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 30, 2014

I Always Thank God - November 30, 2014 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Today is our New Year’s Day of sorts. Today is the first Sunday in the new church year. Our church year begins with Advent. The word advent means coming. The season of advent is the time we spend preparing for our celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth. We prepare ourselves for our celebration of God taking on human flesh and being born as one of us. What an awesome event.  God intervening in human history to save all people from death and hell. Our text for today is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. In the seven verses of our text Paul outlines who God is and what He has done, notice that is past and completed action, what God has done for us. How fitting our text is at the beginning of this new church year as we prepare our hearts and minds for our Christmas celebration that Paul outlines the reason for our joy.
Our text begins with Paul saying, “3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). How easy one could read over those words and just continue on as if they were mere words, especially since they are often the words we hear at the beginning of many a sermon. But when we stop and take some time to unpack those fourteen words we see that Paul says a tremendous amount with such few words. Paul begins by invoking God’s grace upon us. God’s grace is His undeserved love for us. God’s grace is the love that He has for us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross earned our forgiveness. And it is only because of God’s grace, knowing that we are forgiven, that we can have true peace. True peace comes only from knowing we are forgiven and that we are no longer guilty. For most people peace is difficult because of guilt. Too many people spend too many restless night because of guilt. With forgiveness, the guilt is removed and one can have peace. True peace is that peace which comes from knowing the love of our Father in heaven, a love that so great that He gave the life of His Son for us.
But Paul does not stop there he continues, “4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). Here we are reminded, again, that the grace about which Paul is speaking is the grace which comes at a price, the price of the cost of Jesus on the cross. The cost for our sins did not just vanish, the cost had to be paid and Jesus paid the price for our sins. He suffered the punishment, the eternal punishment, the eternal spiritual death penalty, which should have been ours to suffer. Paul rightly gives thanks to God for us, because without God’s grace we would be lost and condemned creatures, but with God’s grace, which we are given through His Word and Sacraments, we are forgiven children of God.
Paul continues in verse five, “5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge” (v. 5). It is through Jesus that we have been made new people. It is through Jesus that we have been enriched, we have been transformed, from being sinful human beings to being saints on our way to heaven. We are no longer what we were before, complete sinners and enemies of God, but we are not yet what we will be in the future, completely and only saints in heaven. We are somewhere in the middle. We are on our journey heavenward and with the help of the Holy Spirit we are enriched each day so that we continually conform our lives to God’s good and gracious will.
Paul continues in verse six, “—6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you” (v. 6). The Word of the Lord that Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians was not preached in vain, but took root in the hearts of the people and bore fruit which showed the affect of his preaching. In simple terms we might say that their faith was shown in the change of their behavior. No longer did they act like heathens and enemies of God but instead they lived their lives according to God’s good and gracious will.
In verse seven Paul says, “7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7). In particular Paul is speaking about the gift of grace. Our God is a generous God, so much so that His grace is continually poured out upon us. We never lack for God’s grace.
Verse eight reads, “8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). How can we be guiltless or blameless before the Lord on the day of judgement? In and of ourselves we cannot. But because of God’s grace, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are guiltless, we are blameless. And remember, this guiltlessness is what gives us peace. His righteousness is counted as our righteousness.
And we have God’s promise given through Paul in verse nine, “ 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 9). It is God who calls us to fellowship with His Son, we do not come seeking Him, He comes calling us. And note that it is God who is faithful, we are not the ones who are faithful. We have a tendency to forget our promises, to go back on our promises, but God is faithful, He never goes back on His promises, no matter what we do, He is faithful.
At our Baptism our Lord placed His name on us. He claimed us as His children. We have just heard Paul’s words of all that our Lord has done for us, undeserved as we are. So, what? What is our response to all that our Great God has done for us? Our response begins with giving thanks and praise to God. We give Him thanks and praise by coming to church to worship Him. We give Him thanks and praise by praying to Him and saying thank you, by singing hymns and songs of praise to Him. Even more, we praise and thank our Lord best when we do so with our very lives, when we live our lives according to His good and gracious will, bearing witness to all the world of who our God is and what He has done for us.
We respond to all the many good gifts and blessing we have been given to by our great God by overflowing and sharing God’s gifts with others. We do this through speaking to others, through telling others about Jesus, but even more by acting out what we have learned. Unfortunately it is difficult to allow God’s gifts to overflow from us when we reject and neglect to be given God’s gifts. When we absent ourselves from God’s Word and Sacraments then God cannot give us His gifts and without His gifts we cannot overflow and share them with others. Thanks be to God that as we come and are given His gifts that He pours out His gifts on us so much that we do overflow and share those gifts with others.
