30 November 2007

Why Elevate the Lord's Body and Blood?

My good friend Pastor Weedon has posted a most excellent explanation on why the Body and Blood of the Lord is elevated in the eucharistic liturgy. You can read his explanation here.

Since I have grown to appreciate and practice the Elevation of the host and chalice, the Lord's holy Body and Blood, I also thank Pr. Weedon for offering this bit of historical and theological explanation. May it help you as it has helped me!

St. Andrew's Martyrdom

On the occasion of St. Andrew's day, here is John Foxe's account of the Apostle's martyrdom:

Of Andrew the apostle and brother to Peter, thus writeth Jerome. “Andrew did preach, in the year fourscore of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Scythians and Sogdians, to the Sacae, and in a city which is called Sebastopolis, where the Ethiopians do now inhabit. He was buried in Patrae, a city of Achaia, being crucified by Aegeas, the governor of the Edessenes.” Bernard, and St. Cyprian, do make mention of the confession and martyrdom of this blessed Apostle; whereof partly out of these, partly out of other credible writers, we have collected after this manner: When Andrew, through his diligent preaching, had brought many to the faith of Christ, Aegeas the governor, knowing this, resorted to Patrae, to the intent he might constrain as many as did believe Christ to be God, by the whole consent of the senate, to do sacrifice unto the idols, and so give divine honours unto them. Andrew, thinking good at the beginning to resist the wicked counsel and the doings of Aegeas, went unto him, saying to this effect unto him: “that it behooved him who was judge of men, first to know his Judge which dwelleth in heaven, and then to worship Him being known; and so, in worshiping the true God, to revoke his mind from false gods and blind idols.” These words spake Andrew to the proconsul.

But Aegeas, greatly therewith discontented, demanded of him, whether he was the same Andrew that did overthrow the temple of the gods, and persuade men to be of that superstitious sect which the Romans of late had commanded to be abolished and rejected. Andrew did plainly affirm that the princes of the Romans did not understand the truth and that the Son of God, coming from heaven into the world for man’s sake, hath taught and declared how those idols, whom they so honoured as gods, were not only not gods, but also most cruel devils; enemies to mankind, teaching the people nothing else but that wherewith God is offended, and, being offended, turneth away and regardeth them not; and so by the wicked service of the devil, they do fall headlong into all wickedness, and, after their departing, nothing remaineth unto them, but their evil deeds.

But the proconsul charged and commanded Andrew not to teach and preach such things any more; or, if he did, he should be fastened to the cross with all speed.

Andrew, abiding in his former mind very constant, answered thus concerning the punishment which he threatened: “He would not have preached the honour and glory of the cross, if he had feared the death of the cross.” Whereupon sentence of condemnation was pronounced; that Andrew, teaching and enterprising a new sect, and taking away the religion of their gods, ought to be crucified. Andrew, going toward the place, and seeing afar off the cross prepared, did change neither countenance nor colour, neither did his blood shrink, neither did he fail in his speech, his body fainted not, neither was his mind molested, not did his understanding fail him, as it is the manner of men to do, but out of the abundance of his heart his mouth did speak, and fervent charity did appear in his words as kindled sparks; he said, “O cross, most welcome and long looked for! with [sic] a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to thee, being the scholar of Him which did hang on thee: because I have always been thy lover, and have coveted to embrace thee.”

(John Foxe (1516-1587), The Acts and Monuments, which from the date of publication in 1563 was popularly know[n] as The Book of Martyrs. Cited from For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Volume III, pp. 1283-1285.)

St. Andrew, Apostle

Today the Church remembers St. Andrew, Apostle of our Lord. Of course, St. Andrew is best known for first recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah and then for going to find his brother, Simon, to tell him, "We have found the Christ." See John 1:35-42. Would that St. Andrew - and not the latest in corporate marketing strategies, or multi-million dollar programs and "movements" - would be our genuine inspiration for evangelism work! Then our evangelism efforts just might be received more readily and, well, in a more genuine and authentic manner.

At any rate, we thank God for the example of St. Andrew as, technically speaking, today we begin a new Church Year of receiving and living in God's grace given in His Son Jesus Christ.

Hymn verse:
All praise, O Lord, for Andrew,
The first to welcome You,
Whose witness to his brother
Named You Messiah true.
May we, with hearts kept open
To You throughout the year,
Confess to friend and neighbor
Your advent ever near. (LSB 517:5)

Collect from Lutheran Service Book:
Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Collect from The Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

29 November 2007

Advent "New Year's Resolutions"

The following article will soon appear in my congregation's December newsletter.

New Year’s Resolutions

Yes, you read that title correctly. No, it’s not yet the beginning of 2008. But it is the beginning of the Christian Year. The Season of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church Year of hearing, receiving, learning, singing, and growing in the grace, knowledge, and life of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, just as we say, “Happy New Year” on January 1 of the secular calendar, we Christians can especially say, “Happy New Year” to ring in Advent.

Another New Year’s custom is making resolutions – you know, those annual promises to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, etc. Well, we Christians can also make and keep our own version of “New Year’s resolutions” to fit with the Church Year (…and hopefully keep them better than we do in January each year! ☺).

