Friday, November 30, 2012

Luke 21:25-36; The First Sunday in Advent; December 2, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, it’s started. Already we’ve had the ‘busiest shopping day of the year’ and the ‘second busiest.’ Thanksgiving turkey is a leftover memory; football is a Sunday afternoon event again. The Christmas decorations are up in town; soon the church will be decked out in green boughs and candles. And the beautiful blue paraments on the altar are great. I guess it’s official the Christmas season has started. There’s going to be parties. No, eating too much doesn’t end with Thanksgiving, does it. There’s going to be wish lists made up, Christmas cookies made and maybe even a little snow (this year!). Everywhere you look people are going to be smiling, saying “Merry Christmas!” Busily going about their necessary Holiday errands. For the dark of winter, Christmas seems to perk just about everyone up. Christmas day is one of those things that just about everybody looks forward to, and prepares for. After all, it’s Christmas.
Of course in the Church it’s Advent. That’s why the blue color. For Christmas we use white. Advent is just a little different from Christmas. The Church celebrates Christmas following the birth of Jesus. We spend the weeks before Christ preparing for Christ’s coming. The radio is playing Christmas songs already, we generally hold off until January. It’s not because we are scroogy… after all the Christians have been celebrating Christmas longer than anyone. You know, it’s our holiday. It’s the birth of Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we be the ones to say how it’s done?
The word Advent means coming. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Waiting for Jesus coming. Over the years the Church has come to realize that it’s better not to jump right to Bethlehem, but rather to take some time in anticipation. And that’s what Advent is all about, anticipation.
But exactly why do we want to spend the time waiting that everyone else is spending at the party? Why do we want to think about other things when everyone else is having fun? Well, that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about in this text.
34“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:25-36 (ESV)
clip_image002One of my favorite comics is “Agnus Day.” It’s an unusual strip that matches the readings we do every Sunday in church. It always features two sheep, Rick and Ted. Rick is a sheep after my own heart because he’s always holding a cup of coffee. But unlike me he always knows what to say. This week Ted asks Rick about the word dissipation in the text. And Ted gets it right.
Dissipation: That’s what the season isn’t about. Seeking fulfillment with in the joy of the season. And as Rick the sheep says “when you wear yourself out chasing things that never really satisfy.”
Just think about it. Isn’t that what the Christmas season has really become? Isn’t that what most people are really starting up on right now? Isn’t that what you and I are starting right now? You know the feeling that I’m talking about. You think you should be happy. You think the Christmas carols should “get you in the Christmas spirit.” But they don’t seem to work. You concentrate on buying the perfect gift. After all the ‘real’ joy of the season is in giving, right? But you wonder what people are going to give you. You know the empty feeling you have when you open your own presents. And how often have you seen the same disappointed look on others faces as they opened gifts from you. So you sit down to watch one the myriad of “Christmas specials” and feel good Christmas themed programs on television. But it doesn’t really seem to make any difference. Your family is coming together for the holiday because that’s an important part of the season. But there’s always a fight of some kind or and argument leaves everyone angry or disillusioned. As the season goes on instead of getting easier to focus it gets harder. And all your ‘Christmas cheer’ has up and left. And long about the double digits of December you start to look for the end. You wish it was all over and you had everything done. Of course you can’t say anything to anyone, you don’t want to ruin the season for anyone else, because they all look like they’re having such a great time. And maybe some of them are, but you really wonder if anyone else is feeling the same way you are. Well… they are; lot’s of them. You’ve heard about the “holiday blues” they strike more people than you might think. But you just put on a brave smile and pretend that the holidays are your favorite time of the year. No one wants to be The Grinch.
You see. Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Dissipation. Chasing after things that never really satisfy. The reason why all that stuff surrounding this season feels empty is because it all really is empty. Ultimately this time before Christmas isn’t about decorating your house. It’s not about creating family memories. And it’s not even about getting our hearts ready for Christmas. It’s about Jesus. It’s about God doing something about our loneliness. It’s about God doing something about our despair. It’s about God doing something about the pain in our hearts. It’s about what God has done in Jesus.
It’s become an old cliché but it’s still one of my favorites Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas is about Jesus. Of course you agree. It’s about Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And that’s right, but if that were then end of the story we’d be right back where we started. So what if another baby is born into this world. So what if Shepherds visit him. So what… The story of Christmas isn’t just a sweet story about the birth of a baby; it’s about what that baby has been born to do.
The manger of Christmas is empty if we don’t see the shadow of the cross over it. It is on the cross that Jesus gives us the reason for the season. That baby in swaddling clothes doesn’t stay a baby, he becomes a man. And he’s not just and ordinary man; he is God himself in human flesh. He is God coming to take the emptiness out of life by filling it with his own life. Because everything in life that is apart from God is meaningless. You know it because you’ve felt it, every time you get caught up in the hustle of the season and forget about Jesus. You feel it every time you take your eyes of the cross, or see just the manger and forget the cross.
Remember the cross of Jesus is for you. It’s where Jesus takes the pain and suffering of sin and buries it forever in death. He feels the emptiness of life lived apart from God and he cries “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Why have you forsaken me? That kind of empty death isn’t yours anymore. What awaits you after death is a resurrection, just like Jesus. He rose from the dead and you will rise from the dead, too. That’s his promise to you in Baptism. And hey, that’s his promise to you in Christmas.
But I want you to see one more thing. Advent isn’t just about waiting for Christmas. It is, in fact, waiting for something much greater and even better than Christmas. Jesus is coming again, and this time it’s not going to be in swaddling cloths. This time he’s coming in power and glory. He is going to raise me and you from our dusty graves to life again. No day of joy that you have ever experienced is going to match the joy you’ll feel standing before Jesus in your resurrected body, seeing Jesus face to face. Every time we prepare to celebrate Christmas by thinking and focusing on Jesus we are thinking and preparing for that day. And that’s just what Jesus means when he says Watch yourselves!
So, Happy Advent! Get ready Jesus is coming. Prepare yourselves by remembering what he has done for you. Do some shopping, hang some lights, eat some Christmas cookies. Jesus is coming soon. And he is the reason for the season. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Daniel 12:1-3; The Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 25, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:1–3, ESV)

