Sunday, December 05, 2021

Sermon for 12/5/21: Second Sunday in Advent


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.

 

Advents

Malachi 4:1-6

 

 

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

 

The Sundays of Advent join the last few weeks of the Church Year in speaking of the return of our Lord in glory. So why all this fuss over the end times? Why not spend more time preparing for Christmas, for its message and celebration? While we can speak about preparing again to celebrate that great miracle of the Incarnation, God becoming man—and we certainly should give due regard to this most wondrous event in human history—it is an event that has already happened. We can remember it; we can meditate upon it; we can celebrate it; and we should do all of these. But the event itself is a part of history. It has already happened.

Do we prepare for Christ’s coming among us now? Yes, of course we do. We are doing it right now! And what we are doing now to prepare is not mere remembrance; it is reality! We who are Christians have already received this Advent. The Lord has come to us in His Gospel and Sacraments; He continues to do so, and He will continue doing so in the future. This Advent of our Lord is part and parcel of our daily lives.

The Advent of Christ on the day of His return, however, is something that hasn’t happened yet. It is still a part of the unseen future, the day of which is unknown to us. And yet, it is a day for which we must be prepared. And this preparation is no less important than the daily preparation we make to receive our Lord now. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” I think you will agree that this is pretty serious stuff.

And this was Malachi’s concern in our Old Testament text. There is a day coming, he said, when the Lord will return. And for all who have dwelt on the face of the earth there will be only two potential results of that return: it will either be a day that burns like an oven, and all practitioners of evil and unbelief will be burned up in a fire that is never quenched. Or, for those who fear the Lord, those who have loved Him in faith and longed for His reappearing, they will receive the healing of the Sun of righteousness; they will enter upon a life that is new, like every new day that dawns.

Malachi was part of that generation that followed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem when Judah was restored after the Babylonian captivity. At first, it seemed that exile in Babylon had chastened Judah and Jerusalem. Despite numerous obstacles, they had rebuilt the Temple—oh, not with the splendor that was Solomon’s, to be sure, but, nonetheless, it was dedicated to the service of the Lord.

But those old, apathetic ways that caused so much trouble in the past had begun to set in again. The priests serving in the Temple were despising the Lord by their polluted offerings. They were using the sick and the lame animal as sacrifices instead of the first and the best, as God commanded. The men were marrying “daughter(s) of a foreign god,” as Malachi put it, unbelievers who would profane the covenant and influence their husbands to do the same. The society was riddled with divorce and sexual immorality. The people were not keeping up with their offerings to the Lord because they believed God was stingy and unjust. Now, there was a remnant of the faithful—there always is—who feared the Lord and worked at supporting one another. They cried out to the Lord, and He heard them and promised them a day of reckoning, when the distinction between the righteous and the wicked would be made clear for all to see.

If you didn’t know differently, you might think that Malachi was born in our days. His indictment of Judah could easily be ours. We are dogged by the same apathy. The services of our “temple,” if you will, are often distasteful to us; we find that we are bored by God’s Word, irritated by the tediousness of the Liturgy and the hymns. We turn our eyes away from the immorality that surrounds us in the media, for example, if not in our own experiences, just hoping that it will go away on its own, even though we know it won’t. We find reasons to think that the Lord has been stingy and not very forthcoming with us, and that He seems to tolerate all kinds of injustice in this world. We wonder why the wicked not only survive but also seem to thrive in this world. And then we realize that the wicked are not just others; we are there, too.

And so, Malachi’s words possess a force that we need to feel as well. It was not just Judah and Jerusalem, and it’s not just today’s purveyors of evil around us; we, too, are in need of repentance, and desperately so! We need to feel the heat of Malachi’s burning oven, its threat of endless punishment. For then we know that judgment from which we have been spared only by God’s grace. And then, in great joy, we can bask in the light and warmth of the Sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ, who comes bringing healing to our sin-sick hearts, to our apathy-ridden souls.

