Welcome

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!

Disclaimer

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 29, 2020

Be On Guard! Be Alert! - November 29, 2020 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: Mark 13:24-37

If I had known you were coming I would have baked a cake! How often have we heard that expression. More often than not, the meaning behind that expression is that if we had announced our coming our host would have been able to prepare something special for our arrival and visit. Today is the first Sunday in a brand new church year. I might as well have begun by saying, “Happy New Year!” As we begin this new Church year our Scripture readings are concerned with getting us ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, as a baby, in a manger, in Bethlehem. At the same time, our concern continues to be in getting ourselves ready for Jesus’ Second coming. Jesus gives us fair warning that He is coming again, because He does not want us to be left saying, “If I had known You were coming I would have baked a cake.”
 

“Be on guard, keep awake.” is the warning Jesus has for us. “For you do not know when the time will come.” We do know Jesus will return. We do know the time will come. A quick review of history will refresh our confidence in God and His promises and especially in Jesus’ promise that He will return. Way back in the beginning, and I do mean in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, we are told that God created. With mere words God created. God created all things, out of nothing. God spoke or breathed them into existence. God said, and it was. On the sixth day, God crowned His creation with the creation of the man and the woman, Adam and Eve. After each day of creation God said that “it was good.” After all was created, about all His creation God said, “It is very good.”
 

God created Adam and Eve in a special way, different from the rest of His creation. He did not simply speak or breath Adam and Eve into existence, instead, God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and Eve He formed from Adam’s side. God created Adm and Eve and especially for them He created a Garden. He placed them in this beautiful garden and in His infinite wisdom He gave them a way to respond to Him, that is a way to show their love and gratitude to Him for all that He had done for them. He told them that they were to care for the garden, you see, work is not a result of the curse of sin. They could eat from all the vegetation of the garden, except the tree in the middle, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of this tree, God warned, that if they disobeyed and ate of it they would surely die.
 

Soon after creation the devil, a fallen angel who thought himself equal with God, Satan or Lucifer, came into the garden in the form of a serpent. He tempted Eve and Adam with the lie and the desire that they could be come like God, if only they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Up until this time Adam and Eve only knew good, not evil. So the woman and the man disobeyed God and ate of the fruit. That one act of disobedience brought sin into a once perfect world and with sin came death, eternal death or hell and physical death. Now Adam and Eve knew evil as well as good. What was once perfect, even very good,  is now tainted.
 

However, God, being a God of love, immediately stepped in so that He might reconcile the broken relationship of His creation to Himself. God had to do this because His creation could not reconcile itself with the Creator. God’s plan was to send a Savior. The Savior God promised to send would be His one and only Son. The Savior God promised to send would be God in flesh. Truly human in order to live in the perfection demanded of His creation and in order to give His life for ours. And truly God in order to be perfect and in order to raise Himself from the dead.
 

However, God did not immediately fulfill His promise. It was only after some 4000 years that God fulfilled His promise. During this season of Advent, the beginning of our current church year, not only are we getting ourselves ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at His birth in Bethlehem, we are also getting ourselves ready for Jesus’ second coming. In the days of Jesus’ first coming, in fulfillment of God’s first promise, the people were waiting, expectantly for a Savior, for Jesus to come, at least that was the case with some of the people.
 

Jesus did come to earth. In a few weeks we will celebrate that coming on Christmas morning. Jesus gave up the glory that was His as true God in heaven in order to come to earth and while He was here on earth He did for us what we are unable to do. He lived for us, perfectly. He overcame all temptation for us, perfectly, including temptation above any we may ever suffer. He obeyed all of God’s laws and commands perfectly, for us. After living a perfect life He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and died in order to pay the cost, the price, the wage that our sins had earned. And after He rose from the dead, before He ascended into heaven Jesus said He would return.
 

Before Jesus left this earth, before His ascension, He left us with His great commission. He gave us His instructions, His authority and a promise to share the good news of Jesus to all nations through baptizing and teaching. We have His instructions and we have His authority and promise. As we are living our lives we are to proclaim His name with His authority and we have the promise that He will be with us to help us in carrying out His work.
 

