Saturday, November 29, 2008

Isa.63.16b-17.64.1-8; 1st Sunday in Advent; November 27, 2005

O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. 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. (Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1-8, ESV)

(from a sermon by Rev. Daniel N. Jastram, CPR)

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

Advent is a time, the season before Christmas when we think about and prepare for the arrival of our Lord, Jesus Christ. God in a manger, gentle animals peering in, shepherds look on in wonder. It’s an important picture in our minds. It’s very important to prepare before we celebrate Jesus becoming a human being. But there is another emphasis that’s brought out by Holy Scripture today. Isaiah’s words about God coming don’t sound so gentle. He paints a picture of mountains crumbling and rivers boiling. In fact, Isaiah is calling upon God to come and destroy all that’s wrong in the world. “Burn up my enemies. Wipe out all the trouble in the world! Get rid of what’s wrong!” In a way he’s saying, “Visit us, and take care of us!”

Now maybe you’ve shouted something like that to God, too. In fact, I think, there are times in our lives when we are more impressed by what feels like God’s absence than His presence. When we run into trouble or hardship we ask the “Where was God?” question. You know; “Where was God, when the Tsunami killed thousands of people? Where was God when the plane crashed? Where was God when I lost my job, or my crops failed? Where was God when I had to move out of my home? Where was God when my husband/wife died of cancer? Where was God when the accident took away my child?” It’s like asking if God is really “there” for us when we need him most. God’s people have felt like this every since Adam and Eve left the garden. King David knew the feeling too! He wrote in Psalm 13, How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? (v1) If you’ve ever been in the hospital, suffered the loss of a loved one, or spent a holiday alone, you know the feeling. You just want to shout out to God and say, “God, visit me, be with me now, and take care of me!”

Those of us sitting around here this morning aren’t the only ones who have this feeling, about wanting God around. In fact, several years ago there was a very popular show on TV, called Joan of Arcadia. It’s was show all about God, and God being among us. I think the opening song written by Joan Osborn covers this idea pretty well.

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

While the show had its theological problems, it emphasizes the human desire to have God at hand, to be able to talk to Him, especially when things aren’t going well; to have God visit us, be with us and take care of us, is a common human feeling.

That’s just what Isaiah is asking God to do. Visit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would do just that? But, Isaiah quickly backs off the idea. God had already visited them, in fact. The Assyrian army trampled the northern part of the kingdom. And Isaiah prophesied that they would tromp right down to the gates of Jerusalem and flatten the temple too. God was visiting them, their sins brought God’s judgment, and God was visiting them in the Assyrian army. The people of God couldn’t deny that they had fallen into terrible sin. They are a people who continue to sin; who are “unclean”; whose “righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”; who “fade like a leaf”; whose “iniquities, like the wind, take [them] away” (64:6 ESV); among whom “there is no one who calls upon [God’s] name, who rouses himself to take hold of you.” All of their sin brought terrible judgment. Judgment that was visited upon them. That’s not exactly the “stranger on the bus” from Joan Osbourne’s lyrics, is it?

That’s the problem with God coming to be with us. We might want Him to take care of everything that’s wrong with the world. But are we sure that when He comes we won’t be the object of His justice? Are we sure that when He comes He won’t pour out His anger on us? Are we sure that we’re not the problem? And that’s just what Isaiah realized. If God comes, He would destroy them, because of their sin. That’s us too, because of sin, we are what’s wrong with the world. We can’t deny our sinfulness. Well, and we don’t really. We say it here Sunday after Sunday. Our lives are a dreadfully sinful state of affairs. Sin clings to our every thought, word and deed. Even the good stuff we do is polluted by it. We are full of self interest and self serving. We are quick to speak harsh words and quick to be angry. Our first thought when we are asked to help, is “What do I get out of it?”

I love the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” There are times when the cartoonist is so profound in what he says and he hits the nail precisely on the head. One example is when Calvin is talking to his imaginary pet tiger while careening down “Dismemberment Gorge” on a sled. “Christmas is getting near, huh?” the tiger asks. “You got it,” says Calvin. “I’ve been wondering though,” he thoughtfully continues, “Is it truly being good if the only reason I behave is so I can get more loot at Christmas? Is that good enough or do I have to be good in my heart and spirit? Do I really have to be good or do I just have to act good?” The furry Hobbes answers, “I guess in your case, Santa will just have to take what he can get.” “Ok, so exactly how good do you think I have to act? Really good, or just pretty good?” You see, Calvin understands his true human nature. Even when he tries to be good he knows he’s really doing it for selfish reasons. And the reason we like cartoons like that is that they speak to us, just as we know we are.

This Advent, as we look forward (or not) to God visiting us, we remember that the baby in the manger is the same one who will come again in judgment. We have to acknowledge that we stand before God, sinful and unclean.

Ah, but there a “rest of the story” in this waiting, isn’t there? Just like the television asks, just like Isaiah wanted, God has already become one of us. He has already visited us, not bearing his arm in anger, in naked, terrifying power. He came naked, bare and helpless, as a tiny baby. He came to bare his back to the smiters, to bear everything that’s wrong with the world—and everything that’s wrong with us—to the cross.

Isaiah also said it this way,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV)

God’s people back then held fast to the confidence they had in God. They even called God by his saving name. “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” (63:16 ESV) Isaiah calls God “Redeemer” over and over again in his book. He used that name for God to remind God’s people that God is faithful to His promises, especially His promise to save. Just as He had saved them from slavery in Egypt, He promises to save again.