When all is said and done, this is what the fuss is all about. Both Advent and the final return of our Lord are about deliverance from judgment and eternal punishment. It is why Jesus tells us in this day’s Gospel: “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 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 28, 2021

Sermon for 11/28/21: First Sunday in Advent

No video file. My apologies. Some unnamed pastor forgot to plug the SD card into the camera.

 “Stay Awake…”
Romans 13:(8–10) 11–14

 

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

 

 

As St. Paul says in our text, we know the present time in which we live. We know that this time, this present world, offers all kinds of enticements that can hinder Christians from being faithful. And so, we are not to live thoughtlessly or indifferently; we are to consider carefully these days in which we live and their significance. We are not of this world, Jesus tells us, but we are certainly in it, and we can’t avoid that. Careful discernment is required so that we might understand our days but not get caught up in them. And that is what the apostle means when he says that it is high time to awaken. It is time to shake off that drowsy carelessness into which we so easily fall. It is time to be alert, to be fully aware of what is going on around us, focused on believing what is true and doing what is right and God-pleasing.

And we really have the most wonderful motivation for this. St. Paul tells us,“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Every day, every hour, brings our final deliverance nearer. If nothing else, that just makes mathematical sense. God has appointed the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ will return; that will not change. Every day that passes brings us that much closer. The salvation we have already received by grace in Holy Baptism, the salvation nurtured in Word and Sacrament, will soon be revealed in all its eternal fullness when Jesus returns. That moment has come nearer even as we speak.

“The night is far gone, the day is at hand.” That night of which the apostle speaks is our present time, and all the years of sinful futility that have led up to our present day—all of them full of the darkness of sin and death. The day is the return of Christ, preceded by all of the promises made in Holy Scripture that He would return, just as He said. The truth is, those promises have always been there, shedding light on the lives of the faithful. Too often we have let darkness crowd out that light.

The apostle admonishes us to “...cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The devil is constantly working at dragging us back into the darkness of sin, those fleshly excesses that turn our attention totally to ourselves and away from God and the life He sets before us. And our sinful flesh easily succumbs to those things. In truth, this is spiritual warfare. The armor that Paul speaks of emphasizes the fact that the life of faith is a constant battle against the forces of evil. And the only sure and certain defense is the “armor of light,” the truth of Jesus Christ and His saving work for us, and His powerful Word that keeps us faithful in these things. In this way, we will “walk properly, as in the day time.” We will be enabled by the Holy Spirit to lead lives we need never be ashamed of. For we know and believe that we are living at the edge of the dawn of eternity, ever mindful of the presence of the Lord.

So St. Paul tells us, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” This is baptismal language, isn’t it? As Paul wrote to the Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Baptized into Christ, we live in His light: His forgiveness of sins graciously and richly poured on us with the water and Word of Holy Baptism. This baptismal life has been further nourished and strengthened through the hearing of His Word and the blessed Sacrament of His holy body and blood. Christ places Himself into your very mouth, living out His life in you and through you.

And now, the apostle says: “...make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Under God’s guidance and blessing, we certainly make provision for those needs appropriate for our bodies and lives. At the same time, we are to be always wary of our sinful nature; it must be held in check. Remember what Paul said elsewhere: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, I keep on doing.” Constant vigilance is required so that we do not feed our sinful nature those things that would allow it to rise up and snuff out the light. This is the never-ending battle that the life of faith in Christ faces.

There is nothing new here. It is that same age-old routine the old evil foe has always used against us, trying to appeal to the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh, so that the light of truth and faith, like the lamps in last week’s Gospel, might be allowed to flicker and finally die.