But there is more, Jesus gives us gifts, talents and abilities in His Church to do the good works He has for us to do. We are not left to our own devices, we are to work as our Lord gives us to work. As we heard two weeks ago, He also will hold us accountable for doing the work He has for us to do as well as making use of the gifts, talents, and abilities, and here we would include the gifts of time, talents, and treasures that He has given to us and we are to use these in service to Him in His kingdom.
 

So far Jesus has waited some 2000 years and He has not yet returned. God took some four thousand years to fulfill His first promise to send a Savior. That does not necessarily mean that He will wait another two thousand years, for a total of 4000 years before He fulfills this second promise to come. He may wait another 1000 years. He may wait only 100 years. He may not wait even one more year. What we do know from his keeping his first promise is that just as He fulfilled His first promise, so He will fulfill His second promise. And so we wait. And as we wait we keep watch.
 

Jesus says, “Be on guard, keep awake.” We do not know when Jesus will return, neither does He, only the Father knows. We have an indication when He will return, as Jesus tells us, “just as in the days of Noah, so will it be in the last days.” In the days of Noah people were eating and drinking and marrying and being given into marriage so that they were oblivious to the fact that the flood was coming soon and they perished in the flood. So it is today that so many people are eating and drinking and marrying and being given into marriage and living their lives as if this world is all there is and are oblivious to the fact that Jesus will come again soon.
 

Our focus again today is on getting ready. How do we get ourselves ready? Or how do we know if we are ready? We get ourselves ready or better said, God gets us ready and we know we are ready when we believe that Jesus is God’s Son. That Jesus came in fulfillment to God’s first promise. That Jesus suffered and died in order to pay the price for my sins. We are ready when we believe that just as Jesus came the first time, so He will keep His promise and will come again, soon.
 

We know we are ready when we speak about being ready. It is interesting how our psyche, if you will, works. Have you ever noticed how it is when you get really excited about something? You can not keep it to yourself. You have to share it with someone. Faith works in a similar fashion. When God gives us faith it wells up inside of us so much so that we can not keep it to ourselves, we have to tell someone.
 

We know we are ready when we act like we are ready. Here again, following the analogy of getting excited about things. When we get excited we talk about it, we even get kind of antsy. Our body language tells others that we are excited. Even more so, as we get ready and as we are ready for Jesus second coming we know it and believe it in our hearts. We speak about it in our conversations. Our whole body language, our lives show it in our actions. We do those things which reflect our getting ready for something wonderful.
 

This morning then, just as Jesus says, Be on guard, keep awake, so I say to you, “Be on guard!” - “Keep awake!” Do not fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus will not come during our lifetime. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the things of this world are more important than the things of the world to come. Do not get sidetracked by the temptations of the devil as he tries to pull you away from Christ and His church through filling your life with so many unimportant and trivial matters other than getting yourself ready for Jesus’ return.
 

When will Jesus return? We do not know, but we do know that He will return. I believe that God intentionally does not tell us when Jesus will return, because He knows we have a short attention span. He knows that if we knew when Jesus would return then we would waste our lives up until the last minute. By not telling us when He will return He is assuring that we live our lives in such a way that we are ready at any time and at all times. And if we are ready at any time and at all times, then we will work at getting others ready as well so that when He does return He will be able to gather even more into His kingdom.
 

God gives. God gives life at creation. He gives each of us life at conception. He gives us faith and new life through Holy Baptism. He has given His life for our forgiveness. He gives us gifts, talents and abilities to use in our vocations, to use in service to Him through our service to others. He gives His promise to return to take us from this valley of tears to be with Himself in heaven where He will robe us with His robes of righteousness. How can we not be excited? How can we not yearn and desire His return? How can we not yearn and desire to continually come into His presence, to come to His house to be given more and more of His gifts, forgiveness and strengthening of faith? How can we not live lives of faith showing that we believe His Word that He will return, soon and showing that we are indeed, ready?!
 

