Monday, December 31, 2012

Philippians 2:5-13; The Festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ; December 31, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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

The tiny bundle was brought forward. The happy parents gathered around the font, and the congregation stood in eager expectation. Grandparents beamed and sponsors nervously twitched. It was an important day for everyone, but mostly for the little unnamed baby. It was a big day not only because the child was about to receive the promises of God given in the sacrament, but because her name would be spoken in public for the first time. “Dearly beloved…” the pastor began, and continued describing the benefits and blessings that come through Baptism. The promises God makes to His people in baptism that were being made real for this little child. Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for arrived. “Clara Mae Jones, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The sound of water was heard returning into the bowl. And the act was finished. The name was spoken and given. God’s adoption of another lost human being enacted.

That’s the way it was in the old days. Names were not given to children until they were baptized. In some places, you can still find grave markers that say “Baby Smith” “Baby Albert” not just because they died at birth but because they died before baptism. We don’t see it that way any more, and maybe we’ve lost something; some meaning of the importance of a name.

Really that’s the scene we have in this very short Gospel lesson. Luke 2:21 says only this. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21 (ESV) He was named Jesus. Probably like our old tradition, His name was left unspoken until the ceremony. But, it’s not as if Mary and Joseph didn’t know what the name would be. Jesus was given the name that was given by God to Mary and Joseph through angels. But why this name? What kind of meaning is there in the name Jesus?

That’s the topic of the Epistle lesson: It’s a beautiful section of scripture and may have even been a hymn in the early church. It has that melodic ring to it and very nice rhythms that are easily lost in translation from Greek to English. But even more than that, the text is beautiful because of how well it tells us about who Jesus really is. And it does it by telling us the meaning of Jesus’ name. And actually, it’s a great way to begin the New Year: to think about Jesus and His Name and what it means. In fact, there may be no better text to begin a New Year… as we look forward to all the events that it will hold. Especially the things we will remember here at church. Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter.

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:5-13 (ESV)

Jesus and His name are the center of this text. Jesus Christ is Lord! It says.

This is the name which we believe in our hearts. This is the name we confess with our lips. It’s the name we confess together here week after week. At the mention of this name, we bow together in holy awe. It is the desire to place this name into the hearts and upon the lips of all people that motivated the forming of this congregation. Jesus Christ is Lord! What’s the name all about? What does this name mean? It means everything!

He is Jesus. Jesus, born in a stable (as we just celebrated!), laid in a manger, raised in humble surroundings by humble parents, Mary and Joseph. Jesus “born in the likeness of men.” Jesus the baby, the boy, the man, “true man born of the Virgin Mary.” Jesus was a man, a true human being. Just as human as you and me. Breathing the same air. Living a life very much like yours. “Being found in human form.” Like you and me in every way, except without sin. The One who bears this name, Jesus, is truly human.

He is Lord. That’s the part of his name that tells us that he’s not only human but also God. That’s the “name that is above every other name.” Jesus is Lord means that He, and no one else, is Lord of all. God above all things. True God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He is truly God. Equal by nature, not by force. The one who bears this name is completely God.

He is Christ. Christ means Messiah, or anointed one, Savior. This part of His name means that the one who is man and God is the one who through His life and through His suffering and death restores the broken relationship between God and human beings. He does it by pouring out himself on the cross for us. He did it by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The cross is were we find out who this person really is and what is really involved in His name. Because it is at the cross that we see more clearly than anywhere else what this Name means to us, what it means that our Savior is both God and Man. “For us and our salvation,” as the creed says. Jesus Christ was hanged on a cross to take away the guilt and punishment of our sin. What does it mean to you and me that Jesus did that? Very much! Really it means everything to you and me.

Jesus Christ is man. Because he was human, what He did, the life he lived he was able live in our place. He was no outsider. He wasn’t an impostor, not pretending to be human, but truly and completely human. Everything he did he did as a living human being. He could take your place and mine in life because he was an equivalent substitute, except that He never sinned. He was perfect and didn’t deserve punishment. He didn’t deserve the wages of sin. But since he was truly human the punishment he received, was valid punishment for human beings. The punishment of Jesus Christ was punishment for you. It is the punishment and death of the Human being Jesus Christ, for you.

