Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Psalm 126; Advent Service Three; December 17, 2014

Psalm 126; Advent Service Three; December 17, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

When the LORD restored the fortunes of | Zion,*
we were like | those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with | laughter,*
and our tongue with | shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great | things for them.”*
The LORD has done great things for us; |we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, | O LORD,*
like streams in the | Negeb!
Those who | sow in tears*
shall reap with | shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for | sowing,*
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his | sheaves with him.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent. When the people approached the holy city, Jerusalem on festivals they chanted these psalms together. They are Songs of Ascent because when you come to Jerusalem you have to go up the hill to the city, up mount Zion.

This particular psalm has another approach in view. Some six hundred years before Jesus, God’s people were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon. It was God’s discipline for their sin of rejecting him. After a great many years, God finally acted on their prayers for return and allowed a small band of them to come home. You can imagine this psalm being spoken by them as they climbed the holy hill once again. It was like a dream. They had waited so long. God had finally begun to fulfill his promise. Their mouths were filled with joy. God had done a great thing for them, they were glad.

And yet, not all was well. The land and the city were in rubble. There had been no crops sown for many years. The vast majority of the people were still back in Babylon. The psalm is a not only a prayer of joy for what God has done, but a plea for him to continue to do more. Bring the rest home! In this way it’s another one of the complaint Psalms, a lament. Those who were there had much hard work ahead of them. There would be sowing in tears. There was weeping for now, but great joy in the future with God’s promise.

This is the perfect song for Advent. It’s a reminder that we are not just preparing for a quaint family holiday, the reason for the season isn’t that we gather together and exchange love and presents. The baby in the manger is the beginning of the return from exile. We huddle around the crèche because it is the beginning. The angels sang, “God and sinners reconciled” because God was present among sinful people to do away with sin and death and the power of Satan. Christmas is God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus, born in a manger. God, in Jesus, feeding at his mother’s breast. God, in Jesus, growing in wisdom and stature to be a full grown man. God, in Jesus, living and working with his family. God, in Jesus, preaching and teaching. God, in Jesus, arrested and beaten. God, in Jesus, crucified dead and buried, under Pontius Pilate. God, in Jesus, paying the eternal punishment for all human sin on the cross. God, in Jesus, dead and buried. God, in Jesus, raised from the dead on the third day. All of that, God, in Jesus, reconciling sinners, bringing them home to God himself from their exile to sin.

So the laughter we experience as we gather with our families is part of the joy we rightly feel because of God and Sinners Reconciled. Joy to the World. Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, Gloria in Excelsis Deo! All that we will sing in a few short days. It fits well with the first part of the Psalm. In some ways it is like a dream for us also, too good to be true. When we see the depth of our sin, when we know what sin does to us and to those we love, and we realize the rescue God has made for us. We sing for joy!

And yet, not all is well. Death, the wages of sin, still haunts us, breaking our joy. There is more of Jesus to come, even though he has totally captured the victory and yet there is more to do. In the psalm we call on God to finish it. The crucified, baby in the manger has risen from the dead has done great thing for us, and he promises to do even more. We weep now, but we will renew our shouts of joy even louder when the sky is filled with Jesus and his holy angels returning. We lament our sin and suffering. We long for a time when human beings can really live together in peace on earth. St. Paul says it:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26, ESV)

Tears turned to joy. Weeping turned to shouts of joy. Jesus “making all things new” (Rev 21:5, ESV). And so we repeat or Advent Prayer. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-8; the Second Sunday in Advent; December 7, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:1–8, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Comfort, comfort my people. Don’t we all like comfort? Don’t we all need it at sometime or another? Rudolf Bohren (Prof. of Theology: University of Heidelberg) said, “A human being needs comfort. The nursing child crying in its crib, the old man clinging to a beloved hand as he dies; the one coming into the world, the one departing from the world, both need comfort. Beginning and end help us to sense that the need for comfort is simply a part of being human.” The problem is that comfort is always suspect. Even people of faith find it difficult to always trust when we receive comfort. Maybe that’s because we’ve so often heard shallow words of comfort from well meaning people; words that don’t really bring any comfort at all. We often find ourselves testing words offered in comfort to make sure that they are not some kind of swindle and hoax.