Finally, as you are ready for Jesus’ return, my prayer for you is that of Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson, “4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

God Shall Provide All Your Needs - November 26, 2020 - 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 and a prayer of thanksgiving 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, although according to our human nature I am sure we can always want more. 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 or should want, although, again, 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 15, 2020

Settling Accounts - November 15, 2020 - Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28) - Text: Matthew 24:14-30

This morning, as we do every year at this time of the year, this time of the Church year that is, as we began last week and so we continue this week, we set our eyes on the things to come, we look to the day of judgement when the Lord will return to gather us and all His saints to take us to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. Our Scripture lessons from last week, for this week and for next week  move our focus from this world and our lives in this world to focus our attention on the now and the not yet, our future in heaven. This morning, in our text, Jesus tells the parable of the talents in order to remind us that all that we have is a gift from Him, that He gives gifts according to our abilities, that His desire is that we use the gifts He gives in service to Him by serving others, and that ultimately He will hold us accountable for our own faith and response of faith, in our use of the gifts He gives.
 

Our text is the parable of the giving of the talents (v. 14-18). Jesus begins the parable with a bit of imagery. In this parable Jesus speaks of a man going on a journey. Certainly we may understand that Jesus is the man going on a journey, because Jesus will be going to the cross, suffering, dying, rising and then ascending to glory in heaven where He will wait until His return on the last day. Now, the disciples may not have understood the completeness of this imagery, as Jesus has not yet suffered, died and ascended, but because we are looking back we can see how these events have played out and how we too wait for Jesus’ return.
 

Before the man goes on his journey we are told in the parable, that he gives to each of his servants talents. He gives to one servant five talents, to another servant two talents and to a third servant one talent. The man gives to each servant according to his assessment of the servants abilities. In the same way we know that God gives to us, to each one of us, gifts and talents and He does so according to our abilities.
 

The man’s desire was that while he was away on his journey that each of his servants would use the talents he entrusted to them to make a profit. His desire is that they would use what he gave them for their own good and for the good of the whole. In like manner, God’s desire is that we use the gifts and talents He has given to us in service to Him by serving others. In other words, God’s desire is that we use our gifts and talents for our own good as well as for His good which comes about through the good we do for others. Or another way of expressing this thought is that we serve God by serving others.
 

The two faithful servants wasted no time in showing their faithfulness in that we are told that they immediately, or as our text says, “at once” began to put their talents to work. In like manner, God’s desire is that our response of faith is to use our gifts, talents and abilities  in service to Him and we do that, we serve Him by serving others.
 

Our text quickly moves forward to some time in the future as it states, “after a long time” the master returned home and his return brought the day of judgement (v. 19-30) for the servants. We are told that the servants came forward in the same order that they were first presented and given gifts. So, the first servant who was given five talents came forward first and joyously returned not only the five talents the master gave him, but five talents more. Also, the second servant returned to the master not only the two talents, but two talents more. To these faithful servants the master gave them each a reward for their faithfulness.
 

Lastly we are told that the unfaithful and lazy, or “wicked and slotherful” servant is summoned. As he approaches, he simply returns to the master the one talent that was given and entrusted to him. His explanation, which is more an excuse for his laziness, is that he blames the master because he is a hard man. This servant does not truly know the master and the gifts the master gives, instead he focuses his attention on himself and his own inabilities, unfaithfulness  and laziness.
 

And so, the master shows the folly of the lazy servant. The master points out that what the servant has is a gift from him, thus discounting this accusation of the master being a hard man. The master gave the servant the talent to use and invest and was simply concerned that the servant use what was given to him for the good of all and instead what the servant did was reject the gift because of his wickedness and laziness.
 

Finally, the master punishes the lazy servant according to his own misunderstanding. He takes the one talent and gives it to the faithful servant who has ten talents, thus fulfilling what the lazy servant has said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (v. 24). And then the lazy servant is thrown out into the outer darkness as warning to all those who refuse and reject the gifts God gives.
 