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

Daniel was a dreamer. Not in the respect that he thought of big things in his future for him and his family, but he was given dreams by God. I'm sure there were many nights when he sat up suddenly, drenched with sweat. His dreams were very strange and yet very real. Daniel knew the stakes. He and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were among those who live their lives in exile in Babylon. They faced the anger of the King over there faithful worship of Yahweh, the only true God. You know the stories of the Three Men in the Fiery Furnace and Daniel in the Lion's Den. Nebuchadnezzar is shown who the real God is through these faithful young men. Daniel was given to understand dreams. He interpreted the King's dreams even when he didn't know what the dream was. And so here in the last chapter of the book of Daniel we have his final dream where God gives Daniel of vision of the end of time.

Here in this text, Daniel's dream, we see a great profound mystery that the world all around us denies. They simply deny that the Scriptures are true. They deny that Jesus is the only Lord and Savior of the world, that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to God the father to be saved unless they come through faith in Jesus Christ. And they deny that there is going to be a day of judgment when time will come to an end. They deny that God will raise all people from the dead, some will be with him in paradise forever, and the rest will go to eternal punishment in hell.

Yet, “In a culture that encourages people to celebrate the idea that life has no goal and urges each individual to find meaning wherever he or she can, the Church offers a very different description of reality. Our author Daniel gives the shocking prophecy that at the end of time the dead will rise; some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt!”

Daniel's dream gives us the truth. There is a time coming when we shall all stand before God's throne and receive judgment. It tells us that God will deliver the world from oppression, cruelty and the devil. This deliverance comes through the work of the one who came to Bethlehem's cradle, the long expected Messiah of God. This is Jesus Christ the one who lived, died on the cross for your sin, and rose again from the grave for you. This is the wisdom given you in faith that enables you and me to be counted among those who will shine like the stars.

But it is Jesus who shines brighter than the sun. His disciples witnessed this. St. John says,

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4–5, ESV)

and on the mountain of Transfiguration, St. Matthew tells us

And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:2, ESV)

and even Jesus himself says

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12, ESV)

Here our Lord Jesus and Daniel are saying the same thing. Those who worship Jesus, those who have faith in him, will shine like the brightness of the stars. You and me, the ones who have the wisdom of faith, those who have seen the light of the gospel, should be shining like the stars of the heavens.