We respond to the good gifts and blessing we are given to by God when, with the help of and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we strive to strengthen our faith. You know, people who love to read always seem to find a book to read. People who love to hunt always try to find time to hunt or read magazines about hunting, or try to do anything that has something to do with hunting. People who love to golf always try to find time to golf, or read magazines about golfing, or try to do anything that has something to do with golfing. People who love to fish always try to find time to fish, or read magazines about fishing, or try to do anything that has something to do with fishing. People who love sports always try to find time for sports, or read magazines about sports, or try to do anything that has something to do with sports. The same things can be said about people who love any kind of activity, skating, exercise, bicycling, cooking, needle point, quilting and the list goes on. Why is it then that people who say they love the Lord try to find as many excuses as they can to keep from reading about the Lord, to keep from learning about the Lord, to keep from doing anything that has to do with the Lord? We respond to the good gifts and blessing we are given to by God when we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, strive to strengthen our faith. Indeed as you have heard me say before, faith shows itself in the desire to be when and where the gifts of God are given out and the opposite is true as well, for there to be no desire to be given the gifts of God would indicate a lack of faith. Here at St. Matthews we offer many opportunities to be given the gifts God has to give from the Wednesday morning Bible class, the monthly Saturday morning men’s breakfast Bible Study, the Bible study on Sunday morning as well as our regular Sunday Divine service and now during advent our midweek services as well as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. My prayer is that the Lord will move you to be a part of these opportunities to grow and be strengthened in your faith and my prayer continues to be that so many people will respond that we will need to add more times and places to study God’s Word and be filled with His good gifts and blessings.
We respond to the good gifts and blessing we are given to by God when, with the help of he Holy Spirit, we strive to be faithful. Praise the Lord because even when we are not faithful, He is faithful. Even when we forget to respond to His many good gifts and blessings He still remembers His promise to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He still remembers His promise to take us to heaven to be with Him forever in eternity.
Paul’s words of reminder of all that our Lord has done for us are good words to begin this new church year. Now we pray that the Holy Spirit will come into our hearts and lives and move us to respond, with His help, to be given all those gifts and blessing, to then give praise and glory to His Holy Name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

God Shall Provide All Your Needs - November 26, 2014 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: Philippians 4:6-20

Tomorrow has been declared by the President of the United States as a national day of thanksgiving. It has become sort of automatic that each year our President makes the same proclamation. Tomorrow is not a religious holy day as we think of most holidays, but tomorrow is a national, social day of giving thanks. And to whom do we give thanks? For us, we give thanks to the one we acknowledge as the giver of all good gifts and blessings. We give thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This evening I would like to make three points from our text.
Our first point comes from Paul’s words, “6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v.6). By these words Paul encourages us to be in constant prayer to the Lord. That does not mean that we are to be constantly kneeling, bowing our heads, folding our hands and offering up prayers and petitions. It does mean that, really, our whole lives should be lived as a prayer to the Lord. We remember that prayer is a heart to heart talk with God, anytime and anywhere. I do not know about you, but I find myself in constant prayer to the Lord. Many times each day I find myself praying for one need or another, for one bit of rejoicing or another.
Paul also encourages us to give thanks as we present our requests to the Lord. We present our requests with thanks knowing and having confidence that the Lord will answer our prayer. And we know that the Lord will answer our prayer according to what He knows is best for us according to His good and gracious will, not necessarily according to what we might think we need. And yes, we even give thanks when our Lord in His infinite wisdom says, “no.”
The second point I will make this evening comes from Paul’s words, “7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7). This it the phrase we hear after many sermons, perhaps not from this translation, but from another. Just as our hearing the Word of the Lord gives us true peace, so as our lives become a prayer to the Lord, He will give us true peace. True peace is that peace which is not simply a worldly peace, not simply a few moments or even an hour of earthly calm and serenity, but true peace is that peace which comes from knowing our sins are forgiven, because with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation. What other, or better peace can we have than to know that our eternity is set, that heaven is a present reality.
God’s peace is a peace that is beyond all understanding. His peace is beyond our understanding because we cannot understand how God could love us so much that He would give the life of His Son for ours. We cannot understand how a Creator could love His wayward creation so much that He would reconcile the debt the creation owes its Creator. It is the life of His Son on the cross which earned for us our forgiveness and eternal life.
Paul gives his life as an example of the transforming power of God’s peace. God’s peace is that which makes it possible for us to be content in all things. It is God’s peace which makes it possible for us to keep our thoughts and minds on all things true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. And we remain in God’s peace by being in His Word.
Another example that Paul gives concerning the power of peace in his life is the example of contentment. He has learned to be content by learning the difference between wants and needs. As blessed as we are in this country, we continually have a difficulty understanding this difference. Most of us probably believe that a telephone in every room of the house is a necessity, or every member of the family having a phone, or that a television in every room, or today, a computer in every room is a necessity. We believe having more than one change of clothes or more than one pair of shoes is a necessity. We have been and are so blessed that many of the things we have we believe to be necessary. Paul helps us distinguish what is necessary and what is simply a want. Please understand, to want things beyond what is necessary is not in and of itself wrong. What is sin is when our wants dictate our actions and so consume us that we forget what is important. Paul’s example is one which we would do well to imitate as we live in the peace of the Lord.