This text that Isaiah writes, God’s Word to us today, says “Comfort, Comfort.” It’s double comfort that is to be given to God’s people. It’s double comfort to be shouted from the mountaintops. But if the comfort here is to be real comfort and not some phony replacement, we’ll need to understand what is really being said here. And Isaiah helps us here in this text to understand just that.

Comfort implies a helper.

We all know the real difference between true comfort and comfort that really isn’t comfort at all. Job’s comforters were really comfort at all. In fact he was burdened by their comfort. We don’t need that kind. Nor do we need the pat on the head, “There, there, it will be all right in the end.” Especially when we know that it won’t just be all right. In Psalm 87 the psalmist says, “for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” Help and comfort go together. Imagine the nurse who only talks to her patient but never touches them, never holds a hand, or changes bedding, or bathes, or gives medicine. Of course that nurse would be of no comfort at all.

“Comfort” is a very strong theme in the book of Isaiah, especially after this text in Chapter 40. Here God in continually calling out to his people with comfort. It is interesting to note that in all of these verses God is the one who does the comforting, and his people are always the ones who are comforted. God’s comfort always restores and helps, and Isaiah speaks the words as if the comfort that is offered is a done deal, already completed.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (Isaiah 51:3, ESV)

“I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass,” (Isaiah 51:12, ESV)

Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 52:9, ESV)

Comfort is addressed to the heart.

The word translated from Hebrew into English as “tenderly” might also be translated, “straight into the heart.” Comfort must reach the human heart to be of any comfort at all. It’s easy enough to put off condemnation from other people. When someone says to me, “You’re a sinner!” I can say back to them “Same to you!” and even Satan’s accusations can be rebuffed with a word. “You are the father of lies, a professional trouble maker, I don’t need to listen to you.” But if my trouble come from my own heart, if my condemnation comes from right in here, then what help is there for me if the comfort doesn’t also reach right in here. It is only a message spoken “tenderly,” or “straight to the heart.”

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19–20, ESV)

Here is a real message of comfort from God, it is most of all a message that the warfare is over. We are no longer God’s enemies. Our sins have been paid for… in double! Isaiah says. That doesn’t mean that we can sin all we want because it’s been taken care of. It means that the power of sin to destroy us has been destroyed. It’s just that it is foolish to let the very thing that has been destroyed destroy us from inside our own heart.

God says, “Her sin has been paid in double.” None of us can say that we have suffered more than we have sinned. There was in fact only one human being who could rightly claim that, because he had not sinned at all and yet he suffered the punishment of the whole world’s sin. No matter how great our suffering is we still deserve even more. The law is never satisfied. If we are guilty of breaking one little part we are guilty of breaking it all. But, God has taken care of that for us. Jesus Christ satisfied the law, perfectly. Jesus Christ suffered under the law and satisfied the requirement for punishment completely. God’s grace, God’s underserved love for us, is that he takes our punishment on himself in Jesus, and he gives to us His perfect life. That is comfort spoken straight into our hearts.

Comfort from God breaks through all obstacles

There are times when we suspect that God’s comfort is only words. When God is strangely silent when evil is so outspoken. There are times when God’s inaction makes us suspect that he is powerless, or that he doesn’t really care, or worse yet, doesn’t even exist. Make straight the way of the Lord. Isaiah says. Every valley raised up and every mountain made low. Nothing can stand in God’s way of dealing with sin. A way is going to be prepared for Him. God comes to deal with sin. He comes before people can even come to him.

Comfort is the reassurance that although humans fail, God’s word stands forever.

Life is short play hard, is hardly a phrase of great comfort. But, isn’t that what Isaiah is saying here?

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.” (Isaiah 40:6–7, ESV)

“Comfort my people, tell them that they are withering grass and fading flowers.” It isn’t what we even want to hear. But according to this text it is part of our comfort to remember it always. We are never to forget that death is built into everything we do, and there is nothing we can do about it. You and I will face death. We will face it with others, and we will face it for ourselves. That fact alone has a way of changing our minds about what is important, and what is not.

