talk about sanctification and stewardship and very little talk about Christ. He might simply be an afterthought. We know He has saved us—do we feel we need to move beyond that to what we must do, how we should live?

The antidote to this is Christ. Not just talk about Christ—Christ. Christ is our life. He is our salvation and He is our life. In the parable we don’t just learn how we are to be good stewards. We don’t just learn how to live in a godly way. We receive Christ in this parable.

It’s apparent that Jesus is the Bridegroom of the parable. He’s the one the virgins are waiting for. He’s the main one. He’s the one coming so that the party can get into full swing. So how do we get from needing Christ as our sole hope for sanctification and godly stewardship to that actually happening? How does Christ as the Bridegroom actually help us here?

We shouldn’t be focusing on those virgins, but on the Bridegroom. What happened to Him? He was delayed. Why was He delayed? Because He was waiting. Why was He waiting? Because in His waiting He is instilling in us faith. In His waiting He is strengthening that very faith.

We naturally look at the virgins and say, How is it that they are, so that we may learn how we are to be, what we are to do? But this is the problem, we get in the way. This parable, as all the parables are, is about Christ. And not simply about Christ, but delivering Christ to us. If we’re going to talk about sanctification and stewardship, where will it go? Whatever you give as an offering, should you give more? Whatever time you spend serving others, you should spend more? The problem with this way of thinking is that it is all about you. But the parable of the Ten Virgins is not about the virgins but about the Bridegroom. He’s the one they’re waiting for. He’s the one who’s coming. He’s the one that’s at the center of the action. How He impacts them is what is at issue.

Jesus never tells us what to do and then leaves us to it. He is no Master who commands and wields a punishing rod when we slip up. He is rather the Master who upon commanding us then stoops down to serve us. No doubt Jesus was disappointed in the disciples as they couldn’t keep their eyes open in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before He would be arrested. But Jesus doesn’t ream them out. Rather, He serves. He accomplishes what they could not. He stays awake. He watches and waits. He prays. He bends His will to His Heavenly Father’s will.

We are not to learn to watch and wait from the five wise virgins. But from Christ. And not even simply to learn. Isn’t Christ in the parable proclaiming Himself to us? And in that proclamation aren’t we becoming like Christ? Isn’t the only way we can bend our will to our Heavenly Father’s through receiving a new will in Christ? Isn’t the only way we would live as Christ would have us live through being formed as a new creation in Christ?

The way of the five wise virgins is the way of faith. They lived by faith. They waited. In the same way the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, even when the wise virgins fell asleep, they were sustained in their faith that the Bridegroom would come. Just as the Garden of Gethsemane was not about the disciples but about Christ, the parable of the Virgins is not about them but about the Bridegroom. Even when He delayed His return, they were ready with their lamps and extra oil. The problem is not that He is delaying, but with being unprepared for it. Everything is bound up in the delay. The reason the virgins have to wait is because the Bridegroom is waiting to come back. All the virgins were the same in that they were expecting the Bridegroom. But the five who were foolish were different in that they didn’t expect there to be a delay. If He’s going to come back, why would He delay? So when Jesus Himself delays He teaches us that we are to watch and wait.

Not taking the oil is as if to say, Okay, Jesus, come on back, I’m ready. But you’re not ready. You’re not ready because you want Him back on your own terms, not on His terms. That’s why He makes you wait. It seems foolish to take the oil. Why would you need it? He’s coming back, don’t you trust that He’ll do so? And if He does, it only stands to reason that it will be soon, why would He delay?

But the faith is in the bringing of the oil. Trusting that He will return even if it’s much longer than was expected. That there’s purpose in His delaying things. That it’s actually for good. There was time before to get oil to bring along. But instead of taking the time to do that, the foolish ones just went. Then, when they realize they need more oil, they spring into action. At this point, it’s too late.

When the people jeered Noah for building a huge boat when there was no rain in sight, let alone any kind of storm or flood so that it could actually float, Noah simply watched and waited. God delayed His action, but Noah kept the faith. When the fateful day came, he and his family entered the ark and the door was shut. No one else could come in and they were lost. In the same way, the five foolish virgins were shut out of the wedding feast and were lost.

