Sunday, November 29, 2009

1st Sunday in Advent Jeremiah 23:5-8

"Look, days come", says Yahweh, and I will raise up to David a Branch–a righteous One, and He will reign–a King, and He will act wisely, and He will enact judgment and righteousness in the land. In His days will be good tidings for Judah, and Israel will live in safety. And this–His name, which He will be called: ‘Yahweh, our righteousness.' Therefore, look, days come" says Yahweh, "and they will not say any longer, ‘Of the life of Yahweh which brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt.' Indeed, ‘Of the life of Yahweh which brought up and which led forth the Seed of the house of Israel from the land, at midnight, and from all the lands which I had driven them, and they will live in their land.

What's with all the branches? Today we hear the familiar Palm Sunday story as the residents of Jerusalem greet their Savior, Jesus, with branches from palm trees in their hands, and spread along the road. As a child, I had always assumed that they didn't have any flags or pom-pons, so they substituted these branches for waving purposes. But in reality, this whole *branch* thing had to so with something the Israelites were expecting from the promises of old. That a Branch would come!

We know that Branch to be Jesus, just as the Jerusalemites hoped this coming would be the one foretold by prophets like Jeremiah. But they were very disappointed. They expected Jesus to take charge of the capital and establish his throne there from which to rule a new Israelite kingdom. But He didn't. This first arrival of Jesus simply didn't fit the prophecy of the Branch of David. In fact, Jesus makes that clear when He weeps over the destruction of earthly Jerusalem which soon would occur.

Perhaps you share a bit in the frustrations of Jerusalem's residents. Jesus indeed did come to rule His people as that righteous Branch, but you, like they, may not always like the way He does things in His church. Just as they wanted the earthly problems fixed immediately, perhaps you are tempted to view the church of God as part of this world. You may find it easier to see the church as an earthly entity over which you can have at least some control. But God's kingdom is, for now, other-worldly.

That's why one of Jesus' jobs is to enact judgment in the land. His Law convicts us sinners of our unrighteousness, so that we will stop being navel-gazers and begin to look outside of ourselves for the help we need. That's when Jesus proclaims you to be forgiven in His Name. The command of your King declares all your sin & it's consequences--removed. This gospel message for you becomes good tidings, that you won't die for your sins, but live in safety from God's wrath forevermore! +

You may be impatient like the Jerusalemites because you want the fullness of the King's reign over you now! This "already, but not yet" is not an easy thing to live with. Yes, you know you are residents of heaven, for that is your new address, but to wait so long for *moving day* can be frustrating. You may begin to forget that the "days are coming" soon for Christ's return, and let your mind and heart begin to drift toward those worldly temptations which will distract you from your coming King.

Remember that Jesus reigns over you now, even as you await the new earth paradise which He will restore on the last day. Jesus gives you a foretaste of that feast to come of the heavenly banquet when He gives you holy communion. Jesus comes with His body in the bread, and He comes down with His blood in the cup for your forgiveness from the cross of Calvary. But He also comes down, again and again in the Lord's Supper as a reminder of that final arrival whose days are coming.

What may bother you still is that things seem left *unfinished* by Jesus. Sure, He came to do all the earthly work that was needed to save you, but He has not taken you to heaven yet. The work of His first arrival is complete, but it seems to be taking a long time for Him to finish His prep work for our heavenly home. (Is he busy installing cable tv in your room of the heavenly mansion, or what?) Alright, already, it's time for Jesus to get a move-on, so we think, and come back again!.

Remember the heavenly work of Jesus continues down here on earth. He is not finished yet bringing subjects into His kingdom. Oh, He fulfilled all righteousness (like He told John at His baptism) by living a completely perfect life on earth in our place. But His work continues to deliver that righteousness of His to others. At the baptismal font He did that for you, exchanging your sins which He bore on the cross unto death for His righteousness credited to your account by faith for life eternal!

The days are coming when the Seed of Israel returns as the Righteous Branch at the midnight hour!


And it happened in the journey into Jerusalem, and He was going through between Samaria and the Galilee. And as He was entering into a certain village ten leprous men met Him--they stood far off. And they raised voices saying, "Jesus, Lord have mercy on us." And seeing them, He said, "Having gone, show yourselves to the priests!" And it happened as they went they were cleansed. But one of them, seeing that he was healed turned back with a great voice glorifying God, and he fell upon his face at His feet thanking Him; And He was Samaritan. And answering, Jesus said, "Were not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not found (any), having turned back to give glory to God if not this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Having arisen, go. Your faith has saved you."