Staying awake and alert requires light that overcomes darkness. We sang about that just a few minutes ago: From the manger, newborn light shines in glory through the night. Darkness there no more resides; in this light faith now abides.” It was Luther who said that if you are looking for God, look no further than the manger. For as you look into the eyes of that Babe, you are looking into the face of God. And where He is, there is everlasting light: light that will keep us awake, alert, and ready for His coming again in glory. 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 25, 2021

Sermon for 11/24-25/21: Day of National Thanksgiving

“Remember the Lord Your God…”
Deuteronomy 8:1-10

 

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

 

We don’t really need a special Thursday in November to give thanks to God, do we? Thanksgiving is our priestly duty as baptized believers. This is what priests do. They offer sacrifices. Thanksgiving is a sacrifice, an offering to God for all His blessings not only to us, but to the whole world. Faithful hearts are also grateful hearts. We are thankful for all the gifts of creation. We are thankful for our own lives. We are thankful for God’s preserving gifts of clothing and shoes, food and drink, house, home, and family. We are thankful for the good land He has given us, for our freedoms, and for the protection He provides for our bodies and lives. And all of this, the Catechism reminds us, God gives us “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in (us).” And we, His children, say “thank you.”

We thank God for the gifts of our redemption: for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ, into human flesh; for His perfect life and death; for His resurrection; for His atonement for the sin of the world; and for His governing of all things. We thank God for the gifts of the Spirit; for the preaching of the Gospel; for the Church and for faithful pastors; for our own rebirth in Holy Baptism; our refreshment in the Holy Supper; our fellowship together with all the saints in Christ; the resurrection of our bodies, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus; and the sure hope of eternal life. The least we can do is to say “thank you.”

Moses spoke to Israel on the threshold of the Promised Land. “Remember the Lord,” he said. Remember that He brought you out of Egypt, that He fed you when you were hungry, that He trained you to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth. And now He is bringing you into a good and rich land, where all the blessings of life are easily gotten. All of this was a foretaste of the feast to come, a preview of heaven itself, where God sets the table and His people eat and drink in freedom and joy.

But Moses also knew the impediments to thanksgiving. He warned them to watch out. After they had eaten and were full in their comfortable homes, after their work was paying off and their investments were multiplying, they would forget the Lord. They would begin to believe that their own reason and strength had gained them everything, that they were dependent on no one. They did all these things. They made idols of the image in the mirror.

Remember the Lord, your God,” Moses would tell them, “for it is He who gives you the power to get wealth.” He causes the rain and the sunshine in their season. He gives grain to the sower and bread to the eater. He gives life and all that you have, and He can take it all away in an instant, if He decides that is what is best for you. Our every moment we live out of the goodness of His hand.

It is so easy to forget about the Lord because He actually hides behind the means He uses. We think of the farmer, the baker, the grocer. We note our own hard-earned income, our strength, our power, our intelligence, our skill. We forget about the hidden Lord who works in, with, and under this created order. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but bread never simply materializes out of nothing. God works through means. And those means easily become idols which we bow before and worship.

Idolatry brings anxiety; anxiety happens when our false gods let us down. We thought the money would hold out, that our health was secure, that the economy was strong. “Be anxious for nothing,” the apostle says. “That’s easy for him to say,” you might be thinking. “He wasn’t facing what I face.” Maybe. But Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. Picture Paul in a jail cell, writing, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

So, what do you do? Paul says: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Ask Him whatever you wish. Talk about whatever is causing your anxiety, and do it with thanksgiving. Are you hungry? Pray for food, and thank God for your hunger. Are you lonely? Pray for a friend, and thank God for the solitude. Are you sick? Pray for healing, and thank God for your illness. Only faith in the crucified and risen Christ can pray that way.

As James reminds us in his Epistle, faith is seen by its works. This kind of thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus is the fruit of true faith in the Lord, to whom we are indebted for our very lives. He is the Word through whom all things were made. The turkey and the cranberries, the potatoes and the pumpkins, and yes, even that good bottle of wine: all are His gifts, given in blessing to you. You are cared for by God more than you could ever care for yourself. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered, as are all your days. No detail of your life is too small or unimportant. You are precious to Him—as precious as the blood of His Son that purchased you from sin and death.

He pours down every good gift on us, without any merit or worthiness in us. “For all this it is our duty”—our privilege, our priestly responsibility—“to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” “Let us bless the Lord. 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 keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sermon for 11/21/21: Last Sunday in the Church Year


 CLICK HERE for the audio file.

