28 November 2013

God Supplies Every Need

Today's homily for Matins on this Day of National Thanksgiving:

Today our nation remembers 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 for providing for them and bringing them out of their trying times.

We in the Church also know how to give thanks amid dire times and circumstances. Martin Rinckart served as Pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). His little town was sacked once by the Austrians and twice by the Swedes. A ravaging plague took the lives of some 8,000 townsfolk. Pastor Rinckart knew sorrow and misfortune! And yet he could still thank and praise the Lord. You remember his words: “Now thank we all our God / With hearts and hands and voices, / Who wondrous things has done, / In whom His world rejoices; / Who from our mothers’ arms / Has blest us on our way / With countless gifts of love / And still is ours today” (LSB 895:1).

God is pretty good about taking care of His people. That’s why we Christians don’t just “give thanks” in some generic sense; we give thanks to God. Listen to St. Paul in Philippians 4. 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 from a different letter 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, nor to play the victim. He did not want anyone to feel sorry for him. He was not trying to place blame. None of those 21st century American ways of reacting! No crazy “down with the bad, evil rich people” chants. No relying on the government to supply his needs. 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 hope and healing and 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 led Paul to pen the soothing words before us today. And just in case the Philippians worried about their generous donation to St. Paul—that they might not 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, you might fear that you won’t have enough left over to pay the bills, or go shopping on Black Friday, or do other things you want for the rest of the month. Or, maybe you have the opposite dilemma and handle your offerings this way: pay the bills first (after all, they have due dates), then buy the groceries (after all, you must eat!), then plan the all-important entertainment activities. When all that’s taken care of, then, from whatever is left over, give a little bit to God and His Church. Only leftovers for God?

Actually, both ways show little-faith. Worrying whether you’ll have enough left? Little-faith. Giving God only the leftovers? Little-faith. That’s what happens when you don’t trust God to take care of you. That’s what happens when you think you must supply your own needs.

But St. Paul gives the God-pleasing alternative. You don’t supply your own needs; God supplies your every need. And He supplies your every need richly and daily—always has; always does; always will. You can count on it. And how does He do that? “According to His riches.” 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 glory; it’s for His. You get to focus on Him, the Creator of all creation, the Lover of all people. 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 – only “in Christ” – can you realize that God supplies your every need. Unbelievers may see some, but not all, of God’s gifts. But you get to see God as the great Giver of good and perfect gifts.

We confess this in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” What does that mean? Remember your Small Catechism (and thank God for such memorable and always-relevant explanations). “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.” No, you did not evolve from a monkey family or a pond of goo. No, you don’t make God and you certainly cannot control Him. But He did make you, and everything about you.

“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.” Yep, everything you have actually belongs to God. He just lets you use it and manage it for little while. Sure, you may buy your Thanksgiving turkey at Schnucks, 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 at the mall. But the supplies for weaving, cutting, and stitching those clothes ultimately come from God. Your spouse? God’s gift. Your children? Also God’s gifts. Every little thing in life is a gift from God’s fatherly hand.

“He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” When was the last time you were struck by lightning? Caught in a burning house? You see, God is always protecting you. And if you have lived through a flood, a blizzard, or even a tornado, if you have endured bankruptcy or loss of possessions or a close call on the freeway, God still protected you from it. Whenever you escape some distress, some danger, some close call, it’s time to realize that God rescued you. God does supply your every need.

Wow! That’s a lot to ponder. It’s humbling just 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 envy and discontent. We like to credit ourselves for our health, wealth, and good looks. We might even blame God when we don’t have the things we want when we want them. We focus too much on the gifts and not enough on the Giver.

However, God gives of Himself. He gives 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 richly and daily in Jesus. He daily forgives your ingratitude. He constantly forgives your selfishness and discontent and envy. 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 does supply your every need—no matter how big or small, no matter how much or how little. You get to see His fatherly heart, His boundless love. You get to look to Him for every need.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according His riches in Christ Jesus.” Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving! Amen.