Thanksgiving is 1 of 365 and 1/4 days of the year set aside in our nation to give thanks. That's only .0027% of the time! That sure doesn't seem like much. Add to that how few of our regular members are now here in God's house to give thanks, and we are doing much worse than the 10% of lepers who return to thank Jesus. The hard truth is, we just aren't very grateful people, by nature. We rarely take time to thank.

Just how often should we render the sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord for all His benefits to us? Is once a week enough, like on Sunday morning? Actually, God requires much, much more gratefulness from us. Our worship as Lutherans gives us a clear answer to just how thankful we ought to be as Christians, in the words of the proper preface the pastor sings just before communion: "we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, holy Lord, almighty Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord..."

One reason we fail to be very grateful is that we don't give God the credit for all that He does. You work hard all week, put in a strong effort, and assume that you yourselves have earned good things for you and your family. But you fail to see that all your abilities, your jobs, your talents, your opportunities, and your very existence are things which God Himself has provided from His goodness and mercy.

So we do well to cry out with those lepers, the words of the kyrie: Lord, have mercy upon us. Jesus had mercy on those poor sick and dying individuals by speaking forth the words of healing for their disease of leprosy. He has done the same for you, as the message of His gospel love for you from the cross has cleansed you from the eternally deadly disease of sin as He proclaims to you, "You are forgiven in My Name" that you may show yourselves today in God's house to be fully healed in Christ's mercy alone.

Another reason we fail to be as thankful as we ought, is that we don't always trust God. How quick you may be to forget that this is God's church, instead, focusing your attention on what the people are doing or not doing. Satan loves to distract you away from the words and workings of your God, creating doubts like "Did God really say...?" or "Wouldn't you like...? Relying on God to provide for His church isn't easy.

That's why God provides you with the wonderful gift of faith, just like He worked it in the heart of the one grateful, Samaritan leper. You too have been provided with a trusting faith that recognizes God at work in all your blessings. The first works of God it recognized were most likely at the Baptismal font, where God brought you out of the darkness of this sinful world into the marvelous light of His Kingdom. There, your sins washed from you to the cross, Jesus welcomed you as a believer into His eternal family!

A third problem we have in our thankfulness is that we don't always focus on God's blessings. Like the nine, we take the good and gracious gifts of God for granted. Oh, you are happy with the nice things you receive from the Lord, but do you always stop to actually see them as blessings from above? Or instead, do you foolishly consider yourself a pretty good person who deserves such good things to happen?

To refocus us, God provides perhaps His richest, most intimate gift of all called the Eucharist. This word means "Thanksgiving", and is one of the terms for the Lord's Supper. The Communion meal is truly one of great thanks-giving, since what Jesus is giving to us is the most priceless gift of all. Not all the gold and silver of the world is equal to His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death that paid the price of your salvation at Calvary. Jesus gives you His body in the bread, His blood in the cup to save you!

Yes, there are many, many blessings for which we give thanks today, and regularly: clothing shoes food drink, house home, spouse children, fields animals, and all we have. But God gives us even better gifts for which we can thank Him always: His mercy on us that forgives our disease of sin, His gift of faith given in Baptism that we become God's children, and His body and blood given to save us in the Eucharist.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday of the Fulfillment (Last Sunday of the Church Year) Matthew 25:1-13

Then the kingdom of the heavens will be like 10 bridesmaids, who having taken their lamps went out to meet the groom. And five of them were moronic, and five wise; for the moronic having taken their lamps did not take with them oil, and the wise took oil in the vessels with their lamps. And the groom delaying, all of them became drowsy and were sleeping. And in the midst of the night a cry came, "Look, the groom; you get going in to meet him!" Then all those bridesmaids rose and lit their lamps. And the moronic said to the wise, "Give to us from your oil, because our lamps are going out!" And the wise answered, saying, "No way! There isn't at all enough for you and for us; You get going, rather, to the salesmen and buy your own." And while they were going away to buy, the Groom arrived, and those ready went in with Him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. And afterward, the remaining bridesmaids come, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" And He, answering said,"Amen, I say to you, I do not know you!" You keep watching, then, because you do not know the day or the hour!"

A while back, I needed a flashlight to go fix something. We found some soon enough, but none with batteries that worked! All the flashlights my family found were utterly useless, since there was nothing to power them. That's the problem these five foolish bridesmaids had. They had their lamps but there was no oil to power them. They were as unprepared as I was. Their lamps were useless to them.

Now, the first thing we want in this story is some sort of compromise. We expect that the wise virgins will share some of their oil. But there wasn't enough. We might want the bridesmaids to pair up, with each of the five lighted virgins entering with one of the in-the-dark ones. But that solution isn't offered. Why? Because it's all about the lamps and their light. If you have no Light, you can't get into the heavenly wedding banquet, plain and simple. On your own, you are only bright enough to be a moron.

