Sunday, November 28, 2010

Matthew.24.37-44; First Sunday in Advent; November 28, 2010;

37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:37-44 (ESV)

(From a sermon by Rev. P).

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

Today is advent and we are looking forward to Christmas. Oh, already outside you can see it’s so. The nativity is setup in the yard. Christmas carols are playing on the radio. Walmart has all the Christmas stuff up and most folks have had their fill of overeating (Thanksgiving) and overspending (Black Friday). So here we are in church ready to talk about the cute baby in the manger… when the altar turns blue we know what to expect. So, here we are ready to talk about Christmas and Jesus. But wouldn’t you know it, here comes today’s Gospel lesson, and Jesus talks about… being ready because we don’t know when the end will come. Well, since it’s always good to talk about what Jesus talks about we’ll dive in again, we’ll take our cue from Jesus.

The first thing you notice about what Jesus is saying is that he compares the end of time to the days of Noah. But to find out exactly what was that like, we go back to Genesis: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (ESV) And Jesus adds, For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. (38-39). You see, back in Noah’s day, they didn’t have a clue that there was any problem. They didn’t know the flood was coming, it took them by surprise. Eating and drinking, getting married, those are regular every day events. Before the flood came and swept them all away everything seemed normal.

That’s the warning Jesus gives to us. ‘Be ready, because everything will seem normal, then the end will come.’ Oh, I know we’ve all been conditioned to think that things have to get much worse in the world before the end comes. But if we take seriously Jesus description we’ll soon, take a quick breath and take note of how it’s so very much the same today as it was before the flood. Back then, God says the evilness was in their hearts and in their thoughts. But when you add Jesus words it doesn’t sound like the picture we might have in our minds because of the movies. It wasn’t out-and-out evil running rampant in the streets. Everything seemed normal. There wasn’t the idea in their minds that something terrible was about to happen. The picture we are given is, rather, of a whole society that has turned against God; people doing what ever they wanted apart from God. And most importantly as far as they were concerned everything was going ok.

But Noah knew better. He had been given the job of building an ark, and preaching. The two things don’t seem to go together. It’s not often you see a preacher with a hammer in his hand. Yet, Noah and his family lived a life that was in sync with God. Noah was told of the up coming disaster, at least 80 years in advance (that’s the amount of time it took to build the ark). All that time he spoke again and again in warning of what was to come. But in spite of all Noah’s preaching no one was convinced, not one single person, except for the 8 of Noah’s family, was saved from the flood. No one believed that Noah knew what he was talking about. Well, everyone except God. In fact, Noah is called a great preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). If we go by human standards, human measurements we’d say that Noah failed in his task. But God knew better and saved him and his family.

All the time while Noah was preaching and the world around him was ignoring him, they had no idea; no idea of the form God’s anger would take. They were living normal everyday lives, marrying and giving in marriage, eating and drinking, everything was normal. But the flood came and God saved the believers in the ark. But All those who didn’t listen to Noah were left behind for judgment. It all happened without warning on a very normal day, like today.

Yes, I mean a day like today. If you think about it that description of Jesus matches today very well, too. Marrying and given in marriage, eating and drinking, some of us are still fighting off the tryptophan daze, that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy. In spite of all the dangers in the world, the average life expectancy continues to rise; it’s all the way up to 77.9 years (see And we aren’t just able to live longer; we have a better quality of life than any generation before. I think, in fact, that there should be a new index on the quality of life based on the amount of time it takes you to get from your house to a Best Buy. So, let’s see, ours would be about 45 min (the way some of us drive). Other good things going on around us: How about 3D TV?! Our society demands we respect one another. Hate isn’t just a four letter word it actually a crime. And we owe it all; it is said, to advancements of science and technology. Really, from that perspective it’s a great time to be alive.