It's unfortunate that this doesn't describe us very often. Rather than living in the light, we walk in the darkness. Rather than letting the light of Christ shine through us we let the black deeds to the devil overcome who we are. Satan looks to divide. That darkness is there among us. We get angry with one another over the smallest things. We speak about our anger, not to the person who has offended us, rather at the coffee shop, the bowling alley, or even on Facebook. We let Satan drive a wedge between us because we disagree about the way the church should run. You and me so often refuse to put the best construction on everything as God commands us to do in the Eighth Commandment. We so often assign motive to other people's actions without discussing it with them first. Then we react and Satan uses our actions to drive the wedge deeper.

Beloved children of God, that is not who we are. We are God's beloved baptized children. We have our sins forgiven by our Redeemer who went to the cross. We have been reconciled to God and therefore reconciled to each other through his resurrection. Our names are written in the book of life. Don't let Satan rob us of the joy of working together. Bring your sins with me to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness. He is the one who carries our burdens and our sins. Take the opportunity that we are given to build each other up rather than tear each other down. Always try to think the best of your brothers and sisters in Christ as we work together here in the church.

Daniel writes:

"And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

He is describing our work together in the church, all the more important as the end draws near. Make no mistake the end is nearer today than ever before. The signs are everywhere. The times are indeed troubling for the church. Those who hate us are looking to find weaknesses to exploit. Listen again to Jesus as he describes what is coming:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV)

Jesus says "be wise" and so does Daniel. While they are talking about being wise in the way that we do things, they also mean the wisdom that comes from above. That is the wisdom that makes a difference. It is the wisdom of knowing who our Savior is. It is the wisdom of seeing our sin clearly and seeing our Savior Jesus Christ even more clearly. In the face of all kinds of trouble this is the wisdom that shines like the brightness of the sky above. We, the church, are wise when point repentant sinners to Jesus Christ crucified. We, the church, are wise when we proclaim Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation. We, the church, are wise when we live in that wisdom ourselves. This is the way that many will turn to righteousness, that is turning to Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2 Timothy 2:8; Thanksgiving Eve; November 21, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, (2 Ti 2:8, ESV)

Even though our thanksgiving service today is structured around the Liturgical Church Year; remember that today, Thanksgiving Day, isn’t really a church holiday. Really it’s a Federal Holiday, established first by Geo Washington, and restarted by Lincoln as a way to remember that our nation only survives because of God’s blessing. The Thanksgiving Service is usually a day we focus on harvest and the gifts, the blessings of home and family, and food and work, that we’ve been given. Usually, we talk about all that and how we should be thankful for them, and how we should share with those who are less fortunate. And this is certainly true because our offering for today all goes into our Christian Care Fund. You may have even come today to get that little tweak, the twinge of guilt that sounds like your mother scolding you for leaving food on your plate, “There are starving children in China who would love to eat that food!” Sometimes I think thanksgiving is all about appeasing our guilt so that when the afternoon turkey sleep comes over us we can sleep better. Well, Thank God, we do have physical blessings. Thank God, we had a plentiful harvest. Thank God we have family and friends to enjoy today, because there are people who don’t have any of these things. In other words, there are starving people who would love to have just what you and I throw away every day.

While we do at times take all these things for granted, today’s service is set up to remind us of something else we sometimes take for granted. And it is, in fact, the greatest gift from God. It is the one thing that if we are missing everything else we have been given doesn’t have any meaning. Today we are doing exactly what St. Paul told Pastor Timothy to do. Remember Jesus.

On this day, that we have set aside to thank God, we remember that we have a God who loves people. He shows is love by providing all the world what is needed for living every day. If we are to truly to thank God, if we are really going to celebrate thanksgiving, then remembrance must be front and center in our celebration. So today, we remember and give thanks to God for the most important gift we have ever received. Today, we remember Jesus and give thanks to God for what he has done for us through him.

Well, even if the federal government hadn’t set aside today for Thanksgiving we Christians are obligated to give thanks to God. We don’t do it because a president says so, but because we are moved by God’s goodness. God gives us gifts and we respond in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. As Christians we live a liturgical life. That’s what’s reflected in our regular worship services here. That’s what’s reflected in the way we remember Jesus throughout the year.