But that’s not all. Isaiah also calls God, “our Father.” We do it all the time, whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But in those days they didn’t. In fact, it happens only 15 times in the OT scriptures and three of those times are in these few verses. When Isaiah calls God, Father, he’s emphasizing the relationship God’s people have with Him. He’s giving them a basis for their confidence. Because no matter how rich, warm, comforting, and embracing or how shallow, self-serving, faulty, or incomplete our experience of fatherly love from our earthly fathers may have been, it is only a pale, sinful reflection of our heavenly Father’s love. You see, God’s Fatherly love for us is perfect. God’s perfect love for His people is acted out in ways that are always for our benefit. It’s hard for us always to see it that way. Especially when painful things happen and we don’t feel like God is around at all. But that’s not His promise to us. He promises to be right in the midst of even our painful experiences. We can endure those painful times…

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:2-6, ESV)

That’s the confidence we have, that when God visits us it is always in love.

He makes his love personally clear to us in his means of grace. He comes here in his Word and Sacraments. We can have absolute confidence in the good news that He forgives all our sins through Christ’s death on the cross. We can be absolutely assured of that forgiveness through Baptism and the presence of His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. You see, God comes to us right here through these things, too. We have every reason to be confident in the coming of Christ through the forgiveness of sins!

This Advent, we look forward to the coming of Christ, our Savior. That’s because He is God, himself, coming to save us. We are confident in His coming because He came 2000 years ago, the newborn infant, to fulfill God’s promise to save us from sin. And He visits us right now as our means-of-grace Savior, too. His Word encourages and His Sacraments build up our faith. And those troubles that we face, those too are God visiting us in love. He visits that way so that we are drawn closer to Him in our need. Whenever God visits us we can say with Isaiah, 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. (Isa 64:8 ESV). Amen.

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

Luke.17.11-19; Thanksgiving Evening; November 26, 2008;

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19, ESV)

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

“And as he entered a village, [Jesus] was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance” they were unclean, it was all they could do… stand at a distance. No one would tolerate their presence any other way. The disease that plagued them, leprosy, was plain for all to see. You could only cover up so much… but, hands showed, and faces… you couldn’t hide the white glossy skin or the black rotting spots, you couldn’t hide the missing fingers and swollen feet. Leprosy was obvious, and it made them unclean. All they could do was stand at a distance and shout hoping that Jesus would hear them. All they could do was believe that if he heard them he would do what he had done for others. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us! Heal us. Take away these awful spots… remove this uncleanness.” Jesus had done it before. He could do it again.

Annabelle felt dirty, and nothing seemed to take it away. She showered five or six times a day, but nothing helped. In her mind she knew that it wasn’t her fault, she had been careful, she had followed all the rules… she never walked at night alone, she avoided dark places, she was always alert to the danger, but it caught her by surprise. It was a public place, but still no one seemed to notice. No one came to help her. The rape made her feel dirty. And even now, months later it made here feel sick. She just couldn’t get over the shameful feelings that overwhelmed her. Her attacker had been caught, he was convicted, he was guilty not her. She knew it. “So why do I feel guilty?” she asked herself. “Other people must feel it, too.” She saw how friends avoided her. Somehow she was ‘tainted.’ They never knew what to say, it was easier to just keep a distance. It just felt better that way. Annabelle felt abandoned, outcast and alone. And she called out to God too, from a distance. How could he love her? How could she come into his presence? She was dirty. She was unclean.

We know what it means to be unclean. It is a violation of what should be. We are repulsed by rotten food, blood, and skin diseases. All we want to do is turn away from it and put as much distance as possible between ourselves and the ‘unclean’ thing.

These feelings are only a small window into the uncleanness that all people have in God’s sight. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV) “Be perfectly clean, without spot or blemish!” It’s a demand we can’t abide. We know the uncleanness that plagues all people. We know dirt, and filth. We know we are tainted, unclean, and polluted; we’ve seen it in others… “He sure got his hands dirty on that deal.” We say about a shady business. We see it in ourselves. It is there just below the surface; lurking about… thoughts of selfishness, greed, and desire. We know ‘unclean’ and we know we are it.

God is holy and perfect. If we are not perfectly perfect, completely clean, we are offensive to him. If we are unclean He cannot tolerate our presence. We cannot have access to him; he will not come near us, as long as we remain contaminated. We cannot scrub ourselves clean. Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord God. (Jeremiah 2:22, ESV) Our uncleanness leaves us abandoned, outcast and alone.

But, God has come near to us. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" the Lepers shouted. Jesus saw them, and he healed them. He made them clean. He removed their disease and he sent them to the priests to have them declared ‘clean.’ They would offer a sacrifice to God. A blood offering, to announce that they were free from the disease, they were clean. Jesus drew near to them by healing them.

Jesus drew near to us when He entered our contaminated world. He came to us, perfectly clean, perfectly holy, perfectly human, perfectly God. And he came to wash us clean. He didn’t come only to clean diseases of the skin he came to clean the disease of the heart. The inner uncleanness that lies just below the surface. The dirt that we can’t clean, he washes clean by shedding his holy and precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. His blood does what we cannot. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” (Psalm 52:2,7, ESV) We cry for mercy. “Oh Lord, have mercy… I am unclean… I have sinned against you, in thought word and deed.” He answers our prayers. “I forgive you. I make you clean. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7, ESV) God no longer recoils from us. He comes near to us. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I promise you my presence. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, ESV)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (Ephesians 5:25-26, ESV) This was the verse Annabelle clung to. “… washing with water through the word.” Whenever, she felt dirty and defiled, she turned to what God had done for her in Baptism. God had cleaned her, he had accepted her, and he had drawn near to her. “…wash me and I will be clean.” She would say to herself as she made the sign of the cross. She remembered that she had been saved by the blood of Christ, and washed clean, even if she didn’t always feel clean. She knew it was true because God had promised it. “Thank you Jesus for making me clean.” She prayed. “Rise and go, your faith has made you clean.” God says to her.

