Sunday, November 25, 2012

Awake and Alert

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
November 25, 2012
It’s a difficult position our Lord puts us into today. Directing us to stand guard. To keep watch. To stay awake and alert. There’s nothing here about what we’re to do, how we’re to go about it, how to occupy the time our Lord gives us on this earth. It would be much easier if He were to lay it all out, as in some other passages of Scripture where it’s clearly defined of actions we are take, ways we are to think, things we are to do for one another.

But here today it’s a simple, “Don’t fall asleep.” Picture the security guard working the night shift. Picture soldier stationed on a remote island with no sound or movement around him.

There’s but one duty here: stay awake and remain alert. Dozing off could get someone killed. Not paying attention could invite treachery. And Jesus in today’s Gospel reading is not talking about some matter of keeping these things about the Last Day in mind. He’s talking about being vigilant. Always on guard. Always awake. Always alert.

He gives no indication about how you are to make use of your time and what things to do with your time. You are to keep watch.

That might make for a very short sermon, in that, what else is there to say about it? Jesus pretty much leaves it at that. So what are we to do with it? Just sit around and wait? From a purely practical and physical standpoint it’s impossible to stay awake. We need sleep. We can’t go, go, go. We have to rest and need to recuperate on a regular basis. The guard and the solider themselves take shifts in their guard duty.

Jesus is waking us up. The fact that we have to ask how to do this shows that we are asleep at the wheel. We are not alert, we are focused on getting by day to day. We are spiritually asleep, concerned more with our problems and being unsatisfied with things in our lives. There’s no time for Jesus to lay out what we should do, He’s gotta wake us up! He is rousing us from our drowsiness. He is shaking us so that we don’t sleep through and be unprepared for when the Hour comes.

Judgment Day is not on our radar. It needs to be. If you’re not prepared, you will stand under the Judgment. You will be judged. Only He knows when He is returning in glory. And only He knows when your life will come to an end on this earth. When you die, if Christ has not yet returned in glory, you will face your Judgment Day. You need to be prepared now. If you’re asleep, wake up! If you’re thinking it’s not a big deal, you need to be alert. It is an eternal deal.

So how do you be ready? What do you do to stay awake and remain alert? As it happens, it’s not just that our Lord says, “stand there like a  guy who’s the doorkeeper and keep watch.” It’s true that what He gives us to do is compared to the doorkeeper keeping watch. This is the way Jesus says it in the Gospel reading:

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.

But a careful hearing of what He’s saying is not that we’re just to stand around and make sure we stay awake. He’s saying we need to be vigilant; just as a security guard would, just as a soldier stationed at his post would, just as the doorkeeper Jesus spoke of would. The way they keep watch is by standing there guarding what they have been given to guard.

What we are to keep watch of is our very lives. We need to stay awake and alert in the life God has given us here on earth to live. The only way you can do that is by being focused, the same way a guard is. Concentrating on the task at hand, which is to keep watch, to stay awake, and remain alert. What Jesus is not saying to us in His warning and exhortation on the coming of the Last Day is to consume our thoughts with it every waking hour. The Bible gives us the calling of actually living out our lives in service to one another, so we can’t take our Lord’s words here and conclude that we need to think of nothing else than when He’s coming back again in glory.

At the same time, we need to take our Lord’s words here to heart and not just go about our everyday lives without realizing the earnestness of this for our daily lives. We can’t become complacent, apathetic, unaware of the urgency—Judgment Day could come at any moment and our death could come at any moment.

But how do you be awake and alert for it if you are not to constantly think about it? The first thing is to listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. It is a sobering and compelling description of what will happen. It is also a warning that it could happen any time. We don’t know when it will happen. We need to be vigilant. It would do us well to go back and read the words again on our own slowly and consider them as something we should not forget.

The second thing, as already stated, is not to take this for granted. Don’t fall into apathy, stay alert!