But there is comfort in knowing that death is not the end for us. For us, the resurrection looms also in our future, beyond our death. The breath of God that withers is also the breath that God will use to revive us. Grass has its season, but the life that God gives is eternal. That is comfort to us, whose flesh is but grass.

But that comfort isn’t cheap. It was paid for in the coinage of Jesus own holy and precious blood. That’s the price that assures us that our sin, and our punishment is forever paid. Why is it that we so often parcel out forgiveness in little increments? That is hardly how the Bible talks. “Your sin is paid in double!” shouts Isaiah. God’s forgiveness is total and complete. It is the comfort above all comfort and that is how we should receive it, in full. With Jesus Christ there is no sin that is too great that he cannot forgive it. There is no life to far gone that he cannot restore it. That is what we confess. “I a poor miserable sinner…” That is what we are, but the problem with the General Confession is that we become “generic sinners.” We are indeed guilty of breaking specific commandments. You are a murder. You are a thief. You are despiser of God’s Holy Word. We all break God’s commands daily; sometimes openly and sometimes secretly in our hearts. “in thought, word and deed.” We say. There is here today God’s words of comfort to you, spoken straight to your heart. Jesus Christ speaks his word of forgiveness to you. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” You have received double for all your sins. There is more than enough forgiveness at the foot of the cross to cover them all, and more than enough to bring you comfort straight to your heart. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Isaiah 64:1-9; The First Sunday in Advent; November 30, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1–9, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah has a dream, and it is a big one. God’s people are mired in sin. They are ignoring him, but more importantly they are ignoring God. His dream? That God would show himself in power and fix everything. He knows already that judgment is coming. He is afraid for the people. You do not trifle with God’s anger over sin. When the one who made the heavens and the earth displays his anger, there are earthquakes and lightning and fire and darkness and the rivers boil. A little of that would go a long way to the people seeing their sin and confessing. Isaiah makes no bones about it, the people are sinful. Even the good stuff they do is polluted like a bloody rag. Their sins make them dead and dry like a leaf that will just blow away in a breeze. But the people don’t see it, at least they won’t confess it. They refuse to call upon God’s name for mercy. Their sin has blinded them to their need for forgiveness. Isaiah confesses for them and then begs God to be the merciful God that Isaiah knows he is. There is no other god who acts in mercy toward those who wait for him. What that means it that those who stand in faith, those who wait for God to act in mercy toward them, those who see their great need for forgiveness, are given mercy and forgiveness. Isaiah reminds God that his people are his children. They were created by him, just as he created everything in the very beginning. Please temper your anger, Lord. He says. Lord, have mercy! He says. Look at us in mercy and forgive.

What could be better at Advent? We get a bit confused because we think Advent is all about the little baby in the manger. But it really is about waiting for God to act. Isaiah was waiting for God to act in mercy, to come and fix everything. He wanted God to come in person. And he did. He came in the manger in Bethlehem, the little baby that the song says doesn’t cry. But Advent is about his coming for a purpose, it is Isaiah’s dream. Jesus comes to bring mercy for those who are caught in sin. But Jesus also comes to bring God’s wrath against sin; lighting and thunder and earthquakes. Jesus is God who acts. The baby goes to the cross. There is the full anger of God played out. God, the Father, turns his face away from Jesus, his Son. Jesus quotes Psalm 22. His words on the cross are haunting. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV) The Psalm continues to make the point.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14–15, ESV)

It is so much like what Isaiah wrote.

There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:7, ESV)

It is God, coming in Jesus. It is Isaiah’s dream, only better. Isaiah wanted the law to convict the people. Jesus comes and stand convicted for the people. He takes on God’s wrath in full. God executes justice on the cross, all justice for all time, for all people. It is the awesome thing that we didn’t look for. Forgiveness of sins when we were not calling upon his name, but enemies of God instead.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV)

God does it, he pours out his great wrath on Jesus so that his people can have Isaiah’s dream, so that he can:

Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:9, ESV)

We are God’s people. Made so by God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. Made so through faith in the baby made sacrifice for us. And yet we are sinners, too. Isaiah’s dream needs to be re-read again. We live our lives not calling upon God’s name, but trying our best to get along without him. We do our good deeds for our own benefit. Sin spoils everything. Even the good things we do are polluted by false motives. We need God, himself to come and be present and fix everything. We need Isaiah’s dream again.