20 November 2013

A Plan for Congregational Tithing

Here is my debut post, posted yesterday, over at Brothers of John the Steadfast

For the second year in a row my congregation, Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO, has followed this plan, and it has been a tremendous blessing to be a blessing for and serve others in the church at large. While some might say that such a practice should be a given for a Christian congregation--and, yes, it should--that may not always be the case. Hence the need to teach and lead by example.

Autumn months bring stewardship drives, and pastors encourage their flocks to “step up” their giving in the offering. Pastors may even ask their people to consider “tithing”--giving 10% of their income--off the top. After all, the Church does need money to carry out its work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What if the congregation itself were to practice tithing in its own budget? What would happen if the congregation as a whole were to lead by example and plan to give away 10% of its regular income (Yes, the offerings!), in its annual budget, to missions, charities, and other organizations outside of its own walls?

Blessings would abound. Christian individuals and families would see that, yes, tithing can be practiced. (After all, it’s more than an archaic, Biblical, ‘twould-be-nice-if-only-we-could wish-dream.) The congregation “as a person” would grow in the fruits of serving others. And the work of the Church at large would grow in witness, mercy, and life together.

A Brief Primer on Tithing

For some tithing may be a new concept; for others it may be a point of debate. For our purpose, let’s take the Biblical witness on tithing as a simple, salutary example that we may adopt in sanctified Christian freedom.

Talk of tithing, as well as money in general, must begin with Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” God doesn’t need “our” money; it already belongs to Him. We don’t own squat! God simply calls us, as individuals and as congregations, to be wise managers of His belongings.

Tithing first appears in Scripture by way of example in Genesis 14:17-20. Melchizedek blesses Abram, and Abram responds by giving him “a tenth of everything,” likely referring to the spoils (“income”) from his recent victory over several kings. The book of Leviticus is also replete with references to tithing resources such as land and animals (e.g. Leviticus 27:30-32).

According to Malachi 3:8-10, ancient Israel robbed God “in tithes and offerings,” that is, by not giving their tithes and offerings. However, God also made this promise: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” God attaches some kind of blessing, not necessarily more money, when His people tithe.

Dr. John H. C. Fritz explained the proper view of tithing:
It is self-evident that the Church needs money, this convenient means of exchange, to carry on its work. The financial needs of the Church do not exceed the financial possibilities of its members; the Lord does not expect that Christians give more than they are able to give. If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. [sic] of their income, as the Jews did in the Old Testament (in the New Testament this is not obligatory), or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power and even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians, 2 Cor. 8, 3, the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit (John H. C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, 259-260).

Tithing as the Congregation’s Practice

When the Christian congregation adopts tithing as its regular practice, it will want to focus on Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The practice of tithing seeks to give money away in order to bless and serve neighbors in the Church at large. The primary blessing may simply come in the form of satisfaction that the congregation, as a corporate person, has served its neighbors in the Church at large.

The pastor will want to guide the process, taking time to teach his members on the Scriptural witness of giving and tithing, as well as the needs of the Church at large. The pastor will also want to ensure that the tithing commitment is carried out because, after all, the Old Adam in each of his members will resist just giving money away.

If giving away ten percent of the congregation’s regular income (offerings)--off the top, before any other budget items are planned--seems “unworkable,” the congregation may choose to grow into that percentage. One way to grow into tithing is to give 10 percent from extraordinary, unplanned gifts. If the congregation receives a $10,000 unplanned and undesignated gift (e.g. a bequest), it can decide to give away the first $1,000 (the tithe) before it decides how to use the remaining $9,000 for its own purposes.

Another way to grow into tithing is to begin with a lower percentage. As the pastor and congregational leaders work through next year’s budget, they can calculate the expected income from regular offerings for the coming year, and then resolve to give away five percent (5%) or whatever is manageable. In successive budget years, the congregation can increase that percentage as it becomes more comfortable with giving away money in order to help missions, charities, and other organizations. Ultimately, the goal is to reach that ten percent mark, but there’s nothing to limit the congregation to that figure either.