As the ten men walked down the road toward the temple the suddenly began to realize that each one of them had been healed. Gone were the sores. Gone were the dark rotting spots… they were clean, totally, utterly clean. The looked at one another in amazement, and they began to run… to the temple… to the presence of God. But one of them stopped, “to the presence of God?!?” He said. He knew were God was. He knew who had cleansed him. He knew where he had to go. He turned around and ran even faster. “Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!” he said with each step louder and louder as he approached the presence of Jesus. He threw himself at Jesus feet, wrapped his arms around him. “Thank you! Jesus. Praise God!” he shouted. “I’m clean!” “Arise and go, your faith has made you clean.” Jesus said to him.

The leper was made clean. Annabelle was made clean. We have been made clean. No longer are we abandoned, outcast and alone. No longer do we shrink from God’s presence, nor does he recoil at ours. He came to us in Jesus Christ to cleanse us from our sins. He comes to us with his presence as we gather here in this place. “Thank you Jesus for making us clean.” We say. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Matt.25.31-46; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 23, 2008

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, ESV)

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

As I’ve been studying to prepare the Word for Today devotions I’ve been reading some in the book of Revelation. On Wednesday the reading out of Revelation ends this way:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20, ESV)

Jesus is coming, soon! It’s that time of the church year when set aside some significant time to talk about it. Jesus is coming, soon! He says. That is what we confess to believe every Sunday as a part of the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. We believe that Our Lord,

will come to judge the living and the dead.

We say. It’s a day we claim to look forward to. A day of great joy, a wonderful day, but is it? Really? Is it good news or bad news that Jesus is coming again? Is it something to look forward to or something to dread? << pause >> And the answer is… “yes!” At least that what the prophet Malachi called it; a great and terrible day (Malachi 4:5). And it will be a day of terror and a day of joy, a day of singing and a day of weeping. Which one it will be for you, depends entirely on what you are. Jesus puts it very clear He says the difference between weeping and singing and joy and terror is based on being a sheep or a goat. A song the kids love to sing has some significance as we talk about judgment day. It goes like this:

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)
I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)
(Words and Music by Brian M. Howard)

And when I look at what happens to the goats, that song really echoes through my mind.

‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

I just wanna be a sheep!

So what does the text tell us about how to be a sheep and not a goat? What is the key to judgment day? When we are standing before the Great Judge, Jesus Christ, how does he know that we are really sheep and not goats? Let’s look at the passage again.

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Well, that doesn’t sound too hard. It sounds pretty much like taking care of people who are in need. You don’t have to go very far to find people who are in need. But, it’s interesting that the sheep are surprised. “Lord when did we do these things?” the sheep say. Maybe Jesus words surprise us to because as Lutherans we confess that our works don’t save us. We say that there is nothing that we can do to get us right with God. In the confirmation class we talk about Luther’s words on the Third Article,

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”

And yet this judgment that Jesus is talking about here seems to be based on works? As far as the goats are concerned they were doing good stuff, they are surprised, because they thought they were doing them for Jesus. And the goats seem to be just as surprised. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” Lord, we fed the hungry and sent clothes to those who needed it, we built hospitals and help prisoners reform, we did all these things how is it that we missed you? So if both the sheep and the goats are doing the very same things how is the judgment made? How is it that the judge puts some on the right and some on the left? I just wanna be a sheep.

It would be easy to say that the works here are the evidence of faith. After all faith without works is dead St. James tells us. (James 2:26) So maybe Jesus is looking at the works here as evidence of faith and judging us accordingly. Maybe that’s what’s going on here. But, if that is the case I think that we all might be in trouble. I’ve heard it asked this way before: If you were put on trial what evidence would there be to convict you of being a Christian. Would there be enough, have you done enough good stuff in your life that people would look at you and say, “there goes a Christian.” I’ve got to admit I don’t think my stack of good stuff is all that high compared to some others. There was a rich young man that came to Jesus once, and he wanted to know what he could do to earn eternal life. Actually he was asking how to be a sheep. Jesus told him to keep the commandments perfectly. “Ok!” the young man said, “I’ve got that handled, I’m doing just that right now.” But Jesus quickly accused him of breaking the first commandment, love God above anything else. “If you really love God above everything, sell everything you have and give the money all away, and follow me.” The man left dejected. He loved his money too much to give it up. He didn’t keep that one commandment perfectly so he shattered the whole bunch. If we want to set our works up for God to look and judge they will be found faulty. If you want to be judged by your works God will do it, but you’ll fall short of his demand that you be perfect. I just wanna be a sheep.

What’s worse is the bible clearly teaches that we will all be judged, without exception. St. Paul writes,

"For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So each of us shall give an account of himself to God" (Rom 14:10-12).

Again the apostle writes,

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

So, how can judgment day be anything but bad news for us? I just wanna be a sheep!

Let’s look at the text again. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. It’s a sorting job. Just like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, like a child separates dimes from quarters, pennies from nickels, after breaking the piggy bank. During the day the sheep and goats live together, and before the bank is broken all the coins are in it the same container. At night the shepherd sorts the animals into different pens, the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. When the bank is full it’s time to sort the savings. The truth is that Jesus very often talked about judgment as sorting. The wheat is sorted from the weeds, the chaff from the grain, and clean fish from unclean. Judgment is sorting. Before the sorting is done everything is together. Before the end we live together right now, believers and unbelievers. We are all treated alike. Rain falls on us all. We are all plagued by the same illnesses, and problems; cancer and clogged arteries. We all suffer from the same family issues; dysfunction and divorce. We all live and we all die, just the same. And we will all be sorted, in the end. Sheep on the right and goats on the left… then our works will be judged. And that is the key. Our works will be judged, but we will not be judged by our works. You see the sorting of judgment on the last day isn’t based on what you have done or left undone, but on what you are. Are you a sheep? Then you go to the right. Are you a goat? Then you go to the left. It’s as simple as sorting coins on the desk. What you are determines where you go. It doesn’t have anything to do with what you have done. On the right hand is blessings, inheritance and praise for the imperfect works you have done. On the left is curses, punishment and condemnation for the works you did for the wrong reasons, or didn’t do at all; Life eternal on the one side and eternal fire on the other. It comes back to that question I asked at the beginning, “Are you a sheep, or a goat?” I just wanna be a sheep (Baa Baa Baa Baa)!