Of course there are other things we should recognize about the time in which we live. These things fall right in the category of what God’s Word calls the wickedness of man and the every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart[s is]only evil continually. It is legal in this country to kill and unborn child, for any reason and at any time during their development before they are born. God’s definition for marriage has been totally set aside and soon it will be anything goes. We are told that we must tolerate all kinds of sexual immorality, and to speak against it is quickly threatening to become a violation of the law. That respect that is suppose to be granted to everyone doesn’t really apply to those who believe in God’s definition of marriage, or if you believe in Creation instead of evolution. And we are told that God is not allowed in Public Square, either in our schools, or government, or even regular public discussion. Well, we should qualify that by saying that god is allowed in public schools many gods and religions are discussed freely as a matter of diversity, only Christianity seem to be excluded. The only acceptable discussion about human origins is that which includes millions of years of evolution. And unfortunately very many Christians have given in to the idea. It is wrong for Christians to do so. Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible. Really, we live in a society that has turned openly against God. We live in a time when people do whatever they want apart from God. It seems it can tolerate anything but the truth from God’s Word, and especially the fact that Jesus is the only way that God has provided for salvation.

So right now we have a lot in common with the people who lived before the flood. Eating and drinking our way through life, marrying and giving in marriage, looking to the future for better things, unaware that everything is just as Jesus said it would be at his second coming. Today is a day very much like the days of Noah, and the Lord could return at any time.

If God’s judgment is working on you… if you are cut to the heart about the condition of our world, it would be easy to be discouraged. But there is Good News in Jesus words, too.

You see, Noah and his family were saved from the flood. They were left behind as everyone else was swept away in judgment. It seems like an insignificant number of people, but God didn’t destroy the 8 people who trusted in him. As promised he placed them safe from the flood of destruction in a boat, an ark.

And this is where Advent comes into the picture. As we prepare to celebrate God’s coming in human flesh, we remember that God is always faithful, and always keeps his promises. Jesus, our Savior, was born of a virgin to secure a place for you away from the flood of God’s judgment that is coming. Instead of letting you be destroyed, God himself was punished, as Jesus endured the pain and suffering of the cross and the eternal torment of hell for you. He bent God’s anger away from you and suffered it, so you and I won’t see it when Jesus comes again.

Some baptismal fonts (not ours) have eight sides. In fact, that is a very strong tradition. That’s not an accident, that’s not just an artistic notion; it’s all about being saved from the flood. It’s all about being saved from God’s anger. Baptism is about not being left behind for judgment as the flood of punishment washes over and destroys everything. Just like the flood destroyed an evil world and saved the righteous, Baptism does that very thing for you. Your old evil self, your sinful nature, was drowned to death, and you were saved from death all at the same time. Jesus puts you in the ark, the big boat of his church. He puts his name on you, and declares that no matter what the world tells you, you are his. So that when Jesus comes again and sweeps away the whole world and all those who reject him, with a new wave of destruction of God’s anger, you will not be left behind.

The words of the world are still out there, they still impact us every day. They say that God isn’t real. They say that there are other ways besides Jesus. They say that sin isn’t sin. But God gives you a different Word. His Word is truth. His Word is dependable. God has staked his life on it. Jesus gives you new life through it. Here in the ark of his church we hear the words of God’s promise. God speaks his Word to you to keep you faithful, to keep you awake and alert for the day that Jesus is coming again.

While the world goes on eating and drinking oblivious of God, he has provided a meal for you that also keeps you alert and ready. When we open our mouths and receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Jesus, we are kept mindful that that same Jesus is coming at a time when we don’t expect. And that that same Jesus is the one whose birth we celebrate and prepare for in Advent.

We live in the days of Noah. All around us are the signs. The Day of Judgment is coming. We also live in the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as he saved 8 from the flood, he promises to save you. Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Thanksgiving Eve; November 24, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

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

It’s Thanksgiving, that warm and wonderful holiday where we give ourselves permission to overeat. There may be a better holiday meal than turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, and sweet potatoes, but I doubt it. The holiday does bring us lots to think about. Abraham Lincoln established it as a time to repent of our sins and to express to God our thankfulness for all the blessings that have been given to our nation. It is an appropriate time to do just that.

