Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sermon for 11/24/13--Last Sunday of the Church Year




Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

What is it about the Word of God that causes eyelids to grow heavy? What is it about the Word of God that causes hearers to lose interest? Why is it so easy to wake up before dawn even considers dawning for a hunting or fishing trip, yet it’s so hard to keep the eyes open on Sunday morning? The Lord tells us to be ready and watching for Him, but it’s a near-impossible task. Even the bridesmaids can’t keep their eyes open. But the Bridegroom is coming! Jesus is returning soon! The difference between the wise virgins and the foolish ones isn’t that the foolish ones fell asleep and the wise ones stayed awake. It’s that the wise ones had oil for their lamps.

So then, what is this all-important oil? What is it you need to be ready when the Bridegroom comes? The oil is the Holy Spirit, the Word, faith in Jesus. In the Bible oil was not only used for lamps. Oil was also used to anoint people as God’s chosen ones. Oil was made from olives which were pressed and crushed. Think of our Lord on the cross, crushed by our sins, pressed under the weight of God’s wrath and judgment, squeezed by our sins until there was no life left in Him, until the water and blood of the holy sacraments poured out of Him.

That oil is given to us by the Holy Spirit who fills up our lamps in Holy Baptism and every time we eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood. Oil is poured for our lamps as we hear God’s Word and the preaching of the Gospel. The thing about the oil is that it is the Bridegroom Himself who has prepared us for His return by giving us the oil! We don’t even have to go get it. He gives it to us. The Bridegroom Himself makes us ready to receive Him when He comes on the last day. Even if you fall asleep, that is, even when you die, the oil makes you ready for the day the trumpet sounds and Christ returns in all His glory. My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are ready. You have water and Word, body and blood. When the Bridegroom comes, you are ready to go!

So what about those foolish virgins? They aren’t ready. They don’t have oil. They thought they didn’t have to go and hear God’s Word. They didn’t need to come and eat and drink Christ’s body and blood. They didn’t have to learn the Scriptures and have Christ fill their vessels with oil. In this life they despised the Word and Baptism and the Supper. They figured that when Jesus comes back, they’d be in just because they had good intentions or they were nice people or they lived good lives. But they had no oil—no faith, no Word, no Holy Spirit. On the Last Day they’ll be running around trying to get some oil, but there won’t be any more. When the Lord comes on that Last Day, there will be no more time for preaching and hearing God’s Word. And the foolish ones will beat on the door of the wedding hall and be told, “I don’t know who you are!” The door is shut, and all they can do is weep and wail to be in the dark without the light of Christ.

But you, dear pure and wise virgins, you are ready. Your oil is stocked up because you are stocked up with Jesus: with His Word, with forgiveness, with your Baptism, with His body and blood. Our Lord is coming, and He will be here soon! But you’re ready. You’re ready because the Bridegroom has made you ready and wise. Your eyes may close during a sermon here and there, and you may close your eyes in death for a time. But when the Lord arrives, that shout is going to wake you up! You’re going to be full of joy and gladness that Christ has come for you. He will gather you up and bring you to His eternal wedding feast. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sermon for 11/17/13--Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

No audio again. Sorry.

From the Foundation of the World

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The images in the readings should frighten and terrify sinners. They should cause us to fall down and cry out in repentance! Jesus describes Judgment Day as the separation of the sheep and the goats. And our sinful flesh, which only ever thinks of itself, grabs onto the idea that what is going on is that Jesus is judging people based on how they lived. Those who served their neighbor get to go to heaven. Those who didn't do good works for others go to hell. My brothers and sisters in Christ, do you think that Jesus preaches His works and His grace, and the apostles preach that we are saved by grace through Christ's work, and your pastors preach that you are saved by what Jesus has done; and then, on the Last Day, it's suddenly going to change so that you are actually saved by how you lived your life? The Lord doesn't change. His grace doesn't disappear. His work of saving you from your sins doesn't end on that Last Day!

What did Jesus come to do? Did He come to earth and teach people how to live a good life so they can be a part of His kingdom? No! He came to keep the commandments that we break. He came to fulfill the Law that we cannot. He came to die—to die in the place of sinners, to die covered with our sins, to give His life as our ransom. Everything Jesus is about in His earthly life is accomplishing, achieving, winning the forgiveness of sins for sinners. For you. Everything that Jesus comes to do, He has done in your place. That doesn't change on the Last Day.

Jesus says He will separate the sheep from the goats on the Last Day. It doesn't say He will decide who's a sheep or a goat based on what they've done. When all people stand before the Lord on the Last Day, they will already be sheep and goats! Jesus says elsewhere, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." He knows the sheep before that Last Day. What is it that makes you a sheep? It is your Baptism into Christ. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. That salvation becomes yours at the holy font. At the moment you are washed with water and the Word, you are born again from above. You are made a part of Christ's kingdom. You are made a child of God, one of Christ’s little lambs. When you stand before the Lord on the Last Day, it will be as His holy and beloved sheep. If you ever doubt that, then remember you Baptism. You are a sheep of Christ because you are baptized into Him! Don't ever doubt that!