There is blessing on the right for the sheep.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’

The sheep receive a gift that has been in the works since the very beginning. God has been at work preparing the gift of salvation for them even before they were born. And the key word there is inheritance. It isn’t wages for good work done. An inheritance isn’t based on what you’ve done but the promises and good grace of the person who gives it.

God has been working on your salvation since the foundation of the world was laid. He made His promise to Adam and Eve in the garden for you and for your salvation. For you he called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For you he guided Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness in the Promised Land. For you He caused His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, the Son who suffered, died, and rose again, for you. He took your imperfect sinful works and deeds to the cross and suffered God’s anger for not placing him first in everything. God brought you to His Word and to Holy Baptism that connects you to all that Jesus does for you. He brought you here today to hear His Word. Everything has been worked out so that Christ could hand you the kingdom on the Last Day and say, "Come, my blessed one, my sheep, and inherit the Kingdom that has been prepared for you.” I just wanna be a sheep!

And so I ask the question again? How do you know if you are a sheep or a goat? If you’re still trying to line up all your good works as proof you’re looking at the wrong place. If you’re trying to look into your heart to discover if you “truly believe” you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re looking to anything you’ve done, even if you’re depending on a decision to “accept Christ,” or “Make Jesus ‘Lord’ of your life” your placing your faith on you and not on Christ. If you want to know if you are a sheep or a goat you have to look to what God does instead of what you do. You see, you are a sheep because God has made you one. Look for something in his heart instead of your heart. Look for something he has done for you instead of what you have done for him. That’s the greatest thing about being his sheep. We never have to worry about not being one. God not only gives us the gift of faith we need to believe in Jesus, that is he makes us sheep, but he makes sure we know exactly who is getting the gift.

A few weeks ago we had a baptism at the hospital. Later today to have one here. At this font right there God is going to make another sheep. In a room at the hospital with family gathered around, God made another sheep. We won’t have any question about who God doing all the wonderful things he’s going to do. All we have to do is ask the question, “Whose head got wet?” Little Sylus’s head got wet, Kaylynn’s head is gonna get wet and God is going to line them up for the inheritance of eternal life. He’s made them a member of the family of God. He’s going to cancel all their sin by putting it in Jesus’ cross. And all their lives they are going to be able to know that they are a sheep because of what God is doing through His Word of promise given with the water.

Now since last week was Martin Luther’s birthday I can’t help quoting him one more time:


How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying" (Titus 3:5-8).

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa…). So how can I know that I am? All I have to do is ask the question I asked about those little babies? When God brought you to the font, when God made promises of forgiveness and life and salvation, whose head got wet? It was yours… that’s when you became God’s sheep. That’s when all the promises God has made have become promise to you. I just wanna be a sheep (baa…). And I am. Amen.

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

I am deeply honored! to be chosen Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week!

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While I am honored at being chosen as "Blog of The Week" I must defer the honor to the creator of the video.

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I failed to give credit where credit is due.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Matthew.25.14-30; 27th Sunday after Pentecost; November 16, 2008


image “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘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.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘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.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV)

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

Uh Oh! I know that story. We’re about to be hit with a “stewardship” sermon. Pastor is about to tell us the church needs money. He’s about to tell us that this parable tells us not to waste the “talents” we’ve been given. Here we are in the middle of an international financial crisis and we’re going to be told to open our wallets and give to the church. Well, the truth is, the church does need the money and you shouldn’t waste the talents that God gives you. You will hear soon here about how the church does need money to operate. But, in fact, this parable isn’t about money or stewardship at all. It is probably one of the most misinterpreted parables of all time. That’s because, in spite of how you might have heard it before, this parable isn’t a stewardship parable. One reason for the trouble is the word “talent.” In Jesus day a “talent” was an average daily wage. We confuse that word with the things that we are able to do. The varying gifts we’ve been given to do this or that. I think we would better understand this parable if the word “talent” were replaced with the word “coin.”

One pastor I know always says that a parable is a story that’s not talking about what it is talking about. You know a parable about shepherds and sheep isn’t talking about how you are to be a shepherd. A parable about plants and gardening is about how you get to be a prize winning gardener. A parable about a father and his two sons isn’t about parenting. A parable about money isn’t about finances. So this parable about money isn’t really about money.

So what is it about? Matthew, the Gospel writer, tells us, but we have to go back to verse three in this chapter. The disciples and Jesus sat around talking. The disciples ask a question and Jesus answers it. The question is,

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt 25:3, ESV)

The guys want to know what the signs that Jesus is coming again will be. He tells them by stacking up a bunch of parables. This one about the “talents” or “coins” is one of them. So, according to Jesus, this parable is really about Jesus and his return, not about us and how we are to be faithful with our talents. That fits the rule I told you about parables too. If we find a way to make Jesus the main character then, then we’ll be much closer to understanding what the parable is all about.