The third point I would like to make this evening comes from Paul’s words, “19And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (v. 19). When it comes to contentment we learn to be content by learning that it is the Lord who gives first. The Lord gives us everything that we need and even more than we want. I have challenged many people from time to time and I will offer than same challenge to you. Can you name even one thing that is yours that did not in some way come from God? In one way or another, everything we have, except our sin, has its beginning with our Lord. What we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours and everything else is simply on loan to us from God while we live in this world. Being content begins with learning the difference between wants and needs. Again, for us in America, most of us have so many things. We have more than we need and many times, more than we could want, although I know we can always want more. Tomorrow and truly every day is the day to take time to give thanks for all those things, the things we need and the things we have that are wants.
The second part of contentment is to respond in thanks. Being content is recognizing that all things, in one way or another, come from God and then thanking Him for all His good gifts and blessings.
And as the Lord gives and as we return a portion from what He has first given with thanksgiving to the Lord, He gives us even more. He does this to remind us that we cannot out give Him. The Lord gives to us everything we need and He gives to us a whole lot more.
As we celebrate our national day of thanksgiving we do so by giving thanks. I guess I do not see how a family can sit down at a thanksgiving meal and not give thanks, yet there are many who will do so tomorrow. I do not see how a family can begin a day of thanksgiving without first giving thanks to the Lord for He is the giver of all good gifts and blessings.
As I think about the gifts that God gives I am reminded that; first the Lord has given me the gift of life. He gave me that gift at my conception. The first spiritual and really the most important gift I was given by the Lord happened thirteen days after my birth and that was the gift of new life at my baptism. At my baptism the Lord gave me the gift of faith, forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. He has provided this forgiveness by giving His Son and the life of His Son, yes, even His own life as God in flesh so that I might have this forgiveness, but not just me, He has provided this forgiveness for all people. And with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation, indeed there is no greater gift.
But I know that God has not just given me these spiritual gifts, although with just those gifts I know that I am especially blessed by God. God gives me physical things as well. He has provide me with a loving wife and four loving children. He has provided for us a nice house which we are making into a nice home. He allows for me to arise each day as each day is a gift from Him. He gives me the ability each day to do whatever work He has prepared for me to do. He has brought us to this congregation to love and be loved by the members of this congregation. He gives me food and clothing. He gives me all that I need. He even gives me more than I need and more than I want.
He also stirs in me to give thanks. I know that in and of myself I am a selfish person. I take what God gives me and I always want more. That is why I am so thankful that the Lord also stirs in me a desire to give Him thanks for all that He gives to me, for all His good gifts and blessings.
I am going to leave here this evening. I am going to wake up in the morning and around noon I am going to eat some turkey and southern cornbread dressing. I am going to watch one or even both and maybe even three football games. I am going to enjoy the company of my family and friends. I am so glad that you have been with me this evening to begin our Thanksgiving celebration right, by coming to Divine Service, to be given God’s gifts through His Word and by being able to give Him thanks and praise for all His good gifts and blessings. May the Lord be with you this day, tomorrow and always as you give thanks to Him. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ Has Indeed Been Raised from the Dead - November 23, 2014 - Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

In a court of law, witnesses play one of the most important roles. The prosecution, as well as the defense, each get to call their own witnesses and cross examine the others witnesses. The role of the witness is to explain what they saw. As Christians we are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. As we read God’s powerful Word, the Holy Spirit works through that word to work faith in our hearts. Thus, by the working of the Holy Spirit, through faith we have seen and bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Now that witness may be good enough for others who share the same faith, but for those who do not believe, that witness is not always nor necessarily enough. Thanks be to God that we have reliable witnesses so that we have proof positive of the resurrection. If we did not have such reliable witnesses then Paul’s words would be devastating, “19If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 19, 20).
From my Catechetical Helps book I have a list of witness to Jesus’ resurrection. According to this list (p. 90) Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. She is listed with Mary the mother of James, and Salome as having witnessed Jesus alive. Jesus appeared to Peter as we read in Luke (24:34).  Jesus appeared to James as we read in 1 Corinthians (15:7). He appeared to the disciples of Emmaus on that first Easter afternoon. He appeared to the disciples when Thomas was absent, again on  that first Easter evening. One week later He appeared to the disciples and Thomas. He appeared to the seven disciples by the sea, that was when He helped them catch a large number of fish. He appeared to the eleven on the mountain and possibly these were some of the 500 mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians (15:6).
These witnesses I have just mentioned are written in our Bible. What about witnesses outside our Bible? Are there any witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection outside of the Bible? The answer to that question is yes and no. No, there is no specific witness saying that the Easter Resurrection happened without a doubt, but there is evidence which supports the resurrection. The first bit of evidence is the very fact that the Jewish argument shared with Christians the conviction that the tomb was empty, but the explanations for its being empty are different. Dr. Paul Maier puts it this way, “Such positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence and becomes self-authenticating.” In other words, if the enemy agrees that is one thing, but if the enemy disagrees, which they naturally would, that would mean your case holds the strongest argument. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the Jews agree that the grave was empty, but they disagree as to why. Another extra Biblical witness is that of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who mentions that it was reported that Jesus appeared alive again three days after His crucifixion. As archeology continues to find ancient relics there is no doubt that even more evidence is forthcoming.