Watching and waiting is the life of the Christian. The Christian lives by faith, not by what he must or must not do. He lives by faith because Christ has been born in him and is alive in him. The Christian has life in Christ and lives by Christ. Watching and waiting.

Like the child in Confirmation Class who can’t see the purpose for going over and over the Catechism in order to memorize it but who sticks with it because the Holy Spirit is working through that memorizing to produce understanding and strengthen faith. Watching… Waiting… The Christian faith isn’t grasped in a simple way, in a short period of time. It’s a laborious process of memorizing, learning, growing.

Like the Christian who is spending every spare moment caring for her elderly mother who is getting to the point of needing to be on life support. So much energy is spent on alleviating her pain, trying to make her comfortable, strumming up encouragement to fend off despair, wondering and praying what good God is bringing out of this. Watching… Waiting… Struggling with coming to terms that God’s blessings often come through struggles.

Like the man who is finding it hard to trust God when the economy is hitting him hard and thus his family. Waiting and watching, praying to God that He’ll get him through, that he’ll be able to take care of his family. Believing, but praying in his unbelief that man does not live by bread alone but by the very Word of God.

Like the Christian who does what Christians always do, praying for our government; praying for our leaders. Watching and waiting. Content to continue to serve our society in the various vocations God has called us to. Patiently dispensing with illusions that we Christians can change society to be godly and God-fearing, where life is cherished from the womb to the death bed. Rejoicing in the call to continue with the one message that has always been true and that goes beyond the issues we face as a society. The Gospel changes people’s hearts—including ours—not policies.

Stewardship is not about how much money you put in the offering plate. You can always give more, or be expected to give more. You’ll always be encouraged or guilted into putting more time into helping others. Stewardship is not those things. Those things come out of watching and waiting. Stewardship is patience, believing that Christ will come to you and in His own good and gracious time. Stewardship is rejoicing that His delay doesn’t mean He doesn’t care but that He instills in us a reliance on Him through His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments. Our Lord is delaying in coming again in glory, but there is no delay in coming with His forgiveness in His Word and His Holy Supper. It is good to wait on the Lord. To watch and wait and rejoice in His serving us and giving us salvation. Amen.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Way of God

All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 2, 2008
Matthew 5:1-12

I invite you to join me on the way. It’s the way the saints who have gone before us walked. It’s a way that’s not immediately appealing. It’s the way of God.

Jesus said of Himself: I am the Way. He wouldn’t have said that had He meant that the way we are to go is so that we may be blessed. This is the way many people hear the Beatitudes. If you are poor in spirit, blessed are you. If you mourn, you will be comforted; if you are meek, you will inherit the earth; and so on. What Jesus says is, “Blessed are those who are such and such a way.”

The Beatitudes are not commands. They’re not even exhortations on how we should be and should live; although there’s as an aspect to them that certainly implies this. What they are are descriptions of who the people of God are. The people who are on the way. The people of God are the people of God because of Christ. If the Beatitudes were conditions of how Christians should be there wouldn’t be any Christians. But they are descriptive of Christ. He alone is truly poor in spirit. He alone is truly meek. He alone is the Son of God.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to His people, He didn’t say, “You’d better live this way or you’re not My people.” What He said was, “You are My people—now this is how My people live. They have no other gods. They do not misuse My name.” And so on.

We are the people of God because He has made us His people. Because of the Son of God we are sons of God. Because Jesus Christ alone is righteous and paid for our sinfulness we are declared righteous. And thus we are on the way. The way of God.

But we run into a buzz saw, don’t we? Those Ten Commandments really nail us to the wall, don’t they? They have a way of convicting us when we see that we don’t live in the way God would have us live. Staring in the face of the Ten Commandments, we are found wanting.