Jesus is the Light of the World! With Him burning bright, your path is an enlightened one, and you will know the Way to the marriage feast. The enlightenment from God's Word for you is this: Jesus is the church's Groom, and you enter the marriage feast only as His bride! Always a bridesmaid, and never a bride? Not for you! It is for you that the Bridegroom has actually come! For Jesus gives Himself as the feast, dying for his beloved at the cross, giving His bodyand shedding His blood for the wedding meal.

As we hear this story, we want to point fingers at these 5 bridesmaids for being so foolish. We don't think we would ever be such morons as they were. But be careful. You may think that you are quite enlightened, but actually find that you are sometimes greatly in the dark! Are you very knowledgeable about the things of God? Do you search your bible daily for the signs that point to Christ's imminent return? Do you wake up each day wondering if this is the day Jesus will come back again?

The LORD tells us that His word is a lamp for our feet and a light to our path. His word is that shining light that brought you out of the darkness of your sin when the Holy Ghost brought you to faith through the gospel message of Jesus' love for you. His word which enlightened you to faith in His first coming to live a perfect life, suffer, die and rise for you and your salvation, is a word that continues to enlighten you about His second coming, that you watch for Him with the God-given eyes of faith.

As you listen to this story, you may try to reassure yourself that you will not be like those foolish brides-maids. You'll prepare yourself, and make sure that you have oil in your lamp for Jesus' return. But preparing is not something you can do, in and of yourself. How are you ever sure that you are ready *enough* for Judgment Day? Are you really sorry enough for your sins? Have you committed yourself sincerely enough to being a disciple Jesus? Have you served Him enough here on earth?

The oil that fills your lamp is not your doing, but God's. It is the working of the Holy Spirit, Who prepares your heart and mind, so that it is ready each and every day for Jesus' return. By daily contrition and repentance, He creates your heart anew by drowning your old Adam of sin in the waters of your baptism, and by raising you up anew to live before God in His gracious righteousness and purity forever. For you are pure in the cleansing of your baptism, and now have Jesus righteousness!

So by faith, we keep watch, joyfully awaiting our Savior's return, knowing He has filled our lamps, that He has enlightened our way, and returns to bring us into His eternal wedding banquet in heaven.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

23rd Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22:15-22

Then, having gone the Pharisees took counsel how to trap Him in a statement. And they sent on a mission to Him their disciples with the Herodians saying, "Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and the way of God in truth, you teach, and you aren't concerned about (the wants of) anyone; for you don't look into mens' faces. Speak then to us, what it seems to you: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" And Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said, "Why are you tempting me, hypocrites? Show to me the coin of the tribute." And these brought to Him a denarius. And He says to them, "Whose is this portrait and the writing upon it?" They say to Him, "Caesar's." Then He says to them, "Give over, then the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God."

Politics makes strange bed-fellows. Two days before Jesus' arrest and trial, the Herodians supporters of the Romans puppet King-Herod conspire with the fundamentalist Jewish Pharisees in attempt to trap Jesus. They think they've backed Him into a corner forcing Him to choose between serving God or a heathen ruler. Which will Jesus choose to serve, God or Government? Jesus chooses *Yes!*

Take out a quarter: You render unto Washington... and unto God... Seems simple enough–pay all your taxes to the government, and put at least 10% of your income in the offering plate, and you'll be fine, right? Not exactly. Jesus is talking here about much more than simple finances. For rendering means giving back what never really belonged to you in the first place. It's about giving what you owe as you would have to pay back all your debts. Rendering to Caesar or to God isn't so simple.

What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits to me? The truth, and you might not be able to handle the truth, is this: You owe God everything! You had nothing before God created you and brought you into this world, and you can't take a single thing out of it. There will be no U-Hall hitched to your hearse. Everything you have, including your life, is a gift from God, including your very life itself! Yet we want to gripe and complain about giving back to God such a small percentage in our offerings.

Truly we are worse at rendering to God than we are rendering to our government. But that is not all the truth there is. Jesus is your Truth. His word is truthful, and it is the truth that sets you free from your sins of greed and ingratitude and all the rest. His word of Gospel love declares you forgiven for your failure to render as you ought, as Jesus Himself prays for you, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In God's name (not Caesar's) all your sin is gone as your pastor absolves you!

Sometimes we become as hypocritical as the Pharisees and Herodians, normally sworn enemies. They try to give Jesus a trick question in order to trap Him–either He chooses to support the Roman occupiers, or the occupied Jews. You too find yourself asking all the wrong questions. You may be tempted here to be asking, "Just tell us what we are supposed to be rendering to God, and we'll do it" as though this story is all about you and the things God needs from you. But your God needs nothing!