Thinking about the harvest, and being thankful is also very appropriate on Thanksgiving. The harvest is now in and done, maybe this year it could have been better but none the less we have a lot to be thankful about. So tonight we’ll look at this harvest parable.

Here Jesus tells us a simple story, as is the case with most of the parables, but this is one of the most unique parables because Matthew records for us Jesus own interpretation of the story. The story goes like this:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” ” (Matthew 13:24–30, ESV)

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. ” (Matthew 13:36–43, ESV)

It seems a pretty simple story, Jesus himself is the farmer, we, his children are the good seed. Satan plants his children, among us in the world. We all grow up together until the end when everything is cut; the good grain to the barn, the kingdom of their Father, and the bad to the fire of hell.

God sows the wheat. It’s good seed. He has plans for it to prosper and grow. It is indeed good news that God plants and take care of us. Think about the 1st article of the Apostle’s Creed, and especially how Martin Luther explained it. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. Jesus himself says Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 In order that the good seed might reach its full potential, God takes care of the field as if it were all full of good plants. He is gracious, not wanting any to perish. The seed that is planted produces “Children of the Kingdom.” God is the one who makes us His children, just as the farmer waters the field so God uses water to make us his children. And He promises to protect and keep us. In Baptism God promises to send us the Holy Spirit. He guides us and keeps us in faith. the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Romans 8:26

But, the parable is clear that not all the plants are good plants. In fact, in one place in the parable some of the plants are called “scandleon” that means things that cause others to stumble. The Evil One has sown weeds all around us. We live in a world of believers and unbelievers. And often it’s difficult to tell the difference. The weeds look just like the wheat. But it is bad seed. Sin that is planted takes root and grows. The roots of the weeds tangle up together with the roots of the good plants. The field that God intended to be only good is infected, overnight. God’s greatest gifts are poisoned. Life becomes difficult. The scandal of sin causes destruction and death.

What’s to be done? Can the weeds be pulled up now? No. That’s impossible because everything is tangled all up together. Jesus says, “Wait! The time for separation is coming later. Right now is a time of grace, a waiting period, a time for Him to do some more work. It is a time for Him to turn weeds into wheat.

That is, after all, just what he did with you and me. We are surly weeds. The grain that we would naturally produce isn’t the kind that should be stored in the barn. It’s the kind that comes from our own sinful desires and actions; the kind that chokes our hope and life and causes pain and suffering. All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. If we had been left to our own, we would have been bundled up and cast into the fire to be burned.

But God doesn’t burn us. Not because we are producing good grain, but because Jesus Christ died, and rose again that we could rise up by his power and be changed from weeds to wheat. God reached out to you and me and saved us from our just end. In the same way he offers that same gift to all. But those who are deaf to his call will not receive His gift but be burned… in hell.

Jesus Christ was burnt for us. He took our weed-ness, our sins, and bore them to the cross. There God turned away from him and he suffered the very fires of hell. And when it was all over he rose un-charred to a new life. And he gives that new life to us instead of the fire.

There will be a harvest. There will be a day of sorting. Sheep from goats, good fish from bad fish, wheat from weeds. The sorting is all focused on the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is there where people either say, “Jesus be cursed!” and reject him, or shout with joy, “Jesus is Lord!”