The chief message and meaning of Advent is certainly the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ (“Advent” is Latin for “coming”). That’s most important, to be sure. However, another part of the message and meaning of Advent is this: how shall we prepare for the Coming of our King and Savior? After all, when guests come to visit, we usually prepare and get things in order prior to the visit (clean the house, vacuum the carpet, wash the dishes, etc.). Let’s consider our Advent “New Year’s Resolutions” in that same way: as preparations for celebrating the Coming of our Savior into the flesh, into our world, even into our midst in the Divine Service, to save us from sin and death.

What kind of Advent “New Year’s Resolutions” can we make? Let’s look to our Epistle readings for the Sundays in Advent.

On the First Sunday in Advent (2 December) we hear these words: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13-14).

Let’s resolve not to live as the world around us lives. We Christians do not need to participate in the sensuality of the culture during this month of December. We do not need to succumb to the over indulging of “the season.” We can resolve to restrain ourselves from eating too much, buying too much, or even partying too much. After all, Advent is a season of prayerful preparation as we seek to welcome our Coming King. Let’s use this Advent Season to “put on” our Lord Jesus Christ, instead of putting on the trappings of the commercialized, secular version of “Christmas” (or “the Holidays”).

On the Second Sunday in Advent (9 December) we hear these words: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:4-6).

Let’s further resolve to ring in this Advent “New Year” not by spending more time at the stores and shopping malls, but rather by spending more time gathering at church to hear and learn the Scriptures that encourage us. Stores and shopping malls show us just how self-centered we human beings are (especially when we see grown adults fighting over the last special toy for their child!). However, when we return to the Scriptures – to hearing them read, meditating upon them when they are proclaimed, and singing them in the liturgy and hymns – our Lord encourages us with His forgiveness and mercy. Not only that, but we learn to live in harmony with one another. Let us resolve to put away the complaining and gossiping that so often spews from our mouths (too often before we think to catch ourselves). Let us resolve to find our true joys in gathering together as God’s people to revel in His salvation and the approaching Glad Tidings of Christmas. Yes, a Savior has been born to us, He is Christ the Lord, and He is the gift that surpasses any gift we can buy in a store or receive in our family gift giving festivities.

On the Third Sunday in Advent (16 December) we hear about the Office of the Holy Ministry: “This is how one should regard us [preachers of the Gospel], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Yes, our gracious Lord gives His Church “stewards,” men who “manage” the message of His mercies and the Sacraments (“mysteries”) that deliver His salvation. Together, let’s resolve to make Advent the time when we rejoice in our Lord’s Gospel and Sacraments, as well as time when we thank Him for the men who proclaim this message to us.

On the Fourth Sunday in Advent (23 December) we hear about rejoicing: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4, 7).

Let us resolve to rejoice! On the surface that might seem like one big “Duh!” “Come on, Pastor, this time of year always brings great joy and feelings of happiness!” But I’m not talking about the “joy” that can be induced by getting the right present, or having the right guests over, or wearing those favorite Christmas clothes, or even the “joy” induced by the proper recipe of eggnog (if you know what I mean! ☺). Let us resolve to rejoice no matter what – no matter what gifts we receive, or not, no matter what happens in world events, no matter what family crisis we may face, no matter what… (You fill in the blank.). You see, we could have Christmas very well (perhaps better!) without all of the commercial trappings. Let us rejoice that our God became human like us to rescue us from sin, death, and all evil. Let us rejoice that we are at peace with God because of our Lord Jesus Christ!

These are just some of the things that we can resolve for this Season of Advent, this beginning of the Christian Year. Perhaps you’ll even hear more of such “resolutions” throughout Advent! Happy “New Year”! God bless you in your Advent “resolutions”!

26 November 2007

Homily - Last Sunday of the Church Year

Which Side of the Door?
Matthew 25:1-13

Which side of the door will you be on? In Genesis 7 God commanded Noah and his family to go into the ark that Noah had built. The ark would be their salvation. You see, the world had strayed from God, become corrupt, was full of violence, and God was going to destroy it with a Flood. Only Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives, along with the animals they had collected, were allowed on the ark. And when the animals and all eight people were safely inside, the Lord shut the door of the ark. Then the fountains of the deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened, and it rained for forty days and forty nights. Those on the inside of the ark’s closed door were saved. Those on the outside perished in the Lord’s judgment on the sinful world.

Which side of the door will you be on? At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” On that Day, the Day of Judgment, many people will claim that they were followers of Jesus. Many will claim that they did works in His name. But the door of the kingdom of heaven will be shut to them, and they will be lost.

Which side of the door will you be on? In today’s Gospel reading our Lord Jesus tells the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Ten virgins, with their lamps, waited for the Bridegroom to come. When He arrived, five of them went in with Him to the marriage feast of the Lamb, and five of them were shut out when the door was closed. What does this mean? In the Bible, “virgins” are a symbol of the people of God. So, in this parable the ten virgins are a picture of the whole Church here on earth waiting for her Lord, the Bridegroom, to return at the end of the age. But when He returns, not all will enter into heaven’s celebration. Not all who hold membership in a church, not all who claim to follow Jesus, will be allowed to enter. The door to heaven will be closed and some will be shut out.