Since you can't give God anything He needs, it is He Who gives you the *things of God* that you need! "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving...I will take the cup of salvation..."

You render to the Lord at the best thanksgiving meal this month–the Holy Eucharist! There you eat that thanksgiving feast, and drink from the cup of salvation, Jesus' body given for you, and His blood shed for your forgiveness, life and salvation!
In false flattery, Jesus' enemies claim He can't be distracted by the man's desires, nor influenced by public opinion. Jesus sticks to the plan, but the same can't be said of people like us. God's ways are not always our ways. You find yourself thinking that you know best, and then you scramble to find a good rationale for why God ought to agree with you. There is a way which seems right to a man...but it leads to ruin, to destruction. Instead of wanting God on our side, we should try things His Way!

He Jesus is your Way, the only Way, really. God's Way is worship, but that may not be what you think. Worship for us Lutherans is all about faith, a gift of God given in Baptism by the Holy Spirit. By faith you trust Jesus to wash your sins to Himself on the cross, and by God-given faith you receive rescue and salvation from your Lord. For believing is receiving. The image you receive isn't from a coin, but the restored image of God, lost in the Garden, but restored to you in Christ Jesus, the image of God!

Render unto God what He has given you: Your ears to listen to His saving Truth, your mouths to feast on His gifts of life, and your hearts to believe and trust in His salvation! For God first gives all He requires.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009 Trinity 22 Matthew 18:21-35

Then, having come forward, Peter said to Him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him; up to 7 times?" Jesus says to him, "I say to you not up to 7, but up to 70 x 7! Through this the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, a king, who wanted to settle a logue with his slaves. And he, having begun to settle was brought to him one owing about 20 million dollars. And he, not having (enough) to pay, the Lord ordered him to be sold, the wife and the children and all, everything he had, and payment be made. Having fallen then, the slave worshiped Him saying, `Be patient with me, and everything I will repay you.' And gut-wrenched, the Lord of that servant freed him, and the debt He forgave to him. And having gone out, that slave found one of his fellow slaves, who was owing him a few month's wages, and having grabbed him, he choked (him) saying, `Pay if you owe anything!' Having fallen, then, his fellow slave begged him, saying, `Be patient with me, and I will repay you.' And he was not willing, but having gone away he cast him into prison until he might pay that which he was owing. Having seen what was happening, then, His fellow slaves were greatly grieved, and having gone, they explained to their Lord all that had happened. Then, having called him forward, his Lord said to him, `Evil slave, all that debt I forgave you when you begged me; Wasn't it needful also for you to show mercy to your fellow slave, as I Myself showed you mercy?' And angered, His Lord delivered him to the torturers until he give over all that he is owing. So also My heavenly Father will do to you, if ever each one of you does not forgive his brother from your hearts.

In Lutheran circles, Matthew 18 has become known as the *church discipline* chapter, since it is cited in almost all church constitutions under that heading. This is unfortunate, since a much better title for Matt 18 would be the *great forgiveness* chapter. For these words of Jesus not only teach us about how we ought forgive others, but they also show us the source of forgiveness in the heavenly realm–from God Himself. The LORD forgives us that we, in turn, may forgive as we've been forgiven.

But forgiving from the heart isn't so easy. Peter tries to limit forgiveness to only 7 times. He thinks he's being generous, since 3 times seemed to be the OT limit. But Jesus shows him just how limited his forgiving heart was. Likewise, these words of Jesus convict you. Could you put up with someone committing the same sin 490x against you? Hardly. You'd give up on that person long before that.

So Jesus tells a parable about forgiveness, showing just how different it is in God's kingdom. While the slave in the story proves himself to be a very lousy forgiver, the King of the heavenly kingdom shows Himself to be a compassionate Lord indeed. He forgives the debt completely, without strings attached. Christ Jesus has done this also for you at the cross. Your debt paid in full, not with the King's gold or silver, but by the body of the crown prince given, and His blood shed for you on the cross.

As we look at Jesus' parable, however, there seems to be something too-good-to-be-true about it. You might think that King should at least take the slave up on his initial offer to at least try to pay back some of the enormous debt. You may expect the King to let the man and his family pay as much as they can first, or for the King to cancel most of the debt, leaving only a small amount to be repaid.

But that's simply not how your God and King operates. He doesn't expect you strive to do your part first, so He can make up the difference. He doesn't even leave you with some of your debt to be dealt with at the end. He cancels it all. He forgives you all your sins. He washes your debt-slate clean in the waters of holy baptism, cleansing your conscience, and giving you a completely clean heart. As the prophet Micah writes, "God hurls all our iniquities in the depths of the sea" in the waters of baptism.