As the congregation’s budget is drafted, literally make “Tithing” the first item in the “Expenses” section. Print it out thus, so that members can see it and conclude, “Hey, we’re actually giving to serve our neighbor before we plan our own expenses.” This sets a wonderful example for congregational members to do the same in their own budgets.

After the congregation has decided to give away a percentage of its income, then it must actually set that money aside. Each and every week that approved percentage should be taken from the offering monies and placed in a separate savings account dedicated solely to tithing and giving away. This step is crucial and meant to be executed before paying salaries, utilities and other expenses.

The congregation may adopt one of several timeframes for actually disbursing the dedicated funds--monthly, quarterly, or annually. Keeping accurate records of the money that accrues and when it is given away is paramount.

With the leadership of the pastor and elected leaders, the congregation will also want to plan the recipients of its giving. The congregation should ask itself, “What missions, missionaries, charities, and outside organizations do we want to support?” That is, what missions, missionaries, charities, and outside organizations have purposes and goals that are consistent with those of the congregation? A congregation that prizes such things as clear Scriptural teaching, rightly dividing the Word of truth (i.e. distinguishing Law and Gospel), administering the Sacraments of Christ according to His institution, using the liturgy of the Church, and teaching Christians to live in their vocations will seek to support groups and organizations that prize those things as well.

The pastor and leaders may want to devise some method of seeking input from congregational members, such as a suggestion form, for what missions, charities, and outside organizations they would like to support. Then they will want to vet those organizations, draft a plan, and have the congregation as a whole approve the plan.

Such giving can be organized according to the three emphases of the Church: Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. A Witness category would support the proclamation of Jesus Christ around the globe, including missionaries, training of pastors, and faithful radio programs. A Mercy category would support charitable mercy-work for bodily needs, such as food pantries, housing projects, and pro-life ministries, as well as a pastoral discretion fund for local charity needs that may arise. A Life Together category would support our common life gathered around Christ’s gifts in the Divine Service, including the youth organizations, Lutheran school associations, and even one’s church body.

As the money is given away, anticipate the “blessings.” Members will see that, yes, giving is and can be a way of life, especially since the congregation sets the example. Vacuous will be the claims that “I give my money and all they do with it is pay the light bill.” Congregation members may just “step up” their giving because they see the congregation “as a person” being charitable. In addition, as missionaries, charities, and other organizations send their “Thank you” letters, congregation members will take great satisfaction from knowing that, yes, they did help their neighbor and, yes, they are helping to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world.
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11-12).

"You Did It to ME!"

Here is Sunday's homily, for Trinity 26 (2nd Last Sunday in the Church Year), with Matthew 25:31-46 as the text:

Wow, that sounds like a pretty works-righteous passage! Is that your reaction? We hear Jesus talk of separating the sheep from the goats. Will He really separate them based on their works—the good, the bad, and the ugly? Will the goats go to “eternal punishment” because of their lack of good works? Will the sheep enter eternal life based on their good works? Let’s see.

This time of the Church Year we hear about the “End Times” and the Last Day. Our Lord will come again in glory, just as He promised. He will sit on His glorious throne given to Him by the Ancient of Days, God the Father. His throne will be surrounded by twenty-four thrones—the thrones of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. And He will be surrounded by all the angels. It’s the very throne He’s had from eternity, the throne He left to take on our humanity, to suffer, to die and to rise again to restore us to life with God, the throne which 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 in Him. We will get to go back to the Garden—the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).

When our Lord King comes in His glory, He will gather all the nations and separate the peoples—some on His right, others on His left. He will talk with both groups, and His conversation will sound similar for each. What will He talk 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 these things better than others. Others may have done them, but only with self-serving motives.

But the real kicker will come when Jesus identifies Himself with those who needed the help! He will say, “You fed, Me; you gave drink to Me; you welcomed Me; you clothed Me; you visited and came to Me.” You did it to ME! And both groups will say, “Uh, Lord, when? We didn’t know that 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 life and … well, eternity without God. “Yes, you did it to ME.” Actually, those words make all the difference even now!

