Friday, November 23, 2007

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 24, 2007, Luke 23:43

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:24, ESV)

(Based on a sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls)

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

Well, today’s text just doesn’t quite seem right. Jesus on the cross? But, Christmas is coming. Well, today is Christ the King Sunday, where we remember Jesus is the King of everything. One of the things I like about the new hymnal is the prayer before communion that goes, Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, king of all creation… That’s what today’s worship service is all about, Jesus, king of the universe. It’s just that when we humans think of the great kings of the world we don’t think of men being executed for treason. Well, Jesus does reign over His kingdom from a cross. And if you don’t believe me all you have to look at is the thief that was crucuifed next to him. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He says. He recognizes Jesus as king. He sees Jesus as more than and earthly king who reigns over territory. He has faith that Jesus can save him from eternal punishment in hell. He has faith. Jesus answers that faith “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Paradise. Well that’s kind of interesting isn’t it? Paradise is the place that Adam and Eve lived isn’t it? That was God’s kingdom too! They blew it by rejecting the king and getting kicked out of paradise. I wonder what it was like for Adam and Eve as they left the garden? The world out side was big, and not completely understood. Of course everything was different than it had been. Sin had changed everything. I’m sure they were afraid. Everything that was in front of them, their future, their lives outside of the garden, was unsure. You can relate to their feelings. The country is at war, you all know someone whose been effected by it. You have questions about life. Will gas prices keep going up? Is my job secure? Will I be able to keep the farm afloat? What will happen is really unknown. That’s how Adam and his wife felt, I’m sure. They were afraid and alone in a dangerous world.

It is strange how much it had changed from before. Before sin, they loved God’s presence. “They walked with him in the Garden.” The bible says. But not they were afraid of God. The relationship they once enjoyed was shattered. Genesis 2:16-17 “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” They had done exactly what God said they should not do. Now everything was different, now death was a part of their life.

Adam tried to blame his wife. “She gave me the fruit to eat!” He pleaded with God. But he was standing right there watching her pick it. Instead of loving, honoring and cherishing her, he allowed her to do the evil thing. And he took a bite, too. It was then that everything changed. Suddenly, they felt uncomfortable standing together. Suddenly, they realized they were naked. They were embarrassed. The perfection that God had created in them was gone.

When they heard God walking in the garden, fear gripped them. “…you will surely die.” God was no longer a friend, but a feared judge. “Where are you?” God called to them.

“I heard you coming and I was afraid, because I was naked.” The man timidly answered.

“Have you done what I told you not to do?” God asked painfully knowing the answer already.

“It was her!” Adam tried to blame.

“It was the snake!” She quickly added. But the guilt was theirs, together.

The consequences began, immediately. God killed an animal to make clothing for them. Blood was spilled to cover their guilt and shame. Death began in earnest. Paradise in the Garden ended. God’s kingdom was lost to them and their children. They were driven out. The Tree of Life was out of reach.

Everything was different. Sin had turned the world upside down. Death was out there waiting for them. And strangely the good things of God seemed to be wrong, and the evil things of Satan seemed to be right. The darkness of sin was preferred to the Light of God. And even God’s plan for setting things right again was difficult to understand. God would send a Savior to restore Paradise lost, the Tree of Life, and He would do it through another tree, a tree of death.

“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ, the Chosen one!” came the hateful shouts to the three men dying on the hill. “Look at him! He thinks he’s the King of the Jews!” someone adds about the man hanging in the middle. Clearly he doesn’t look like a king. There’s no golden crown here, only bloody thorns. There’s no robe of Minsk, in fact he has no clothing at all. He hangs there nailed to the cross, naked, bleeding, and tortured, in shame. One of the men next to the king adds to the insult. “If you’re the Christ, save yourself and us too!” His word are empty and with out hope.

The King, who doesn’t look like a king, makes no reply.