The third thing, and this is where you get into what our Lord has given us to do in this life, is be in the things that He has given us to be in where He is the one who wakes us up and sustains us so that we don’t fall asleep spiritually.

The first way is, as they say, preaching to the choir. You need to be here. You need to be in this House, the House of God, hearing the Gospel, receiving the Lord’s Supper, being filled up with all the blessings your Lord gives you. You can’t stay awake and alert if you are not receiving what He gives you to spiritually enliven you and sustain you.

This is the blessing of what God gives us to do. It’s stuff to do but it’s really not stuff we do. We’re in this House of God; we’re hearing what is proclaimed; we’re eating and drinking the very body and blood of Christ; but we’re not the ones doing the things that are being done to awaken us and keep us awake and alert. The Holy Spirit is. He’s the one doing the work. He is always vigilant in His work of creating and sustaining faith in you. He is also on guard to forgive you of your sins in the Gospel that is proclaimed and applied to you in your Baptism, and in the Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper.

The second way is similar in that each day you need to be in this same way of living in which you are receiving. Beginning each day in prayer. Closing each day in prayer. Making some time each day to be in the Word of God. Here again, in these things you are doing things, but really you are receiving. God is the one who is active when you are in His Word and when you are remembering that you are a Baptized child of His.

The third way seems the one most about what you do and not what God does. It is called various things, such as serving, doing good works, vocation, sanctification. Whatever people might like to call it, it is active, and dynamic, and anything but standing around waiting. It is God’s people in service to others. It is His children loving others, caring for others, and submitting to others. It may seem the opposite of standing there at the door keeping watch, being the doorkeeper. But it is the same thing. When you serve—carrying out your vocation, your calling—you are staying awake, remaining alert.

You are not just standing around. You are not idle. You are living in the way your Lord has called you to live. If you live to yourself you will fall into spiritual sleep and apathy. You will not be awake and alert. You will forget about the urgency of Christ’s Return in glory even as you will forget about the calling and the opportunity to serve others. You will forget and even begin to disdain the Gospel, that it is your very life and sustenance.

Part of being awake and alert is being awakened by the Law. God’s Law comes in like a freight train and wakes you up. If you’re near train tracks and a train comes rushing by you are startled and you have to catch yourself at the force of the wind. The Law of God wakes you up to the realization that you have sinned against your Lord in thought, word, and deed. The Ten Commandments shine more brightly as a mirror the more you peer into them and see that you have fallen short of the glory of God. You have fallen asleep at the wheel, not trusting in your Lord and His good gifts to you but rather seeking out your own pleasure and glory.

Wake up now before it’s too late and your own death comes or your Lord returns in glory at any moment! Be alert and repent.

But the other part of being awake and alert is being awakened to new life by the Gospel. The Law wakes you up to the reality of your spiritual death but the Gospel wakes you up to new life. The Gospel actually spiritually awakens you. Think about the warning, or rather, the prophecy given that Christ would go to the cross. He was alert as ever, refusing any sort of alcoholic mixture on the cross to deaden the pain. He was wide awake to the reality that He was taking on Himself the sin of the world. He was aware that His Heavenly Father was bringing upon Him the judgment of holiness against sinners, all on His shoulders; His very life being claimed.

It is in this suffering and death that sinners are brought to life. In your Baptism you are awakened to this life. When you receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper—the very body and blood that were given and shed at the cross—you are sustained in that new life, awake to the eternal life your Lord secured for you and will bring you to the glory of when He returns on the Last Day.

These are the things it means to be awake and alert. These are the things your Lord gives to you in order to be awake and alert. As you see this world go by with all its end-time devolution you remain awake and alert. As you see yourself daily slipping back into the ways of your sinful flesh, wake up; be alert. As you become more and more aware of the devil hitting you hard each day with temptation, be awake; stay alert.