But the Church does not give us these “End Times Sundays” to scare us to death or to make us question our 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 “lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” 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.”

St. Peter talks about this in our second reading. Don’t doubt your 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 your Lord is playing with your mind when He promises “judgment and destruction of the ungodly” or a “new heavens and a new earth” for the righteous. Don’t fear. Don’t cower. But then again, don’t live like bumps on logs in this fallen world either. Don’t live self-centeredly, like the unbelieving people around you. Instead, 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.” 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.”

And that’s precisely your dilemma, isn’t it? You look in the mirror of God’s Word. You examine your life and heart. And you know that you are not without spot or blemish. You are not at peace. “Lives of holiness and godliness”? “Hah! He must mean someone besides me,” you say. If King Jesus were to come right now, you know the conversation would go something like this: “When you got angry with your spouse or your child, your brother or sister, you got angry with 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 with your time, your labors, and your money, you did not support me.” Need I go on?

But 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.” King Jesus  actually “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). King Jesus even says, “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40).

And, yes, that includes you and me! You see, King Jesus has indeed taken His glorious throne—and, oddly enough, it looks just like His Cross. As He hung there, bleeding, suffocating, and dying, He gathered all nations to Himself. There He also separated peoples one from another. In His gory suffering your 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? What is that kingdom? It’s His great grace, His mighty mercy, His lavish love, His fabulous forgiveness, all for you. That’s what makes the difference between sheep and goats. That’s what makes the difference between eternal life and … well, you know.

So this is not a “works-righteous passage” at all. 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, sheep need what their Shepherd-King has to offer. You are hungry and thirsty for God, and He feeds you on His Body and gives you His Blood to drink. You are estranged from God, and He welcomes you back to life with Himself. You are the naked ones, exposed for the sinners you truly are, and He clothes you with His robe of righteousness in your Baptism. You are sick in your sin, and He visits you to forgive you and heal you. You are imprisoned by death, and He comes to you and sets you free from that dark, dank prison. That’s the life of holiness and godliness that your Lord gives as a precious and wonderful gift!

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

Now a conversation with your Lord, King, and Shepherd 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 take care of your family, when you do your work to the best of your ability, when you hold your tongue from complaining or gossiping, when you keep your anger in check, when you defend each other, when you live for one another to serve one another, you do it all to Me.”

“Oh, and don’t worry,” Jesus says, “if you don’t consciously think that you’re doing all these little things to Me. I know you’re plenty busy just serving and loving your neighbor. That’s how I created you to live. That’s how I re-created you in forgiveness to 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 … more joyously … and for all eternity.” Amen.

13 November 2013

Kingdom Hidden, Kingdom Revealed

Here's my homily for this past Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Trinity (3rd Last Sunday in the Church Year). Yes, we do a little "skip" at this time of the year so as to hear and appreciate our Lord's teaching and preparations for the Last Day.

Today we begin “End Times Sundays.” We look to the Last Day, when Christ will return. As we wait and watch, here’s a vital question for you: Which is more important for you, the Christian—the sense of sight or the sense of hearing? What takes priority in the Church—the eyes or the ears? The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). It also says, “Faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). For the people of God, ears are more important than eyes; hearing more vital than seeing. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the words of the Gospel of Jesus, words that He speaks into our ears. Christians are all ears.

So in our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees for being all eyes. They demanded special signs. Signs are seen instead of believed. The Pharisees did not trust in the Lord’s spoken words. They wanted to trust their own vision and experience. They walked not by faith, but by unbelief that said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The Pharisees ask Jesus about “when the kingdom of God would come.” They think it’s still to come because they cannot yet see it. Jesus must tell them not to rely so much on their vision. They don’t see that the kingdom has already arrived. Instead, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God is here. It’s a present reality. It may be hidden and veiled from ordinary sight, but it’s still here. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, there it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

God’s kingdom does not come with observation, Jesus says. We need to remember this in our culture of TV, Netflix videos, and computer games. We like to see things. That’s how we like to know what’s real. But the kingdom of God cannot be observed or analyzed with natural eyes. It cannot be identified with visible signs of power or prosperity. No, this side of eternity, God’s kingdom is hidden from normal human sight.