In this parable then Jesus is the man who went away and left his servants in charge of some of his money. Some invest it and one hides it in the ground. When the master returns he has praise and criticism for them. When Jesus praises people it is always because of faith. Jesus criticizes unbelief. The guys who invest the money do so because they believe that the master will return. They have faith. They’ve been given something to do and they do it because they believe the master is coming back. The servant who buried the coin in the ground lacks that faith. The task they’ve been given is to take the master’s money and use it in the community on behalf of the master. When they invest it has to be in the master’s name. The guy who buries the coin is unwilling even to put it on deposit, because that too must be done in the master’s name. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s connected to the master. Better to bury the coin and forget all about it. He can go about his own business in his own name. He doesn’t really believe the master will return. He has no faith in the master. He doesn’t believe he will have to be accountable for what he’s been given.

So this parable is about faith and Jesus. Faith shows itself is the fruit it bears. We either work for the Jesus, who has given us good gifts to share in his name, or we work for ourselves. We either anticipate Jesus return to earth with joy or we will see him as a cruel judge when he does return.

But I think one thing more than anything else makes this parable come alive. And that’s pushing the coins as far away from the word “talents” as possible. If we look at the gifts, the coins given freely, as the forgiveness that God gives us freely for the sake of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, I think it all comes clear. When we see it this way, the gift and the giver become the most important thing in the parable. The master who goes away is Jesus who gives us forgiveness of sin. He is going to return. Each person receives, by God’s grace, the forgiveness that is needed. It’s not about the amount but the grace, the giving, the gift. The gift flows out of us to everyone around us. We pray this in The Lord’s Prayer, forgive us as we forgive. When we believe we are forgiven, when we receive the coin, forgiveness flows out to others. Two coins turn into four. Five coins turn into ten. It isn’t our work at all, it is God’s work. It’s the coin doing what coins do; forgiveness doing what forgiveness does. (and much of it we don’t even know is happening. But that’s left for a fuller discussion next week with the parable of the sheep and goats.) All the modern translations hide this point when they add the word “done” to the master’s reaction to the increase (it isn’t in the original Greek). ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,” Would be a much better translated, “Very well, my good and faithful servant.” “Well done” places the work in our laps, and puts us at the center of the parable instead of Jesus and his forgiveness.

So what about the guy who buried the coin? He is rejecting forgiveness. Dear Christians, make no mistake about it, this is us when we are shown our sin and refuse to see it clearly. This is us when we carve out exception for our own sin. We think God makes exceptions for us and our sin because we’ve earned it, because we are good church members, fill the collection plate, or through our hard work and perseverance have keep the church doors open. “If I come to church faithfully on Sunday, I can do whatever I want on Saturday.” And this is us when we think that our suffering, our trouble, or our pain entitle us to continue to live in sin. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy? This is about love not rules.” This is just burying the coin, rejecting forgiveness. And let’s be clear here. You are probably looking around to your favorite target of this condemnation. “Go get ‘em pastor. I know someone who really needs to hear this.” But before you point your finger at your friend / neighbor / relative point it first at yourself. You are guilty of burying the coin, rejecting God’s forgiveness, continuing in your pet sin, and wanting to live for yourself. You and I live every day as if we really don’t believe we are accountable for what we’ve been given. We live every day as if Jesus really isn’t returning. And what does Jesus say about that?

‘You wicked and slothful servant! … take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Hell bound. That’s me. Hell bound. That’s you. Well, at least that’s what would be true, except for the gift, except for God’s grace, except for God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This is exactly why God’s grace is grace. We are lost on our own. We would reject the gift of forgiveness completely, out right, because we have no faith without it being given to us. We would have no way of holding on to forgiveness unless the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to show us our sin and our need for it. And that he does.

The coin, forgiveness is given to you. God has given you faith, first to see that you need it for yourself, and then to see that what you need your neighbor needs, your children need, your parents need, your pastor needs, in fact the whole world needs. And here is where five coins makes five more. Jesus is really returning. He has given us the greatest gift we could ever have. We have it for ourselves. We have it for our neighborhood, and town, state, nation and world. As we share what we’ve been given, God makes it grow. It will be seen clearly when Our Savior returns and says, “very well, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Article in the Lutheran Witness

image I have another article in the Lutheran Witness...

Unfortunately, if you don't have the print version you'll have to wait a while (usually until the next release) to read the whole article here:


Catalog of Articles in the "Witness"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank a Veteran Today.

image Today is Veteran's day. I remember my father telling me about his experiences in WWII. I can't begin to imagine what it was like to sail the pacific, land at Iwo-Jima, see friends killed violently, walk along the bloody beach, and face down aircraft bent on your death. I've spoken to the Vietnam Vets; again slogging through the jungle, crawling in rathole tunnels, and living wet every day. My nephew is in Iraq, he talks about being board and frightened at the same time, with an enemy who you can't tell from your friends.  War is hell. Yet, these men (and women) have endured it. They've seen death at its worst, boredom and the extreme, and unimaginable terror... for our freedom. It has been said

"If you can vote, exercise free speech, criticize your government, or practice your faith openly... thank a veteran." (Gene Veith)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Matt.25.1-13; Twenty-sixth S. a. Pent., November 9, 2005

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

Well, here we go again! Another Sermon on the "End of Time?" We get to the end of the church year and zing, zing, zing. We get inundated with this "last days" stuff. Don't you pastors ever get tired of this topic? We know Jesus is coming again. We know that there will be a great feast that day. We know all the dead will rise and we will be reunited with our loved ones. We know that there will be "wars and rumors" and we know that there will trouble and persecution before he comes again. But, after four or five Sundays we get kind of tired of the topic. (The first 2 Sunday’s in December will have the topic too!) Do we have to listen to another one? Don't you think we are ready?