It’s a harvest story. Is it simple? Yes in a way, it is because it shows us that Jesus alone provides what is needed for weeds to become wheat and escape the fire. It’s a Thanksgiving story too. This holiday as we gather with our family and friends it’s a great time to consider how weeds like us can be called the children of God… and give thanks. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Malachi.3.13-18; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 21, 2010;

“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ” Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. ” (Malachi 3:13–18, ESV)

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

Malachi had a tough job as a prophet. Church attendance was at an all time low. People just didn’t seem to give congregational activities much priority. Lot’s of people only showed up for those twice a year special services. The church was broke. Pastors all around were doing and saying things that were completely against God’s Word. Marriage was mocked. Young couples were hooking up left and right. Shacking up was becoming the common way to live. Folks didn’t care about the poor and hurting. Oh they did what they had to do, the token gift to show that they cared, but their hearts were far from caring. It was pretty obvious too, that there was profit in neglecting the things of God. Evil people were doing well. Outspoken critics of God had the public ear, and God’s faithful people were mocked for being old fashioned, and ignorant. It was easy for a church go-er to get discouraged. God promised that he would take care but it didn’t seem to be happening. You’d often hear church folks saying and thinking things like:

‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’

One poet captures the sense very well:

They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
you know that only the good die young (Billy Joel, Only the Good Die Young, 1977)

Malachi had it tough. But then again so do we. Kind of amazing how things come around, isn’t it? It’s enough to make you wonder what difference it really makes. People all around us live as if there is nothing to fear from God and they’re doing well. There’s no lightning bolts out of heaven striking them dead when they out right mock God and faith. Not only do they get away with the fun stuff but they even seem to be rewarded. Does God really care how I act? Does it really matter to him if I cheat a little here and there on the commandments? I’ll go to church when there’s nothing else more important going on. After all God forgives sin, isn’t that the point of church? Maybe I can get away with not speaking out against sin and making my neighbors angry. What’s the point in looking like a backwoods hick who doesn’t have the brains to realize the way the world really works? Maybe I can have my cake and eat it too. Maybe I can just fit into what ever is popular right now. After all I believe in Jesus and that’s what’s important, right?

“It is vain to serve God.” That’s what Malachi’s people said. That’s what we are tempted to say and think. There’s a problem here. Do you remember that one?

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

You might think that the second command doesn’t apply to you because you’re good at holding your tongue. You don’t curse or swear. Hey it’s not just using OMG that’s a problem here. It’s murmuring against God, doubting his promises. You use God’s name incorrectly when you wondering “What’s in it for me?” Especially in the face of all that’s going on out there. Living as a Christian means showing the truth about who God is. When we start thinking this way we are being self serving, instead of neighbor serving. When we think this way its easy to get lazy and indifferent. It’s easy to overlook what God calls sin, especially in us. It’s our sin taking control again. It is unfaithfulness, doubting God’s promises again. All of the sudden you are in the camp of people who are speaking wrongly about God. You want others to be destroyed, but your thoughts and actions deserve the same punishment from God. That’s the real problem isn’t it? Anytime you start to focus on the sins of other people, you really ought to turn your condemnation back on yourself. It is perfectly right to think that God should punish sin. Just remember that your sin is front and center. You should first be concerned about that. If you can’t even keep God’s second commandment perfectly hell is your reward. Lord, have mercy!

Well, he does have mercy. There is a difference between the righteous and the wicked, those who serve God and those who serve themselves. But, it’s not what we so easily think. It’s not about doing. It’s about “fearing.” Look there at Malachi’s text. Everything turns around for those who fear the Lord and esteem his name. That’s another way to say those who live in repentant faith. To fear the Lord is to know God’s just judgment against sin and make it personal. It’s my sin that condemns me. Yet, we trust that God has taken care of our sin in Jesus Christ. It is our faith in God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sin that saves us from his condemnation. It’s there in the text too.

“They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.