So Jesus tells the Pharisees that God’s kingdom is already here: “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” It’s already here, already present, because Christ the King is here. Since He’s the King, it’s His kingdom. We can even say that He IS the kingdom—the kingdom of God in the flesh. God’s kingdom hides behind and within Jesus’ true humanity. All of God’s fullness dwells in Him. He is God’s kingdom with all of its blessings. So, where the flesh-and-blood Jesus is, there the kingdom of God is present. Wherever Jesus speaks His words to His people, wherever He gives His Body and Blood to His people, wherever He forgives sins and gives a share in His life, there is the kingdom of God. When you have Jesus, you have the kingdom of God.

But our fallen nature prefers to have something of its own making. It wants something it can see, rather than trusting what Jesus says. We are very much like the ancient Israelites at Mt. Sinai in our first reading. Moses had gone up the mountain to receive the Word of the Lord. The people grew impatient as he delayed coming down. So they told Aaron, “Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses…we do not know what has become of him.” They did not want to walk by faith in an unseen leader. They wanted to walk and live by sight. And Aaron failed to be a faithful high priest as he gave in to the people’s demands. He took their jewelry and fashioned a golden calf—a fertility symbol, an idol for sight, not for faith. They traded the true God for their own version of what they wanted God to be.

We also like to walk by sight. We also have our “golden calves” as we await the Lord’s return. We may not bow down to a symbol of fertility, but we do bow down to things we can see, things we think will lead us out of the wilderness of our emptiness, our sin, and our death. We might bow at the feet of growth and success and try to measure God’s kingdom and life in the Church by numbers and excitement we can see. We might bow at the feet of popular pastors and leaders who can draw great crowds. We might bow at the feet of making sure our 401(k)s and the stock market are always growing and shining with success.

But remember this: when Moses came down from the mountain, when he saw the false worship and immorality, he took down the calf, burned it, and ground it into powder. Then he scattered the powder on the water and made the Israelites drink it. Even our golden calves—the things we trust instead of Jesus the Christ—will be torn down and crushed. Just as Moses came down from the mountain, our Lord Jesus will come down unexpectedly on the Last Day. We may be “eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage”; we may be “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” but the Lord will still come to judge the fallen world. And our Lord’s coming will be quite a surprise for all who ignore Him and live by sight.

However, for you who repent and believe, for you who walk as yet by faith, our Lord’s return is not something to dread. Instead, you may welcome it. You see, your judgment day has already happened. It took place when Jesus was nailed to the tree. There He suffered the judgment for your sin and unbelief. There He took your place and, out of great love and mercy, endured the weight of your sin and death. That’s why Jesus says in our Gospel reading, “first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” His great love compelled Him to redeem you from your idols of sight. His shed blood purchased you as His own so that you can “live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

Yes, your judgment day has come. It came on the day when Jesus said, “It is finished.” Just as the Lord provided deliverance for Noah and his family, and for Lot and his daughters, He has also delivered you from sin and death and brought you into His kingdom. His kingdom comes in Christ crucified and risen. All you can see in the cross is a bloody execution, but in that very cross your Lord reveals His kingdom of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. In that instrument of death your Lord reveals His victory over the grave. Yes, you can trust these words you hear. After all, Christians walk not by sight, but by faith.

God’s kingdom does not come by observation, but Jesus still reveals it to you. He is truly present, and He reveals Himself by “hiding behind” ordinary water that washes away sin and death.   Martin Luther said it well: “Wherever anybody is being baptized according to Christ’s command we should be confidently convinced that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is present there, and that there is pure delight, pleasure, and joy in heaven over the fact that sin is forgiven, the heavens opened forever, and that now there is no more wrath but only grace unalloyed.” (in TDP, Nov. 8) And today we get to rejoice that He reveals His kingdom this morning for Caleb George!