And yet, we are hardly as grateful as we should be. In fact, a lot of the time we are down right selfish. Especially as we look forward to the gifts that come at Christmas time, we think more about what we can get than the one from whom we receive everything. Thanksgiving day actually becomes eclipsed by the new federal holiday Black Friday. “Give us our daily bread” becomes a self absorbed prayer, a selfish prayer, a self-worshipping prayer, rather than an acknowledgment of where all our gifts come from. It’s not “it’s better to give than to receive.” It’s “It’s better to receive than to give thanks.” So at least on this one day, maybe it’s good that the government has set a day to remind us to be thankful. But when we think about it even this day has turned into a day of self-indulgence. So we must confess, as we clearly see, that we are sinful people. Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…

And yet again, we confess something else. We confess God’s greatest gift, the one we are most thankful for today. It is the gift of God’s one and only Son, Jesus. He came into this world to take our sins upon Himself, to become our sin, and pay with His very life the penalty we by our sins have deserved, giving His body and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. Today in a few moments we will share together that same body and blood in the thanksgiving meal that Jesus gives us. The Lord’s Supper also called the Eucharist, which means the Great Thanksgiving, because in it we receive what He won on the cross for us, and we in turn give thanks. We thank our Lord for first loving us, for dying for us, and for rising from the dead for us, that we will, through faith, one day feast with Him forever.

And that puts it all in perspective. Remember Jesus… and give thanks. Amen.

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mark 13:1-13; The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; November 18, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

And as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:1–13, ESV)

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

Well, that's not what they expected to hear. The disciples came out of the temple with Jesus they were looking up in awe at the wonderful buildings. They were impressive structures. They were permanent structures. They were set on foundations of deep stone. Surely these buildings would stand forever. And the sacrifices would continue until God's kingdom was fully established. So when the disciples said "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings." They didn't expect Jesus to say in a time not too distant they would all be gone.

The Revelation was jaw-dropping. Think of the reaction we had when the World Trade Center buildings fell. Think of the horror in their minds as Jesus says "“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” There was simply no way they could have comprehended what Jesus was telling them. It was unthinkable that God would even allow such a thing. They wanted to understand. So, after a while when they had gone across the valley to the Mount of olives and were looking over on the city of Jerusalem they ask Jesus, "Tell us, when these things will be."

I'm sure in their minds things went from bad to worse. They had imagined what they were doing with Jesus was establishing a new kingdom. They were waiting patiently (and not) for Jesus to throw the Romans out. They thought their way of life was going to be established for everyone. This is not what Jesus says. Instead of stability impermanence; chaos, confusion, wars, famines, earthquakes, and worse. What they hear from Jesus is actually that the whole world as they knew it was coming to an end. Instead of being in positions of wealth and honor and power because of following Jesus what they should watch for his arrest, persecution and death. The world would not accept Jesus as King. Families would be destroyed. Communities disrupted. And false prophets would lead people astray by telling them what their itching ears want to hear.

Well, that's not what they expected to hear. That's not what they wanted to hear. And then Jesus caps it all off by dropping this bombshell. "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

Now you know what the disciples asked next. "Will that be me?" Jesus had just turned everything they believed to be true on its head. Of course he said "Don't be anxious" and "Be on your guard" but when he said "the one who endures will be saved" they had to wonder "And just how do I do that?" I mean just look at what Jesus told them they would face. They had a difficult time getting what Jesus was teaching them right. They knew their weaknesses, and their sins. If the temple, as strong as it was, would not even last, how could they and their fickle, fearful, flesh remain faithful?

And now this is a good question for you and me. Jesus says to you "but the one who endures to the end will be saved." And in a certain sense it should give you chills down your spine. Look around you. You see the things Jesus is describing. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, floods, fires, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Our soldiers boots are marching on foreign soil. And even before their finished with one mission we add another. Our economic future is far from certain. Real estate values drop, 401(k) plans evaporate, the cost of food ever increases, everything changes. In fact that's the only thing in this world that we can count on, change. Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts. Nothing works out the way we think it should. These are the signs that Jesus tells us. The world is coming to an end.

And even spiritually things on the whole are not very good. On other continents our brothers and sisters in Christ face death for confessing the name of our Savior. In Muslim dominated countries loss of employment, home, and freedom are constant. And we can see hostility to the Savior growing even here. And we stand between an angry world, and what Jesus teaches, when we confess his name. And even worse, within the church, or those false teachers. They use Jesus name as a way to line their pockets. They teach what people naturally want to hear, which is, that they can earn God's favor by doing good things. And if they do good things God will reward them. These teachings lead people astray, sometimes our very own people, even to hell. And just once tried to say that teachers such as Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and others who teach prosperity, false teachers and see what happens. Talk about hostility. There is no end in sight to false teachers plaguing the church.