Your Lord is the one who is coming again in glory. This is what you know because He has told you. You have His promise. Your Lord is the one who sustains you in the life He has given you and called you to. Your Lord is the one who forgives you and never forgets you. He is always awake, always alert, always with you, both now when you fall asleep and forever when He comes again in glory to take you home to heaven. Amen.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Everything, Thanksgiving

Day of Thanksgiving
November 21, 2012
Do you need something good to happen to you in order to be thankful? The answer is no. How about this question: do you need to be given something in order to be thankful? The answer to that is yes. The difference makes the difference between being a truly thankful person and a truly ungrateful one.

If you are depending on good things to happen in order to be thankful you will end up a very ungrateful person. If you realize that the source of your thanksgiving is having received good things from God you will be a truly grateful person. If the difference doesn’t sound like much it’s because we are so conditional. We operate circumstantially. If good things happen, we’re grateful. If bad things happen, we’re ungrateful.

But we have received abundant blessings from God. We ought simply to be grateful, no matter our circumstances. We shouldn’t place conditions on God but rather rejoice in what He has given us.

Have you ever thought about why Jesus Christ gave thanks before He broke the bread of His Holy Supper and gave thanks before He gave His disciples the cup? These are the words of Luke and Matthew as they describe the scene:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you”… And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

He gave thanks because He had received something. It’s not that good things were happening to Him or things were going well for Him. In looking at the circumstances, things actually weren’t going all that well for Him. He would be betrayed shortly, and He knew this. He would be placed on trial and mocked and tortured, and He knew this. He would be nailed to a cross shortly after that, and He knew this.

You don’t give thanks unless you have received something. What was it that Jesus had received? He was the Lord of the universe, having all things in His possession, what could He possibly have received? Well, with you and me, when we receive things we think of things that make things better for us. When Jesus receives things they are things that entail loving and serving us. What He had received was the commission of being sent to serve. He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

It pleased the Father to give His Son to us for our salvation. Our Lord and Savior was grateful for the will of His Heavenly Father to become man, to suffer and die for the sin of the world. This is how we are taught to be thankful. Instead of looking at our circumstances, we learn to be thankful for the greatest gift we have ever received, our Lord Himself. Instead of looking for good things to happen to us, we learn that they already have! Our Lord was given to us and He is given to us often in the Gospel and the Sacraments.

When we sit at the table to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast we give thanks for that blessing. Think about what Jesus did when He hosted His disciples at the Passover Meal. He gave thanks at a meal in which He was giving to them. They were receiving, yet He was the one giving thanks. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we receive what our Lord gives to us. We give thanks for what our Lord has done, which is what He was given to do by His Heavenly Father.

That’s why in the Epistle reading Paul talks about “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” He doesn’t say in the good things. He doesn’t urge gratitude for those times when things are going well. He doesn’t use simple logic and tell them to look around at their circumstances and if they’re amenable that they had better be grateful.

In everything, thanksgiving. It just so happens that what we see anyway isn’t always what really is. God looks at things differently than we do. God sees how truly good things come about through things that we simply view as not good. So while it was tragic that Jesus suffered as He did, died as He did, and lay in the tomb as He did, God brought about the greatest thing there is through that: peace with Him. Atonement of our sins. A restoration of relationship with Him through the willing sacrifice of His Son laying down His life for all sinners.

Paul says that this “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Think not about your circumstances. Think not about what your reason or your logic tell you. Think not about how you would like for things to be different. Simply rest for a moment in gratitude as you consider this peace that surpasses all of your understanding. Consider for a moment how, no matter your circumstances, God’s peace guards your heart and your mind. This is why, and also how, you can be thankful—in everything. The peace of God which bypasses your capacity for understanding, guards you in all circumstances. You aren’t subject to how things are going, you have in everything the opportunity to give thanks because of what you have received from your Lord.

So how do you do this? When you’re naturally inclined to wish your circumstances were better, how do you give thanks in everything? Paul goes on to say, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Is this what you do? Do you think about these things? When you think about these things you are taking your focus off yourself and your circumstances and onto the things of God. In the midst of or despite your circumstances you see more and more how in everything you can give thanks because you see more and more all the many blessings He gives you.