So, what does this mean? Again, we are approaching the end of our current church year. Every year as we approach the end of our church year the topic of the end times is put before us. The topic of the end times is an important topic, because we are living in the last days of this world. We have been living in the last days since Jesus’ birth ushered in the last days. Certainly there are many in our world and I might surmise even here in our own midst who do not believe that Jesus will return during our life times. And perhaps He may not. However, even if He does not physically return to earth during our own life time, we will pass on and return to Him. Either way, at His return, or at our own passing, we will stand before the Lord and we will have to give account for our response of faith, our use of the gifts, talents and abilities with which He has entrusted to each one of us. And that day of accounting I believe will come soon, sooner than we know and sooner that we might imagine, thus the encouragement to always be ready.
 

Our text for this morning, then, serves, once again, to remind us that God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives, faith, forgiveness, and life. And His usual way of giving is through means, in particular the means of grace; Holy Baptism, confession and absolution, His Word and the Lord’s Supper. God gives these gifts and because we have no free will, because our will has been tainted by sin, in and of ourselves our only ability is to be like the lazy servant, to refuse and reject the gifts God gives and we do reject and refuse His gifts every time we absent ourselves from being in the place where His gifts are disturbed and given out, especially divine service and Bible class.
 

But, not only does God give these spiritual gifts of faith, forgiveness and eternal life, He also gives, gifts, talents and abilities to use in service to Him and His Kingdom. The main reason God gives such spiritual gifts as we call them is so that we might do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10), the good works of spreading His news of salvation to others so that they too might be a part of His kingdom. Our failure not only to use our gifts, but even to recognize our gifts brings condemnation like the lazy servant in the parable.
 

How do we know what gifts, talents and abilities God gives and how do we use them? Normally our gifts, talents and abilities are those things we do that come naturally and that we enjoy doing. God does not give gifts and talents as a way of punishment, doing something we do not like or cannot do, but He gives gifts and talents so that we will use them. God also gives to each of us a vocation or more than one vocation. Our vocation is that service in which we use His gifts to serve Him through our serving others. Again, this is an enjoyable service.
 

At some point, a point I believe to be sooner than we might know or expect, God will return to judge the living and the dead as we confess in the creed. Now, please understand, we are not judged to eternal life or eternal death by our deeds, by what we do or do not do, by our good works. First and foremost God will judge according to our faith, the faith He has given to us. Remember, God is the prime mover, it all begins, continues and ends with Him. He gives faith and the faith He gives He gives through the means He gives as well, either through the means of Holy Baptism or the means of His Holy Word.
 

Only after we have been judged to eternal life will God judge us according to our faithful response of faith. In other words, the degrees of glory expressed in God’s word are given according to one’s response of faith and how we have faithfully used the gifts He has given to us.
 

Thus, to use the language of Martin Luther in the explanations to the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, our “duty” is, first and foremost to be given the gifts God gives without refusal, then to use the gifts He gives to His glory, which we do by serving Him through our service to others, through our vocations, and finally to always be ready for His return.
 

Next week is the last Sunday in our present church year calendar. Should the Lord tarry, that is, should the Lord allow, on Sunday, November 29 we will begin another church year. And we will continue our journey through life so long as the Lord should allow. While we journey here in this world, it is imperative that we continually be reminded that this world is transient, that this world is not permanent, that this world will soon end, or at least our time in this world will soon end, thus it is important at all times to be ready to stand before the Lord for our own day of judgement. Our day of judgement will come and we will be called before Him. His call to judgement is irresistible, as it was even for the unfaithful servant. And there will be those who will stand on the day of judgement and attempt to blame God for their refusal of the gifts He has to give, just like the lazy servant. And there will be those who will be cast into the outer darkness. As for those of us who are given and joyfully and thankfully are given the gifts God has to give to us the Lord will rejoice in our faithfulness. He will robe us in His robes of righteousness. He will invite us into His heavenly kingdom. He will say to us as He said to His faithful servants, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (v. 23). My prayer for each of us is that we are ready and that we will be ready so that when we reach our Lord’s kingdom we might rejoice with all the saints and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Watch - November 8, 2020 -Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Are you ready? Ready or not, here I come! What does it take to get ready? To get ready for a grand party or celebration? Today is the third last Sunday in this present church year. Today we, again, emphasis our need to watch and pray, to be ready for Jesus’ second coming. Since the beginning of this present church year we have watched and waited for fifty Sundays. Since Jesus time on earth we have waited almost 2000 years. Since the Lord’s promise to send a Savior until His second coming we have waited some 6000 years. How much longer will we wait? We do not know, all we know is that we are to wait, to watch and to be ready. And just like we would not wait until the last minute to get ready for a great and grand party or celebration so we would not wait until the last minute to get ourselves ready for the Lord’s return.
 