If these things make you yawn, either you not listening to what Jesus is saying or you don't believe it. He tells us these things so that we can be alert and on guard. He tells us these things so that we know how to answer the question, "how am I going to stand and endure to the end?"

Don't think I'm going to give you instructions for stockpiling weapons and food and water. That's only shifting your hope from one shaky foundation to another. I'm not going to tell you that as things get worse Jesus promises you won't have to go through it. Some Christians believe, falsely, that they won't have to live through it. They believe that they will be whisked out of the world before the real trouble starts in the rapture. There is nothing remotely biblical about this belief. There is no rapture escape hatch for Christians. Put your faith in that and it will make you unprepared for the end.

So back to the question "How then shall we stand?" How can we be sure that we will endure? Jesus doesn't answer the question in our text for today. The truth is if he told the disciples what was going to happen they would not have believed or understood it. They only came to understand it later. The writer of Hebrews believed and understood it. It's confessed clearly in our reading from Hebrews today. The buildings and the priests and the sacrifices they offered in the Temple (and throughout the Old Testament) could never bring forgiveness. They were only shadows, the earthly model of something much greater. Jesus is the priest, the Temple, and the sacrifice, who offered himself on the cross as a once for all atonement for the sins of the whole world.

Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land;
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting. (LSB 645)

The Rock is Christ. There is nothing else in this rust and decay ridden world that we can depend on to last until the end. The truth of Jesus is the only permanent and powerful thing. Clinging to him for the forgiveness he offers is the only place where strength can be found to endure. The only place to stand in days of trouble is in faith, in Jesus. And how is it that you know that Jesus is worthy of such faith? Jesus proves all that he said and did, especially that his life and death are for the forgiveness of your sins in your reconciling to God, with his resurrection from the dead. Jesus resurrection is proof positive that faith in him is not misplaced. That he is the real thing to depend on. And his ascension to the right hand of God is also the guarantee that he rules and reigns over the world and he will come again with glory to place all things under his order and protection.

Jesus words about the Temple came to pass only 40 years after Jesus spoke them. In fact the holy city of Jerusalem was razed by the Romans. It was a shadow of itself and lay in utter rubble. This world fell to pieces the disciples only had the truth of Jesus life, death, and resurrection for their forgiveness to stand on. By then they did understand and believe. This truth is what enabled them to stand before kings and hostile crowds and confessed Jesus in the face of death. Trusting in the truth of all that Jesus did is what gave them strength to endure to the end.

The writer of Hebrews gives a specific instructions. "Let us draw near [to God] with a true heart." A true heart is one that recognizes its own sin and weaknesses. A true heart is one the confesses it sins, failures and faults. A true heart is one that trust in God's mercy for the sake of Jesus life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin. This is faith in Jesus Christ.

The writer continues, "… With a hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." He is of course speaking of Holy Baptism. It is in Holy Baptism that we are connected to Jesus. In Holy Baptism he promises the results of his life, death, and resurrection for us. He promises that we are washed clean. Hearing this in this place you hear your pastor say to you "I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit." That is, to revisit your baptism through your confession and God's pronouncement of your forgiveness. Your slate is wiped clean. You are forgiven. As the writer says you have a "clean conscience".

And so every day from now until the end we endure with baptismally clean consciences. The writer of the Hebrews says "Hold fast to the confession of our hope." Our hope is the resurrection and the life of the world to come. All that Jesus did points us to that focus for our future. God is indeed faithful. God completely keeps his promises. Through Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, and our connection through Holy Baptism these promises are ours and that new life too.

The threats we face in the world a very real. False prophets, betrayals, natural disasters, persecution, all growing in intensity as the final days draw near. The world and all of its strength and glory fails in the face of the birth pangs of the end. But even as the world crumbles Jesus work on the cross for us stands firm. This is the foundation on which we, the church, stand on together. And standing there, in Jesus, we cannot fall. Standing there, in faith, we will endure all life's trials. This is God's promise for you. Amen.