Your Lord Jesus also hides behind an ordinary man’s voice that proclaims His mercies and forgiveness. He also hides behind common bread and wine that serve as His heavenly food. The kingdom of Jesus may not come by normal observation, but when you let your ears do their hearing, you recognize that the Kingdom is in our midst—Christ Himself is in your midst. As Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63). His water is “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). And He also says, “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him” (Jn. 6:55-56).

The kingdom of God may not come by observation, but it is revealed to us in Jesus Himself. So, we learn to trust our ears. Our eyes may see only sin and sickness, trouble and death. But when we listen to and trust the Lord’s words, we hear the hidden reality that we are His chosen people, His royal heirs of eternal life. When we listen to and trust the Lord and His words, He sustains us and strengthens us to endure these last days in His kingdom revealed. We walk by faith, not by sight. After all, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1, NKJV). Amen.

06 November 2013

"Gangway to Galilee"

Hey, I recognize those young Christians--Bonnie and Caleb!

What a joy that two "little lambs" from Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO, can help promote Concordia Publishing House's new VBS theme, "Gangway to Galilee," and Scripture's teaching on Baptism.

(And, hey, I also recognize that beautiful church! Just one of the "fringe benefits" of serving God's people at Hope. :-)

05 November 2013

Dave Ramsey: It's Simple Math. People Will Pay More for Obamacare

Simple math says, "Yes, you will pay higher health insurance premiums under 'Obamacare.'"

Leave it to Dave Ramsey to cut to the true, a-political heart of the matter:

04 November 2013

Homily for All Saints' Day (Observed)

Marching to Victory

If you feel depressed after watching the evening news, or after reading the news websites, try reading Revelation. The evening news and the news websites certainly reveal the corruption and wickedness of human beings. But even more depressing is that we Christians seem to be on the losing side. We are so tempted to lose heart. We are so tempted to think God doesn’t care, that He’s far away. That’s why we need Revelation. That’s why we need All Saints’ Day. You see, the saints of God march through the tribulations of this world to the goal of Christ’s eternal victory--and all by the work of Christ.

Our first reading comes right after some events that make the evening news look like children trick-or-treating. Four horsemen come riding in and bring trials such as tyranny, warfare, famine, and death. Martyred Christian souls are pictured asking, “How long [O Lord] before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). The sun becomes black; the moon becomes blood red; the stars fall from the sky; the sky rolls up like a curtain; and the earth quakes all over the place.

Then we come to Revelation 7. Two scenes provide comfort and hope. In the first scene, God sends four angels to push pause on the news of cosmic chaos. They hold back the winds of God’s wrath on corrupt humanity. A fifth angel arises from the east, from the dawn of new life. He brings “the seal of the living God.” And what is that seal, that signet ring? It’s God’s own mark of ownership, care, and protection. And He places it on His redeemed people who are traveling through this chaotic world filled with trials.

Think of that sign--that seal--of the holy cross that was put on your forehead and your heart when you were baptized. What does it tell you? You belong to God. God knows you, cares for you, and protects you in the midst of this troubled, corrupted, chaotic world. In fact, He even holds back those horsemen and the troubles they bring into your life, in order that you may grow in the grace and knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. And even when He lets those horsemen and their chaos loose, He still guards and protects you.

Then we get the roll call of all Israel. 144,000--the perfect number of 12 x 12 x 1000--the number of complete completeness. And the tribes of Israel are listed--12,000 in each tribe. This list is different from the Old Testament lists. Dan is missing, and so is Ephraim. They had turned away from the Lord. In their place we see Joseph and Levi. They were faithful to God. This list of God’s people has been cleansed of idolatry and apostasy. And it’s Judah who heads the list, probably because the Lord Jesus comes from his line. Here’s the perfect number of God’s people on earth, people who belong to Jesus Christ. And it’s not a literal number, so put your bean-counting tendencies on pause. All the tribes are equal in number--none is greater or lesser than another.