What’s the difference between those on the inside of the door and those on the outside? In the parable, our Lord calls five virgins “wise” and the other five “foolish.” In the Bible, “wisdom” is another way of saying “faith,” and “foolishness” is another way of saying “unbelief.” So, in the Church, the “wise” are those who take Christ at His words and live from His words. The “foolish” are those who may hear the words of Christ but do not take them to heart. The wise will be ready when our Lord returns, but the foolish will be caught off guard, scrambling around to cover themselves in the face of Christ’s judgment. The wise will be brought inside the door of Paradise to celebrate and rejoice, but the foolish will be shut out in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Which side of the door will you be on? Before we answer that question, let’s go back to another door, the gate of the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned and fell into foolishness, they brought the Lord’s judgment on themselves and their children. And what did they lose? Paradise itself—the very Paradise that God wants all people to enjoy. As a result of foolishly forsaking God and His wisdom, Adam, Eve, and all who would descend from them were shown the door. The door of Paradise was closed. Because of sin, all were shut out. Yes, all of us—you and I—were on the wrong side of the door.

But that door did not stay shut. No, God sent His Son into our foolish, fallen world to open the door of Paradise once again. How did He do it? By having heaven’s door slammed shut on Him! By absorbing the sin of the world—yes, yours and mine—into Himself. Though He committed no sin, He became the greatest sinner the world has known. He let Paradise be closed to Him. That’s what Jesus experienced on the Cross, as He looked to His Father only to see His Father look away and shut the door on Him! So He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Yes, the door was shut to Jesus as He suffered and died for your sins and mine.

But the door did not remain closed. Just as the door of the empty tomb stood open on Easter morning, so the door of Paradise is open once again. He who overcame death and the grave by His glorious resurrection has opened to us the way of everlasting life. Yes, there it is: the wonderful gift of an open door to heaven—the gift He won for you in His suffering, dying, and rising; the gift He gives you in your Baptism as you wait for the Bridegroom; the gift He gives you in His Supper, His Body given for you and His Blood poured out for you. You see, even now you get to taste the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. Yes, it’s the gift of heaven’s open door as you watch and wait to meet your Bridegroom.

But one day the door will be shut. Which side of the door will you be on? Unfortunately, many people are like the foolish virgins in our Lord’s parable, many who call or think of themselves as Christians. But they are not ready. They are not prepared. Sure, they have the “lamp” of God’s Word, but they do not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. They were given the “oil” of faith in their Baptism, but they neglect to restock it week after week from the Lord’s Word and the Lord’s Table. Maybe they think it’s sufficient to have their name recorded on a roster in a church office. Maybe they think they merely need to show up at any old church building once in a blue moon and pay their dues. Maybe they think it doesn’t matter what their church teaches or how their church worships, because, hey, it’s all a matter of personal opinion, right? Maybe they think it won’t matter in the end, because, after all, God is a God of love, and He would never shut the door on anyone!

But people who believe that—like those five virgins!—are foolish. And they will be in for a rude awakening when the voice cries out: “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” And the door will be closed, and they will be shut out.

Which side of the door will you be on? The answer to that question is really quite simple. Our Lord Jesus says, “Watch!” Watch by hearing His words of mercy, life, and forgiveness. Watch by devoting yourselves to prayer and learning God’s Word. Watch by confessing your sins and even going to Private Confession and Absolution. Watch by eating and drinking His Body and Blood as often as you can. This is how the Holy Spirit prepares you and keeps you ready. Then you will be ready to meet the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. Then you will have lamps full of oil when He does finally come again on that day and hour. Then you will be ready, and you will go in with Him to the wedding hall, to the marriage feast of heaven. Then you will be on the right side of the door!

Until that day, we learn to pray as we will sing in just a moment:

Now come, Thou Blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,
Hail! Hosanna!
We enter all
The wedding hall
To eat the Supper at Thy call. (LSB 516:2)


22 November 2007

Homily - Day of National Thanksgiving

God for All Needs
Philippians 4:19

Today is the “big day” that our nation sets aside to say, “Thank You” to God. We remember the early settlers in our land. They left everything in the Old World to come to the New World. The pilgrims had harsh times to begin with—sickness, deaths, hostile natives, a severe winter. When they finally had a good crop, they couldn’t help but give thanks to God. They couldn’t help but thank God for providing for them and bringing them out of their trying times.

God is pretty good about taking care of His people. And that, after all, is why we Christians don’t just “give thanks”; we give thanks to God. Take St. Paul, for example. In our second reading the Apostle tells us how God had taken care of him. He knew what it was like to be down and out and in need. He also knew success and plenty. At times he had been well fed; at other times he had suffered hunger. Yet St. Paul could still say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Listen to Paul’s words in a different passage about what he endured: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:24-27).

St. Paul did not say these things out of bitterness, or to play the victim. He did not want anyone to feel sorry for him. He was not trying to place blame. Instead, the Apostle learned to be content in everything. God took care of him.

Not only did God take care of St. Paul, but He also took care of the Philippian church. In our second reading Paul thanks the Philippian Christians for supporting him with financial gifts. They had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit had given them faith in that message of salvation. And that faith bore abundant fruit. The Philippian Christians gave special offerings to help Paul continue proclaiming Christ crucified and risen.

All of this leads St. Paul to write the soothing words of our text. Just in case the Philippians worried about their generous donation to St. Paul – just in case they thought they wouldn’t have enough left to make ends meet – Paul says: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in Christ Jesus.” What great words of promise!