There are still other reasons for believing, such as the very fact that Jesus Himself spoke of His resurrection. In passage after passage Jesus told the people that He had to suffer and die and that He would rise again. Another reason to believe in the resurrection is the fact that the disciples are trustworthy historians. The disciples were out to tell the truth, to bear witness to the facts they saw. Why would they make up such stories, especially if they knew that they would be persecuted, tortured and even executed for doing so? More than likely people make up things in order to get out of being punished, tortured and persecuted. Why would the disciples make up the stories of the resurrection in order to be executed?
Another reason for believing the resurrection is the change of the behavior of the disciples, and especially that of Peter who changed from being what I would call a reactionary to being a responder, someone who responded to the needs of others.
Another reason for believing the resurrection is the observance of Sunday as the day of rest. What else would account for the change of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday? It would have to be something very dramatic. And it was, it was the resurrection which moved people to want to worship on Sunday in order that every Sunday would be a little Easter celebration.
Another reason for believing the resurrection is that of Christianity. Christianity was not some kind of new sect, rather Christianity has its roots in Genesis when God promised to send a Christ, which is the Greek word for Messiah. Christians are followers of Christ, the fulfiller of all the Old Testament prophecies and the way to eternal life. The Jewish faith of today began at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Jewish faith began with those who denied Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ.
Another reason for believing the resurrection is because of our calendar. We are living in the year 2014 A.D. that is translated “in the year of our Lord.” The years before our Lord are cleverly referred to as the years before Christ or B.C. In recent times there has been an attempt to thwart Christianity; there are some who are trying to change our references from B.C. to B.C.E. being before the common era and C.E. being common era, but the fact remains that for so many years we have referenced time according to the days of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I really do not think you can get away from the calendar being centered on the life of Christ by simply changing the name to Common Era, whatever that means.
As Christians we can rest assured in the fact of the resurrection and because of the resurrection we know that we too have victory over sin, death and the devil. Going back to our text Paul says, “24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (v. 24).  And “26The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (v. 26). Yes, we may still experience physical death, but because of Jesus death and resurrection we are assured that we will never experience eternal death, death in hell.
We have victory over sin, death, and the devil meaning we have victory over original sin as well as actual sin. Going back to our text Paul says, “21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 21-22). The genetically transferred sin of Adam which is born in each and everyone of us is forgiven as well as the sins we commit each and every day.
What does this mean? This means that we are free from the bondage of sin, original and actual sin, sins of omission and sins of commission. We are free from death, eternal spiritual death in hell, and we are free from the power of the devil. We will still have to face trials and temptations. We will still have the struggle of resisting sin and temptation. We will more than likely still face physical death. But now we have the added advantage that our sins have been forgiven and we have the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who is with us to help us resist sin and temptation and to overcome and win out in the end.
This means that we have the promise of eternal life. We may fear the way in which we may physically die, but we do not fear what will happen after our physical death. By grace, through faith in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection we have the assurance that we have a place in heaven waiting for us, so that we may be sure, as the thief on the cross, that in the very day we die we will be with Jesus in paradise.
How is this done? This done by the Holy Spirit working through the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit uses these means to bring us to faith and to keep us in faith. The Holy Spirit uses these means to impart God’s gifts to us, His gifts of faith, forgiveness, assurance of forgiveness, assurance of life and salvation and the list of gifts never ends.
What do we do? With the help of the Holy Spirit we respond to all our Lord has done for us not because He needs anything from us but simply because of our need to respond. We respond by taking part in God’s means of grace so that He can pour out even more of His gifts on us. When we absent ourselves from His means of grace then we take away His way of giving us His gifts and ultimately we fall away, but when we daily read His Word, when we daily remember our Baptism, when we regularly, once a week, come to Him in worship and confess our sins we then are able to hear those most beautiful and powerful words, “Your sins are forgiven,” and we know that this word does what it says, when we hear the word that we are forgiven then we know we are forgiven. We also regularly, every week, come to Him in worship and partake of His true body and blood in His Holy meal as often as we are able, then He has ample opportunity to give us His gifts and even more of His gifts. It is very much like any sport, art, craft, or talent, playing golf, bowling, playing piano or any musical instrument, the only way to continue to do well is to practice, to make time to practice, no matter how many distractions tempt you away from practice. So it is with the Lord’s gifts. We  cannot be given His gifts when we absent ourselves from them and the place where they are given out and believe me the temptations to be absent from the Lord's Word are far greater than any other.
With the help of the Holy Spirit we respond in gratitude and praise for all our Lord has done for us. He comes to us through His means of grace and we go to Him in pray, praise, and giving thanks.