And Jesus comes. Word, water, bread and wine. He is here. He is present here just as he promises to be. And he comes for forgiveness. We confess our sin along with Isaiah. Please temper your anger, Lord. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Look at us in mercy and forgive.

… in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

… take eat this is my body … take drink this is my blood… for the forgiveness of all your sins.

God present in an awesome way we would never expect. Forgiving our sin through his very presence.

And that’s not all. Advent is about God coming to fix everything. He is coming yet again. He will fix everything then, by first destroying all that is corrupted by sin.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11–13, ESV)

It is God acting in mercy for those who wait on him. Sin and suffering, death and disease, done in. So we wait for God to act for us. And while we wait we act in holiness and godliness. That means serving the world as it needs to be served. Doing our daily work for the sake of our neighbor. Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus who forgives sins through his cross and resurrection and return. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Colossians 1:9-14; Thanksgiving Eve; November 26, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9–14, ESV)

(From a Sermon in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 17, Part 4, Series C)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There’s the story of Johnson and Jackson.

“Say, Johnson, don’t you recognize me?”

“Of course,” was the cold reply.

“Well, aren’t you going to say hello?”

“Hello,” an un-enthusiastic response.

“Aren’t you being a bit ungrateful Johnson?” Jackson replied, “When you were ill two years ago, who paid your doctor bills?”

“You did.”

“And this summer, who saved you from drowning when you got a cramp?”

“You did.”

“And you can pass by without even a greeting?”

“Well, sure,” said Johnson. “But what have you done for me lately?”

There is always the danger on Thanksgiving that we praise God with our words and appetites, but snub him with our thoughts and actions the days following the holiday, and the rest of the year. It’s like Johnson and Jackson. I don’t think any of us is quite that ungrateful. But, it is easy to be thankful when we have in view God taking care of a crisis, or the table full of the Thanksgiving feast. But thankfulness is forgotten unless we see God active “lately”.

Paul suggests that our life should be one of perpetual Thanksgiving.

But our Thanksgiving will be weak and short-lived if it is not based on something real. St. Paul tells us that our gratitude toward God is a matter of being “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v9).

What does that mean? The three are linked together; knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding. Our knowledge of God grows as we read and hear his word. It’s why God has given this place so we know when and where to hear it. We observe God’s hand in history. We see God at work in nature. And he’s there in our lives. In all of that we understand more clearly. As we understand him more clearly our attitude towards life changes. We become wiser in seeing God all around. As we become wiser we become more thankful. We see God’s blessing in everything. And as we see God’s blessing that produces Thanksgiving.

Our national personality believes that we are independent and self-sufficient. Sometimes our Thanksgiving is more like “Thank you God that we don’t need you like other people do!” Just think about how dependent we really are. One person I know was stuck in Las Vegas at the airport as no planes were flying into St. Louis Monday and Tuesday. He’s hoping to be home by Thanksgiving. How many of you have enough supplies set aside to feed your selves for even a few weeks should the need arise? We are dependent on God who works through supply lines and people. Our sinful nature is selfish. We would rather be independent then dependent, especially on God. We see the blessings all around us as things we provide for ourselves. We work hard so God blesses us with the things we have. Other people are lazy they deserve what they get. What we fail to see is God working all around us. He works in the truck driver who brings us food. He works in the farmer who grows it. He works in the baker who makes it. And he works in our employer who gives us a job so that we can buy it. We are utterly dependent on God working through other people to give us everything we need.

But even more than that we are dependent on God for our spiritual needs. That sinful nature that refuses to see God as the giver of all good gifts, also thinks that our sin is small. We see other people as sinners, but ourselves is basically good. We forget that sin is the symptom of not trusting in God for all that we need. Un-thankfulness is the sin that believes that we don’t need God. The things that we do that our sinful are a result of not living in a perfect relationship with God. Sin is the result of not seeing God as the owner and provider of all things. We selfish and thankless human beings have no way to escape punishment. We have no assurance in ourselves of any outcome except eternal hell. It is only because God provides forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have any answer to our spiritual needs. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we are called to believe and kept in the faith. We are constantly and utterly dependent on God’s grace and mercy.