“My God will supply every need of yours.” This promise is also for you. You might be like the Philippians – worried over how generous to be. If you give too much in the offering, or pledge too much for the Chest of Joash, you fear that you won’t have enough left over to pay the bills, or go shopping, or do other things you want for the rest of the week. Or, maybe you have the opposite dilemma and handle your offerings this way: pay the bills first (after all, they are sure and certain, and have due dates), then buy the groceries (after all, we have to eat!), then factor in the all-important entertainment activities. When that’s all taken care of, then, from whatever is left over, give a little bit to God and His Church. However, such actions would suggest that God is only good enough for the leftovers! That’s what happens when you don’t trust God to take care of you, when you think that you must supply your own needs.

But notice that St. Paul gives us an alternative. You don’t supply your own needs; God supplies your every need. And He supplies your every need richly and daily. He always has. He always does. He always will. You can count on it. How does He supply your every need? According to His riches. Oh, He has a great storehouse of riches. It’s called the earth and everything in it (Ps. 24:1). From this huge warehouse He gives you every little thing you ever need. How else does He supply your every need? In glory – His divine glory. When God supplies your needs, it’s not for your attention or glory; it’s for His. You get to focus on Him, the Creator of all creation, the Lover of all humankind. You get to look to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. How else does God supply your every need? In Christ Jesus. Only as a Christian – in Christ – can you realize that God supplies your every need. Unbelievers may see some, but not all, of God’s gifts. But you do see God as the Giver.

We confess this every time we say the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” As we learn to explain it with the Small Catechism, we say, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (SC, II). Yes, God made you. You didn’t evolve from a monkey family or a pond of goo. You did not make God and you cannot control Him. He made you and everything about you.

We also learn to say this: “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Everything you have actually belongs to God. He just lets you use it and manage it for a little while. Sure, you may get your Thanksgiving Day turkey from the store. But before that turkey was butchered, packaged, frozen, and sent to the store, it had to live and grow with God’s gift of life. Sure, you probably bought your clothes from a store. But the supplies for weaving, cutting, and stitching those clothes ultimate come from God. Your spouse? Also God’s gift. Your children? God’s gifts too. Yep, everything in life is a gift from God’s fatherly hand.

And there’s a third thing we learn to say about God the Father Almighty: “He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” When was the last time you were sucked up by a tornado, or caught in a burning house? You see, God is always protecting you. And if you have lived through a flood, a blizzard, or a tornado, if you have endured bankruptcy or loss of possessions, God still protected you from it. Whenever you escape some distress, some danger, some close call, it’s time to recognize that God rescued you. God does supply your every need.

Wow! This is a lot to ponder. God supplies our every need. In fact, it’s humbling to think about it. It might even be terrifying, because we don’t believe it … not fully, at any rate. We take our material blessings for granted. We selfishly expect them, hoard them, and clamor for them in discontent. We give ourselves credit for our health, wealth, and good looks. We might even blame God when we don’t have the things we think we should have. We focus too much on the gifts and not enough on the Giver. And that’s sin, and the wages of sin is death.

However, God gives of Himself. In fact, He gives of Himself so completely that He gave His only Son to live, die, and rise again for you and me. Through His shed blood, His painful death, and His glorious resurrection, He gives you life with Him. That’s your greatest need, and He supplies it daily and richly in His Son. He daily forgives your ingratitude. He constantly forgives your selfishness and discontent. He richly forgives you when you focus more on the gifts than on the Giver. And now that you live in Him, you get to rejoice that God supplies your every need. You get to see His fatherly heart, His boundless love. You get to look to Him for every need.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 136:1). Have a blessed, God-given Thanksgiving Day! Amen.

18 November 2007

The King on His Glorious Throne

In these "last Sundays" of the Church Year, I count it all joy to serve a congregation where we get to feast our eyes on the King on His glorious throne! Actually, we get to feast our eyes on the King and His glorious throne every Sunday, but I especially love this juxtaposition of the crucified Christ and the victorious Lamb at the end of the Church Year. After all, we cannot have one without the other. The crucified Christ, even in His apparent defeat of death, truly is the victorious Lamb of God who has conquered sin, death, and the devil for us. And as the book of Revelation reminds us, our future - our eternity - will bring the true feasting of the eyes on the Lamb who has restored us to life with our gracious creating, redeeming God.

But what's even better is the true feast that takes place every Sunday and Wednesday at Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, and on other festivals, on the Altar just beneath this picture. Talk about telescoping time! The gifts and benefits won in the past by the King on the throne of His cross - the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation - come to us now, in the present, in the King's own Body and Blood on the throne of the Altar. This very feast prepares, nurtures, and sustains us for the yet more glorious future feast with the Lamb in His eternal Kingdom.

Something tells me that I'm getting spoiled by feasting my eyes on the King on His glorious throne(s), but, hey, I can admit when I'm being treated much better than I deserve by the God who loves much more than I can ever fathom. And I can hardly wait for the true and genuine feasting of our eyes on the King on His glorious throne for all eternity!