Paul speaks directly to the Philippians: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The kind of language he uses is receiving language. Language that focuses on what is given, not on how things are going. He exhorts them to consider what they learned in him and what they received in him and what they heard in him and what they saw in him. These are all things that were given to them. That is why they could be thankful, because God gave them blessings through His servant Paul.

Interestingly, Paul then actually goes on to talk about his circumstances. But it’s not for the purpose of saying, when things were going this way, I was this way. And when things were going that way, I was that way. Rather, he says, in all things I was content. Whether he was in need or had plenty he gave thanks. He knew God was taking care of him in all circumstances. His gratitude toward God was not based on circumstances but rather what he had received from God. These blessings received by the Philippians flowed freely back to Paul as he describes how they helped him in his needs. When you give thanks in everything you see how much opportunity there is to help others.

And if we still have trouble with this business of giving thanks in everything, the clincher argument Paul makes is this: “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” It’s not really an argument so much as a statement of fact. Every need. God will supply everything you need. And why is this? Because of the riches of the glory of Christ.

When you look at your circumstances you are being very close-minded. You are looking at only part of the picture and basing your status on that. When you look beyond your circumstances and see everything that God has given you in Christ, the glory of the riches of His suffering, death, and resurrection, you see that in everything there is nothing else but to give thanks. Another way of saying this is how he closes with this doxology: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Being an Observant Christian

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 18, 2012
The observant Christian not only seeks answers from Jesus but also takes Him at His word. The observant Christian does not peer into the secret things of God but hears the words of his Lord and rests in them. If someone else asks a question and after answering it Jesus speaks to one of His disciples, that disciple listens.

The Pharisees asked Jesus about the Kingdom of God and Jesus gave a brief answer. Jesus then turned His attention from the Pharisees to the disciples. He had told the Pharisees that “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed.” So what did the disciples need to know about the coming of the Kingdom of God? If you can’t observe its coming, how are you directed to approach it? The Pharisees wanted to know when it would be coming; and wouldn’t we all? Had the disciples asked a similar question? Or did Jesus just take the opportunity brought up by the Pharisees to guide the disciples in their view of the coming of the Kingdom of God?

Not only would the Kingdom of God be coming but so would their “desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man.” Here’s the deal, disciples: “you will not see it.” People will say, “Here it comes!” Or, “Look, here!, it’s coming!” But Jesus said to them, don’t follow those people. The observant Christian will observe that these people are false prophets. They are pointing away from Christ. The observant Christian will stick with the words of Christ and not be swayed by the words of men.

Here is how you will know when the Kingdom of God has come: “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” You don’t know when, but you will know it has happened because everyone will know. There are many who long to peer into the secret things of God. They are the ones who seek after others, who point people away from Christ. The observant Christian sticks with Christ. The observant Christian sees the signs and recognizes that some of those signs are false prophets saying, “It’s coming, this is when it will be. This is how it will be.” Stick with Christ, He knows a lot more than ordinary men, who are just like you by the way. If you are an observant Christian you know a lot more than those false prophets because you know, and stick with, what Christ has given you to know.

Notice how this whole thing started? When it will it happen, Jesus? When? We want to know. Now I will freely admit that I sympathize with those Pharisees. If I hadn’t asked Jesus myself I would have been thinking in my mind that I was glad that they had. But that is because I am so often not an observant Christian. I am often looking elsewhere. I so often want to know what God has not given me to know instead of sticking with what He has given me to know.

Be observant. Pay attention to what Jesus is saying. You need to know that it’s going to happen, you don’t need to know when. You know that you will know when it happens because Jesus will make it abundantly clear. If you’ve ever seen an electrical storm at night in the desert you know exactly how this will be. The lightning flashes and lights up the whole sky. When Jesus comes in glory on the Last Day you will know. Everyone will. That’s what you need to know. It may seem to you that it’s not going to happen because it’s been a long time already and the world keeps spinning. Be an observant Christian and stick with His words. Don’t wonder when it’s happening, be content that it will happen. He will come again in glory.