Now listen carefully to Jesus' next words to His sheep. "Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." From the foundation of the world, before you were created or born, our heavenly Father had a kingdom prepared for you. How can you inherit a kingdom by your good works if that kingdom was ready for you before you were even alive to do any good works? That means when Jesus is speaking to His sheep on the Last Day, He's not telling them about some reward they've earned. What He's giving them has always been a gift. It has always been something from God's mercy, not what we have earned or deserved! The Father has always intended to send His Son to save you from your sins. The kingdom is prepared before the world was made because it was decided that Jesus would save the world before it was even made! Again, how can you be certain that this kingdom is prepared? That it's ready for you? That's what your Baptism says. When you are absolved of your sins, you are being reminded that nothing will keep you from the gift of a kingdom that your Father has prepared. When you eat and drink Jesus' body and blood, you are united to your Savior in such a way that when He receives His kingdom, it's your kingdom too. In Christ, all that He has is now yours.

Dear Christians, do not despair of your salvation when you hear the story of the sheep and the goats. Do not worry that somehow its all going to come down to what you’ve done. On that Last Day, it all comes down to Christ. It always has, from the very foundation of the world. Do not be afraid; rejoice in that Last Day. Look forward to it! On that Day all that Christ has done for you by His life and all that He has given to you in your life will be fulfilled in the gift of an everlasting kingdom for you to enjoy!  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sermon for 11/10/13--Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year



I Told You So

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

“If only I had known.” It’s the ultimate statement of regret. Perhaps if we had been aware of what was to come, we could have made decisions or plans or whatever, and everything would have gone okay. The end of the world is especially worrisome. But Jesus does, indeed, give us that foreknowledge we desire. His words ring out clearly the saving promise of salvation: "See, I have told you beforehand!" Before all these things come to pass, Jesus tells His disciples about abominations in the temple, false messiahs and false prophets, doomsayers, suffering and horror! Is this meant to scare them, to get them to straighten up? No. He tells them these things to comfort them, to rescue them from those very enemies who will attack in the Last Days. Dear Christians, do not worry about these scary sounding tribulations and false preachers! Hear the Word of the Lord: "See, I have told you beforehand." Your comfort in a world that is coming to an end is that Jesus has spoken His Word. That Word rescues you from sin and death and the devil and his preachers and rests you securely in Christ, unto eternal life!

Why do we have false Christs and false prophets? Just think of what happened at Mt. Sinai. Moses, the man called by God to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, went up on Mt. Sinai and, as far as the people were concerned, he was never coming back. And with Moses out of the picture, they have Aaron carve an idol to worship out of gold. And what's worse, they call that idol "the Lord." And this is exactly what happens today. Christ seems a long time in coming. So people begin to seek after idols. They call upon these idols and false gods and false prophets who sound like the true Jesus, but they aren't like Him at all. Here people go looking for Jesus in all the places He has not promised to be. The go running out to the deserts, to places where they can see visions. Maybe they find a preacher who has knowledge he'll give about Christ if you pay your membership dues. People go seeking Jesus in their hearts or in their changed lives or in some emotional experience. They look for Jesus where miracles and signs are being showcased. They look for Jesus apart from His church and means of grace; apart from His Word and Sacraments; apart from the font and altar and pulpit and Scriptures. But such a Jesus can't save you.

The true Jesus doesn't come telling you to run to the desert or go in your closet to find Him. The true Christ is the Son of God who has come in the flesh to bear the wages of sin. And seeing Christ, the Father turns His fierce wrath away from you and onto His Son. All false Christs and false prophets will direct you to themselves or to your works. But the True Jesus directs you to Him, because He hung on the cross bearing your sins. His suffering is your freedom from sin, death, devil and hell. His sacrifice is the blood price of your salvation. His death is your life. His resurrection is your life too. That's what the real Jesus is all about: saving sinners!

Any preacher will tell you where to find Jesus. The difference between a false prophet and true preacher is that a preacher who is truly called by Christ will point you to Jesus where He Himself has promised to be—not in the desert, not in signs or wonders, not hidden behind the bleached teeth and perfect hair of a raging narcissist who will only point you to himself and a life of ease. Jesus is where He has promised to be: where two or three are gathered in His name; in the font in Holy Baptism; in the Word of Holy Absolution; in the Word delivered from the pulpit; and in His body and blood. Once again, with all these words of Jesus, He has told you beforehand. You need not doubt or wonder. You will find Him exactly where He said He would be.