In our text for this morning Jesus likens His second coming to a Wedding Feast. The events of a wedding feast in Jesus’ day happened in this way. First, there was the announcement of the betrothal. The proud parents announced that their children will be getting married. After this announcement there was the waiting period. The waiting period was that time that it took for the groom to build a house, a place of residence for he and his new bride. While he is getting their house ready the bride waited. She did not know the day or the hour that the groom would complete his work and so she was to be ready at any moment and at every moment. When the groom had completed their house he came to carry away his bride and then the wedding feast began. The wedding feast would last for at least a week. It would be a grand event in which the bride and the groom would be the central focus, celebrating their new lives together.
 

In a very real way we are the bride of Christ. God has announced our betrothal through his word at the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the groom who is at this very time getting heaven ready for us so that He might return to take us to be with Himself in heaven. When He has heaven ready He will come to get us and take us to heaven to begin the great and grand eternity of celebration in heaven. Until then, we are to wait, expecting His return at any time.
 

To help us to better understand our place in this celebration, Jesus tells this parable of the virgins. Jesus says that there are ten virgins. The number ten is important, because the number ten indicates completeness, in other words, Jesus is telling us that the events of the last day will involve a complete number of people or all people. All people of all places of all times will be involved in the events of the last day.
 

Of the complete number of people, of all people, some of them, five are wise and some of them, five are foolish. The five that are considered wise are those who have an urgency about being ready and watchful for the grooms coming. They are seen as being vigilant. They are not expecting that the groom will take a long time in coming. They are not engrossed in other things, other things than being ready for when the groom comes. They are not thinking that the groom will not come until after their time on earth, rather they are thinking that he might come tomorrow or even yet today. They are simply hoping that they will be ready when the groom arrives.
 

How often do we see these people in our world today? They are not overly in grossed with the things of this world. They are not distracted by focusing their attention only on the things of this world as if this is all there is. Instead they are around anytime there is an opportunity for worship and for study of God’s Word. They volunteer to help and be of service in anyway that they can. They give of themselves first to the Lord and they have learned the joy of first fruits giving and tithing. They share their faith not only by speaking to others, but by the very way they live. They are not depending on themselves, but on Jesus’ mercy alone for their salvation.
 

There are five wise virgins and there are five foolish virgins. There are some people who are wise as we have said and some who are foolish. The foolish virgins are distracted by other things. They take their participation in the wedding for granted. They are unconcerned about being ready instead it is almost as if they do not believe the bridegroom is coming anytime soon. They simply show up, but they show up unprepared.
 

How often do we see these people in our world today? These people are those who are lukewarm in their faith. They make light of getting ready and being ready for when the groom arrives. They act as if it does not matter if they really are ready or not. They believe that it does not matter in whom or in what you believe, but that by simply believing in something or having a sincere faith in something that everyone will be saved. In reality they are not relying on God and His grace and mercy, rather they are relying on themselves and their own good nature. We see those who so engrossed in this world, working to “get ahead,” working to get to the top, working to amass the things of this world while being oblivious to the things of the world to come. There are even some who make a half-hearted attempt at thinking about the things to come, the coming of the Messiah, but the things of their spiritual life really do take a back seat to the things of this world. Church is important, but not to the extent that it gets in the way of the things of this world. These are the people who do not want to be bothered with volunteering to serve on any board or committee. They are offended when asked to make a commitment or when asked to tithe or give of their first fruits. They have the things of this world to concern themselves and do not have time for anything else.
 

