Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sermon for 11/26/17: Last Sunday in the Church Year

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What Matters

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

There is nothing more important than the kingdom of heaven. Once it has been offered, presented, and given to you, let nothing take it from you. There is nothing that matters except the kingdom of heaven. But such an intense desire for nothing but the kingdom of heaven will force you to make hard decisions in life. The godly pursuit of the kingdom sets “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.” You will be reviled and mocked, falsely spoken against, endure all sorts of grief and heartache—all because you are striving for the kingdom of heaven. You will be forced to decide between what the world says is necessary for success, and what is necessary for salvation; between what satisfies you now, and what matters most; and between what is comfortable for now, and what truly comforts in the long run. The kingdom of heaven is all that really matters—because only the kingdom of heaven is true and real and sure and lasting in this life, as well as in the life of the world to come.
The kingdom of heaven is the only place where the faithful, both living and departed, gather to feast on the Lamb and hear once again the never-ending mercies of their God. The kingdom is your life, and you should let nothing keep you from it. Likewise, there is nothing that should capture your attention more than when you hear that the Bridegroom is coming. But do not misunderstand: the kingdom of heaven is already a present reality! The Bridegroom is here! The Banquet is ready! The Lamb sits on the throne, surrounded by the faithful! And the angelic choir together with the whole company of heaven is ready to sing, “Holy, holy, holy!”
Don’t let this moment pass you by. This isn’t just practice to get you ready for what is to come. That’s the thinking of the foolish virgins who were so caught up in living that they missed out on Life Himself. They were so focused on what they needed to do that they missed what they needed most. When the Bridegroom arrived and the doors to the kingdom were opened, they were not around. When the Supper was ready to be distributed, they were not in attendance. They can only beat on the door and cry, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” And what is the answer? “I do not know you.” That may sound harsh, but they were doing what they thought was best, not the will of God. “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of the heavenly Father.”
And what is the will of the heavenly Father? Look at the five wise virgins. They keep vigil outside the doors of the kingdom, eager to greet the Bridegroom, anticipating both His arrival and the Gospel He serves them. Even when the Bridegroom comes later than they expect, they have prepared by being filled with the oil of faith, for the kingdom of heaven cannot wait for them. The faithful wait in eager expectation for the coming of their Lord.
And these wise are not disappointed in their hope. The Bridegroom does not delay too long. He arrives at the appointed time, here in this place where the kingdom of heaven is already present. This is where the faithful departed gather with the faithful living. This is where the Lord’s kingdom comes. The Bridegroom makes His entrance. He serves His feast. He stands among you. He preaches, forgives, and blesses you, serving Himself to you as your food and drink. The Bridegroom is here, and He brought His Kingdom with Him. Receive Him as He comes to you in His Body and Blood. And as you do so, pray that you may attain to the fullness of His kingdom in the life of the world to come. For Christ is coming soon. 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.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sermon for 11/22-23/17: Thanksgiving

