Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
God Gives Spiritual Blessings - November 27, 2016 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: Isaiah 2:1-5
Happy New Year, or better, Happy New Church Year. Today we celebrate the beginning of our new Church year. Over the past three years I have been preaching from the Epistle lessons, that is I have used the Epistle lessons as the texts for my sermons. Last Sunday we completed the third year of readings and this Sunday we begin again with the first series of readings, Series A. Perhaps a word of instruction at this point might be in order. Many years ago wise men sat down and “mapped out” the Bible readings we have for Sunday morning worship. This “mapping out” of the Bible readings is known as a Lectionary. The Lectionary gives the Bible readings for each Sunday as well as for occasional Sundays, Feast and Saint Sundays as well as any other special Sundays. For each of these Sundays or events we are given an Old Testament Reading, an Epistle Reading and a Gospel reading. And included with our Propers for the day , those parts of the service which change every Sunday, we are given a Psalm as well as the Introit, Gradual and Collect. Anyway, with the three year Lectionary series, over the course of three years we hear much of the Word of the Bible. In the first year we hear especially from the Gospel of Matthew, in the second year, the Gospel of Mark and in the third year the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of John used to fill in certain Sundays. Also, the readings correlate with the season of the church year and an attempt is made so that all three readings relate to each other, or if that is not possible, at least two readings relate to each other. The same is true for the one year series which some congregations use, except that there are less readings. With that said, we use the three year Lectionary and this year we are back at Series A. And for the most part, this year I will be preaching from the Old Testament Lessons.
The season of Advent is the beginning of our new church year and we use this time of advent to prepare ourselves for our celebration of Jesus first coming, His birth in Bethlehem on which we celebrate on Christmas eve and Christmas day. And we celebrate for the full twelve days of Christmas which does not end on Christmas as our secular world seems to think, but we begin on Christmas and celebrate for twelve days until Epiphany, January sixth. It was this first coming of Jesus that ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth as well as ushered in Jesus journey to the cross and our forgiveness and eternal salvation. As we get into our text we notice that it talks about the last days. The last days began with Jesus incarnation, in other words, it was Jesus birth, true God taking on the form of a human being, that ushered in the kingdom of God and the last days. We are not waiting for the kingdom of God to appear as some think, teach and believe, because it is here. The kingdom of God is here. We are living in the last days.
The prophet Isaiah always pointed forward. He pointed, not only to Jesus first coming, in Bethlehem, but he also pointed to Jesus second coming, His coming to judge the living and the dead. At the end of the church year we speak about Jesus coming on Judgement day or our going to Him at our passing and our need to be ready for either of those certainties, remember last Sunday’s sermon? Here at the beginning of the church year we focus more on Jesus first coming. This morning, as we have the advantage of seeing Isaiah’s prophecies already fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming, we are better able to know for certain that this is the fulfillment of God’s Word through him and so as we concentrate on his words we do so seeing Jesus as the one promised, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
The last days of the world began with Jesus birth and include Jesus perfect life, His taking our sins upon Himself, His suffering and death on the cross, and His resurrection. By His work on the cross Jesus not only ushered in the Kingdom of God here on earth, but also made us a part of His Kingdom. By grace, through faith, we are members of the Kingdom of God. This is not something we will have, but it is our now. Yes, we will wait to move in, but heaven is ours right now!
And the last days include the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, who brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. This is not our choosing, earning or deserving, this is all gift. God chooses us. Jesus earned, paid for our salvation. Salvation belongs to our God and He freely gives it to us. He gives us faith, forgiveness and life.
We are living in the kingdom of God here on earth and will continue to do so until our own passing, our own physical death or until His second coming. Jesus second coming will be on the last day, on Judgement day. At His Second coming He will separate the sheep from the goats. He will separate the believers from the unbelievers.
After separating the sheep, the believers, from the goats, the unbelievers, He will send the goats, the unbelievers to hell. Judgement day is a day of final judgement, there will be no more chances to come to faith, to believe in Jesus. For the unbeliever this will be a very sad day, indeed.
For the believers, for us, He will take the sheep, the faithful, the believers, us, to heaven to enjoy perfect peace, the peace that only He can give, the peace which passes all understanding.
We are living in the kingdom of God and we are waiting for Jesus second coming. Up until that time, God has sent the Holy Spirit to work through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to bring people to faith. It is God who gives faith. Faith is not something that we go out looking for, it is not something that we find, it is not something we get or declare. Faith is a gift from God, worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our baptism and through God’s Word. Faith is what the Holy Spirit gives to us which is what reaches out and grabs and takes hold of all the gifts that God has to give, the gifts of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.
Not only does the Holy Spirit work faith in our hearts, through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, but also He works in our hearts to strengthen us in our faith, in our ability to take hold of and be given the gifts God gives. Faith is not something that is stagnant, it is either growing or shrinking, it does not stay idle. In other words, it is a misnomer to think that I can stay in one place in my faith. If a person is not growing in their faith, then they are losing their faith. And, yes, faith is something that can be lost. That is why divine service and Bible class attendance, personal and family devotions, personal reading of the Bible and prayer time are so important. God works through these means to strengthen us in our faith. When we absent ourselves from these means, we remove the very means God has of giving us His gifts and we could lose our faith.
The Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith, and to keep us in faith. The most dreadful thing in the world that could ever happen to us would be for the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith and for us to stay away from God’s gifts until we have completely lost our faith. Praise the Lord that He has given us His Holy Spirit who moves in us to have a desire to continue to hear God’s Word and to be given His gifts so that we are strengthen in our faith and so that we are kept in faith until He comes again to take us to heaven.
Our faith life and faith walk with Jesus is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit. Our faith life and faith walk is the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts, strengthening us in our faith and keeping us in faith and it is the Holy Spirit working in us so that we might respond to these gifts from God. Dr. Luther put our response this way, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” Unfortunately that word “duty” implies something that we have to do, that is why I like the word privilege better. It is my privilege to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is something unbelievers cannot do, because they do not believe in Jesus.
But my privilege goes beyond being able to thank and praise, serve and obey Him it also entails “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” The ultimate privilege of being a Christian is the inheritance of heaven, earned for us by Jesus death on the cross, made ours by the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts.
Our faith life and faith walk is really, not something we do, rather it is something God does in and through us. It is recognizing that everything I have, that faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, are gifts from God and all I can do is to respond to these many gifts and blessings from the Lord. This means that I confess and admit that “I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
Our Epistle lesson for today talks about the present time, it talks about the hour that has come. Our Gospel lesson reminds us to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” How fitting that the time of the beginning of our Advent season, the time of the beginning of the Church year is the time that we are reminded of our faith life and faith walk, about our Lord and the many good gifts and blessings He has given, gives and continues to pour out on us, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, and about our response to God’s many good gifts and blessings. How fitting that we are reminded of the many good gifts and blessing we have been given and will continue to be given by the Lord. How fitting that we are reminded of the most important gift from the Lord, the gift of faith which helps us to grab hold of all the other gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us. Because it is this gift of faith which brings us the ultimate gift of all, the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven with Jesus who will return at any hour, at the hour we do not expect. Come Lord, Jesus, come quickly, we are ready. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.