But remember, nothing really looks as it should; the world is really upside down. That’s what the man and the women realized when they left the Garden. The crowds that shout at the foot of the crosses are wrong. The man who they hate is not just king; he is The King. He is the Savior sent by God to restore Paradise Lost. They don’t see it, but He is covering their shame and guilt and sin with the blood that pours from the nail holes, the torn flesh, and the crown of thorns. He is naked bearing their shame. Animals shed their blood for Adam and Eve. Jesus Christ sheds His blood to cover the sins of His mockers. He won’t come down. It isn’t because He can’t. He wants to do what He is doing. He wants to bear the shame of sin for the whole world. Adam blamed others; Jesus accepts all the blame and takes it all with Him to the grave.

For the people standing there it doesn’t make sense. This man can’t be the one who God sent to be Savior. He isn’t anything special; he isn’t glorious; he wasn’t born in a palace. It’s upside down from their thinking. Jesus is the Savior, he is the King, but they can’t see it.

But someone there does. The man hanging in silence on the other cross is keenly aware of what is going on. The nails that hold him there have convicted him of his own guilt. He has earned the wages of sin. But he has watched Jesus… and listened. Jesus forgives, even the people who are killing Him. “Father Forgive them…” Jesus loves; He makes sure His mother is taken care of. “Woman, behold your son.” A person like this doesn’t deserve this kind of punishment. Jesus is innocent and yet He dies. “Lord,” He confesses to the True King, Jesus, “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Pierced by the law, convicted of his sin, under the judgment of death, he turns to Jesus in faith. And Jesus answers, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Here on a blood stained mountain, where three men are dying, Paradise is found. That thief on the cross has it. He didn’t find it because of his life of good works. He didn’t find it because he was a good man. It was given to him by Jesus Christ as an answer to a simple cry of faith.

Jesus Christ suffers and dies there on that cross for that thief. He suffers and dies for Adam and Eve. He suffers and dies, even for the people who drove the nails into His body, and for those who don’t see Him as king. The thief is given Paradise because Jesus died there and suffered the shame and punishment for all the world’s sin. He is given life forever with Jesus.

We didn’t see it happen. We’ve never been in Paradise like Adam was. It makes it difficult for us to understand what it means to be in Paradise. After all, the world is upside down; wrong seems right; darkness seems to be light. Nothing in the world is as it should be. Everything is full of uncertainty. We worry about our future, our nation, and our economy. Our relationships are always breaking up. We suffer from illness and pain. Our loved ones die right before our eyes. It’s just not the way it should be. It’s not the way God created the world. Sin has turned everything on its ear. Sin has ruined everything. It’s difficult to see that Paradise has been restored. It’s difficult to see that God really is King.
What’s easy to see is people’s reaction to Jesus. Still bold as ever people mock Him and deny Him, just as if they were standing at the foot of His cross. People want miraculous signs to show that God is present. “Come down from the cross and save our nation. If you’re really the king give me a healthy family. Show me that you’re here by taking away my cancer.”

But Jesus is quietly present just as He promises to be. He is there in the spoken word of forgiveness, in water and in bread and wine. And yet these too are often rejected. “What good is it for a person to tell me I’m forgiven? Confession is damaging to self-esteem. Private confession is too Catholic. What good is pouring water on a baby’s head, they can’t believe. God can’t be present in bread and wine. Those are just symbols of what Jesus has done.”

We shouldn’t be surprised, either. People who saw Jesus in the flesh denied Him. People who looked into His eyes, and passed by Him on dusty roads rejected Him. Sin has turned everything upside down. God was present in the world in Jesus Christ for all to see and many didn’t believe. And now He is present, hidden under water, word, and bread and wine, and many don’t see Him still. But He is present as surely as He walked among the disciples, and bled and died on the cross. As surely as He broke the bonds of death and lived and breathed the world’s air. He is present among us.

Paradise, God’s kingdom, is here, restored to us. The thief saw it in Jesus when he heard Jesus speaking of forgiveness. “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” He didn’t listen to the angry mob denying Jesus. We don’t listen to those who deny Him either. We listen to the Words of God. It is the only thing that is sure in an unsure and unstable world. It tells you that Jesus Christ died for you. He took the punishment that God should have given you. He suffered and died the death that you deserve because of your sin. He rose again for you to give you Paradise forever. He gives you forgiveness of all your sins through His life, death and resurrection.