“19If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 19, 20). As we end this present Church Year we end in confidence. We have confidence in Christ’s resurrection and thus in our own resurrection. We are ready for, either Christ’s return or our passing from this world and going to Him. God has said it and that settles it. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Encourage One Another - November 16, 2014 - Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28) - Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Today is the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost and it is also the second last Sunday of this current church year. As was noted last week and as is noted every year during the last three Sundays of the church year, the lessons for these Sundays remind us of the fact that our life on this earth is short, fast and fleeting, but a breath compared to our life in heaven or in hell, which is for eternity. The importance of these texts and their reminders is that too often we spend way too much of our time focusing on this world, even to the determent of our own spiritual well being instead of being ready to meet our Lord. And we will meet our Lord, either when He returns or when we pass on and I will continue to remind you that both of those days will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. Interestingly enough, these text kind of remind me of the one commercial on television in which the person finds a note that says something to the effect that “today your heart attack will happen at four pm,” “or tomorrow you will have a car accident.” Indeed, as we earnestly desire to be feed in divine service and Bible class our eyes do see God’s little notes that we will meet Him sooner than we know.
Our text for this morning continues from our text from last Sunday. Remember, last Sunday Paul was writing concerning the misunderstanding of the Thessalonians concerning the Lord’s return. This morning Paul continues speaking to their concern, picking up at verse one, “1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (v. 1-2). I would suggest that we know about the times and seasons as set at creation. Certainly there is much ado about such things in our naturalistic thinking world, but we have God’s promise and we believe Him that as long as the world remains it will remain in God’s hands and so, until He returns times and seasons will continue.
We also know, that is we believe that Jesus will come as He promised. We believe that He will come again as He promise just as He came the first time according to God’s prophecies. In other words, even though God waited some four thousand years or so to fulfill His first promise in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior, and He did fulfill that promise in Jesus, so He will fulfill His promise to come again. At this point we have only waited some two thousand years, but that does not necessarily mean He will wait another two thousand years, He may even come tomorrow or even today.
The question we need to ask and answer is, are we ready? Are we ready to meet the Lord? We might quite simply ask, “are we ready to die?,” because even if the Lord does not return during our own life time, we will return to Him.
Paul goes on to explain the two approaches or two ways of thinking about the end of the world and these ways were the same then as they are today, picking up at verse three, “3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (v. 3-8). There are many in our world today who say, “There is peace and security.” Quite frankly I would suggest that those are the ones who are living with there heads in the sand. One look at the events of the world will show all the upheaval and turmoil that is in the world today.
Then there are those living in darkness, I would say that these are those living in the culture, who will attempt to divine the times, that is by using so called science, as well as astrology, and the like they will attempt to discover future events.
There will be those as Paul describes who will sleep and get drunk, not paying attention to the signs and being ready. Indeed, we live in a world of people who are so focused on themselves, pleasing themselves, living for the weekend, and I do not mean living for Divine Service and Bible Class, but living to be happy as they define happiness so that they are oblivious to the signs and seasons and the coming of the Lord, indeed, all of these people will not be ready.
So Paul encourages us as He calls us children of Light, that is believers to be ready. We are to get ready and actually we do not get ourselves ready but we are made ready by Jesus. We are made ready as He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. We are made ready and we know we are ready when we hunger and thirst after the gifts of God. Indeed, faith shows itself in its desire to be where the gifts of God are given out. And the opposite is also true, for there to be no desire to be given the gifts indicates that there is no faith.
The Lord makes us ready and He keeps us ready. He keeps us ready as we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, those means the Lord has given through which He gives all His gifts and blessings. Again, one’s faith is seen in one’s desire to be were and when the gifts are given out and again the opposite is true as well, that is where there is no desire for the gifts, there is seen no faith. Luther writes rather extensively about this in the Large Catechism and suggest that if there is no desire for the sacrament one ought to check to see if they are still alive and in the world and he goes on to suggest that surely that one will have the devil about him.
Finally in our text Paul outlines our hope and response of faith. We pick up at verse nine, “9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (v. 9-11). God has destined us to eternal life in heaven. Heaven is ours now, won for us, paid for us, given to us by the blood of Jesus. Certainly we will not move in until either we pass on or our Lord returns, but heaven is a present reality. As always, because our will is bound and has been tainted by sin, all we can do, in and of ourselves, is refuse and reject this gift of heaven, which unfortunately so many people do day in and day out, week in and week out.
Paul encourages us then in our faith life to live lives of faith. We are to live as priests, offering our lives as living sacrifices for our Lord. There should be no mistake, when others look at us they should know we belong to Jesus. To live life apathetically would be to live life in denial of Jesus. And so Paul encourages us and I encourage us, to live lives of faith. Certainly as we live lives of faith we do continue to sin, yet our confession and reception of God’s absolution may also be a good witness to others of what the true Christian faith life is all about.
And we are to encourage and build each other up. When we see people absent themselves from divine service, refusing and rejecting the gifts of God, indeed making a mockery of God and His church, the loving thing is not to allow them to continue in that lifestyle, not to allow them to continue given a bad example of the Christian faith life, the loving thing is to help them to see the error of the way so they might repent and be given forgiveness. Perhaps we have failed in the church by not taking God seriously when He tells us to expel them from the midst. Our society says live and let live and that sentiment has made its way into the church as live and let die because to let one continue to live in rejection of God is indeed to let them die eternally and that is not a loving thing to do.