That’s the real question here. Are we ready? That is what this text wants us to think about. In Jesus usual way he asks that question by telling us a story. Actually this story falls in the middle of a long discourse on the end of time. Right before this one, He tells us about a wicked servant who isn’t prepared because his master returns before he is expected. Kind of like the teenagers who throw a party while their parents are out of town for the weekend. But, the parents return on Saturday night and find the party in full swing. Then he tells us this story about the ten virgins. The previous story tells us that we must be ready because he may come earlier than we expect. The story in our text tells us that he might come later than we expect. So which is it? It’s both, and neither. Jesus’ point is that we can’t know the time. He is simply telling us that we need to be prepared. The whole thing is about preparation not timing. The story goes like this…

There once was group of young women. They were friends and you probably will have something in common with them, you will probably relate to them at least a little because they in grew up in a small town. These ten girls were very good friends, they did everything together.

Now it is important that even though they had a lot in common, these friends could be divided into two totally separate and different groups. Five of the girls were rather practical. They always seemed to be thinking ahead, prepared for what ever might happen. The other five… well that's another story. This second five girls were well, foolish. They had their heads in the clouds. They were always thinking about other things than what was important at the time.

Now these wise and foolish women friends were just like lots of kids who live in small towns, they were convinced that nothing very exciting ever happened to them. So you can understand how excited they were when one day the received some very important news. The news was big, one of their friends was betrothed to be married. In case you are wondering, in those days a betrothal was a yearlong engagement that went before a wedding. Betrothal was a big deal. It meant there was going to be a big party, well, actually two parties. There would be one party now, at the betrothal and one and for the wedding next year. Actually it was more like one yearlong excuse to celebrate with a little celebration to start and a gigantic one to cap it all off. Oh, sure people still had to work in between, but the party, the celebration, lasted the whole year.

The girl friends were excited. They especially looked forward to the wedding party itself. It would begin on the assigned wedding day and last for at least seven days afterward. The wedding day was the day when the bride actually went to live with her husband. He would dress in his best clothes, gather his closest friends and family, and parade over to the bride's house. The proud father of the bride would be waiting for him. And so would our girls. You see they were the bride's friends. It would be their job to escort the groom and the bride in a fiery procession through town. It would be a huge parade leading the new family to their new home. It was a great honor to be selected.

Well, the year went rather quickly and the day of the bridal parade soon arrived. There was excitement everywhere. The girls could hardly wait for dark to go and wait for the groom. What fun it would be to parade with their lamps burning brightly, through town. How often did one of your friends get married after all?

We should take just a moment to describe their lamps. They play an important role in the story too. You see they were more like torches. A long stick with a piece of cloth tied to the end. The idea is that you would soak the cloth in oil and light it. The oil would burn brightly and the cloth would act more like a wick. After about fifteen minutes the flame would go out. Then you would take the cloth soak it in the oil again and re-light it. The most important thing about the whole process is the oil. The most important thing about the way the lamps are supposed to work is the oil. Without oil all you would have was a very short-lived flame, without any oil the cloth just burns up and the light will flicker out in a few seconds.

Well back to the story. The day of the wedding party had finally arrived. Darkness set in, the wise women, and their foolish friends, gathered with their torch lamps. There was a difference, however. The wise girls brought oil for theirs. The foolish girls didn't. Now remember that the torches are no good without oil. There is no good reason not to bring it. And remember, it isn't that they didn't bring enough. They didn't bring any. The purpose of the lamps was to light the wedding procession; they were not used as a flashlight while they waited. Like so many other foolish actions it really doesn't make any sense. The foolish girls simply didn't do what was necessary. No sensible girl would make this mistake. At any rate, the girls, each confident in their preparations waited for the groom. They waited long after dark. Soon they became sleepy. They huddled together and fell asleep. Suddenly, later in the night there was a loud voice. "Girls! He's coming! Get ready to meet him. Finally he is here!" The long awaited time had arrived. The girls rose from their nap and prepared their lamps. They cut off the charred strands and soaked the cloth in oil (that is, if they had any). Soon each was burning brightly. Now it was apparent, at least to the foolish five, that there was something wrong. Their lamps sputtered out after only a few seconds. "Oh, we need oil.” They said to themselves. They tried to get some from their friends. "You can't use ours; there simply isn't enough for your lamps and ours. If you use our oil we won't have enough to light the whole parade. If you would use some of ours, before the end of the parade, we will all be in the dark. Maybe there is time for you to go and buy some now!" The suggestion was hollow, no shopkeeper held such late hours. Unless they had purchased oil before there was little hope of getting any. Still, the foolish girls left immediately to seek out the nonexistent shops. And of course, no sooner had they gotten out of sight, than the bridegroom arrived and the celebrating began. Everyone left for the party; lighted by the light of the wise women’s lamps. Everyone that is, except the oil seekers.

After a time those girls also arrived at the party. I don't know if they actually found oil or not, but that really doesn’t matter. They had already missed the parade, the time and purpose for the lamps and oil was past. When they got to the bridegrooms house, they found the door was closed and locked. They stood for a long while wondering what they should do. Finally one of them knocked on the door. "Hello! Hello! We have arrived! Please let us in to the party." After some time the groom himself came to the door. "Who do you think you are!" he answered. "You had a very important role to play in my wedding. Instead you acted like a stranger. You didn't make the necessary preparations. You are not the friends I had thought you were. Since you acted like you didn't know me, I tell you the truth, I don't know you." And with that, he closed the door with a very loud thud. After a brief silence, the sound of the party inside resumed, and the girls were left standing outside, surprised and alone.

And bridegroom, that is our Lord Jesus, said. "Therefore keep watch, be prepared, because you do not know the day or the hour." Be prepared! Don't be like the foolish girls. Jesus the bridegroom is coming to claim his bride, the church. He is coming to claim you and me. We don't know when he will come. Jesus tells us, “Hey, it may be sooner than you expect! Or it could be later than you expect! The main thing is that you are ready whenever it happens.”