Yet we still aren't fully convinced that a cleansed heart can be gotten for free. Even if you are willing to accept that God cleanses your heart by canceling your sin-debt in full, you may still think that you have to do something first, since it can't be so easy. Perhaps you think that it's all up to you to get the ball rolling, that you must first show God how sincere, or how worthy you are for His forgiveness.

But all the sincerity in the world is useless toward such an un-payable debt. No lender is convinced by even the greatest desire to pay if the source of income is lacking. Such it is with you. It isn't your begging of God to be merciful that merits anything. It is his compassionate nature that prompts him to remove your sin-debt from you. He gives you the gift of repentance turning you from sins toward His gracious forgiveness, as your Pastor proclaims you forgiven in the Name of the Triune God.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009, All Saints, Matthew 5:3-12

And seeing the crowds He went up into the mountain, and (upon) His sitting, His disciples came to Him; And He opened His mouth (and) was teaching them, saying, "Blessed--the poor in the spirit; because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Blessed--the mourners; because they will be comforted. Blessed--the humble/gentle; because they will gain possession of the earth. Blessed--the hungerers and thirsters of the righteousness; because they will be satisfied. Blessed--the pitiers; because they will be pitied. Blessed--the clean in heart; because they will see God. Blessed--the peacemakers; because they will be called sons of God. Blessed--those having been persecuted for the sake of righteousness; because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Blessed you are whenever they insult you and persecute and speak all evils against you {falsely} for My sake. Rejoice and be elated, because your reward (is) great in the heavens; for (this is) just as they persecuted the prophets, those before you.

Today we honor those believers who have gone before us to heaven. We recognize the holiness of these saints, which was not from them, but from God alone. The holiness God provided for His saints came to them in the form of everlasting blessings which they enjoy forevermore in heaven. This wondrous blessing of holiness isn't just for them, but for you as well. So, when you hear all these *blesseds* of the beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, note how they are for all saints, including you!

The first couple of blesseds describe us when we are pretty low–poor in spirit and mourning. How can that be a blessing? When you are feeling down in the dumps, you hope somebody will help *lift* your spirits, don't you? Yet Jesus says that it's actually a blessing to be poor in spirit, and to mourn on account of death. For only when you are so low will you recognize the lofty blessings of God's kingdom above!

God makes you poor in spirit when you sin. He gives you a sorry and guilty conscience, working contrition in your heart. The Spirit drives you to admit you are a poor miserable sinner who deserves nothing but death. When you start to mourn your *own* sin-earned death, that's when God has you right where He wants you, so that you can be comforted by His word of absolute forgiveness in Christ Jesus, your Savior. Your Pastor tells you that your sin is gone to the cross, and the kingdom of heaven is now yours!

A couple more of these blesseds talk of righteousness. Oddly, you first learn that you don't have any! How does this make you blessed? Once you realize that the works which save are not something that you can do for yourself, you will no longer strive to be self-righteous by all the prideful things you think you can do to please God. You hunger and thirst for an alien righteousness from outside of yourself.

Jesus Himself satisfied your hungering and thirsting for righteousness by giving you His Own righteousness from the cross. There, when the spear pierced his side, the pure water of His righteousness flowed forth into the baptismal font. Your Savior took your sins and their wages of death upon Himself at the cross, and gives you His holy righteousness in exchange at your Baptism. His goodness, His perfection, His right-ness in all He thought, said and did are now credited to your account by faith in the kingdom of the heavens!

The remaining blesseds are wimpy by this world's standards. Being meek, merciful, clean-hearted and a peace-maker don't make anybody much of a hero here on earth. How are you blessed to have these looked-down-upon qualities? You won't have much to show for these attributes here and now. Instead you will be made fun of, ridiculed, mocked, and picked on if you show forth these characteristics regularly.

The blessings connected with these beattituded aren't found in this life, but in the next. But don't the meek inherit the earth? Yes, but not this polluted, decaying and dying world. You are blessed to inherit the world to come–the paradise above! There you will see God with your own eyes! There you will be counted as Sons of God! There God's mercy will be yours, and you will find lasting peace in the foretaste of that feast to come of the Lord's Supper–Jesus' body and blood held forth for you as His Peace!

As Jesus teaches all these blesseds, He reveals the source of all lasting blessings–Himself! Rejoice! In Jesus you are blessed to be comforted by His word of forgiveness. In Jesus you are blessed to be washed clean of your sin and filled with His righteousness. In Jesus you have the eternal peace of heaven.