What does this mean? In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden God promised to send a Savior. After some four thousand or so years God fulfilled His promise. He sent Jesus, God in flesh in order to fulfill that promise. Jesus came to earth, God in flesh in order to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus came to live perfectly and to obey all of God’s laws perfectly for us in our place. And He did. Jesus lived perfectly and perfectly fulfilled all God’s promises. Then He took our sins and all sins on Himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us and He suffered and paid the price for our sins. Jesus suffered hell for us. And He died. But death and the grave had no power over Him. He rose from the dead defeating sin, death and the devil. And now He gives us what He earned, forgiveness of sins.
After Jesus showed Himself to be alive and before He ascended back in to heaven He promised He would return. He did not say when He would return, but He promised He would return. So far He has waited some two thousand years. We do not know if He will wait another two thousand years, all we know is that He promise to return and we are to be ready for His return. As Paul reminds us, God is not slow as some count slowness, rather He is patient, wanting as many people as possible to be brought to faith.
In the mean time, while we wait we are to wait in eager expectation. We are to wait in readiness, continually making sure we are ready, focusing our attention on the things above, not the things of this world. And we are to encourage and build each other up, through making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. We are to love others by inviting them to come and be given the gifts God has to give and by always being ready to give an answer for our faith in Jesus.
We are not to be in the dark concerning the coming of the day of the Lord, because we are children of light, children of Christ, we are to remain ready for the Lord’s return and we are to encourage each other until that day. We are not to remain in the dark concerning Jesus’ return, even if we do not know the exact day, but we do know He will return or that we will go to Him and until that time we continue to remain ready as He has made us ready and we are to encourage each other to be ready. And when that day comes we will rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Comfort One Another - November 9, 2014 - Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This morning we are celebrating the third to the last Sunday in the church year. As we reach the end of the church year, you may notice how we hear and read texts which relate to death, judgement, and the end times. These texts help us to focus on what is important in life, not the things of this world, but having our faith firmly established in Jesus Christ. Our focus for this morning will be primarily on the Epistle reading which relates well to the reading from the Old Testament and the Gospel.
In our text for this morning, Paul takes up the topic of death and the second coming of Christ. We need to be reminded that at the writing of this letter, Christ had only been ascended into heaven some 20 years earlier with the promise of His future return. Paul believed that Christ’s return would be very soon, even during his own lifetime, but as we know today, the Lord is patient in His returning, not wanting anyone to perish and so we still today await His return. At the same time, we do know that each day we wait moves us one day closer to His return, so we are closer to His return today than the people of our text, the people of Paul’s day.
Paul does not refer to those who have departed as having died, but as having fallen asleep. This is a very fitting description of death, at least for the Christian. We know, as the Thessalonians knew, that death is not a horrible end because of the resurrection of Christ. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection we have the promise and certainty of our own resurrection.
However, it seems some of the Thessalonians misunderstood Paul’s teaching about the second coming of Christ. They were so anxious that Christ would come so soon that they were afraid that those who had already died, or fallen asleep, would not share in Christ’s glory with them. They thought they had to be alive to share in the resurrection. Thus Paul reassures them that just as Jesus died, and here He does not say “slept,” but does say died. Jesus died and rose so that we do not have to die. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so at the second coming, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.” 
Thus on judgement day Jesus will return bringing with Him those who had previously fallen asleep. Paul goes on to say in verse seventeen, “17then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v. 17).
Let us talk about what these words mean and what we they tell us about death. We believe that death has no power over us as Paul so aptly says it in 1 Corinthians, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). We believe that death is a falling asleep as Paul puts it in our text.
We believe this because we believe Christ has been raised from the dead. Again, quoting Paul in 1 Cor. 15 he says, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitted more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:14,17-22). For us Christians, death is not an end, but is only a beginning, a beginning to eternity with Jesus in heaven.
At Christ’s second coming, then, those who have not yet fallen asleep will be here to see and hear His coming. His coming will not be a quiet rapture, but as Paul says, “16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thes. 4:16a). And for those who have fallen asleep Paul continues and says, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v.17). For us Christians, Christ’s second coming will be a very joyous occasion for in that day we shall meet our Savior face to face and will go to be with Him in eternity.
Thus, we believe, teach, and confess that judgement day will be the day the Lord comes to separate the believers from the unbelievers. He will bring joy to the believers in Christ because He has come to take them to heaven to be with Himself forever, for eternity. He can and will bring terror to the unbeliever because He has come to cast them into the eternal fires of hell to live there in complete absence of God and His love for eternity. They who have lived their lives in unbelief, rebellion, and wrongdoing will receive their final reward, punishment in hell. This day of judgement will be for all people, those who are alive as well as those who have died earlier, since the beginning of time.