This is something that Jesus did as he lived his human life. Everywhere he went he saw God’s blessing. He gave thanks for food. He gave thanks for people. He saw God, the Father, behind all that was around him showering down gifts for the needs of everyone. He himself is the gift that brings forgiveness. He lived a life in perfect relationship with God, seeing God in every blessing and being perfectly thankful. And then in his death of the cross he suffered the punishment of eternal separation from God for our sin, especially our un-thankfulness. The gift of Jesus is that these things are ours though faith. The Holy Spirit works in Word and Sacrament to give faith that what Jesus did, his perfect life for us, and his replacement sacrifice for us, is indeed for us. Through that faith Jesus’ perfect life is ours. Through that faith, Jesus death and punishment are ours. It is only our selfish independence that prevents us from it. God give is freely. We receive it as pure gift. Once again God providing all that we need. Jesus has

has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

So, our thankfulness begins there. Jesus, our Savior, give us forgiveness. Through forgiveness we receive a relationship with God again. In a right relationship with God we see his blessings showering down on us, everywhere. Then a life of thankfulness flows to God, the giver of all good things. Amen.

The pace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

1 Corinthians 15:20–28; the Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 23, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church; Creston & Mount Ayr;

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There it is. All laid out right in front of you. Christianity in a nutshell. Jesus Christ risen from the dead. In fact, back just a few verses before this text you find out how critical the issue of Jesus’ resurrection is. Listen to what it says:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17–19, ESV)

So that says, no resurrection of Jesus, no resurrection of you and me, no Christianity.

Do you realize what this actually means? If there is proof that Jesus is still in his grave, then we are all wasting our time this morning. All of Christianity hangs in the balance. It’s actually in the Creed (http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html). It’s all stated as fact, at a particular time. Some folks have said that the most important words of the Apostles’ Creed are “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate was a real person in real history. Jesus was a real person in real history who actually suffered crucifixion under a real Roman government in a real place at a real time. And, more importantly, rose from the dead in a real place and time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone) Now, you might not think this is important, but St. Paul says differently. Other religions are based in unverifiable or mythological events, or even founded on people that can’t be shown to have even existed. Our faith isn’t like that. Christianity is uniquely historic. It claims to be just that. And in fact in many places in the New Testament, the writers encourage people to check that what is claimed about Jesus is what actually happened. (Acts 26:26, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11) Everything that we believe about Jesus is verified to be true because Jesus rose from the dead. It isn’t even an arguable point. If Jesus is alive, what he says is true. It is Jesus himself that hangs his whole reputation on his resurrection. (See Matthew 13:38-42, Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 27:62-63, Mark 8:31, Luke 11:29-32, John 2:13-22) When the Jews asked for a sign that he was who he said he was, Jesus says to wait for his resurrection. After all, who are you going to believe? Centuries of scholars who are dead in their grave, or the one who came out of his grave alive again?

So the question is: How do we know Jesus is risen? God doesn’t leave that to chance. He doesn’t put the answer in your heart so you can feel that it’s true. That’s what the other false religions do (i.e. Mormons and their “burning in the bosom” to verify that the Book of Mormon is true, http://carm.org/are-you-mormon). He gives you something objective, outside of yourself, to rely on. It’s written down in a historically reliable text. Of course, I’m talking about the Bible. We in the faith believe that it is God’s Word and therefore perfectly reliable. But did you know that the New Testament in particular is the most historically verifiable document from the ancient world. There are more copies and fragments of the New Testament than any other documents in ancient history. Everything we know about Ancient Greece, Rome, Homer, Aristotle, Plato, and the Trojan horse, all of it is based on very much less historical record than what happened to Jesus Christ and his followers. (http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence) If you deny the accuracy of the New Testament then you have to deny everything we know about the ancient world. The copies were made closer to the originals in time, and there are more of them than any other. For example: We have only 600 ancient copies of Homer’s Iliad written down many centuries after the events and the copies many centuries after that. We have over 20 thousand copies of the New Testament, from copies made within 100 years of the originals that were written within 30 years of the events.