But this is God’s way. His way is the way of Repentance. The Ten Commandments drive home that we fall short of the glory of God. The Law impresses upon our hearts and minds repentance. A turning to God. A realization that we are our own god, that we really don’t want to live the way God would have us live. We’re very comfortable living the way we’d like. All those important things in our lives we don’t want just to be important, but left free from God’s intrusion with His curbs and rules. We’re insistent on our First Amendment rights of free speech, telling God to take hike when He insists we don’t use His name for common exclamations. And while many of us are comfortably in the habit of being in His House on Sunday mornings, we resent the constant badgering that we ought to be in His Word daily and in the consistent study of His Scriptures in Bible Class.

It’s hard enough at times to honor our parents. But God really puts us to the test when He adds government to honor and obey. For most of us it would be easy to go through life without murdering someone. But with God it’s always deeper than that. We can’t even hate, or even think ill of others. And with God it seems a never-ending litany of rules and restrictions: not just adultery or homosexuality, but living together outside of marriage and lust; not just stealing, but taking advantage of others; not just lying about others, but spreading things around that are meant to be private; not just not envying what others have, but helping others maintain what they have.

If this is a mirror, we see that we most definitely do not fit the description Jesus paints in the Beatitudes. So how is it possible? It is possible in what the Beatitudes are: not just statements of blessing—words of blessing Christ speaks to us and in the very speaking of them bringing them about in us. This is the way of God. It is the way of faith. He brings us to repentance so that we may walk the way of faith. Faith is that realization that without God and His eternal love for us in His Son Jesus Christ we are without hope. We are left to our own devices, and through the Ten Commandments we see where that leaves us.

But the way of faith is the way of trust. That when God says He will bless us He will bless us. That when He says we are His people, we are His people. That when we are poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, peacemakers, persecuted, that these are not bad things but good things. It takes faith to realize that and believe it. It takes faith to rejoice in these things. Because Satan would have us believe that these things are pretty weak and pathetic. The world mocks us that we are to rejoice in things that don’t bring us immediate gratification or wealth or prestige or security. Our sinful flesh rages against such boring things as being in the Word of God or rejoicing when we are vilified for our holding faithfully to that very Word of God.

How it is that you can rejoice in such things? Because what God would have you do, how He would have you live, what He gives you is not conditional. The very faith He demands is the very faith He gives. The description of who we are as the people of God is not simply a description—it is a gift. It is what God Himself brings about in His very speaking of it to you and me. He doesn’t tell you how He wants you to live and then leave you to it. He doesn’t tell you how He wants you to live and only then He’ll bless you. He brings about what He says. When He says to you that you’re blessed, you’re blessed. When He speaks His forgiveness to you, you’re forgiven. When He says you’re His son or daughter, you’re His son or daughter.

And that is the way of God. Holy living is not, You’d better live in such and such a way and you’ll be blessed; or, so you’ll be blessed. Holy living is the gift of God. Holy living is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. His will is done through His Son Jesus Christ. His Kingdom comes through His Son. Our daily needs are met because He has reconciled Himself to us through His Son. We are forgiven and forgive others because it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. We are delivered from temptation because Christ has been tempted in every way as we are and yet without sin. We are delivered from evil because Christ has conquered evil. He is the Victor over sin, death, hell, Satan, and our sinful flesh.

His blessings overflow. They began in Baptism and are nurtured and sustained in His Absolution and His Holy Supper. The way of faith is the way of the cross. Righteousness is at the center of the Beatitudes. That means that Christ is at the center. We hunger and thirst for righteousness—which means we hunger and thirst for Christ. This is the way of God. It’s a way that may be disconcerting at first. It may be disconcerting all the way. The way of God is not our way. God’s way never makes sense to our limited minds and our selfish sinful flesh. But the way of God is not something to aspire to but to be received. This done for you, my dear friends in Christ, in Christ. By Him, because of Him, through Him. He gives you eternal blessings in His Holy Supper. He gives you Himself.

That’s what you need. That’s why when He gave you the Beatitudes He wasn’t saying, Here, get these straight and then we’ll talk. He was saying, Here is My gift to you: Here I am. This is the way of God, Christ for you. Amen.