How do we respond to these words?  How does death affect us? Death affects each of us differently. You may have heard or read the stages of death through which psychologist will tell you a person must go. Each psychologist lists the stages a little differently, but these are some of the words used to describe the stages: shock, denial, fear, anger, resentment, guilt, despair, loneliness, panic, loss of clear identity, acceptance, saying goodbye, reinvesting one’s life energy in other relationships, learning from the loss, and reaching out to others who have experienced the same type of loss. For almost everyone death brings tears and feelings of missing the departed. I have officiated at many funerals. I have witnessed my grandparents funerals. I have witnessed my own daughter and son’s burials as well as my father’s funeral and know that death does bring tears and feelings of missing the departed. There is nothing wrong with those feelings. We are human beings and we do have emotions. In our text Paul says he does not want them, the Thessalonians, or us to grieve like the rest of men who grieve because they have no hope. This shows that faith does not negate affection. We can be sad because we miss our departed friend. Our emotion has nothing to do with our faith and does not say that we have no faith, or that our faith is weak. At the same times, because of our faith, our grief is not unconsolable.
But just as we are sad, so we are thankful. We are thankful when we know that the departed was a Christian and is with Christ in heaven which as Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Php. 1:21-23). Sometimes you are prepared for the death of a loved one who has a lingering illness, sometimes not. It is easier to be thankful for a Christian brother or sister who has died after a long painful time of suffering, knowing that they are suffering no more, but are in joy in heaven with our Lord.  It is a little harder to be thankful after the sudden, and in our human way of thinking, the needless death of a young person who has their whole life ahead of them. Actually as we think about this, it is not that we are sad for the Christian who has passed away, because they are in heaven and really have no worries for us. They do not see us. Heaven is a place of complete joy. If they could see us they would not have joy, but sorrow. We are sad at the death of a Christian because we will miss them. We are sad because of our pain. Again, bringing back the paradox, we are thankful because we know that they are in heaven which as Paul says is better by far, but we are sad for ourselves. For Christians, for us, the promise of eternal life after death does reassure us and takes away the fear of death.
We respond to our knowledge of judgement day by, with the help of the Holy Spirit, dedicating ourselves and the use of our time, talents, and treasures to encourage and comfort one another. Paul says in our text, “Therefore encourage on another with these words” (v.18). He also says in 2 Corinthians, “And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15). And as we read in the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus expresses the uncertain of the time of His return and the need to be ready at all times. So we do ready ourselves by our daily prayers and Bible readings. We ready ourselves by attending worship and Bible class, by remembering our Baptism, by participating in confession and absolution, by attending the Lord’s Supper, and by living the sanctified life. We ready ourselves by being given the gifts God has to give through the means He has to give them. We ready ourselves by hearing and believing His Word, by being reminded of our forgiveness and know that with forgiveness we also have life and salvation. And then we ready ourselves by helping others, those in need, knowing that as we do it to the least of these brothers of His, we did it to Jesus.
As we approach the end of another church year in which we still patiently await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, our text reminds us that the Lord will return, probably when we lest expect it. As we await His return we are to use His Words to comfort and encourage one another in the faith. We await with earnest expectation and joy as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come.  And we say with John at the end of his revelation, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We Are God’s Children Now - November 2, 2014 - All Saints Day - Text: 1 John 3:1-3

Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Now I know that All Saint’s Day is not that big a deal, at least it is not that big of a celebration for us in the Lutheran Church, but perhaps we should rethink this matter and make a bigger deal of this day, after all, our hope and future are not a hope and future for this world, but for the world to come. Our hope and confidence is that one day we will be saints in heaven and that one day may be sooner than we know and even sooner than we might expect.
And let me briefly remind you, in case you have forgotten, that by faith in Jesus, especially by faith given through His means of grace, either through His Word or at our own baptism, we are saints. We do not have to wait to see if any miracles are attributed to us or until we die be know we are saints. We know that by faith in Jesus we already are saints. Yes, while we are on this earth we will continue to be sinners as well, but we are saints and we will speak more on this again a little later.
In our first lesson appointed for reading on All Saint’s Day, we have John’s vision of our salvation. John describes what we call the number of completion, that is, all the believers of the Old Testament (12 tribes of Israel) times all the believers of the New Testament (12 apostles) times the number of completion 1000. The total number of believers that will be in heaven is given in the number of 144,000, not a specific number, but a number of completion. Remember, this book of Revelation is a vision so we understand that not everything in this revelation is literal. In John’s vision he sees the total number of believers of all time going back to the giving of the first promise of a Christ for all people in the Garden of Eden.
John also tells us about the joy of all believers around the throne of the Lamb forever. There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching heat. Instead, there will be springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Quite a comforting picture John paints for believers in Jesus.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for this day of celebration we have Jesus’ words of blessing and His Words of Gospel. We are described as blessed who recognize and acknowledge that we are poor in spirit so that we do hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, in other words, we are blessed, those whose desire is and those who do make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, every Sunday and every day. We are blessed because it is through these means that our Lord feeds us, comforts us, purifies us and gives us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith and life. And this is my concern for this congregation, that is that so many refuse these gifts on a weekly basis and have no desire for the gifts God has to give, it is as if we think we do not need the gifts God has to give. God has so many gifts He wants to give and yet, every Sunday many people refuse those gifts by not being in worship. Let me encourage you, let me exhort you, ladies and gentlemen, come and be given the gifts and then go out and encourage and exhort your brothers and sisters who refuse the gifts to come and be given the gifts.