The observant Christian takes note of what Jesus says. The observant Christian recognizes that Jesus is not going to promise that He will return again glory without directing us to why He came in humility. Before this happens, Jesus says, before I return on the Last Day, I must accomplish the purpose for which I came. “But first,” He says, [the Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” The observant Christian recognizes that there is absolutely no point in Jesus returning again glory without Him having gone to the cross to suffer for the sin of the world. Without salvation being accomplished on the cross there is no glory for us to obtain on the Last Day.

The observant Christian looks around sees what is happening as this world spins around. But he doesn’t notice what everyone else notices. He observes that because people go about their lives as they do that there aren’t many people who are truly observant. The observant Christian will therefore realize that he is always in danger of going about daily life and forgetting about Christ and His Word. Or being swayed by others who would point him away from Christ. Jesus makes this observation: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” And how was that? “They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”

We’re used to expecting opposition from the world and wickedness. But people also have a remarkable capacity for plain old apathy. Noah warned people that a flood was coming to destroy the earth and what were people doing? Eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage. Guess what people are doing today? Pretty much the same thing. Our Lord has said that He is coming again in glory and along with it this world as we know it will be destroyed. But what are people doing? Going about their business. Carrying out their daily lives without any thought of Jesus’ promise of returning and bringing judgment. The observant Christian recognizes that being observant is constant vigilance. It’s all too easy to go about your life without giving thought to the things Jesus has given you to know and be prepared for.

The observant Christian sees that he all too often is not as observant as he perhaps thinks he is and perhaps that is the reason Jesus emphasizes things by repeating them. That’s the way it was in Noah’s time, Jesus said, and it also was the way it was in Lot’s time: “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.” The reason God brought His judgment upon people in those times, Noah’s time and Lot’s time, was because of the outright wickedness of the people. The people’s reaction was apathy. They just went on as they had been going on. You ignore Christ’s return in glory to your peril. He gives the warning and as an observant Christian you don’t go on as you are but go on holding fast to the word of Christ, taking it to heart, and being prepared rather than apathetic.

The observant Christian notes that Jesus isn’t just promising to return in glory but that He is saying that just as it was in Noah’s and Lot’s time so it will be when He returns in glory. There will be plenty of people going about their business and will be awakened from their apathetic slumber suddenly. The observant Christian holds to Christ’s word so that He doesn’t fall into this apathy.

Christ spoke all of this to the disciples. Are you an observant Christian? Do you recognize that when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees when they asked Him when the Kingdom of God would come that He said to them that that can’t be observed? Do you see what they didn’t, that the Kingdom of God is among you? As He said, when people are pointing you away from Christ that the Kingdom of God is in the Person of Christ Himself? When Jesus said to the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you, they simply refused to see that God makes Himself known, in other words, the Kingdom of God comes to us, in Jesus Christ, the one who was born of Mary and who suffered on the cross. Look for the Kingdom of God anywhere else and you will miss it. God comes to you in the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

The observant Christian stops thinking about when Christ will return in glory and rejoices that He will return in glory. The observant Christian stops listening to those other voices and listens to the voice of His Lord when He says, I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The observant Christian more and more sees the futility of asking when and revels in the now where his Lord says to him, “This is My body, for you; this is My blood, for you.” The observant Christian is ready for Christ to return in glory and joyful that Christ comes to her, in the midst of His of people, in the Gospel that is proclaimed, the Absolution that is pronounced, the Baptism she daily lives in, the Holy Supper her Lord presides over and invites her to.