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. (Revelation 7:9-11)

And I heard 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 as their God. (Revelation 21:3)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)

Homily - Trinity 26

"Truly, I say to you...you did it to Me"
Matthew 25:31-46

Last week I read today’s Gospel reading to one of our shut-in members. As soon as I finished the reading, the gentleman said, “Wow, that’s a pretty works-righteous passage!” I said, “Oh? Really? Let’s just see about that.” Is that your reaction when you hear our Lord’s words for us today? When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats, will He do so on the basis of their works, the good, the bad, or the ugly? Will the goats go to “eternal punishment” because of their lack of good works? Will the sheep enter eternal life on the basis of their good works? Well, let’s just see about that.

For the second week we hear about the “End Times,” especially the Last Day. Our Lord will come again in His glory, just as He promised. He will sit on His glorious throne – the throne He’s had from eternity, the throne He left to become one of us, to live life in our flesh and blood, to suffer, die and rise again to restore us to life with God, the throne He took up again when He ascended to sit at the Father’s right hand. When our Lord comes again, we will get to see how all things have been renewed and restored. We will get to go back to the Garden – no, we will get to see and live something better than the Garden.

When our Lord comes in His glory, He will gather the nations and separate the people – some on His right, others on His left. Then He will talk to both groups, and the conversation will sound very similar both times. What will He talk about with each group? About feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and going to the prisoners. Some will have done better than others at these things; others, well, they may have done them, but perhaps with the wrong motives. But the real kicker will come when Jesus will identify Himself with those who needed the help! He will say, “You fed Me; you gave Me drink; you welcomed Me; you clothed Me; you visited and came to Me.” And both groups will say, “When, Lord? We didn’t know we did, or did not do, these things to YOU! How did we do these things to you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” “Yes, you did it to Me,” Jesus will say.

Those words will make all the difference between the sheep and the goats, all the difference between eternal reward and … well, you know. “Yes, you did it to Me.” Actually, those words make all the difference even now! You see, the Church does not give us these “End Times Sundays” to scare us to death or to make us question our Lord or His gift of life and salvation. No, these Sundays with readings about the Last Day are designed to give comfort and hope. They are designed to spur us on to keep living in holiness and godliness all the way to the end. How did we pray just minutes ago? “O Lord, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that … we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with You forever hereafter.”

It’s what St. Peter talks about in our second reading. Don’t doubt our Lord’s promise that He will come! Don’t scoff that He judged the world in the global Flood of Noah’s day! Don’t think that our Lord is playing with your mind when He promises “judgment and destruction for the ungodly” or a “new heavens and a new earth” for the righteous! Don’t fear! Don’t cower! But also, don’t live like bumps on the log of this fallen world! Don’t live self-centeredly, like the unbelieving people around you! Instead, as St. Peter says, focus on “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” As St. Peter also says, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

But that’s our number one dilemma, isn’t it? When we look in the mirror and examine our lives and hearts, we know that we are not without spot or blemish. We are not at peace. “Lives of holiness and godliness” seem like such a foreign country. We know that if King Jesus were to talk with us right now, the conversation would go something like this: “When you got angry with your spouse or your child, your brother or sister, you did it to Me. When you spoke that unkind word to your neighbor, or about your neighbor, you spoke it to and about Me. When you did not welcome that visitor at church, you did not welcome Me. When you failed to help that hungry, homeless person, you failed to help Me. When you paid little attention to the sermon, the liturgy, the hymns, and the Supper, you paid little attention to Me. When you did not support your church and school with your time, your labors, and your money, you did not support Me.” Need I go on?

This, dear friends, is why the Lord seems slow in coming. Actually, He “is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but [He] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Your Lord Jesus “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And, yes, that includes you and me! You see, King Jesus has indeed taken His “glorious throne” – on the Cross. As He hung there, bleeding, suffering, and dying, He gathered all nations to Himself and separated people one from another. In His gory suffering our King of Glory shows how you are blessed by His Father. On the cross He reveals your true inheritance, “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And what is that inheritance and kingdom? It’s His great grace, His lavish love, His fabulous forgiveness. That’s what makes the difference between sheep and goats. That’s what makes the difference between eternal life and … well, you know.

That’s also how this is not “a works-righteous passage.” The sheep – the righteous, the believers, the Christians – inherit only what is given to them as a gift. Jesus commends them only for what He has already given them in His dying and rising. You see, we sheep need what our Shepherd-King has to offer. We are hungry and thirsty for God, and He feeds us on His Body and gives us to drink from His Blood. We are estranged from God, and He welcomes us back to life with God. We are the naked ones, exposed for the sinners we are, and He clothes us with His garments of holiness in our Baptism. We are sick in our sin, and He visits us to forgive and heal us. We are imprisoned by death, and He comes to us and sets us free from that prison. That’s the life of holiness and godliness that our Lord gives as a precious and wonderful gift!

So, now, you and I get to go about all of life living the inheritance that we have already received. Now, we get to live that renewed, restored life of Jesus with everyone around us. Now, the Holy Spirit stirs us up to holiness of living here as we eagerly await dwelling with our Lord forever hereafter.

Now, a conversation with our Lord and King might sound something like this. Jesus might say: “When you help those in need, you do it to Me. When you visit the sick, the shut-in, and the imprisoned, you do it to Me. When you love one another, when you hold your tongue from complaining or gossip, when you keep your anger in check, when you live for one another to serve one another, you do it to Me.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Jesus says, “if you don’t consciously think that you’re doing it to Me. I know that you’re plenty busy serving and loving your neighbor. That’s how I created you and recreated you to live and love. In fact,” Jesus says, “when you love as I have loved you, when you live for others as I have lived for you, you are already living in My eternal life. When I come again in glory, when I sit on My glorious throne, we will get to live this life together … more fully … more gloriously … and for all eternity.” Amen.