This list draws our attention back to ancient Israel as they wandered through the wilderness. When they camped around the tabernacle--God’s dwelling place on earth--each tribe had its assigned place. When they broke camp to march on, they marched in a God-given order on their mission to the Promised Land. And so it is for God’s redeemed people in this world of trials and chaos. You are among the perfect number of God’s people in the Church Militant. You dwell in your assigned place. You are ready for the mission--the marching order--He has given you: “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations.” (Lk. 24:47) “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet. 3:15)

We are the Church Militant. We are merely marching through this sin-ravaged, death-plagued world. We're on a mission to be sure--the mission of confessing Christ and giving the reason for the hope we have in Him--but it’s still cosmic warfare. Hence the trials. Hence the persecutions. And hence the Lord’s seal of ownership, care, and protection. Jesus even said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

And so we come to the second scene that gives comfort and hope to all saints. Now the saints praise God in heaven. It’s the eternal victory celebration. Who’s in the party? “A great multitude that no one could number.” (I told you to put your bean-counting tendencies on pause. :-) And the saints come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” No, Christianity is not just for Westerners, not just for certain colors or languages. It’s for all people. White, black, brown--they’re all there. Those who speak English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Bosnian--they’re all there.

And what are they doing? They’re celebrating! Think of when your team last won the World Series or the Superbowl or even the high school state championship. Everyone was elated! Everyone had a party! You went through the highlights of the game. You congratulated the players. Heaven is that final celebration, that final victory, that eternal victory. And it’s much better than any championship. Sports victories last only for a season. God’s victory is for eternity.

And, as they celebrate, what do they say? “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They go through the highlights of the salvation story. They congratulate the “players”--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You see, it’s only because of our God and the Lamb that we have this victory. God has saved you, His saints, and made you holy. He has saved you through the Lamb and His blood shed on the cross. God has rescued you from your enemies--from sour-puss Satan; the chaotic, hostile world; and even death itself. Here you have a picture of the final goal--eternal life with your God and Savior who loves you through Jesus' death.

And who else chimes in? The whole heavenly court--”all the angels...standing around the throne and...the elders and the four living creatures.” They all praise God for His work of winning the cosmic war.

In this second scene all the saints have come “out of the great tribulation.” That’s Bible talk for all time and all events since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. But this is no mere escapist fantasy. For some it might look like it’s too good to be true. But this is no flight from reality. It’s a picture of hope.

You see, the Church does not live from one triumph to another. There’s no such thing as victorious living--or your best life now--this side of heaven. No, the Church lives in the way of the cross--as do we individual Christians. God does not lead His Church--His saints--around suffering. He leads us through the suffering. And as He does, “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence.”

So, when those opposed to God seem to be stronger, when the Church seems to be on the brink of extinction, when you in your personal faith and life feel so weak and battered and bruised, take heart! Be comforted! Have hope! God has not forsaken you or His Church. All of that is par for the course for the Church and her Christians. It’s your Savior Jesus Christ--the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who shed His innocent blood--it’s your Savior Jesus who brings you to the goal, and all by His grace and mercy.

You see, you are also “the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” You just happen to be still on the march toward that goal. And you have also “washed [your] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” No, not because you are so pure and strong yourself. Rather, because Jesus is the pure One; Jesus is the strong One. You are holy because He is holy and He makes you holy. And saints belong to God. Saints stay with God, because He stays with them. “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness / My beauty are, my glorious dress”! (LSB 563:1)

So, do not be afraid to be “out of date” or strange because you are a Christian. Do not be unsettled when adversity comes your way or to the Church herself. Your God and Savior promises to be with you, to keep you as His own, and to care for and protect you as you march toward His eternal victory. Most of all, stay in your Baptism. Martin Luther said this about living in your Baptism: “We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.” (LC IV 44) Amen.