And this is one of the devil’s greatest victories today. The devil is smart. He does not tempt you in ways he knows you will not fall. He does not tempt you to not go to church, because he knows that will not work. Instead, he has you believe that church and your faith life are important, after all you said that your faith was your number one priority, but then he fills your life and each day with so many things that you no longer have time for the things of God. You have your own meetings, clubs, and social organizations to attend. You have family reunions and business meetings that take you out of town. You have to run your children to their ball games, practices, recitals, rehearsals and the like. You even have ball games, camp outs, special events and the like on Sunday morning and, with the excuse that it is only one Sunday you will miss, you miss one Sunday, then another, and so on until you are out of the habit of attending divine service. Slowly, the devil pulls you away from Christ and the church. I have read that while it generally takes three weeks to form a good habit, that good habit can be broken in three days.
 

Getting back to the parable, as the parable continues, we are told that the Bridegroom is “slow” in coming. In his second letter, Peter reminds us that our Lord is not slow in the way we think of slowness, rather He is patient, not wanting anyone to be lost. He is slow because He wants to give enough time for all people, or as many people as possible to come to faith. Remember, God’s will is that all people are saved. Yet, God has given all people what we believe to be “free will,” except we know that our “free will” has been tainted by sin and the curse, thus there are some who continue to refuse God, who reject Jesus, who give up heaven. These are truly the foolish.
 

Finally, after waiting long enough, the Bridegroom comes. When the bridegroom comes that signals that the time of grace is at an end. When the bridegroom comes there are no more “chances” for those who have rejected and refused the Savior. When the bridegroom comes it is the wise who will be ready and the foolish who will not be ready.
 

In this parable we are told that the foolish have gone off to buy oil. The foolish are those who are thinking that this end time stuff is no big deal. They have not been concerned about being ready, instead they have concerned themselves only with the things of this world, thinking that the end will not come during their time. So, while the foolish are out, getting themselves ready, the bridegroom arrives. The time has come, the Savior returns. Those who are ready are the wise and they go in with the groom into the wedding banquet.
 

When the Foolish return they find that they are left out of the banquet. Certainly there must be a mistake, they are thinking. And so, they knock at the door, hoping to get in. But the answer at the door is “ Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Their faith never was in the Savior. Their names are not written in the book of life. Their faith was not in the Savior, but was in themselves. And so they are left out. The warning that we have is to, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
 

This morning, as we approach the end of this current church year, we ask the question, “Are we ready?” Do we really believe that Jesus is coming again, and that He may be coming even in our lifetime? Or are we just biding our time on this earth? Are we concerned about where we will spend eternity? Do we believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, as He tells us in His Word, or have we succumb to the thoughts of this world thinking that it does not matter what you believe as long as you believe sincerely enough? And so there is no concern or urgency for living the message and getting the message out. I guess the question we will want to ask ourselves this morning is, are we foolish or are we wise? Of course we are here and we will want to answer that we are of the wise and that is a good thing. I would encourage you to continue to look at God Word’s in answer to the question, are we ready or not?
 

We are foolish if we are thinking that there may be some other way to eternal life than through Jesus alone. We are wise if we understand the need to daily be in God’s Word in order to strengthen our faith until Christ comes again. We are foolish if we think that Jesus may not come during our life time. We are wise if we remain watchful, hoping and praying for Jesus to come again, soon. We are foolish if we do not continually take stock in our spiritual lives. We are wise when we see the need to daily grow in our faith and spiritual life. We are foolish if we rely on ourselves and think there is some way we can earn access to eternal life. We are wise when we depend, not on ourselves, but on Jesus alone for salvation. We are wise and we are ready when we put our complete trust in God’s grace, resting on faith in Jesus and His forgiveness.
 

If Jesus came today, would you be ready? If your answer is no, then now is the time to get ready and you do that through making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. And actually, it is God who gets us ready. He gets us ready as we remember our Baptism, as we confess our sins and hear His awesome words of forgiveness, that He tells us, “Your sins are forgiven.” He gets us ready as we read His Word, as we hear His Word, as we study His Word. And He gets us ready as we come to His Holy Table and dine on His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. If you have ever wondered why I stress the importance of these means of grace it is because these are the very means that God has and uses to come to us to give to us all the gifts and blessings He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. When we absent ourselves from these means we absent ourselves from the very means God has of giving us His good gifts and blessings. And like a pool of water with no rain and no way to be filled will eventually dry up, so too our faith, if not filled and refilled will eventually dry up and die.
 