16 November 2007

How Sweet It Is!

Not to boast or anything ;-) , but Pr. Weedon and I must thank our lovely and gracious wives for being so gracious (and lovely) even in the midst of their Pinochle defeat tonight! :-) As I recall from the score sheet - and correct me if I'm wrong, Pr. Weedon - but the *guys* won ... three games to one (not that I, the score keeper, was the keeping score or anything like that! ;-)! Just a couple of double Pinochles between the two of us, and a handy run or two at just the right times, were sure sweet to savor. Thanks again, ladies, for being such good sports! :-)

11 November 2007

They Won! (They can win!)

It would seem that good things do come to those who wait! My St. Louis Rams finally won their first game of the season, defeating the New Orleans Saints with a score of 37-29. Now they "move up" in the ranks to 1-8 - still firmly clinching the cellar of the division, to be sure, but at least they're not winless anymore. Ah, the small pleasures of life. :-)

Homily - Trinity 25

Where is the Christ?
Matthew 24:15-28

Back in 2003 Time Magazine reported on the outbreak of war in Iraq: “The smoke rose above Baghdad in plumes of thick, black soot, carrying with it ashes of a dying regime. The nights were full of fire and noise, as thousands of Tomahawk missiles and smart bombs crashed into their targets, sending up balloons of searing orange flame into the night sky. In the light of day, calm descended on the city’s streets, and the silence was pierced only by the crackle of burning buildings and the wail of emergency sirens.”

What would you have done, had you lived in Baghdad? What would you do, were you to hear the explosions and see the “balloons of orange flame” in your city? Where would you turn for help and rescue? When the destruction comes, the only thing you can do is flee for your lives.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus paints a very similar picture for Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. Of course, Jesus is prophesying what will happen some 40 years after His death and resurrection. Jerusalem will be attacked and the people will have to flee for their lives. But Jesus is also preparing us for life in the “End Times,” before He shall return to judge the living and the dead. Destructions will come. False saviors will come. The thing to ask yourself in these dark and latter days is: Where is the Christ?

Since He is “very God of very God,” Jesus knows all things. He knew what would happen to Jerusalem. The fierce Roman troops would come. They would surround the city with their superior war machines and their unmatched battle strategies. They would use their own brand of “shock and awe” to squash the regime of a little, rebellious Jewish capitol city. This is the abomination of desolation—the unbelieving Romans would desecrate God’s holy place and execute God’s judgment on the people who rejected His Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

About 240 years earlier, in 168 B.C. a similar abomination took place. The Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes subjected Jerusalem to his “shock and awe” campaign. Not only did he attack Jerusalem, but he also desecrated God’s holy temple by erecting a statue to the Greek god Zeus and performing pagan sacrifices to it.

In 168 B.C. a statue of Zeus desecrated the most holy place. In A.D. 70, forty years after Jesus died, rose again, and ascended, a blood bath of 8500 victims would desecrate God’s house, and the temple would be demolished for good. God’s people no doubt wondered: “Where is God? Where is He to protect and deliver us?”

Dear friends, today we begin the countdown to the end of the Church Year, and we turn our gaze to the end of time and the end of all things. For three Sundays we hear the warnings and the promises from our Lord. Yes, this world will end; life as we know it will end. And, yes, Jesus warns us: it will not be pretty. The created order will continue to decay. The heavens and the earth will pass away. We will endure wars and rumors of wars – just think Iraq and Iran. We will suffer great immorality and godlessness – just think of so much of our pop-culture.

You see, since the moment our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, we have been in the “End Times.” The Apostle Paul warns us what to expect in these “End Times”: “…in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Wow! If we didn’t know better, we’d think St. Paul had been reading today’s newspapers or browsing the Internet. And how much does this describe us? Much more than we want to admit! But let’s admit it and confess it. And let’s use that honest confession to ask: Where is the Christ?

It is and will be very much like the days of Noah, Jesus says. “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:38-39). Then Jesus goes on to say, “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mt. 24:40-42). Until He comes we must ask: Where is the Christ?

Now many false teachers want you to get worried about who gets left behind when Jesus comes – worried that you might get “left behind.” They’ll tell you that Jesus will come secretly and snatch away – rapture – His believers, but all others will be “left behind.” Perhaps you’ve heard of a little book series by that title? ☺ However, notice carefully who is taken and who gets to be left behind. I’d much rather be left behind! In Noah’s day, those who disbelieved God but instead lived life pleasing themselves were taken. Noah and his family were the ones who got to be “left behind.” Those taken are the ones subject to God’s judgment for rejecting Him. Those “left behind,” are the people redeemed, rescued, and preserved by God Himself. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