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“Wake! Awake!”

Matthew 25:1-13

 

 

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

 

 

Philip Nicolai, the author of the hymn we just sang, was a Lutheran pastor in Germany a little more than 400 years ago. As he looked out the window of his study, he could see the parish graveyard. In the previous six months, he had buried well over a thousand of his church members because of the plague. The graveyard was filled with his flock—with God’s flock. As he looked out that window, the words of the Gospel reading for this day rang in his ears and in his mind. He put pen to paper and he wrote what is one of the greatest hymns the Church has ever possessed: “Wachet auf!” “Wake, awake!”

Truly the days were evil. In addition to the plague, war and bloodshed, sickness, death, and despair were all around. Things were getting so bad, it seemed like the earth was trying to swallow them up. Does that sound at all like our day? But in the midst of all the pain and suffering, there still was hope, and Nicolai clung to that hope with his whole being. Nicolai knew, as all faithful Christians know: in God, there is always hope.

And that was why, looking out over the graveyard, he could write, “‘Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise? The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take! Alleluia! With bridal care yourselves prepare to meet the Bridegroom, who is near.’” These are the words the watchmen, the faithful preachers of the Word, have cried out in every generation. The troubles and struggles of this life are nothing when compared to God’s riches in Christ. Even death itself doesn’t matter.

But that is not understood by the foolish virgins in the Gospel reading nor the foolish people of every generation. They thought they could trim their lamps with the oil of faith later. Jesus, the Bridegroom, couldn’t possibly come in the middle of the night. That would make no sense. Surely He would come when it was convenient for them.

They were foolish. They believed they could control the Bridegroom. They thought they might even be able to read the mind of God Himself. But they couldn’t, and, as a result, they were left out of the eternal banquet feast. That’s what happens when you try to play games with God, when you ignore His warnings. God operates on His own time and in His own way.

The wise virgins understood this, as the faithful always have. They understood that the most important thing was faith. They understood that they would not be admitted to the wedding feast without the oil of faith, and that oil must be constantly replenished. If, on the last day, they came up empty, things would go very badly for them. They made sure they had oil; that was their only priority.

Let us say it plainly: There is but one way to be admitted to the great banquet feast in heaven, and that is by faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is but one way in which that faith is given, and that is through God’s Word and Holy Sacraments. And there is but one place where those gifts are available: in the Church. At the end of your life, what is really going to matter? Is faith in Christ the most important thing in your life? Or is faith something you put on the shelf and bring out when company is coming?

Trouble and affliction help put a lot of things into focus. We see and know well just how fragile life is. As we prayed in the Introit, “O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am.” Life is fleeting, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Life is fragile, and our only hope for life and salvation lies in Jesus Christ.

If we pretend that the things of faith do not matter, or that everything is just fine apart from Christ and the Gospel, then we do ourselves great spiritual harm. Many in this world act as if death will never come. Many pretend that only the things of this time and place truly matter. But this is not so. In a very real sense, the Christian faith begins where all other religions end: at death and the grave. Our hope is not in this world, but in the future glory that Christ gives His children in the resurrection from the dead. To be sure, we have glimpses of that glory now, but they are only glimpses; they aren’t, by any means, the whole story.

So, how do you know if you are ready for the end? If you look at yourself in the light of God’s Law, you know that you are not. But the whole point is that Christ calls us to look only at Him. The oil for the lamps was so that they could see the Bridegroom when He came. Christ wants us to call upon Him in every trouble, to look to Him for all good gifts and blessings, to know that it is His voice that will call us from the grave on that great Day of His return. That was how the wise virgins in the Gospel were ready. They were so ready, in fact, that they could rest peacefully while they waited. And that is what you are doing by being here today. This is your Sabbath rest, your time to be refreshed and refilled.

Because of the great work of Jesus on the cross and His promise to return for you, you may look at the rest of your life with hope. No matter what life throws in your way, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We know that Christ is coming soon. We have heard His Word of promise, and we believe and trust in him. “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.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sermon for 11/14/21: Sermon for the Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.