So the documents are accurate, but does that mean that the writers are telling the truth. The writers claim to be witnesses or close associates of witnesses of Jesus life, death and resurrection. But maybe they made it all up. Well if they did, they are going against Jesus clear teaching that lying is a sin (John 8:44). It is also important to note that the Gospel accounts of Jesus life are not identical. They are from 4 different points of view. Any judge will tell you that identical testimony points to lying, it’s call collusion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collusion). Also, the disciples don’t tell a very flattering account of themselves. People don’t usually lie to make themselves look foolish. And there are a great many external non-Christian sources that verify the events written in the Gospels. Archeology it the friend of the testimony of the writers. Over and over again the details in the New Testament have been verified by archeological finds. And another thing; the documents were circulating within the lifetime of other witnesses, both hostile and friendly. There is no record of hostile witnesses denying what was written. They had motive, means and opportunity. The Jewish religious community could have spoken out against what was written if it was a lie. But they didn’t.

Now look at where we are. Faith is not required to see that the disciples recorded what Jesus said and did. Faith is required to see that what Jesus said and did is for me. But we can see that what was written is an accurate record of Jesus life and words. So what about what he did and said? He says that his is God. In fact, he is God in human flesh. He says that he has come to bring forgiveness to the world, and to restore a perfect creation. But anyone can claim to be God. Usually we lock people up who do that. The author C.S. Lewis said that Jesus’ claim makes him a lunatic, a liar, or God (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6979-i-am-trying-here-to-prevent-anyone-saying-the-really C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952). So, what makes Jesus claim different? Once again it is the resurrection. Jesus basis all that he say on his resurrection, he predicted it and pointed to it as proof. He was crucified, dead and buried. The disciples recorded in gory detail what happened to Jesus on the cross. The events leading up to his death, are in fact, the bulk of the discussion of the Gospels. And they were public, “Not done in a corner.” According to the writer of Acts (Acts 26:26). The disciples on the Emmaus road were surprised that anyone wouldn’t have heard of what happened to Jesus. There can be no doubt that he died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. And then, the writers describe seeing him alive again. If you are dead at point A and alive at point B, then what you have is a resurrection. One of the first Creeds of the church was "Χριστός ἀνέστη!" Christ is risen! "Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!" He is risen, indeed! It wasn’t wishful thinking, or some made up hope. It was based on eyewitness testimony. When the disciples were writing the Gospels, people who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection were still around. And the disciples encouraged investigation. The grave is empty. The enemies of the church only had to produce a body to disprove everything that was written. No body was produce even though many people had good reason to discredit the disciples.

All this is to say what St. Paul says.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

Jesus is exactly who he says he is. He didn’t do some pointless miracle to prove it, he rose from the dead. It is, in fact, the most important miracle that could ever be done. Death is in your sight. It doesn’t matter if it happens by accident, disease, or old age. It is the most real and basic problem with your life. You are facing death. God says, it is sin. You sin, so you will die. And not only death but eternal punishment in hell. So serious is sin that God cannot tolerate any of it in his presence.

But Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. He was dead on the cross, then he rose from death. He says that his death is the total payment for your sin. And he promises resurrection for you. Someday soon, Jesus will appear again. And he has promised on that day he will destroy death. Actually, he’s already done it. He died and rose from the dead. In that truth he promises to do the same for you. He is the only one in all of history who can say it and mean it. It is what our faith is about. And it is founded on Jesus. His life, death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Amos 5:18-24; The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; November 9, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:18–24, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, author CS Lewis writes a conversation between the characters about the Christ figure.

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?” Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

YHWH is certainly not safe. That’s what Amos is trying to remind God’s people. They were thinking that God’s promised judgment was going to be a good thing. The problem was they were ignoring their own sin. They weren’t acting with justice and righteousness. They had mixed the truth of God with falsehood. They were worshipping other gods along with YHWH. God is dangerous to sinful people. He is also good and gracious to those who love him and keep his commandments. We memorize it every year in Catechism class.

What does God say about all these commandments?