There are times of trials and troubles, times of frustration and doubt, when it seems like Christ is never going to return. But I tell you, as Christ told His apostles and the Apostles recorded it in Holy Scripture: Jesus is here, now, in His church, at His font, speaking from His pulpit, feeding you from His altar. There you can be certain it's the real Jesus: the One who gave His life for you, the One who bore the Father’s wrath for you, the One who has made you a holy child of God. These are the end times. But do not be afraid. Jesus is here with you. The world will weep and wail at the prospect of eternal separation from the Father. But you, dear children of God, will break forth into songs of joy on that day, for it is the day the Lord comes to take you to be with Him forever. There is no need for doubt or fear. After all, Jesus told you ahead of time. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

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

Monday, November 04, 2013

Sermon for 11/3/13--The Feast of All Saints (observed)

No audio this week. I forgot to turn on the recorder. Sorry!

Christ in You

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Sinners struggle. Sin penetrates every part of a sinner’s life. If you look at the list of Beatitudes, you don’t see a list of attributes in which sinners thrive. Sinners do not see themselves as poor in spirit. In the idolatry of their own hearts; they are rich. They do not mourn their sin, and they are not meek. Instead, they are bold in their sinfulness. They do not hunger for righteousness, thinking they have already attained it. They are not merciful; they hold grudges. The list goes on. The heart of the sinner is blackened and riddled with sin, and what little honesty the sinner can muster can only whisper in the silence of that heart that the Beatitudes are beyond the sinner’s reach.

I’ve told you before that the Beatitudes describe Jesus. This is most certainly true. But the Beatitudes are also descriptions of the saints. They describe you. They describe you and all the saints because they first describe Jesus. You have been baptized into Christ; that makes you a saint. And what is this life as a saint of God? As one who is in Jesus Christ? It is nothing like the world’s way of living. In fact, Jesus makes clear that to be blessed by God means to be hated and suffer in this world. It can’t be any other way for Jesus’ disciples. That’s why you are here today. You are here because the Lord has made you saints. He has made you holy by forgiving you your sins, by purging that blackened heart of yours with His own blood. Nothing stains you. You wear the white robe of Christ’s righteousness that was put upon you in Holy Baptism. You are sprinkled white by the blood of the Lamb. You are here because the Lord has made a promise to you that after this life of suffering and sadness, He will return and raise you up for an eternal life of joy and celebration in paradise. That’s a hard promise to believe. So on All Saints Day we remember that Jesus has fulfilled that promise to so many others who have gone before us. As the hymn reminds us: “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine!”

To see your life as a Christian, just look at Christ. He was hated by His own people and put to death. Then He rose to life and ascended to the majesty of the Father’s right hand. So it is with you. The world will hate you. The world will laugh at you for your faith. In many places it will kill you for confessing your faith in Christ. That’s what you have to look forward to as a Christian in this dying world. But we also look forward to resurrection, to being alive on the Last Day. Behold that multitude in Revelation: a crowd so big you can’t count it! They are with Jesus forever. Their every tear has been wiped away. That is the life that Jesus has won for you. His suffering and death was not just for show. It takes away your sins. It washes you in His blood so that you are safe from this world and the hatred it has to offer. It makes you poor in spirit, merciful, a peacemaker, and all the other things Jesus describes to His disciples. Today, you are His saints. At the resurrection you will be His eternal saints. What changes between this life and the life to come is that you go from temporary sorrow to everlasting joy. What doesn’t change between this life and the life to come is that you are a saint in Christ.

And this is nothing new. It’s what the Lord has been doing since man first fell and God gave His first promise of a Savior. He fulfilled the promise to Adam and Eve, to Abel, to Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to David and Solomon, to Isaiah and Jeremiah and all those Old Testament saints. He delivered salvation to Peter, James, and John and the apostles, to Athanasius and Augustine, to Luther and Chemnitz, to your grandparents and parents, and even to our sons and daughters and those who have been given the fulfillment of eternal life before we have. But this gift is for you too: this gift of eternal life fulfilled, the day of rejoicing when all the tears are wiped away.

When you doubt, when your hopes fade and the world around you wears you down, cling to your Baptism. Cling to the word of holy absolution. Cling to the body and blood of Jesus and His promise to raise you on the Last Day. And as you cling to those gifts of Jesus, hear the words of the liturgy, the words that remind us of our place among “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” that is, the saints who have gone before us by faith. Today we rejoice for all the saints: the saints who have come before us and are now at rest; the saints you are now, saints who struggle in this life and walk by faith; and the saints who will come after us who will also be saints only in and because of Jesus. In the end, this Feast of All Saints must be about Jesus, for He is the One who made you His saints, holy for life everlasting. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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