But it doesn’t seem like Paradise, does it. In fact, more often the not we feel like Adam and Eve must have felt when they first stepped from the garden into an unknown world, covered by the still warm skin of freshly killed animals. The News tells us of death and we wonder about our future. We can’t avoid sin, even in our closest relationships. And that’s exactly why Jesus comes to us here. Right along with the forgiveness He gives, He gives faith to trust in Him. “I forgive you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is my body given for you. Surely I am with you to the very end of the age. Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” You see, Adam and Eve didn’t face the world alone God was with them. He promised a Savior who would shed His blood for them, just like the animals did. That Savior has come in Jesus Christ. He promises to be with us too.

We have Paradise restored right now, but there’s more yet to come. All of this that surrounds us, all the pain, death and trouble, this upside down world is going to be set right again and turned right-side-up. Jesus is coming again to bring Paradise Restored in full. Right now it’s hidden in with and under words and water, bread and wine. Right now it’s hard to see because sin is still with us. But someday soon, Jesus Christ the King will bring it all out in the open. It will be clear to see and easy to understand. Sin will be gone forever. Death will be left behind. We will be with Jesus in His kingdom forever, just like the thief on the cross. Paradise Restored by Jesus Christ, the True King. Amen.

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

Thanksgiving 2007, Philippians 4:6-9

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

At first I was going to preach on the Old Testament lesson for today. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Wow! If that isn’t talking about Thanksgiving I don’t know what it is talking about. Eating and being full… in a few hours we’ll all be sitting (or sleeping) around the television having football dreams… with turkey and gravy on our breath. It’s a day for overeating. “You shall eat and be full” Cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie… and family all together, all overeating. What better way is there to celebrate having everything we need then eating more than we should?

But then I read this text and I thought it had more to say to us today.

6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:6-9 (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything… those are pretty nice words to hear, and I must admit it’s difficult especially for me. I’m an anxious person. I worry about the bills, I worry about my kids, and I worry about my wife. I worry about weather people are going to show up for meetings and bible studies here at church. Lots of nights I lay on my bed with the worries that go along with being Pastor for more than 400 people. I realized off the bat that if this text was talking to anyone, it was talking to me because I get anxious about things. And there are those words staring me in the face; Do not be anxious about anything…

Of course I’m not the only one who worries about things. To live is to worry. “That’s life!” we say, secretly wishing that it weren’t so. Lots of you worry about things that I haven’t even dreamed of. I don’t know what it is to worry about crops, or if the cattle are going to survive the latest strain of disease that is coming over them. I don’t know what it is to worry about keeping a factory job when the management changes. Or the many things that are on your plate to worry about. Of course really we only worry because we care. The original word that Paul uses here really means to be “troubled with cares.” No one worries about people and things he doesn’t care about. And it’s good to care about people and things. St. Paul doesn’t tell us not to care about things that are going on. He says not to be anxious. Do you hear the word “anger” in “anxious.” Well, it’s in there in a way. They both come from the same root word. They are related. Did you know the word anger means “to strangle?” It means to be so upset that you want to strangle something. You’ve been there wanting to strangle something. I’ve been there wanting to strangle something. When we are anxious we get pushed to the brink, and those feelings take control out of our lives. But the text says, Do not be anxious about anything…

It’s easy to say, it’s easy to read it out, but to really apply it is something else entirely. Do not be anxious about anything… That’s something I’m just not sure I can do. Actually it sounds like something else I need to worry about.

Maybe Paul just didn’t have a firm grasp on reality. Maybe he never had to worry about anything. But a quick review of his life will tell you that that’s not true. From the time Jesus struck him blind on the road to Damascus and told him to switch sides and be His advocate to the world, Paul’s life was one anxious moment after another. Beatings, stoning, threats, shipwreck, “I bear on my body the marks of Christ.” He said. He knew what it was to suffer for Jesus every day. If anyone had a right to be anxious it was Paul. Instead he says Do not be anxious about anything… What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things. Paul knew what it was to be anxious, I’m sure he spent many anxious hours in his life.
You know we are going to be anxious. We are going to worry about things. That’s not the point Paul is making. He’s not making a point about being anxious. He’s making a point about what you do with those moments when they come.