He says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20: 5–6)

What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

The problem with God’s people in Israel, the thing that Amos is telling them, is not to assume that they are safe because they are going through the motions of worship. They were unjust. They were taking advantage of the poor. They were mixing false teaching in with the truth of God’s Word, mixing the worship of false gods into the worship of the only true God. But they thought they were safe because, after all, they were God’s people, and they were attending church.

Amos makes it clear when he speaks for God. When the Day of Judgment comes, there is no escape for those who are not living according to faith. You might be running from the lion, right into the claws of a bear, escape the bear to be bitten by a poisonous snake in your own home. When God judges sin it isn’t a day of light and brightness, but a day of darkness and gloom. Prophets don’t always get to tell the good news. Sometimes they have to tell the people the way things are. Amos is doing that. He must dissuade the people of their false impression that they are safe, because they are not. And it is worse than they think.

YWHW / God isn’t even happy with their worship. He actually despises their empty repetition, their feasts, their festivals and their sacrifices. What makes them empty? Well, they are not living in their faith. God intends to have a righteous people. That is no “Sunday morning Christians”. Faith is lived out in action. The Ten Commandments describe it perfectly. A relationship with God, Commandments one through three, results in a relationship with other people, Commandments four through ten.

And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39, ESV)

Amos tells them what God wants.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24, ESV)

What he means by “justice” is not what we think of, that is social justice, but right living that flows from faith. He means living your life according to the 10 Commandments. Living in a right relationship with God and a right relationship with other people. Its parallel is righteousness. That means to do what is right and good for others.

So that means, when you take advantage of your neighbor; when you speak poorly about people not putting the best construction on what they do and say; when you are jealous of what other people have and not satisfied with what God is giving you; when you manipulate people to get what you want; when you tell the little white lie that makes you look better in your friend’s eyes; when you disobey God ordained authority and push your foot on the gas pedal a little harder than you should because you are running late; when you say that all religions are the same and lead to the same place; when you don’t defend life in the womb; and then you come to church and pretend that these things don’t matter; that you have a right relationship with God; then you are in danger of God’s judgment, and you cannot escape. The lion, the bear or the snake will get you. YHWH isn’t safe when you disobey. God demands to have a just and righteous people.

The day of the Lord is coming…

Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20, ESV)

Judgment is darkness. And God’s judgment must come about. It is time to repent! It is time to…

…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)

Our lives are full of sin. We are dehydrated, dry and dead deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. But justice and righteousness can only flow from people through faith in the one who justifies sinners, the one who forgives sin. And forgiveness refreshes like an ever-flowing stream of water. Forgiveness flows from worship and Word and Sacrament through God’s people into the world. God’s children love and forgive in the world prompted by God’s love and forgiveness for them.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:4–8, ESV)

God’s love and forgiveness comes to those who are in relationship to him through faith. Jesus death on the cross and his resurrection brings forgiveness to Christians soaked in the ever flowing stream of Holy Baptism.

Only Christian life begun in Baptism enables justice and righteousness to cascade is a river of life and mercy. (Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary, Amos, p. 376, CPH, 2009)

This is the message of Amos to God’s people. It’s not a message of, do good works to make yourself right with God. But it is a message of, do good works because forgiveness that God has given to you. It all flows from forgiveness. It flows from Jesus Christ at work through the Holy Spirit in you.

Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit [Galatians 5:22–23]. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God [Ephesians 2:10], because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ ” (Luke 17:10). (AC IV 1-2; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 33–34). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.)

Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

All Saint’s Day; November 2, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Death is an awful thing. It tears apart all that God intended to be together. It separates the body from the soul. It separates people, in relationship with one another, from each other. One classic western movie says it like this.

It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have. (Bill Munny, Unforgiven, 1992, IMDB.com)

Death can even separate us from God forever. Those who have no relationship with God in life will be forever separated from him in death. Eternal death is forever punishment in hell. God’s just punishment for rejecting his love and care.