As Jesus says, again in our Gospel lesson, especially blessed are those who believe and are persecuted, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Although we may not suffer the persecution some of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in this world, I might suggest that we do suffer more subtle forms of persecution. The question is, do we stand up and confess our faith, or do we simply allow others to think as they will, even that we do not have faith?
In our text for this morning, John’s first letter, John helps us to understand what love is, what true love is, that is that true love begins with the Father’s Love, with God the Father’s love. True love is that God loves us first and He shows His love in the gift of His Son. We begin at verse one, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 1-3).
Notice first and foremost that God is the prime mover. He first loved us, making us His children. And how does He make us His children? Every year on Good Friday we remember and we even celebrate the giving of Jesus’ life for ours on the cross. We give thanks for His suffering the punishment for our sins. And then, every year on the following Sunday, on Easter Sunday we celebrate His resurrection, the complete defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is how He purchased us, by paying the price for our sins. He makes us His children through means, namely through His means of grace. He makes us His children through His Word, which does what it says, in other words, when the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, says we have faith, that is exactly what we have, faith, given to us by God through the means of His Word. Another means the Lord uses to make us His children is Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name are put on us at Baptism, the Lord gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. These things come to us from outside of us and are given to us from outside of us. These are the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s giving. He makes us His children.
When Jesus came into the world, as we are reminded in the Gospel accounts, the world rejected Him. Jesus was not the Savior the people were looking for. Jesus was not a social/political savior. Jesus did not come to over throw the oppressors of the Children of Israel, at least not the oppressors they wanted over thrown. Jesus simply did not fit their definition of who the Savior was or what He should do.
The world rejected Jesus and as He makes us His children, we should expect nothing more or less from the world, in other words, we should expect that the world will reject us. As children of the Lord we do not speak the same language as the world, we do not have the same priorities as the world, we do not have the same outlook as the world. The world speaks of power, fame and fortune. The world speaks of the things of this world, that this is all there is. We speak of sin and forgiveness. We speak of absolutes, absolute truth and love. We speak of the transient nature of this world, that our lives in this world are fast and fleeting. And so, our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come.
John says we are not yet what we will be. John is speaking of our goal of sanctification, that is that, after being given faith by the Holy Spirit, through the outward means of grace, the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us to make us more and more Christ-like. Of course, we understand that we will never be completely Christ-like, at least not on this side of heaven. But when we reach our eternal home of heaven, we will be made perfect again. So, we are no longer what we were before being given faith, that is we are no longer complete sinners, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be in heaven, complete and perfect saints.
What does this mean? First we are reminded that God is the prime mover. As John says elsewhere, we love because He first loved us. Here I like the image of the Sun and the moon. When we see the moon shining in the sky, we know we are seeing the reflection of the Sun, because the moon has no light of its own. Thus, when we love others and when we are loved by others, we know that we and they are merely reflecting the love of God to each other, because in and of ourselves, apart from God, we have no love of our own.
God first loves us and then God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. These are gifts from God. These are not gifts we take or get on our own, they are gifts from God. And these gifts He gives through means, namely through outward, external means, the Bible, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confession and absolution. Just as we did not choose to be born into this world, but we were conceived by our parents and born into this world, so we do not choose to save ourselves, to get forgiveness for ourselves, these gifts are given from outside of us, namely our Lord has chosen us and gives us the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, faith and life and He delivers these gifts through the means of grace.
God first loves us, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life and then God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is our becoming more and more Christlike, but here again, this is not something we do in and of ourselves, this is God’s doing as well. God the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to always point to Christ and that is why we do not hear or see much of Him, He is the one, working through the means of grace who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and we do them because He is working them in and through us.
And finally, God brings us into His kingdom. Notice how in all these instances it is God who is doing the doing. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God has His way with us and we are thankful. We know we get it right and we can have confidence only in this, that God always does it right, and gets it right. I may err, but God never errs. Thanks be to God.
As we celebrate All Saint’s day, then we celebrate the fact that we are saints. And we are reminded as Dr. Luther so well reminded us and as John reminds us, even though we are saints, we are and while we are on this earth we will also continue to be at the same times sinners. So we are saint/sinners. Our life on this earth is a life of sanctification in that our Lord continues to work on us through His means of grace to be strengthened in our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation. Certainly, while we are here on this earth, we will have times when we will fail. We will fall for temptation and we will sin, yet we are not to be discouraged because we are given forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to continue working on us to be the people God would have us to be.
Our ultimate hope and certainty is indeed described in the Revelation of John that upon our passing from this earth, either through our own death or through the Lord’s return, we will be united with all the saints, all those who have gone on before us and all those who will go on after us so that we will all gather at the Lord’s throne to be feed and comforted, to give glory to the Lord, to live with Him forever in heaven. To Him alone be all glory. And we might well end by saying as John does, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” Amen.