You see, he says do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. He says when you are tempted to be anxious about anything, big or small, manageable or not, take them all to God in prayer. Make these things known to God. It’s not that he doesn’t already know about them making them known to him is for your sake. Talk to Him about them. Take it to the Lord in prayer. The song goes… anything and everything…

Now here’s the really important part. Look what God promises: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say that the thing that’s making you anxious will go away. He’s saying that when you talk to God about what is making you anxious, your heart and mind will be kept on Jesus. In spite of your worry, God will give you peace about your relationship to Him.

You know, as well as I do, that when things are going well, when there is nothing to worry about Jesus gets pushed out of our lives. He moves from the absolute need pile to the need in reserve pile. When things are going well, we feel in control, we don’t think we need any help. And for lots of us that’s where we are most of the time. “No worries, mate!” everything’s just fine. Jesus gets left here in church or on our pillow after prayer, or on the shelf where He’s readily accessible when we need Him. God is not above a bit of trouble in our lives to show us our sin of pushing him out. “I can do it on my own” is self serving and self saving. In other words it is sin. There’s nothing like a good worry to get our perspective back, to show us our need for a savior again.

Why do you think Paul says use prayer with thanksgiving? Pastor you don’t really mean that we should be thankful for our troubles, do you? That’s not really what we gather around that turkey table to talk about. We want to be thankful for money and good crops and good health and lots of family. We don’t want to be thankful for sickness and pain and trouble! But that’s what Paul is saying. “Look at what the things that make you anxious do. They turn you to God in prayer. They keep you looking at Jesus. They remind you of the consequences of your sin, and they remind you what God has done about our sin. And all that gives you peace.”

What do you think Paul is talking about when he says whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things? He’s talking about Jesus. Who was more true, and honorable, and just and pure and lovely and…? After all, look at how much He loves you, and not because you are lovable and trouble free, but simply because of who He is, pure and lovely and commendable and excellent…

And there is nothing like trouble in your life to help you remember Jesus’ love for you and the trouble that He suffered for you. You know about the cross. You know how it was love that put Him there and love that kept Him there to die. He suffered more than we can imagine because the suffering that He took was the suffering for all of us. And with that suffering He brings peace. Isn’t it amazing that it takes suffering, pain and death to bring peace?

Well, anxiety is the opposite of peace. Anxiety is what we get because we don’t want to trust in God. Anxiety is what we get when we strike out on our own and push God away. Anxiety is what we get from separating ourselves from God. And that’s where we’d be if it weren’t for Jesus. But we are not separated from God. We may put Jesus on the shelf but He never gives up on us. On the cross Jesus suffered separation from His Father. God looked away from Him and allowed Him to die. It was what we deserved, but what He received. And with that separation gone forever, we never have to experience it. We are never out of God’s hands. We are always in His loving care. You see that’s peace, that’s the peace of God that passes all understanding.

And you know what else? That peace is true weather we feel it or not, because it’s not founded on our feelings, or our actions, or even our promises. That peace is founded on Jesus Christ. That peace comes from knowing and trusting in Jesus, because He is the one who ended our separation from God. Jesus is what makes it sure, no matter what the worry or anxiety is.

So when Paul says, do not be anxious about anything, what he’s saying is let your troubles turn you to Christ. Let your problems remind you of the cross. Take them all to God in prayer and you’ll receive peace. But it’s peace that’s more than just a feeling. It’s real peace that is found in Jesus Christ.

And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. And maybe, just maybe you’ll not only be thankful for the good things… maybe you’ll be able to be thankful for some of your troubles, too. Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28), November 18, 2007