And here we are, on All Saints Day, suffering the separation that death brings. And if you doubt me, just look at our long list of names on The Role of the Saints. We are separated from these loved ones and we mourn their death. To be sure, we don’t mourn, as St. Paul says, as those who have no hope. These have the glorious advantage of being with Christ, awaiting for the resurrection of the body, just as we are waiting for the resurrection of the body. This is the great hope of our faith, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

There are always lots of questions when we talk about death. Especially, we want to know about our loved ones who have died. God’s Word does not give us all we want to know. But it does tell us these things. The dead in Christ are “with Christ”. Remember Jesus comforting the thief next to him as they faced death together. “…today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) And Saint Paul says the same thing. Death involves separation from the body, but being with Christ.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV)

And additionally, he adds in Philippians (1:23), to be with Christ is “far better” than merely earthly existence. He is talking about the absence of the effects of sin, fear of death, pain and suffering and trouble. The dead in Christ are with him. They have no cares about the sinful world. (Isaiah 63:16) They do not communicate with the living. They do not return to this world. (Luke 16:27-31) Martin Luther was reluctant to speak about this intermediate state, but he spoke of the soul that is alive, at rest, and fully aware of Christ’s presence and blessing.

And finally, God tells us that those who have fallen asleep in Christ are looking for the resurrection. (Revelations 6:10-11) Their redemption is finished but not yet complete. They (and we) will not live in eternity as disembodied spirits. But in our newly created, perfectly human, physical bodies. That is the ultimate Christian hope, the reason Jesus was born, lived, died and resurrected. Christians long for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In fact, when the question of those who have died is discussed in scripture, most often it is deferred to a discussion about the resurrection.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For 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. And 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, ESV)

Notice how he says we should encourage each other on the question of “those who are asleep”. Encouragement is found in the second coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead and being together with Christ forever in our resurrected, human bodies.

And so, as means of encouraging each other in the face of the separation caused by death, let’s talk some more about the resurrection of the body.

One of the best places to see the importance of the resurrection is at a Christian funeral. The typical Lutheran funeral is packed full of references to the resurrection of the body. In the best funerals our readings from God’s Word and our hymns highlight the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Easter hymns are particularly nice at a funeral. And there is good reason for that, it is this very encouragement in the face of death. The service begins as we cover the casket with a big cloth called a Pall. It’s a reminder of God’s promises that those who have been baptized into Christ are promised what our Lord achieved, the resurrection of the body. We read St. Paul’s words of encouragement as it is draped on our loved ones coffin.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3–5, ESV)

The promise of Holy Baptism is a physical, bodily resurrection like Jesus.

But my favorite encouragement comes at the cemetery. We carefully take the body of our loved one to be placed in the grave. And we again hear readings that comfort us with the promise of the resurrection. If you have never gone to the cemetery committal service I would encourage you to do it next time. I like Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 15 read at the grave.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–57, ESV)

The resurrection is indeed the greatest of all mysteries. Our bodies die and decay in the ground, our souls are with Christ, and yet God will raise us to our changed body that will last forever. That which is mortal, that is our currently sin racked body that is subject to death, will put on immortality. Death is swallowed up in Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection. Death has no victory over us because Jesus has died on the cross to suffer our eternal punishment, our separation from God, and we have been given the victory, that is the resurrection of the body. Sin is what gives death its power, and sin is dead in Jesus death, eliminated in Jesus’ resurrection.

In death our soul and body are separated. The wages of sin is a harsh reality that God hates. But it is the necessary curse of sin. (Genesis 3:19) Death is terrifying because it is a tearing apart of that which God created to be eternal, the human person, in both body and soul. So much of the worldly philosophy that the physical world is unnecessary or somehow evil has crept into our theology. We Christians place the body in the grave with great care, for God’s good keeping until the resurrection. It is a part of us that will be restored. It is not a shell to be lightly cast off. The promise of God is that we will live eternally, physically in our same body.

Listen carefully to the culmination of the graveside service:

We now commit the body of our brother/sister to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.

May God the Father, who created this body; may God the X Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be his temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen.

Death is our lot. It is the wages of sin. We will suffer the separations caused by death until our Lord returns. Come, Lord Jesus! But, we have the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We have the promise of a joyful reunion with those who are asleep in Christ. We have the promise of being with our Lord, Jesus Christ forever. The Crucified One has risen from the dead to make it so. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.