So, where is the Christ? He’s right where He has always promised to be – in His Gospel message, in the waters of your Baptism, in the words of Absolution spoken by your pastor, and in the sacred Body and Blood on the Altar. When you hear the Gospel proclaimed, you hear the true story of the Son of Man hanging dead on the cross with Roman soldiers looking on. “Wherever the corpse is, there the [eagles] will gather.” Dear friends, this corpse of the Son of God, this carcass of the Christ, this is your very life. This is your hope and help, your strength and salvation during these “End Times.” And since He has risen from the dead, He sustains you as you struggle and persevere through these “End Times.” Since He lives eternally, He also lives with you and strengthens you, His blood-bought people. So, Christ Jesus has not left you. You don’t need to run around looking for Him here and there, or in secret teachings, or false teachings that get you worked up and worried that you’ve been “left behind.” No, your Savior Jesus is always with you in your Baptism. He always comforts you when you hear His Absolution, especially privately for your specific sins. And He is always present with you as you receive His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Here, dear friends, is how you can endure the “End Times.” Here is how you can persevere the trials and resist the false teachings. Here is how you can be glad to be “left behind,” because, like Noah, those who are “left behind” are the ones with the true Christ. You know where the Christ is: He’s in His Scriptures and in His Church.

Pastor John Chrysostom is quoted as preaching on this passages this way: “When you shall see the wicked heresy, which is the army of Antichrist, standing in the holy places of the church, then let those who are in Judea head for the mountains, that is those who are Christians should head for the Scriptures…. But why should Christians at this time head for the Scriptures? Because in this period in which heresy has taken possession of the churches there can be no proof of true Christianity nor any other refuge for Christians who want to know the truth of the faith except the divine Scriptures” (Chemnitz, Examen, I:156).

Let’s keep running to the mountains of the Scriptures, for there we will find the true Christ, with all of His forgiveness and all of His strength to endure these “End Times.” Amen.

05 November 2007

What awesome things our God can do!

Almost two years ago, January 2006 to be precise, my godson, Matthew Kurz, and his brother, Andrew, were in a very serious car crash on the way to school. Blinded by the sun and navigating around a sharp curve on a country road, Matthew ended up colliding with the back of a stopped school bus (actually, a new stop on the bus' route, as I recall) and getting wedged under the rear bumper. Thinking back on the original picture of the crash, I remain convinced that Matthew himself must have also hit the bus' rear bumper. (Yes, the bus' bumper was right above the driver's seat!)

Andrew suffered only minor injuries and is pretty much fully recovered. Matthew, however, suffered severe brain trauma, was in a coma for about two weeks, and has been slowly recovering and regaining mobility and abilities since.

You can read more about Matthew's story at the blog - "Matthew Kurz - Prayers and Updates" - that my wife and I keep for him. (Okay, I merely set up the blog and my wife faithfully adds all the entries. After all, she and Brenda - Matthew's mom and my wife's cousin - do all the communicating!)

Well, all of this is intended to give thanks to God for His marvelous miracles for Matthew! I just received word from Brenda that their local newspaper, The Sedalia Democrat, has run a story on Matthew's most recent achievements in relearning how to walk and talk.

"Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for His mercy endures forever!"

Reformation Polka

Okay, so it's become a tradition at this time of year, the end of October or beginning of November, to pull out the "Reformation Polka" and "sing" it (that is, I read the verses and sort of sing the refrain as I coax others to join in) with the Sunday Bible class. We just did that yesterday in Bible Class, and now someone else (Thanks, Pam!) has put me in touch with actual sung versions of this bit of Reformation-time fun (and however you rate the artistic merits of these performances, they're much more "well done" that I perform in Bible Class! :-).

Here's the "Reformation Polka" with Reformation artwork.

And for those who like cartoons better, here's just such a version.

Oh, by the way, it's all just for fun (Lutherans laughing at/with themselves?), and don't blame me if the tune stays in your head for a while! :-)

04 November 2007

Homily - All Saints' Day (Observed)

What Makes a Saint?
Matthew 5:1-12

Everyone loves browsing through the family photo album. “Ah, what memories!” we say as we take in the faces and the antics of the past. Grandmas and grandpas; aunts and uncles; children and pets; holidays and other festive times; even just good ol’, ordinary, day-to-day happenings around the house. But why look at the photo album? We like the trip down memory lane. We might be just curious about what sweater Grandma was wearing that day. But let me suggest a deeper reason. Why keep and look at the photo album? Because it gives us an anchor to our past. It reminds us who we are. It gives us a foundation for carrying on the family line and living the family life.

This is also why we celebrate All Saints’ Day – technically, November 1, but we celebrate it today. All Saints’ Day is the big day when the Church stops to look at her own photo album. How comforting to look at past saints and see how God dealt with them in His mercy and forgiveness. How comforting to have the family history of God’s people. It reminds us who we are as God’s people. It reminds us that we are not alone on this journey of faith. It reminds us that we are not home just yet. We are merely passing through this world.