 

Works and Worth

Matthew 25:31-46

 

 

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

 

The coming of the Kingdom of God can cause two completely different reactions. The first reaction is one of terror, because wretched sinners deserve God’s righteous and eternal wrath. The second reaction is one of comfort, reassurance, and confidence: because God is with me, I am safe. We see these two reactions in today’s Gospel. There are those who rejoice that the reign of God has come, and those who despair at its coming.

Our Lord has the ability to look into the human heart. It is as He spoke through His prophet Jeremiah: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” It is as easy for Him to judge the heart as it is for a shepherd to tell the difference between a sheep and a goat. Jesus knows you better than you know yourself.

          Jesus will hand out two verdicts on the Last Day. Jesus said that He would place some people to His right and others to His left. Since Jesus already knows the heart, there is no questioning, no testimony, no presenting of evidence. There is only the verdict and the sentence.

          The first verdict is for those on His right. The King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those on the right enter the Judge’s home with a verdict of forgiven. Notice that the blessing flows from the Father. This is not something that these people earn for themselves; it is an inheritance, and you don’t work for an inheritance. Finally, note that God prepared this outcome before any of us were even born. The eternal kingdom was God’s will for these people from the very beginning.

          The second verdict is for those on His left. Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Those on the left receive the verdict of guilty. The sentence is eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. People end up in eternal fire only because they reject God’s salvation. If they are arrogant enough to judge God and find Him offensive, then the eternal fire is the only alternative. There is no other place to spend eternity.

          As the Judge welcomes those on His right into eternal bliss, He recalls the work that His salvation has produced in their lives. But the sheep don’t remember any of it. The list of the works is a total surprise to them. On the other hand, those on the left are angry that Jesus gives a similar list of things that they have NOT done. Even as they stand before the Judge, they insist that they have lived a life of good works and high moral character.

But those who inherit the eternal kingdom do not look to their own good works for their salvation. The Holy Spirit finds dead souls and brings them to life through the proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus warned us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” That is one of the saddest statements in all of Scripture. They have traded away their eternal joy for the temporary praise of man.

          You are pleasing to God, but not because of what you do or don’t do. You are pleasing to God because of what Jesus did for you. Jesus lived a life that met God’s perfect standard. He died to pay our debt in full. He rose from the dead as a sign that our Father in Heaven accepted His work for us. You can look forward in eager expectation to the day when you hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

          While you wait for that day, you will produce good works. These works do you absolutely no good, but they are precious to your neighbor. God will accomplish His will in this world through your works. Confess your sins, even those seemingly righteous deeds that are actually polluted garments. Receive the forgiveness of Jesus. Live for your neighbor. Don’t waste time trying to measure your good works; you don’t need them. You are heir to the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Rejoice, for God wants you to dwell with Him for all eternity. 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 07, 2021

Sermon for 11/7/21: Feast of All Saints (observed)

Blessed Saints
Matthew 5:1-12

 

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

 

 Death affects us all, and the pain of separation remains very real to us. Each of these loved ones had lives that were memorable in many ways. They had families and friends like you who loved them and cared for them. And many, we hope, if not all of them, were faithful, baptized Christians who received the saving gifts of God in faith. But despite how much you may have loved or cared for them, try applying the words of our Gospel text directly to them. “Peacemakers.” “Hunger and thirst for righteousness.” “Persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” “Merciful.” We may have seen hints of these traits in them, portions of their personalities that reflected in our Lord’s words. But if you add them all together, they don’t add up. They were not fully any of these things. They were sinners, one and all, just as you and I are sinners.

And yet, isn’t that precisely how our culture tries to deal with death? We speak many pious words over those who have died. “Oh, she is bound to be in heaven, because she was such a nice person.” Such things are troubling, and I know they are troubling to many of you, because you have come to me and told me about funerals you have attended where much is said about the supposed goodness of the deceased but little, if any, is said about the goodness of God in sending His dear Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for the wretched sinners of this world—you and me and all our neighbors—who are dying daily.