Finally, if your answer to the question of are you ready is yes, praise the Lord and continue to keep yourself ready and encourage others to get ready, again, by making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue to work through His Word and Sacraments, as you make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, to get you ready and to keep you ready until He does come again so that when He comes again you may rejoice and say, to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Blessed - November 1, 2020 - All Saints’ Day - Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. This does not mean that we give undue credit or glory to those faithful family members and friends who have fallen asleep in faith, but it does mean that we place their lives before us as an example of how we are to live the Christian faith. As we remember the saints who have gone on before us we remember that they too were at the same time sinner and saint, just like us. We also take the time to be reminded that by faith in Jesus Christ we are all saints. As we go around the room we might call each other by our sainted name, Saint Shirley, Saint Pat, Saint Jon, Saint (place your name here) and that would continue for each one of us. As saints, then, heaven is not just something we look forward to, it is a present reality. By faith in Jesus, His life, suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Heaven is ours now, it is just that we will have to wait until we fall asleep in faith from this life until we will awaken in our heavenly home.
 

This morning our text is what we call the Beatitudes, or the statements of blessing from Jesus. Before we get to these statements of Jesus let us take a few minutes to remind ourselves what is the world’s idea of being blessed. And I will use what may be the world’s term for blessed as success. We have talked about these various items from time to time. Being blessed according to the standards of this world means having riches. Wealth and money is a worldly sign of success. The more money one has, the more successful they appear to be, at least in the eyes of the world.
 

Another indicator of success in our world is power. Power is a sign of worldly success. The more powerful one is, or the more powerful they seem to the world, the more successful they appear to be, again, at least in they eyes of the world.
 

A third indicator of success in our world is fame. Being famous is a sign of worldly success. The more famous one is, the more successful they appear to be, again, at least in the eyes of the world.
 

Yet, as we have been reminded time and again, these worldly signs of success are not necessarily indicative that a person is successful, because, as we know, as we have heard stated and read about, some of the most wealthy, most powerful and most famous people are also some of the most depressed. Jesus has a different idea and understanding of being successful and that is where we now turn our attention.
 

Beginning at verse three, Jesus’ idea of being blessed begins with admitting our weak faith. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3). Jesus is not talking about simply being poor in spirit, or weak in faith, but admitting that we are in a constant need of having our faith strengthened. Here we might remind ourselves that confirmation was not graduation and that there is always more that we do not know about God than we do know about Him and so we have a constant need to be in His Word, to read our Bible, to be not only in divine service, but also in Bible Class so that we might be strengthened in our faith.
 

Continuing on at verse four, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes being ashamed of and mourning our weak faith. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (v. 4). Jesus is not talking simply about some outward speaking of our weak faith, you know the line, “I know I should be in Bible Class, I know I should read my Bible every day, I know I should be in church every Sunday,” and so forth. No, Jesus is talking about a yearning which comes from the heart, a yearning so deep that it moves us to do something about our weak faith. In other words, we simply cannot help but be where the gifts are given and distributed.
 

In verse five, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes meekly acknowledging one’s part in Jesus’ crucifixion. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (v. 5). Blessed are those who are not arrogant, but who bow their heads in grief because of their sin and their part in Jesus’ death, that Jesus had to die for their sins. This confession means that each one of us confesses, for ourselves, that it was because of my sins that Jesus had to shed His blood and die on the cross. For if we cannot and do not acknowledge our part in Jesus’ death on the cross, then we have no part in Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life. It is this acknowledgment, when it is a faithful and true acknowledgment which gains for us an inheritance in heaven and which leads us into action as we read in verse six.
 

In verse six, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes craving, hungering and thirsting after doing the right thing. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (v. 6). Those who are blessed are those who hunger and thirst after the Word of God, those who truly hunger and thirst after the Lord’s righteousness, and those who strive, with the Lord’s help, for an eternal righteousness and a piety of life. Again, this is something that is so powerful we simply cannot help but want to be where God’s gifts are distributed and given out.
 