So, what makes a saint? When you look at God’s saints, you can see it. When you listen to our Lord Jesus today, you can hear it. What makes a saint? The answer is simple: God’s blessing—being in the right place with God, living in communion with the true “Holy One,” our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, we poor, sinful human beings cannot make ourselves saints. So, Jesus tells us how saints are made. Four blessings focus on our emptiness, our need for God’s favor; four blessings focus on saintly lives of love.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. What makes a saint? Being poor in spirit, having nothing to offer God, being empty of yourself and your pride. Not only do the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of heaven is made up of the poor in spirit. When Jesus makes a saint, He does not begin with spiritual supermen or religious wonder women. Instead, He uses spiritually poor people who faithfully receive His mercy, His life, His forgiveness, and who lead holy lives as a result. God blesses the poor in spirit and uses them to make up His kingdom.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. What makes a saint? Being comforted in the midst of sorrow. Jesus does not preach against grieving. We all mourn—loss of loved ones, pain of family trials, stress on the job, confusion over the chaos of the times. Those who mourn are emptied of their own, self-made comfort. Instead, their comfort comes from the Lord Himself. They seek the Lord and He delivers them from their fears. Jesus blesses the mourners by comforting them with Himself.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Being meek does not mean being weak or milquetoast. Meekness is strong gentleness. The meek do not have to assert themselves with aggression. Instead, they have the poise of faith, the same poise Jesus had when He was falsely accused and slandered. There is strength in that gentleness. It’s the strength of Jesus. That’s how saints inherit the earth. They don’t look to themselves to control or dominate. There’s nothing there but sin and death. The meek rely on Jesus. His love controls and strengthens His people.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. It’s amazing how Jesus keeps praising those who are empty of themselves and their own goodness. You see, if you are full of your own goodness and rightness, then Jesus can’t fill you up with His. But when you hunger and thirst for “rightness” with God that means you don’t have it, you couldn’t get it, and you can’t buy it. And speaking of hungering and thirsting, how can we not think about the Lord’s sacred meal of His Body and Blood? When you hunger and thirst for Jesus and His “rightness,” the Lord’s Supper is where He fills you. Jesus fills you with His “rightness” when you eat and drink Him.

So, what’s the result of God blessing you in these ways? You show mercy. You are pure in heart. You are peacemakers. And you are even persecuted because Jesus makes you His saints. First, Jesus fills you with His mercy and life, with the riches of His dying and rising, with His forgiveness. Then He teaches you how you live as saints in the world.

The merciful show mercy because Jesus first showed His mercy to them. We love because He first loved us and sacrificed Himself for us. The pure in heart watch and ponder what God says. Their ideas get replaced by God’s pure Truth. Their impure, man-made priorities and solutions get replaced by God’s pure Gospel priorities and solutions. That’s seeing God! The peacemakers are those who bring other people to God’s peace. Jesus probably had in mind the Hebrew word SHALOM. SHALOM means wholeness. Peacemakers are “whole-makers.” They seek to make people whole by bringing them to the peace of Jesus. Peacemakers don’t just get rid of conflict by glossing over problems or differences. They resolve the conflict by calling people to confess their sins and then giving rich doses of Jesus’ forgiveness. And the persecuted—they are scorned, despised, gossiped about, attacked, and all out condemned because they want Jesus to be the center of attention. Again, God’s kingdom is made up of these people.

But is all this just the perfect picture of sainthood? Is this only a target that we try to shoot for, but we know we’ll never hit it? No. Let’s open the Church’s photo album. Let’s see how Jesus made saints of two other people, because He makes us saints in the same way.

Let’s look at St. Ansgar. He lived in the 800s. We know of “Murphy’s Law,” but back then they might have called it “Ansgar’s Law.” For St. Ansgar everything that possibly could go wrong did go wrong. Yet he’s still a saint. Every mission effort he started failed. He preached Christ and Him crucified and risen, but very few converts resulted from his preaching. He went to Denmark and Sweden to preach the Gospel, but just when he seemed to make progress, pagans would invade the land. Sure, some received the Gospel. King Erik and his subjects believed the Good News of sins forgiven in Jesus. St. Ansgar shows us that when Jesus makes us His saints, He doesn’t call us to be successful, just faithful.

And then there’s St. Bridget. She lived from 1303 to 1373. Did she know death and tragedy! Her mother died when she was young. She became a widow early in life. Two of her eight children died; the others had marital problems and extra-marital affairs. St. Bridget stands out not for how she avoided the trials, but for how she endured the pain and tragedy. She was known for her education and her devotion to Christ. She was made chief lady-in-waiting for the Swedish queen, Blanche. Bridget was able to influence the king’s policies for better human rights. Later she moved to Rome and taught Christian women in the ways of prayer and Christian charity. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. It was true for Bridget; it’s true for you.

As we ponder our fellow saints, it’s very comforting to know that they were just like us and we are just like them: poor in spirit, mourners, gentle, and hungering and thirsting to be right with God. The Lord Jesus died and rose for them; He also died and rose for you. In a world of fast-paced change, it’s good to know that some things never change. God blesses us in Jesus in the very same way He has blessed all His saints through the centuries. God even uses His saints of yesteryear to inspire us to trust in Him and to love one another. What makes a saint? Jesus, His bloody death and His glorious resurrection. Jesus is the merciful One, the pure-in-heart One, the one true Peacemaker, and the One who endured persecution to make you right with God. That’s what makes you saints. Blessed All Saints’ Day!

02 November 2007

Passover in November

Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a Sunday School lesson on the Passover (Exodus 11-12) to the radio audience of Issues, Etc. Deaconess Pam Nielsen usually does this weekly installment of Sunday School lessons, but as she had to be out of town, and as yours truly authored the Fall '07 Adult Bible Study lessons for the "Growing in Christ" series, I got the nod. You can listen to the half-hour segment here.

Thanks, Pam, for the opportunity. Thanks, Todd and Jeff, for letting me teach on "your" airwaves. Where is Jesus in the OT Passover story? In both the lamb and the blood!