We all seem to have a desire, as soon as someone has died, to make them into a saintly character no one in this world would have recognized. We don’t want anyone to remember their blemishes and faults. We certainly don’t want anyone to know of their sins, the deep dark secrets that lie in the heart and soul of every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. And so, we sanitize. We scrub their life clean. We paint over it and give it a new look so that, by the time we are done, you can hardly recognize them at all. But sin can only stay in the dark for so long. Whether we are talking about the trials and faults of the deceased, or the darkness that lives within our own hearts, it will all come to light eventually under the unblinking eye of God’s Law.

When we, as Christians, deal with death, especially the death of ones close to us, those whom we have loved dearly, it is important for us to remember that we don’t have to whitewash anything. We don’t have to put on airs of perfection, to make sure that every piece is in place, that every bit of their life, and ours, is just as it should be. Nor do we need to go the cheap route of saying that everyone sins; that they weren’t perfect, but they were good enough to get in. That would be a mockery of Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus did not die for people who were basically good enough on their own. Jesus died for sinners, whose only hope is in His death on the cross.

And this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is where the Gospel shines the brightest. The Gospel shines the brightest when the darkness of death would swallow us up; it shines brightest when we are overcome by fear and despair. It is in the midst of sin and even death itself that our Lord’s words of life and forgiveness truly bring hope.

You and I cannot stand in His holy presence by our own merits. But by His mercy, you may stand before the throne of grace with your spouse, with your parents and grandparents, with your children and grandchildren. You may stand before God’s almighty seat of judgment and hear Him call you “blessed.” How can this be? After all, we are still sinners. But you are blessed because you have been marked in Baptism by the One who made peace with God by His death at the cross. By faith, you are marked by the One who showed mercy, the One who was persecuted beyond anything you could ever endure, the One who mourned over the sin that would separate you from Him, the One whose hunger for your righteousness caused him to endure the forty days temptation in the wilderness and the torture of the cross. By the gift of faith you have received through the Holy Spirit, you are blessed.

By that same faith, you can face death without fear, for death does nothing but move you from this world of trouble and affliction to that place where there is no longer any suffering for the consequences of your sins. You can also face the memory of your loved ones who have died in the faith without any pretensions or silly notions of perfection. They were sinners, one and all. They had warts, blemishes, spots, and even worse—just like you. But the righteousness of Christ has covered it all! You are, indeed, blessed! 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 02, 2021

HYMN: Life in Flesh Is Born Today. Alleluia!


 At a meeting yesterday, a brother pastor asked me if I had written any texts lately. Since coming home from the hospital, I haven’t really had the energy, the stamina, the attention span to write outside of my parish work. Inspiration for me always seems to come with a push of some sort—an idea that’s presented to me; hearing or reading a sermon or a presentation; a project that catches my attention; that sort of thing. I’ve got a folder of sermons, articles, and whatnots that I’ve come across, things that spark something at first glance that might turn into a text at some point—often it’s something posted by Pastors Stuckwisch or Weedon on their fine blogs. But nothing in the folder has sparked anything lately.

I was at our monthly tri-circuit pastor meeting this morning. I reached into my bag for a notebook, and a piece of paper from that folder came out of the bag with it. It was the first page of Sermon 21 by Leo the Great, his lovely treatment on the Nativity. I glanced at the paper and saw the words “birthday of the Life…” And suddenly, after near three months of nothing, an idea popped into my head. 

This text is loosely based on the first part of Leo’s Sermon 21, which is labeled “All share in the joy of Christmas” in the above link. The suggested tune right now is LLANFAIR, to which we sing the hymn “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today; Alleluia,” hymn 463 in Lutheran Service Book. As always, feedback is love. 


Life in Flesh Is Born Today


1. Life in flesh is born today! Alleluia!

Fear of death He drives away. Alleluia!

Share in this eternal joy. Alleluia!

Sin and death did Christ destroy! Alleluia!