And you ask, “How can we be ready.” Well it’s not rocket science; the foolish girls had no excuse for not bringing oil. They knew it was necessary for the lamps to burn. They simply didn’t do the obvious things necessary to be prepared. That’s why they were foolish. When we neglect to prepare, we too, are foolish. It isn’t difficult. We know what to do. God has given us this house of worship. We are foolish when we are unprepared by neglecting to worship here. He has given us opportunities to study his word, to read, mark and inwardly digest it. We are foolish when we make excuse after excuse, and don't come. Jesus Christ has given us his very own body and blood as spiritual food, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. We are foolish when we refuse to receive it, or think that we don’t need it very often. Jesus calls to us to pray, ask anything in my name, and I will give it. We are foolish when we doubt his promise. "Make disciples," he says. And we foolishly sit at home watching television. You see, it isn't difficult. The prepared girls had the oil they needed. It was available, and easy to get. We can be prepared just as well. What we need is available and easy to get.

The foolish girls acted as if they didn’t care. They acted as if the wedding feast didn’t really matter. They neglected their relationship to the bridegroom. When they tried to enter the feast the bridegroom said he didn’t know them, because they didn’t act as if they knew him. If we neglect worship, prayer and God’s word, when we stay away from the gifts Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Supper, we neglect the relationship that Jesus Christ won for us. He cared so much for us that he suffered and died on the cross to build a relationship with God for us. Christians walk in dangerous territory when they neglect their relationship God. St. Paul talked about some who had made a shipwreck of their faith. If you neglect your spouse he/she will soon wonder if you really love them. Our relationship with God needs attention, too. And the best part about the attention it needs is that God has provided everything, God has done everything, God asks nothing of you than to receive His wonderful gift of faith. And this place of worship is where it happens. This altar is where Jesus comes to you in the body and blood that hung on the cross bleeding and dying for you. This font of water is where God brings faith and makes you His friend.

The difference between the wise and the foolish girls isn’t that the wise ones were better; the story says they were prepared. They were prepared because of their relationship to the bridegroom. They did the necessary preparations because they were anticipating the celebration with the bridegroom. The foolish girls may have had their minds on the party, on who would be there and what they would be wearing. The wise ones concentrated on being the guests of the bridegroom. They were thinking about celebrating the great day with him. When he came they were prepared go with him, and light the way as they were asked to do. Because of their relationship they were inside when the door was shut.

Thanks be to Jesus Christ, he has forgiveness for foolish people. In fact His forgiveness is bigger than our foolishness. When we stand before God and our foolish sins weight us down... When we see how our foolishness separates us from him… gets in the way of our relationship. We confess, "I, a poor miserable, foolish sinner, confess unto thee all my foolishness…” Jesus reaches out to embrace us with his forgiveness, saying, “I forgive you, my dear child. You are clothed in my righteousness, it was purchased at great cost because I love you, even your foolishness cannot separate you from me.” The Bridegroom Jesus restores our relationship and our foolishness melts away.

The Bridegroom is coming sooner or later. We are prepared. We live in his forgiveness that melts away a lifetime of foolishness. We are prepared because he restores our broken relationship. He invites us into the wedding party, and so we wait patiently, for him to arrive. When the cry is heard, 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ we will rise and meet him; we have been prepared. And the party will begin. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Matt.5.1-12; All Saints Day, November 2, 2008;

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:1-12, ESV)

(Adapted from a sermon by Dale Meyer)

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

There is a kind of theme for the sermon today. That theme is “Blessed beyond belief.” That’s what Jesus words in the Gospel lesson tell us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who hunger and thirst…” “Blessed beyond Belief.” These words remind us that we are God’s Saints, who have been blessed by God… beyond belief.

It is very fitting to talk about the blessing of God on a day like today. Look around you at your blessed brothers and sisters in Christ. Right now we are receive the blessing of God in this place… having His word come into our ears by being poured into our ears. In a little bit we’ll gather again at this altar and we’ll be blessed with more of the same as we open our mouths and God pours forgiveness right down our throats. Over and over again in this place God pours His forgiveness over the head of a person with the gift of the Holy Spirit connected to God’s name and water. Just as he did this week with Sylus at the hospital. What wonderful blessings these things are… you might say blessings… beyond belief. Today we’ll also remember the blessing of God on those who have died this year. Don, Glen, Elsa, Ray, Ruben, Jean, Rose, Erwin, Roberta, Erin, and others… We’ll read their names and thank God that he blessed them in life, but even more so that they came to a blessed death, through faith in Jesus. That’s the kind of stuff Jesus is talking about in these words for today.

But for the moment I’d like us to forget about being blessed, both the spiritual and the physical blessings that I’ve been talking about. I’d like us to forget about that list of names we’re going to read. And even forget about the hope you and I share in Christ that we will be with Jesus when we die. Right now I’d like to look at and think about that “beyond belief” part of the theme. I’d like to ask this question: “Do you and I sometimes act in ways that put the message of Jesus, ‘beyond belief’?”

There was an athlete whose name you would know, who talked about his step father, a man who claimed to be a Christian. This man spoke often of Jesus and faith. But he had a horrible temper, and would beat stepson for reasons that weren’t worth a beating, like being messy.

One time when the boy’s mother was in the hospital for surgery, he had to leave for a swim meet, and his father accompanied him. As they waited at the airport the man began to write notes on a note pad, but before he would finish he would crush them up and through them away. When he wasn’t watching the boy retrieved one of them from the trash, and read it later when he was alone. The notes were written to another woman. His stepfather was writing notes to another woman while his mother was in the hospital. (Adapted from Lance Armstrong. It’s Not About the Bike).