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

Here we are very close to the busiest shopping day of the year. Thanksgiving turkey is a quick promise away. Football is a Sunday afternoon event again. The Christmas decorations are going up everywhere. Soon the church will be decked out in green boughs and candles. I guess it is official the Christmas season has started. There’s going to be parties. The “eating too much” season begins with Thanksgiving. There’s going to be wish lists made up, Christmas cookies made and maybe even a little snow. I’ve heard lots of opinions on the weather, will it be a good year or a bad one? Soon everywhere you look people are going to be smiling, saying “Merry Christmas!” They’ll be Busy doing 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 the season we are about to start isn’t the Christmas season at all rather it is Advent. That’s why the soon after Thanksgiving we’ll put the blue paraments on the altar and not the white ones. For Christmas we use white. Advent is just a little different from Christmas. The Church celebrates Christmas after December 25th, after the birth of Jesus. We spend the weeks before Christmas preparing for Christ’s coming. The radio is playing Christmas carols 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’ll be doing, waiting for Jesus coming. Over the years the Church has come to realize that it’s better not to jump right to the manger at Bethlehem, but rather to take some time in anticipation. 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)

You know my my favorite comic strip is “Agnus Day.” You know the one with the two sheep. 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 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 season that lies before us 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’ll go through it all again and it’s going to start this Friday, the “big shopping day.” 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. How many of you have some of your “Christmas shopping” done? 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 is 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 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 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 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 Thanksgiving, Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas! 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. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, November 11, 2007, Luke 20:27-40

There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question. (Luke 20:27-40, ESV)

(from a Sermon by Rev. Douglas Irmer, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 17, part 4, series C.)

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

Well, this is one of those texts that we don’t necessarily like what Jesus has to say. Jesus says in the age to come after the resurrection of the dead, there won’t be marriage. Now I don’t know about you but I kinda like being married, and I’m not sure exactly how I’ll be able to be happy in eternity happy without being married to my spouse. There are lots of people, including quite a few pastors who will tell you that it’s ok to not believe what Jesus says here. You can pick an choose what you want to believe about the bible. In a way just cut out what I don’t like about scripture. Well, after all, that’s exactly what the Sadducees did. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead at all. They were educated people. Dead people coming back to life was a bit beyond reasonable thinking. Have you ever seen a really dead person come back to life? Neither had they, so, they simply set aside that part of God’s Word and didn’t believe it. They thought they had it all figured out. They thought that they could embarrass Jesus by hitting him with impeccable logic. In reality they are guilty of a significant sin. They don’t want God’s kingdom to come the way that God has defined it, they want it to come the way that they want it to come. Their problem isn’t simply trying to understand God’s Word from a different perspective, their problem is unbelief.

The question they are asking here is “How does God’s kingdom come?” Or maybe we could think of the question this way. “How do we make God’s Kingdom what we want it to be?” They don’t believe what God, the Father says about the resurrection, so they don’t believe anything God, the Father, tells them. You see they don’t really want a god to tell them what they have to believe, they want a god who will agree with what they believe. The god that will do that is the god of self. They have actually made themselves into god.

Now that’s us too. We want there to be marriage after the resurrection. We want to be with our spouse the same way we are now, except forever. We want God to do things the way we want God to do things. That’s making ourselves god instead of letting God be God. You and I are guilty of this sin, and not just about marriage. We want God to let us worship however we want to worship, with whoever we want to worship, and for worship to mean what we want it to mean instead of what God says it is. We want God to stay in the church on Sunday morning and stay out of my Saturday night, but especially out of my check book. We want to leave ‘spiritual’ things to the preacher and old women. We want to pick up God when we need him.

Jesus has something to say about this. Perhaps that’s why when he teaches us to pray he tells us to pray “Our Father.” A father has a specific job to do with his children. A father is a specific person. A father has a specific relationship to his children. When we call God, Our Father, we are saying specific things about him. One of those things is that He is God and the kingdom is His. “Thy kingdom come.” It’s God’s kingdom. He is the one who set it up to be the way he wants it to be. Eternity with God will be great because of God. It won’t be great because we get what we want there, but because God will give us everything we need. Right now our eyes are so corrupted by sin, and selfishness that we don’t understand the difference between what we need and what we want.

Martin Luther understood the question “How does God’s Kingdom come” this question very well. He asks it in the Catechism. In confirmation class you may have memorized it. It’s in the hymnal on p 302. You might want to turn there and read it with me.