2. Mary bore the promised Seed, Alleluia!

To the angel’s word gave heed. Alleluia!

Blest conception! Holy birth! Alleluia!

God in flesh gave man His worth. Alleluia!


3. Let the saint exultant be, Alleluia!

Drawing near to victory. Alleluia!

Gentile, bravely face the strife; Alleluia!

Christ is calling you to life! Alleluia!


4. Christ, in great humility, Alleluia!

Sharing our mortality, Alleluia!

Brings the devil dreadful woe. Alleluia!

Beaten is our savage foe. Alleluia!


5. God in wisdom deigns to be, Alleluia!

Born in flesh to set us free. Alleluia!

God and sinners reconciled, Alleluia!

In the Christ, the holy Child. Alleluia!



(c) 2021

77 77 and alleluias

LLANFAIR (LSB 463)

Nativity of Our Lord

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sermon for 10/31/21: Festival of the Reformation


CLICK HERE for sermon audio.

My apologies. The video file was unusable.

 

“One Little Word…”

John 8:31-36

 

 

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

 

It is not an exaggeration to say that all of the problems of God’s people in Scripture happened as a result of not abiding in His Word. The Old Testament prophets offered a continual litany of the ways in which Israel ignored the Word and will of God, and the disastrous consequences that followed. The same can be said for the Church in every generation. If we do not abide in the Word, we mock God. When we do not abide in God’s Word, we become accountable—guilty—before God, just as all the world is guilty before God. We stand under the condemnation of the Law. The Law of God does not save us. The Law cannot save us; it only condemns us. That Law says that we are to love God with all our being; it tells us we must love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot do this because we are born in sin, the inheritance we have from our first parents. And so, the holy apostle is correct when he writes: “Therefore by the deeds of the Law, no flesh will be justified in his sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.”

The Christian faith tells us that attempting to live by the Law in order to be saved can only bring condemnation. That was the lesson Luther learned as a monk. He could pray literally thousands of prayers; he could whip his flesh into submission with monastic discipline; he could say a hundred Masses. None of these, nor anything else he did, could pay his debt of sin to God. At that end of that road, all Luther could see was death and condemnation. He cried out in despair for a gracious God: a God who would love him in spite of his countless human frailties; a God who would redeem him even though his sins were too many to number. In the same way, every attempt we make to pay our debt of sin to God falls short. The Law works repentance, not salvation. The Law declares us guilty of sin. The minute we think salvation is a solo effort on our part, or even a cooperative venture between “me and Jesus,” is the very minute we become slaves to sin.

In the reading we heard from the Revelation to St. John, we were told that there was an angel flying in the midst of heaven who had “...the everlasting Gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth: to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.” In our beloved Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” we sing: “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth.” This stanza confesses that the Church will never perish. Our Lord Jesus Christ is ready to defend her to the end because she is His beloved Bride, purchased and won at the cost of His own life. And this Church believes and confesses, “...the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed...through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.” It is in this word about the righteousness of God revealed through faith in Jesus Christ that our Lord wants us to abide!

When we abide in God’s Word, when we put aside the fads and trends and gimmicks to abide in the clear words of Holy Scripture, as rightly confessed and explained in our Lutheran Confessions, then we know the truth. And the truth frees us from having to fear, love, and trust in any other god, whether the false god of self or any idol we have made. It is truly liberating to give up trying to remake the Christian faith in our own image, and simply have Christ mold us into His image through preaching and Baptism, through Absolution and His Supper.

There is an old saying: “The Church is always being reformed.” As long as we draw breath in this life, we will be fighting for the faith. That fight will not always be popular, not even among our fellow Lutherans. We may face mockery, persecution, prison, or even death for the sake of the Word. Still, we contend for the truth of God’s Word faithfully, because we know that the Gospel, with its gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, offers us the only hope there is. both for this life, and for the life that is to come.