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

1 Kings 17:8–16; 24th Sunday after Pentecost; November 11, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’ ” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.” (1 Kings 17:8–16, ESV)

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

It was an unhealthy time to be a prophet. First, I want you to know that being a prophet wasn't necessarily about predicting the future. Although that was sometimes the case. The prophets primary job is to proclaim God's Word to a lost and sinful world and a lost and sinful people. More often than not, in those days, they paid the price of being faithful with their very lives. Israel was ruled by a whole list of Kings whose epitaph may be written as; the King "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." So the prophets who spoke to these evil Kings have a dangerous row to hoe. But not only that, but their instructions were very specific. Being faithful wasn't always an easy task. (One prophet who failed to follow God's commands was killed by a lion.) They were only given to speak God's word clearly in the face of sin. This is the difficult task that Elijah was given. And God's word was greatly needed. Just listen to what the writer of first Kings says about the King of Israel in those days:

And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30–33, ESV)

Elijah's task was to proclaim God's Word to Ahab, that Ahab might repent and turn back to the Lord. The confrontation between Elijah and Ahab is legendary. Ahab's nickname for Elijah is "Troubler of Israel". It begins with Elijah telling Ahab that until he mended his ways there would be a famine in all the land. The famine was devastating. But God watched over Elijah by providing for him in a hidden place. No matter how bad things seem God always watches over his own. This is his promise of everlasting love. And that brings us to the widow and her son in our text for today. Yahweh tells Elijah to go to Zarephath and find a widow who would feed him. Zarephath is a small coastal town between Tyre and Sidon.

This is the same area where Jesus later meets the faithful Syrophoenician woman who would not take no for an answer. When she asked for her daughter to be healed Jesus says he has only come for the children of Israel. "It's not right to give the children's food to the dogs." Jesus compares her to a dog. She says she is happy to be a dog and receive even the scraps that fall from Jesus' table. She has great faith, her daughter is healed.

The widow and her son are highly affected by the famine. She expects to die. This is a severe famine. We do not understand starving to death. We think starving is the feeling we feel when we skip a meal. She and her son do not have enough food to live. And yet look at her small act of faithfulness. Elijah asks "Please make me a cake first." And as she acts so she is supplied. God once again provides for Elijah and the widow and her son through this simple act of faithfulness.

This is so much like the instance we find in the gospel lesson for today. Jesus points to a poor widow in the Temple who gave not just a portion of what she had. She gave everything. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest. It was a simple act of faithfulness. She trusts that even though she gives all she has, God is faithful he will provide. She believes this to be true even if she starves to death. And yet it is God who is truly faithful. He provides for Elijah and the widow and her son through her simple act. Her flower jar never empties, and the oil jug never runs out for the whole length of the famine. It seems such a small miracle. And yet for the widow, her son, and Elijah it is lifesaving.

It's a "small" miracle. When we look at the world that we live in we so much want God to do big things. We want him to solve problems through political or cultural change. We look at the world's hostility to Christianity, and even the growing hostility here in the United States and want God to put an end to it. We may even look back to the "glory days" of Christianity in the 50s and long for the days when the church was the center of cultural activity. We want God to act to make our church pews full to the brim again, our Sunday schools overflowing, and people to respect what the church says. We want "big" miracles. We want God to act like he did in the Old Testament. We want God to act like he did for Paul and Silas and Peter. We think that the miracles were all over the Old Testament. But the truth is most of them are concentrated in the life of Elijah. We think that miracles were all over the New Testament. But the truth is most of them were concentrated to the time when the Christian church was just beginning. God very seldom acts with "big" miracles. He most often acts through simple acts of faithfulness.

It is our sinful condition that brings these thoughts to mind. We would do it differently if we were in control. We think we know best, better than God. We think it would be so much better for us if we didn't live in a hostile environment. But history shows that the church is built on the blood of the saints. It is not beyond God's care to allow the church to be troubled so that she comes back to what is important. These days we see the church theologically everywhere. So much of the church has become human centered. It promotes abortion, homosexuality, your best life now, and so many other human centered, human created theologies. The strife in the church is bound to grow. If you don't think that's the case all you have to do is look at this week's election and see the broad division in our country and the issues that divide us. If you think the task we have as a church is simple and not fraught with danger, you not paying attention to what's going on in the world. If we are troubled is our own fault, for our own sin, because the church as a whole has lost its center in Jesus Christ, and his life death and resurrection for the sins of the whole world.