Thy Kingdom come.
What does this mean?
The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.
How does God's kingdom come?
God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Look at what Jesus is saying as explained by Luther. God’s kingdom comes through the work of God in the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of faith. We can’t make it. We can’ control it. We can’t make it to be what we want it to be. In fact, what God says it is sometimes seems silly to us, or just plain wrong. Why can’t I be married in the Kingdom? How can people actually come back from the dead? Why aren’t all people saved?

The Old Testament reading today talks about God sending Moses to retrieve his people from slavery in Egypt. Even in their bondage they continued to grow in numbers. These people tried to bring about God’s kingdom there in Egypt in their own way, but it couldn’t be done. God did it in his own way through Moses and the ten plagues, and the crossing of the Red Sea. He delivered his people from their slavery. God delivers us from our slavery to sin in His own way too. It’s just that God’s ways are sometimes difficult for us to understand.

Every day God gives us wonderful gifts, all that we need to support this body and life. He gives us all we need for His kingdom to grow. We think that we have to make it grow. We look for changed lives. We look for numbers. We look at church budgets. We want God’s kingdom to show in a way that we can see. We want the visible evidence. When we do this we are falling into the same sin that the Sadducees were guilty of. We want God’s kingdom to be what we want it to be, instead of what God has actually made it to be.

Look at what the Sadducees were doing. They were pretending to care about the Law of God, but they didn’t believe what God was saying. They thought their example of seven brothers proved their point about the resurrection because it made a situation comedy marriage in eternal life. “A woman can hardly live with one husband, how can she live with seven!” We do the same. We think that numbers make the kingdom. We shouldn’t measure God’s presence among us according to attendance, or budget, church activity. That’s our work, and our work can’t make God’s kingdom come. God’s kingdom comes in spite of our efforts, solely because God gives it, and makes it grow.

And there is only one way that God’s kingdom comes and grows. That is through our Lord Jesus Christ. When he was born he was visited by wise men. They were looking for the King of the Jews. When Jesus was on trial, Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus said yes. Pilate didn’t believe him. The men who shouted to have him killed didn’t believe him. Centuries of people have looked at a bloody bleeding, dying man on the cross only in sympathy, missing the most important thing about him. Hanging on the cross bleeding and dying didn’t change the truth of what Jesus said. The sign that was placed above him was meant to mock him, yet it told the truth. “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”

Jesus blood flowed from the holes that were made in his hands and feet by the nails that held him on the cross. That blood is the blood of the Son of God, the true King of the Jews. That blood is the precious blood of God himself and yet he was not recognized for who he really was. The Sadducees refused to believe God. The people who mocked Jesus on the cross refused to believe God. But that unbelief didn’t make the truth any less true. Jesus blood was shed for you and for me. Jesus blood was shed for the sins of the whole world. That’s the coming of God’s kingdom. God brought it in his own way, in his own time.

God still does the same. His kingdom comes his way and in his time. He makes his kingdom grow, not through church budgets, or even special fund raising events, but through His Word and Sacraments. Many people don’t believe that to be true. We here in this place even, tend to forget or doubt it. People think that God’s Kingdom must come in noble social activity. They think that it must come in making the world a better place, solving all the evils of the world. Eating bread and drinking wine, pouring water over the head of a humble infant, sitting listening to God’s Word preached, aren’t important enough ways for God’s kingdom to come. But that is God’s way. Through these simple things he works through the Holy Spirit. He brings faith to people. He causes faith to grow. That faith clings to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And that’s how God’s Kingdom comes. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

All Saints Day, November 4, 2004, Matt.5.1-12

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. Just next week we’ll gather again and we’ll be blessed with more of the same as we open our mouths as God pours forgiveness into our mouths through the Lord’s Supper. 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. What wonderful blessings these things are… you might say blessings… beyond belief. And how about the harvest, maybe it’s not the best harvest you’ve ever collected but it’s probably not the worst either. Bins every where are full and the grain is piled up on the ground waiting for sale. Today we’ll also remember the blessing of God on those who have died this year. This list isn’t that long, 3 names, Ed Wenz, Clarence Malwitz and Lyle Schneider. 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. When the word pronounce blessing they pronounce “Blessed is He!” 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 Ed, Clarence, and Lyle. 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.