So far Jesus has been pointing to us as individuals. We are blessed when we confess and grieve our sins, confess our need to be in His Word, and then hunger and thirst for His word and righteousness. Our confession brings forgiveness, but even more. Here we are reminded that our faith does, or at least should, make a difference in our lives, the way we live, how we speak, what we do and so forth. There is more to our Christian lives than just showing up for church and Bible Class on Sunday morning.
 

In verse seven our attention focuses on our outlook toward others. Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes showing mercy to others even if that mercy is not show back. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (v. 7). Blessed are those who have a deep and sincere concern for the temporal and spiritual needs of their neighbor. Here we might be reminded of the opportunities which the Lord gives to us to be merciful to others, specifically to our guest who come to divine service with us and especially those who have no home church.
 

In verse eight, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes being pure in heart, thinking pure thoughts. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). This is the opposite of hypocrisy which is acting like a Christian, but not believing. Are our thoughts on ourselves or on those who have not yet heard the message of Jesus and salvation? Are our thoughts continually on this world and our lives in this world, or on the world to come and our being ready for the world to come and getting others ready?
 

In verse nine, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes seeking to bring peace among ourselves and others. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9). This is not a peace which comes from compromising one’s faith and beliefs, but a peace which has at its center Jesus Christ. Maybe you have seen the sign or the bumper sticker, “No (N-O) Jesus, No (N-O)Peace, Know (K-N-O-W) Jesus, Know (K-N-O-W) Peace.” Apart from Jesus and apart from faith in Him we cannot know or have true peace. Remember, true peace comes only from sins forgiven so without Jesus there is no forgiveness and no true peace.
 

In verse ten, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes suffering persecution because of our faith. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 10). It is our spiritual righteousness, our moral character, our exclusive claim that there is one way and only one way to eternal life, which makes us Christians stand out and “look” aloof to the world and thus that is why we are hated by the world. When we make the Lord’s righteousness ours and when we adopt our Lord’s intolerant attitude toward sin then we can no longer be accepted by our unrighteous and, ironically enough by our, so called, tolerant society. Do you want to know if you are really a Christian or not? Check to see if you are loved or hated by the world.
 

Finally in verse eleven, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes suffering, being insulted, falsely accused and spoken against. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11). Here Jesus names a few forms of hatred which will be bestowed on “practicing” Christians. It is our honor and distinction to suffer in His interest and because of His name. As Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12). As Christians we still have an irrepressible joy, because no matter how much the world might hate us, no matter how much the world might persecute us, this hatred and persecution is nothing compared to the glory which is ours in heaven.
 

This morning we see a stark difference in our focus and in the focus of the world. The world’s focus is on the here and now. For those who are in the world and of the world, this is all there is and so life must be lived for the here and now. “You have to grab for all the gusto you can.”
 

Whereas God’s focus is on the now and the not yet, the future, eternity. Our life on this earth is short, from conception and birth to a hundred years or so and then it is over, compared to our life in heaven which is forever and ever and ever, without end. As Christians our focus is not so much on the here and now as on the now and the hereafter. That is why we see the importance of confessing our sins and being given forgiveness, that we confess our weak faith, that we hunger and thirst after the Word of the Lord and His righteousness, that we show mercy and seek ways to share the love of Jesus and His Gospel message with others, so they too might be a part of His kingdom.
 

As we celebrate All Saints Day we celebrate that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith and grace given to us, we are a part of God’s Kingdom and that we have a hope and a certainty for now and for the future. We celebrate the example of all the saints who have gone on before us because they showed their faith in Jesus alone for their salvation, because they hungered and thirsted after righteousness and because their lives are an example to us to be about the business of Jesus in spreading His love and Gospel message to all the world.
 

I like the words of one of the songs we used to sing when I was serving with a group that did weekends for church youth groups while in college, it went, “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace, I want to see my Savior’s face, heaven is a wonderful place, I want to go there.” I pray that this is your song as well so that when our last hour on this earth has come we might all together with all the saints stand before the Lord’s throne and proclaim, “to Him be the glory,” for Jesus’ sake. Amen.