It wasn’t a very healthy impression of Christianity this man gave to his stepson, is it?

Now many of you could say that you haven’t sinned in a big way like that. But you could ask yourself this: Does my conduct ever put the blessings of God beyond the belief of others? Simple things like swearing, gossip, cheating, little white lies, watching pornography, speaking poorly of other people, procrastinating, etc… Jesus says, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Mt 18:7, ESV) Of course, there is forgiveness for all of these sins, that’s the greatest blessing of God through faith in Jesus, but these sins still have consequences. And sometimes one of those consequences is that when other people see us do these things it makes the blessings of God for our life in Christ unbelievable.

Every year we read this same text for “All Saint’s” day. It’s is very appropriate to do that because we remember the blessings God gives to all his saints, living and dead. But it is very easy to listen to these words of Jesus and hear them as wonderful, and they truly are wonderful words of Jesus. But when we hear them only in that way, I think we may be hearing them in a different way then Jesus intends them to be heard. We hear them as Gospel, but really to hear them as the really rich Gospel they are we should look at them in the way they are so often looked at, as law. When we hear the beautiful words “Blessed are the meek,” we are condemned for all the times we haven’t turned the other cheek. We are convicted of every time we act proud and every time we don’t even want to be meek. When we hear “Blessed are the merciful” we are reminded of the times we refuse to forgive those who sin against us. We are reminded of the times we grudgingly give to those who are in need because of how it will look for us if we don’t. “Blessed are the peacemakers” convicts us of the times we fly off the handle on minor issues, and times we carry issues to our grave instead of resolving them. And what about “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness?” We are reminded of the times we remained silent when other people spoke against the things God clearly speaks of in his word. Like failing to speak for the protection of unborn babies, or speak up supporting God’s will for marriage. Allowing our brothers and sisters even in our own congregation to go on living in sin, not being married, and saying nothing about it. I think you get the point. We can easily read these words of Jesus in a way that shows us our sin and shows it to us very clearly. That’s what the law does, it accuses us before God. God couldn’t be more clear on the subject: For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Ga 3:10, ESV) If you are thinking to yourself, it’s about time pastor got after them, you need to look at your own heart and realize that you are guilty of all of these sins.

When the law does its work we stand before God, knowing that we fit very well the first of the Beatitudes of Jesus, “poor in spirit.”

Well, we can easily think of the beatitudes a law. The truth is there’s only one person who ever fit the beatitudes perfectly. There’s only one person who they really truly describe well. It’s Jesus. I’m going to read them again and as I do I want you to think of Jesus.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:1-12, ESV)

Blessed is He! Did you hear how they fit Jesus perfectly? Did you see how he is the only one who really is what the Beatitudes say?

We say it all the time “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.” We understand that Jesus was punished in our place. But there is another reason why Jesus is our Savior. It’s not just that he died in our place, but that he also lived in our place. That law that convicts us so easily didn’t convict Jesus, he lived it perfectly his whole life, as a baby in diapers, a teenager hanging out with his friends, a young man helping his father, and as a mature man traveling about. Not only did he never break any of them but always did what they asked him to do. He kept God the Father’s will for a human life, and he kept it perfectly. That’s not like you and me at all. We want to keep God’s laws, but when the pressure is on we melt. We want to speak up against evil, but we zip our lips when we think about what people will say to us, and about us. But, not Jesus, he did it all perfectly. Blessed is He!

And yes, Jesus, God’s Blessed one, endured the pain of punishment. We don’t live a Blessed life as God would have us do, but Jesus is punished instead of us. He even suffered the punishment we deserve for making the Blessed Christian life look beyond belief for people around us. Jesus, Blessed is He! He has taken our sin and punishment. The law places a curse on us but Jesus takes that curse away from us. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Ga 3:13, ESV)

Now the question for us is this: Can we, sinners that we are, really be blessed? The great Christian writer CS Lewis wrote, speaking for Jesus:

“Give me all. I don’t want so much of your money and so much of your work—I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut of a branch here and a branch there; I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth or crown it, or stop it but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self… I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you myself; my own will shall become yours.” (CS Lewis, Beyond personality)

Well, that is beyond belief. It is totally beyond our ability to submit to God, completely enough that he can move in, take over and bring us that blessedness. Well, it would be anyway except for one thing. God promises that it is so. St. Paul reminds us that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” unless the Holy Spirit is working in him (1 Cor 12:3). God assures us that if not for the work of the Holy Spirit the blessed life of Jesus and his forgiveness would be beyond belief and beyond our reach. That is what Baptism is all about: God moving in to our lives in the person of the Holy Spirit, killing that ‘natural self’ with a drowning. God makes his home in its place.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

Do you remember memorizing these words?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

It’s Martin Luther’s explanation for the 3rd article of the Apostle’s Creed. The word Sanctified is another way of saying that we been given the blessedness of Jesus, and forgiveness, life and salvation that he won for us by his death and perfect life.

Luther continues:

In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

On the last day… that’s what we really look forward to. That is the day when the blessing that we receive will be totally beyond belief. We won’t have to live by faith anymore on that day we’ll live by sight. (2 cor 5:7) We’ll stand face to fact with God himself, without fear of punishment, with our sins forgotten and completely forgiven. We’ll stand with the other saints of God forever… saints like Don, Glen, Elsa, Ray, Ruben, Jean, Rose, Erwin, Roberta, and Erin. We’ll even stand there with some of those who we’ve offended. How many will be there? How many who first rejected the truth about Jesus but were change by the Holy Spirit? According to the author of Revelation (7:9) “A great multitude that no one could count.” That’s something to shout about. “Blessed be our Savior, Jesus Christ.!” Amen.

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