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Enduring Mercy

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

St. Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks.” By our way of thinking, that seems a bit extreme. Give thanks always for cancer? For war in the Middle East? Give thanks for divorce and runaways, for abused children and homeless families, for the deceptions perpetrated in abortion mills and for the babies that will never be born? How can we thank God for that? How can this be the Lord’s will? Only in this way: His mercy endures forever.
It is a bit sobering to realize that, as painful and sad as our lives might be, they are not as painful and sad as they could be. Even in war and cancer, even in pain and abuse, there is still some measure of mercy. There is no Hell on earth. Not ground zero in New York, not Jeffrey Dahmer’s basement, not even Stalin’s prisons were Hell on earth. Any of those places looks like a wonderful reprieve to souls in the never ending gnashing of teeth and torment in Hell. Hell is Hell. There is nothing on earth, no matter how horrific, that really compares. The pain of having God withdraw from your life is beyond all imagination. By God’s mercy in Jesus Christ there is only Hell in Hell. He stopped it from coming to earth. He intervened in the garden. And no man ever need endure or suffer it because His mercy endures forever. Thus do we always give thanks in all things, because bad as it is, is not as bad as it could be.
That is not to say that we actually give thanks for cancer or for war. Rather we give thanks in spite of cancer, war, abuse, injustice, and death. We give thanks that, as St. Paul says, “All things work together for good to those who love God…We give thanks for the mercies we receive in this vale of tears. As bad as it might be, we deserve worse according to God’s Law. If He recorded our sins, who could stand? Our suffering is not insignificant, but is not it the true price of our sins. Thus we give thanks.
We also give thanks and praise for the sure and certain mercy that will lead us through the baptismal sea, red with our Lord’s blood, and into the arms of the Father. The angel of death has no room for us. He passed over us because the doorposts of our singing hearts are marked with the blood of the Lamb. The angel will not lead us across the Styx and into Hades. He filled his boat at Mt. Golgotha. There is no room for us in the boat or in Hell. Our payment has been made. There is nothing left, nothing more for the devil or the Law to ask. There is no accusation remaining, because His mercy endures forever. And because His mercy endures forever, we give thanks.
This merciful sacrifice does not buy us passage into some fantasy land where we can play for all of eternity—some Disneyland in the sky with immaculate golf courses and stocked trout ponds. We do not go to the Fiddler’s green, the Elysian fields, or Valhalla to drink and do whatever else. We go to our Father’s house. We will enter the Bridal chamber prepared for us even before the foundation of the world, into the promised land flowing with milk and honey and grapes too big for one man to carry.
His mercy endures forever. And that is reason enough to give thanks in all things—whether the harvest comes in or not; whether our children honor us or not; whether the world lets Christians live their faith or not; whether our synod, our country, or our families endure or not. We give thanks always in all things because Jesus died but did not stay dead. He rose for us. He lives for us. We too shall live! This life is not all there is. For even as the worst and most torturous day here is not as bad as an instant in Hell, so also the very best day here, with family and friends and good food, in peace and quietness, cannot compare to what is to come. For His mercy endures forever. Thanks be to God! 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.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon for 11/19/17: Second-Last Sunady of the Church Year

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Living the Christ Within You

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

We are not judged faithful simply because we say we believe in God. What good is it if you say you believe in God, but you are not kind to your spouse, your children, your co-workers, or even strangers? As St. James tells us, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” On the other hand, others may say, “I have done many good things. I’ve been kind to many people. I’ve helped all kinds of folks. And I give money to the poor, and treat strangers with kindness.” If you must tell me about your works to prove your faith and justify your righteousness, then you do not yet have true faith. Just as true faith must come alive in love, so also good works must not be advertised, lest you shine the spotlight on yourself. Our Lord Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Works to glorify the Father is glorified—that requires faith mixed with true humility, and love combined with genuine meekness. Faith mixed with true humility says, “It is not I, but Christ who lives in me, that does these things.”
Faithful humility and loving meekness will be on display on the Last Day. For how will the faithful, blessed sheep answer the kindly, generous King? The faithful are stunned. They are dumb-struck. “When, Lord, did we do what you say? When did we show you any kindness, any love, any mercy?” As they see it, they failed the Lord. They certainly did not treat every soul as if they were dealing with the Lord. But that is the nature of true faith. True faith lives for another without caring about how it will come back later. And coupled with true faith is true love. True love sacrifices everything—reputation, pride, will, body, the whole self—for the good of another. True love conforms itself completely to whatever benefits the other. True love asks nothing for itself, instead seeking out new and different ways to please and satisfy and please another.
Again, consider the blessed faithful on the Last Day. They are commended because they sacrificed themselves entirely to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. They gave no thought to germs or what others would think or if the other person would give a little something in return. They thought nothing of themselves, instead concerning themselves only with what was best for whomever they met. And they do this because that is how the Lord God deals not only with the faithful, but with all men and all creation. And these sanctified faithful see it, consider themselves unworthy of the Lord’s many kindnesses, and yet cannot help but live the mercy they’ve received.
So on the Last Day, the faithful are blessed and given the Father’s kingdom, but not because they worked for it with all that they did, and not because they believed it was theirs to possess. The faithful are blessed and given the kingdom because they lived the Christ within them—living for others, living the mercy they had received—astounded and grateful and joyful that the Lord had lived for them and, in the greatest of mysteries, in them and through them by faith.
Our Lord tells us about the blessed faithful so that we might strive to match their faith. And to make that possible, just as He did for them, He feeds our faith—a faith born in the waters of Holy Baptism, fanned from embers into a mighty flame by the power of the Word, and, yes, fed in our Lord’s body and blood—so that you may imitate their humble faith and meek love. In doing so, you live no longer for yourself, but for Him by living for others with the same mercy, love, and compassion that He has so richly and generously poured over you and into you. 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.