This is Jesus on the cross. I know what it looks like. Jesus obeyed God and where did it get him. Crucified, dead and buried. Naked, mocked, beaten bloody on a cross. He certainly isn’t spared any of that. And yet that is Jesus’ service. That is God’s love out in all of its naked glory. Here is where God really shows the difference between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness. Here is where the great exchange takes place. A Jesus mocked, beaten, humiliated, and crucified serves God perfectly. Here perfect Jesus takes on our sin and receives our punishment. Here God takes Jesus’ perfect life and gives it to us. God, the Father, spares not his own Son so that we who are so often unfaithful are spared. We who murmur against God and doubt his anger and resolve to punish sin to its fullest. We who ignore the needs of our neighbors in both body and soul. We who so often fail to speak the truth when a sinful world says sin is right. We who pretend that there is nothing special about God’s presence in this place. We who so quickly point to the sin of others ignoring the logs in our own eye. We hear Jesus’ words from the cross. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

These words of forgiveness are spoken to all, for all. It is the fear of the Lord that receives them in repentant faith. The repentant sinner receives the gift of forgiveness with joy, firmly holding on to Jesus. Do you want an example? It’s right there in the Gospel for today.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him… (Luke 23:39–43, ESV)

My dear Christian brothers and sisters the same Jesus Christ, from the cross says those words to you:

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

You are mine. You are my special possession. Your name is written in the book of life. You are forgiven of all your sin. Amen.

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

Monday, November 08, 2010

Matthew 5:3; All Saints Day (observed); November 7, 2010

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. ” (Matthew 5:1–12, ESV)

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

There are a few things that make preaching today a bit difficult. Don’t get me wrong I love All Saints day. I think it’s great that we remember the gift of life and salvation that God gives to those who die in the faith. It’s just that you’ll want me to say something like, “Grandpa is fishing with Jesus.” Or “Aunt Nelly is knitting up a storm, thinkin’ about all her grandchildren joining her in heaven.” Or “Joe, just loves the auto races they have there.” Well, I can’t say anything like that. Actually, what scripture tells us about those who have died in the faith is very lacking in our eyes. Much less than we’d like to know. Here’s what we do know. They are dead. That’s kind of strange to say, but it is true. They are dead Christians. Dead means, their souls have been separated from their bodies. Physical death is the part of the wages of sin we are not able to avoid. So, they have suffered that. Their bodies are in the cemetery, an urn on the mantel, missing in action, or what ever. That’s the bad news. The good news is that their souls are with Christ. What that means is just this, they are safe, sin isn’t a concern for them any more, they don’t have any pain, they don’t have any sorrow, they don’t care a lick about what’s going on here, and most importantly, they are waiting for the resurrection. Because that’s when God will make them a whole person again, body and soul, flesh blood and spirit. A perfect spiritual physical body, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. What they have right now, in the in-between time is better than what we have, but it’s not the best it’s going to be. What they have right now that we don’t have is that they are “with Christ.” They see his face first hand. They will never again doubt his Word, his promises of life and salvation are sure for them. But sure and certain isn’t complete. God’s promise for us isn’t only that when we die we will be in heaven. God’s promise for us is that through Jesus Christ, we will be raised from death to live as perfect people with him forever. Completely perfect human beings, physical body and soul together forever. This is what we really have in common with our friends and relatives who have died, and in fact all Christians over all time who have died and will ever die. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… we are all looking forward to the resurrection, Jesus coming to restore the earth to its full glory and give it to us again as a perfect place for perfect people to live. And so in the meantime, we wait.

Actually, waiting is what the Beatitudes are about. Jesus is not talking about things we should do (this is how most likely you’ve heard this text preached before). Since you are God’s people you need to be meek, righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers… the problem with that is we could never live up to those expectations. And if we could what in the world would we need a Savior for? What Jesus is talking about is how it is with us now and how it will be for us in the resurrection. In fact, do you realize that the very first word Jesus speaks in this sermon is this salvation word? “Blessèd” One modern translation uses the word “happy.” Well, that falls way short. These are not the “Be happy attitudes.” Instead they are about our emptiness and how God fills our emptiness. Another way to say “blessed” is “saved”.