Luther said it very well: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.” From the cross Jesus cried out, “Tetelestai!”—that is, “It is finished!” All of salvation’s work is done. Satan no longer has any power, for Jesus has won the victory. Abide in that word, that victory. For in Jesus, “The kingdom ours remaineth.” 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, October 24, 2021

Sermon for 10/24/21: Twenty-First Sunday After Trinity


 CLICK HERE for the audio file.

CLICK HERE for the video file.

 

Endless Mercy

John 4:46-54

 

 

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

 

How little we understand the mercy our Lord extends to us daily! Our Lord does not treat us as we treat each other. We tend to lash out at those who upset us. We ignore those who don’t please us. We want to get back at those who offend us. We are likely to take offense at the slightest comment, no matter how innocently spoken. And too often we are unwilling to forgive and make the first move toward reconciliation.

Worse than all this, we deal with our Lord the same way. We beg Him to pardon our sins, but in the same breath we demand that He live up to our expectations. We ask Him to deliver us from every evil, yet too often we grouse and complain when He doesn’t act quickly enough to suit us. We beg Him to calm us and grant us His peace, yet we blame Him for our self-made troubles. And so we go our own way. We ignore the strengthening He gives in His Supper. And we resist and fight against His forgiveness, His love, His kindness, His mercy.

Yet even when we are faithless, our Lord remains faithful. Even when we turn on Him, He does not turn against us. He comes back time and again and says, “You can’t make Me hate you. I love you. My love brought you into this world, and I am determined to love you to the end and into My kingdom. I will not force Myself upon you, but neither will you force Me away from you. And no matter how much you think you can wish me out of your world, I will never leave you nor forsake you. My mercy endures forever.” Such relentless love! Such persistent, single-minded mercy! He will not give up on us. He will always stretch out His hand, no matter how often we slap it away.

Deep down—because the Holy Spirit sealed you in the Faith when you were baptized; because the Spirit of God persistently and consistently delivers the mercy of God into your own flesh—deep down, you are not surprised to hear how determined our Lord is in His mercy. And so, deep down, you are also not surprised at the way our Lord Jesus reacts to the man who begged Him to come down and heal his son. Still, we often take the Lord and His mercy for granted. In fact, we act as if His mercy is our right, as if He owes that to us. But no matter how we treat our Lord, no matter how little we comprehend His mercy, He always responds the same: with endless mercy.

And so, when the man approaches Him, our Lord does not say, “Go away.” Instead, Jesus kindly tells him, “Go your way. Your son lives.” Do you see the mercy of Jesus? The man is not much of a believer, but our Lord answers his prayer anyway. For the sake of Jesus, our Father still gives life back to this man’s son. The Spirit stirs up in this man the faith to take Jesus at His word; He give the man confidence to walk away, trusting that what Jesus says is good and true and right.

So just how merciful is our Lord? So much so, that He can heal our souls, strengthen our bodies, and refresh our spirits using nothing more than His word. When He speaks, He brings us back to life. This is why Jesus says what He does to this man. Jesus does not rebuke the man for his dullness of faith, but rather breathes to life a true and living faith. And Jesus does not shoo the man away because he’s a bothersome pest, but rather He says, “Your son lives,” so that true faith might come alive and grow both in him and in his whole household.

And that is precisely what our Lord, in His mercy, does for us. When we are sure that He is ignoring us or crushing us, He is actually working for our good. When we are sure He has turned against us, He is actually fighting mightily for us. When we are sure He’s only doing the least, He is actually doing His utmost. Our Lord revives and heals us simply by speaking His word. But here is where our Lord’s mercy exceeds our imagination. Our Lord gives us—into our mouths, into our own flesh and blood—the very life that He is; His own death-defying body, and His own life-renewing blood so that we might be saved.

See yourself, then, as the nobleman in today’s Gospel: the doubting, barely believing man whom the Lord gently and lovingly brings to faith. Even more so, see yourself as the man’s son—a person in a losing battle with death; and then here comes Jesus in His word and Spirit to chase away death, the devil, and hell; to bring you not just back from the brink, but into the fullness of the life that He is and so earnestly desires to live in you and through 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.