So it will be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed, He will be with you always, as He always has. Amen.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Holy Ones Are Hearing Ones

All Saints Day [Observed]
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
November 4, 2012
Perhaps it’s ironic that All Saints Day always follows Reformation Day. Reformation Day reminds us we’re always in need of reformation. We are sinners who wake every day to the need of dying and rising to new life. That’s what our God does, He reforms us. He continually refashions us, recreates us, renews us. What He does is He makes us saints. Saints are holy ones. And there’s the irony. We are made holy by the perfect sacrifice of Christ, His blood shed for our very imperfect and very unholy lives. By His blood we are declared righteous and holy.

The irony, and even tension, is found in the fact that He declares us holy even as we live in this fallen world. We are surrounded by evil, by tragedy and suffering, by sin in the world and within ourselves. And let’s not forget the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We are holy ones who are in constant need of being forgiven and reformed. It’s not as though we go back and forth. At one moment we’re in the grace of God and fully redeemed, in the next we lapse and are outside of the grace of God and in need once again to be converted. The mystery of this has been described as being saints and sinners simultaneously. At the same time we are holy ones, pure and in the grace of God as we stand before Him on account of His Son even as we are still wrapped up in our sinful flesh, the Old Adam which is constantly rebelling against God’s grace and sinning against Him.

Do you sin? Yes, daily. You are in a constant state of being a sinner. You are by nature sinful and unclean. In His grace and mercy, God does not count this against you. He looks at you and does not see one who is stained and unclean but one who is holy and pure and righteous. How is this so? It is because when He looks at you He sees His Son. He sees you robed in the righteousness of His holy, pure, unstained Son. You are a saint and a sinner. Simultaneously.

On All Saints Day this is the central thought. If you were to go away from here with the notion that as long as you are seeking to improve then you’re being a good saint, you would miss the entire point of what it means to be a saint. Not that you shouldn’t seek to improve. That should go without saying. But that you do doesn’t make you a saint. You are a holy one of God because of Christ and what He has done for you, not what you continue to do.

In fact, the whole notion of trying to suppress your sinful nature goes against this fact of God declaring you a saint. Your sinful nature doesn’t need to be suppressed, it needs to be slain! Drown that sucker! That’s what repentance and daily dying and rising are all about. That’s why each day you arise to the knowledge and joy that you are Baptized. Begin the day making the sign of the cross on your forehead and your heart in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. This sign points you to your Baptism. The sign of the cross points you to what happened in Baptism. You were slain, crucified, drowned. Your sinful flesh was joined with Christ in His death and you were then raised to new life, joined with Christ in His resurrection.

This is each day. Each day you die and rise. Each day you wake as a sinner who needs to be slain. Each day you are raised to new life in remembering your Baptism, that instance when you were made a holy one, a saint.

The Old Testament reading today talks of impressing the Word of God upon our children and ourselves. His Words are varied, of Law and Gospel. We talk of them while we’re on the way, we write them on the doorposts of our homes, we make them a part of us, of our daily lives. This doesn’t begin at the moment our children are able to understand and comprehend rational and logical thought. It begins from Baptism. We Baptize them and then nurture and sustain them by the Word of God.

And do you know what happens when we do this? Something amazing. Something we might never expect if we look at things the way we often do. Something we would never fully appreciate if we were to determine how these things ought to work. It’s so amazing that we often miss it because when we look for amazing things from God we too often think in terms of spectacle.

What happens is that they hear. This is the amazing work of God. They hear. Now parents do well to note a difference between hearing and listening. Our kids can hear the words we say but too often don’t listen. Too often we adults fall into the same trap. We hear what we want to hear from others instead of actually listening to them. There is a lot of wisdom in this and we would do well to take this to heart.

But this is not what we’re talking about here. Note well that in the Old Testament reading it does not say, “Listen, O Israel.” The word is very specifically ‘hear’. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is the amazing work of God. If God were going to tell us how to become saints He would have said, “Listen up people!” Moses would have said to the people, “Listen, O Israel!” But he didn’t. He said ‘hear’. The work of listening is our work. As stated before, we are wise to listen. To pay attention. To take to heart what is being said. But when it comes to being a saint, don’t try to make it happen. Don’t rely on your work of listening or improving or whatever other bright idea you have.