All the beatitudes really fall under the very first one.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)

Look at your bulletin where it’s printed. All of them, all nine, follow the same pattern. There is the part before the “for” and the part after. Another way to say that “for” is “because.” Someone who has a need is blessed because God gives them what they need. Now look again at the first. “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All the rest says “they shall… all the way to the next to last that says “is” again. Do you see what the “is”, is about there. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t have to think about this very hard at all. The word “is” means right now, and forever. The ones who are poor in spirit (we’ll talk about that in just a second) have the kingdom of heaven now and forever. The way that Jesus has opened and closed this list is to say that all these things are describing what it means to have what we have, what it means to be in the kingdom of heaven right now… and forever.

Ok, pastor, what are you saying that we are “the poor in spirit”? We’re not poor. Look at all that we have. Our little corner of the Iowa is a great place to live. We’re relatively unscathed by the recession. There’s housing and food. We’ve got a Walmart and a McDonalds. You can find anything you need right here. We’ve got a great church that seems right on the cusp of exploding into something really great. And who could complain about the outcome of the election? Things seem to be going our way. What else do we need? Are you saying we are the ones who are poor in spirit? That’s precisely what Jesus is saying. In fact, unless you see yourself as “poor in spirit” you’ll miss everything that God has to give here.

If you have any doubts get out your bible and look up the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes. In it Jesus sets some pretty high standards. He says if you are angry you are guilty if killing your neighbor. If you look at a man or woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. Divorce is always evil. Leave payback to God alone. Love your enemies and do only good things for them. And oh, just so you don’t miss it he finishes all these commands off with

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)

You see all these things that you do or don’t do really reveal a spiritual problem. You are sinful. You cannot be perfect. You deserve only the punishment that Jesus describes in this sermon.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ” (Matthew 5:22, ESV)

That’s what it is to be “spiritually poor” bound for hell with no way to change.

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, most of us, you and me have been in God’s grace for our whole lives. God poured water on our heads in Holy Baptism and since then we have had God’s gifts and blessing so long that we have no idea what it was like to be without out. In fact, we may have even come to think that we deserve these things and we could never be hell bound. But the thing is, if God were to for one moment withdraw his grace, there would be nothing here (in your heart, or mind, or spirit) that would save you. You are blessed, saved by God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ and nothing in you or about you. Because he does for you what you are unable to do for yourself. You are spiritually poor, without any resource to save yourself. Standing on the forgiveness of sins you have in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and nothing else. No work or merit, no goodness in you.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)

Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is salvation in Jesus Christ without any conditions, or limits, without any thing you must do to earn it. It is a gift given for you, oh you who are poor in spirit.

And just what is it that is given? The kingdom of heaven, or as one of my seminary professors says, the “reign of God.” Jesus describes it like this.

“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. ” (Matthew 5:4–9, ESV)

Actually it’s exactly Jesus; sins forgiven; blind people see; deaf people hear; lame people walk; and here’s the thing that ties it all together with All Saints; dead people live!

Yep, that’s what we really want to see isn’t it. That’s the comfort we have as mourning Christians. Our dead in Christ will live again. Oh, they have it great right now, no sin, no sorrow, no crying, safety in Christ. That’s better than what we’ve got, sorrow, sin, pain and death. But what they have will be even better “they shall receive” Our Lord says. What we have in Jesus will be even better “we shall receive” our Lord says “the kingdom of heaven.

And it all begins for you in Holy Baptism, when you receive on your for head the sign of the Holy Cross to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified. All the promises of God are true in Jesus, true for you now; the reign of God is at hand.

Did you ever wonder though why the sign of the cross? Of course it points to Jesus there and his death as your death, his resurrection as your resurrection. But there is more. All described also in the Beatitudes. The sign of the cross on you means that the life of a Christian is one of suffering.

“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. ” (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)

You are blessed, you have the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing just what he promised for you. You can’t always see it because sometimes it looks like mourning, meekness, hunger, and so forth, but it is true for you. But there is always the “because”; because mourners will be comforted; unrighteousness will come to an end. Mercy will be given and shared. There will be peace and we will see God! Face to face in resurrected bodies; standing with our loved ones hand in hand rejoicing in Jesus.

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

Monday, November 01, 2010