But even if God does allow persecution for the church to grow we should remember that he is always faithful. Remember that God provides even when we don't see the results. Even when we are unfaithful. We are not called to change the world, that is the work of God's Word. We are called to be faithful in the place and the time that God has placed us. God provided for Elijah and the widow and her son through a simple act of faithfulness. Even though this time that we live in may be "an unhealthy time to be a prophet", God is faithful. If your sinful nature causes you to doubt God's faithfulness, just as mine does, all you have to do is look to the cross. Jesus didn't die on the cross so that you could live a life of ease and comfort. He died on the cross for your sin. He died on the cross to save you from sin and death and hell. He died on the cross to make Satan powerless over you. He died on the cross so that your ultimate destiny his life forever with him. When we don't see the big miracles our faith can falter. This is a time to run to the cross, cling to the cross, and rely on the one who died on the cross. Ultimately God's salvation of the world does not come in works of great power. The comes in love, sacrifice, and servant hood. This is what Jesus does. In Jesus God becomes our servant. He walks the earth in the time and the place that he was given to serve. He preaches a Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is faithful, even to death on the cross.

In light of Jesus faithfulness to us, he calls us to be faithful in what he has given us to do, in the place and time he has given us. We are to speak his Word plainly and clearly. We are to call sin, sin. And we are to proclaim him as the one who covers sin with his blood. And we are not to expect that the world will take this message kindly. Listen to what Jesus says:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18–19, ESV)

And so we are called to be faithful. Think of the widow's and their small acts of faithfulness. Look at your life; the time that God has given you; the place where God has placed you; the friends he's given you; the workplace where he has given you to serve; and the church he has given you as the means to keep you focused on your Savior on the cross. Serve by being faithful there with small acts of faithfulness for the sake of the one who lived died and rose again for the forgiveness of all of your sin. Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Speaking as a Citizen, not a pastor:

I voted for Mitt Romney (and other republicans) for the following reasons:

1. I cannot vote for anyone who won't protect the weakest amongst us. I cannot abandon children in the womb by voting for a candidate or party that supports abortion on demand.

2. I cannot vote for a candidate or party that wants to redefine God's definition of marriage.

On these issues my conscience is captive to the Word of God.

3. I cannot vote for those who attack our religious liberties. The current administration is requiring religious institutions to violate their conscience by making them pay for abortifacients and birth control. We must obey God rather than men.

4. I refuse to vote for a candidate or party that says those who choose to protect children in the womb and vote biblical values are "Haters".

BTW:You automatically lose any argument that is reduced to an Ad hominem attack on those who disagree with you.  

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Isaiah 26:19; The Festival of All Saints; November 4, 2012;

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19, ESV)

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

Today is All Saints Day. In a few moments we will read together the Role of the Saints. We remember the names of all those who have died in the faith this year. This is just one of the things some of us Lutherans do to commemorate this festival. There is that sticky word here "saints." Of course the word saint to many is people is people who are good. Think of the people who we automatically think of as "saints". Like Mother Teresa. One thing we know about our loved ones, who are now with Jesus, is that they weren't saints in that sense. We knew them to be the sinners they were. And yet we celebrate today by remembering that they are with Jesus and indeed they are forgiven sinners.

In a story by Mark Twain called "Captain Summerfield Goes to Heaven". In the story the captain is totally shocked when he discovers after he dies what heaven is like. There he is in heaven floating on clouds playing harp. He gets bored very quickly and finally throws his harp and goes to find out what's going on. The angel in charge named Sandy tells him that everyone spends their first day in heaven this way, and it's been set up so that people don't get disappointed. This is what they expect heaven to be like so God makes it that way. When they get tired of it they check in their harp and get assigned to the job and a place to live. Summerfield is again surprised that he actually has a job in heaven. But even more so is he surprised when he finds the biggest saint in heaven is not Moses or David or Adam or Noah but a man who's been a barber in Cleveland. No one could see what a righteous man he was, other than God.

To be sure it Mark Twain was no professed Christian. His insight to the saints does not exactly hold up except that saints are saints buy only what God can see, that is faith in Jesus Christ. All Saints Day was actually Thursday. All Saints Eve or Halloween is very important day for Lutherans. It's the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door. The theses were about indulgences and how one receives the grace of God, or forgiveness of sins. In other words, how do you become a saint, that is how do you get to heaven. Martin Luther was beginning to understand that it's not by our decisions, choices, willpower or efforts. None of these things can save us from our sin. All of our choices, all the things we think, do and say are plagued by sin and self-interest. When we are left to these we are simply hell bound. And we cannot be saved.