That’s how saints are made. By hearing. Paul said it in Romans, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” He didn’t say ‘listening’. He didn’t say by doing something. He said by ‘hearing’. This is amazing. It is the amazing work of God. He is saving you, making you holy, producing faith in you by what He does. Namely, speaking it into you. This is exactly what happened in your Baptism. As the water was poured on you the words of Christ were spoken. And something amazing happened. You heard. You were saved by hearing. You were declared a saint of God, a holy one, because those words penetrated your eardrums and went straight to your heart.

Holy ones are hearing ones.

When the scribe in today’s Gospel reading asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was Jesus didn’t jump straight to the part about loving God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and the part about loving your neighbor as yourself. If He had, well, it would have been meet, right, and salutary being as He’s God. But amazingly, He didn’t. He was asked to quote a commandment. The greatest commandment. What He gave was a statement of how you are made a saint: hear. Jesus quoted the words of the Old Testament reading, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Jump straight to the commandment if you wish; talk all you want about loving God; loving Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and will all your strength, and with all your mind; talk about how you must listen to Him; about how you must follow Him; how you must serve Him. But if you do before you have heard you have done it in vain. Holy ones are hearing ones. You are made a saint by hearing and you live by faith. That means you live as a saint by hearing. Hearing the Word. Listening to it, yes, of course. There’s no point in hearing the Word of God if you’re not going to pay attention. If you find your mind drifting you might need a kick-start and get focused back on the task of listening, taking to heart, engaging with the Word. But this is not at the heart of being a holy one.

Hearing is. Hearing ones are the ones who are holy. The saints are the ones who hear. In other words, the saints are the ones who stand in the presence of God not of their own worthiness or on account of something they have accomplished. No, they stand before God as holy solely because they stand under the mercy. They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They stand as holy ones because God spoke this holiness, this righteousness, this forgiveness, this salvation, into them. Holy ones are hearing ones.

This can be seen by the way God works. What do we believe happens when we partake of the body and blood of our Lord in His Holy Supper? We believe He forgives us. Does He do so on the basis of what we do? On the contrary, it is on the basis of His Word being spoken, just as it was in our Baptism. It’s exactly the same thing. It’s the Gospel that saves us, makes us saints. In Baptism it’s water that’s connected with this Word of the Gospel, in the Lord’s Supper it’s bread and wine that’s connected with the Word of the Gospel. That is what you hear. He speaks, you hear. He speaks into you, you are the passive receiver of His amazing work of salvation, of making you a saint.

Hearing ones recognize that they are holy ones. They recognize they are holy by grace, as a gift, purely by the mercy of their Lord, that they are, simply, hearing ones. They recognize the joy to hear their Lord. They rejoice in the many opportunities their Lord gives them to make known to others the salvation they have received by hearing. They give thanks their Lord calls them into a fallen world where they can serve others and where others too have the opportunity to hear and be saved.

They recognize, by grace, that they are saints in exactly the same way as the saints who have gone before them are, by grace. By hearing. The saints in heaven have gone before us and await as we do the glorious day when Christ will come again to call us to join with them in the everlasting Banquet in which we will hear our Lord speak to us and lavish His love and grace on us.

In the meantime we hear here on earth. We gather around this altar hearing our Lord say to us, Take, eat, this is My body; take, drink, this is My blood. We gather around the altar at this rail. When you look at it you see that it forms a half circle because there’s the wall that prevents it from continuing on to form a full circle. And yet, because we are those who are hearing ones we recognize that this isn’t simply a feature of the church’s architecture but rather of a visual sign of what is happening at this altar. What is happening is that the holy ones of God here on earth are gathering with the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven to hear and receive from their Lord. We kneel at this half of the circle knowing that the part that is unseen is occupied by the saints who have gone before us, holy ones. Holy ones as we are. Hearing ones now and always. Amen.