All Saints Day is a celebration of true Christians sainthood. True Christians sainthood is not about us, or the things we do, but it is about Christ and all that he did for us.

To get the celebration of All Saints Day in proper's perspective we need to look at a little background first. Since All Saints Day is about those were gone before us to be with Christ, we need to talk bit about death, what it is. First of all, we wish we had a lot more information about death, especially what happens to people after they die, until the time of judgment day. Scripture simply does not fill in this blank to our satisfaction. It says that those who die in faith are "with Christ". It tells us that death is not the annihilation of the human person, but the separation of the body and the soul. The tearing apart of what God created to be an eternal being forever. This separation, called the first death, is caused by sin. The body goes to the ground, and the soul, separated from it, goes to be with Christ. Well, the soul of the believer goes to be with Christ that is. This separation for Christians is a blessed thing. But for those without faith it is not. Our culture these days tends to speak of death is a release from the suffering of this world. While that is true for Christians, it is not true for those who reject Christ. For the unbeliever there will be no comfort in the afterlife. They will suffer eternally for their rejection of Jesus, the Savior. For believers on the other hand the Bible speaks of the most wonderful things. They are joined with Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. They laud and magnify God's glorious name forever and ever. They are there with Christ and all the souls from the Old Testament and New Testament in the presence of God. And they wait for the consummation of the age, the time when God will remake heaven and earth into a new and perfect paradise for people to live.

The most important promise in all of Scripture, the one that outweighs all the false religious claims about life after death is this: our goodbyes are only temporary separations. Death is not an end of our relationships, but only a time of separation. This also is what we celebrate on All Saints Day. We mourn this separation from our loved ones, yet we don't mourn as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and promises made sure in his life, death and resurrection.

Here are just a few of the promises that apply to us here and now who live with the separation caused by death:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)

We are not in control of life and death. God is the one who gives life and takes it away. These decisions we leave to God, in faith, even when we don't understand. We know that he knows best. We trust that, even in death, God is doing what is best for us and our loved ones.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19, ESV)

There is a day appointed when Jesus will come again. He will return in all his glory. No one knows that date and time but God alone. It will come suddenly, for everyone. All the dead will be raised. All their physical bodies, born into sin and death, will come back to life and be reunited with their souls. Those who have died in faith will rise first.

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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, ESV)

And those who are living will join them and Jesus in the air and go with him to eternal life.

What great promises these are! We won't be disembodied spirits living on clouds playing harps in heaven, but we will be complete human beings, body and soul together for all eternity, with Christ and our loved ones. Living in a perfect, physical creation made for complete human beings to enjoy. We will see each other again with our very eyes, we will talk with each other with our tongues in our mouths . We hug and hold each other again with our arms or hands.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27, ESV)

This to is the joy we celebrate on All Saints Day.

But All Saints is about more than only those who have gone before us to be with the Lord. For we do not become saints only when we die; We are saints already because of faith. St. Paul uses the word saints to describe the recipients of his letters to Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. "To the saints in…" Because of Jesus God already considers us perfect and holy in his sight. We have the forgiveness of sins and good works that Jesus did. It is all accounted to us by God for the sake of Christ.

Why is this important? There are great benefits given to us right here and now. We are the Communion of Saints, the Holy Christian Church. We are a great fellowship given to each other. Sunday after Sunday we gather together to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross. As God gives these gifts to us, we begin first by giving them to each other. Then we take this good news and forgiveness and proclaim it to the whole world. When we see each other as forgiven sinners because of Christ, it makes it more difficult for us to treat each other poorly. Instead of always trying to change each other, we can more easily practice gentleness, patients, love, and forgiveness.

And don't forget in this fellowship we are connected not only to those standing here in the flesh. With Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… All the company of heaven! Especially at the communion rail, we join together with those who are with Christ. Separation between us evaporates as we are all joined together in Christ. This is true for you and me because of God's promise. Is not because of your synod membership, not because of your church attendance, not because of your good works. It is yours because God's name was placed on you in Holy Baptism. He made you a part of himself and the Communion of Saints through the forgiveness of sins in the work of Jesus Christ.

This is the joy of All Saints Day. As the text says, "awake and sing for joy". This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad. Amen.

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