Jesus Christ is God. Jesus was not forced to die. He was instead a willing recipient of death on the cross. He didn’t do it for himself. He did it for you. It is the fact that Jesus is God that makes His death sufficient for all people everywhere for all time. No matter how many billions and billions of people ever live, the death of Jesus true God, is enough to satisfy their punishment and death. The death of Jesus is good enough for you.

That’s what this name Jesus gives us. This man, this humble servant, bleeding dying on the cross, is God. He is God and Man together. That is the very remarkable thing that His name tells us: This Man is God. God is this Man.

at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

What is this name to you? Well, these days we don’t save the naming of our children until baptism. You have to write something on the birth certificate before they’ll let you leave the hospital. (Believe me I tried!) But in a way, we are still named at our baptism. We are given the name of Jesus. And when that happens God promises everything that Jesus did, His life, His death and especially His resurrection are yours. We are placed into the name of Jesus! I baptize you in the name of the Father… God uses simple water and His promise to make the work of Jesus, God and Man, yours. And we gather here together in the name of that same Jesus. We receive the gifts He has to give us: rescue from sin, death and the power of Satan. It’s all here in Word and Sacrament. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. The body and blood shed on the cross for you and given to you here, given freely, because of the One in who’s name we gather.

So, what’s the name of Jesus to you? Nothing less than everything. Everything you believe about God is wrapped up in the name of Jesus. His name tells you everything about who God is and what He has done to save you. His name tells you how he brings that salvation human beings, and how he brings that same salvation right to you. In the name of Jesus… Amen.

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

Colossians 3:12-17; The First Sunday after Christmas; December 30, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)

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

This whole text sounds great. I think we should do it. Listen again: be compassionate, kind, humble, patient, bearing with one another. And don't forget forgive. Just think how great things would be around here if we all did all of these things and put them on just like we would our coat to go outside in the chilly air. And oh, not just do them, but do them all, all the time, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. What is this mean? It means not dividing what we do at church, whether it's here in the sanctuary or in the fellowship hall, from what we do outside of the church. You know, where you live, where you work, where you eat, where you play, everywhere, always. It means to everyone, too. That is, be kind, compassionate, humble, patient all the time with everyone you meet and know. Now look around you. Certainly there's someone here who puts at least one of those things to the test for you. And you can put on a happy face, but inside, your patience, your ability to bear, your kindness, is stretched to the limit. And that's here in the church where everything is supposed to be "nice". What about outside these brick walls? There's that neighbor who just won't cooperate for "neighbor's" sake. Or the person you work with who undermines everything you do, or sits waiting for you to make a mistake and pounce. Or even more now days the people who disagree with you on politics, social issues, and even religious issues. These days there just is no polite political, social or religious discourse. People now seem to think that you think like they do or you are evil. Out there where the world is not always "nice" it's even harder, isn't it?

And we are to do all of this, "in the name of Jesus". That means, we are to do it like Jesus did or how he wants us to do it. Well we know he was perfect, did everything perfectly, but does that mean he expects us to do it that way? Well I'm afraid so. The gospel writer Matthew tells us that Jesus says exactly that. In the sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5 verse 48 Jesus requires us to be perfect.

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

and right after that he says

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, ESV)

So not only does he require you to be perfect, it's not just on the outside to be seen by other people. Jesus wants you to be perfect in your heart. That means not just acting compassionate, kind, humble, patient, and bearing but feeling it in here (in your heart). You have to be motivated to do it with a pure heart, a perfect heart, one that thinks more of your neighbor than yourself.

Well, you know what the problem with that is? Have you ever tried to make yourself humble? You start by making yourself look humble. And then you try to make your heart itself humble. And as soon as you see someone looking at you, you start to feel pride welling up at how humble you're looking. And have you ever tried to make yourself thankful? The problem is in order to be thankful, you have to have something happen to be thankful for. That's just the way it is with humbleness and thankfulness. In fact that's the way it is with all of these things, kindness, humbleness, patients, and even forgiveness. These things must come to you from outside of you. You do not have them in you. And Jesus says this too:

And [Jesus]said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:20–22, ESV)

Actually, this is the whole point of the text. St. Paul is not telling you to gin up some motivation within yourself to get these things going. He says "put them on." Just like you will put on your coat to go back outside today. You have your coat, you put it on, and you stay warm. So St. Paul says just like your coat, put on these things. Well actually, he says "Put on then…" The "then" is the thing that happens that enables you to put them on. He doesn't leave you guessing he tells you exactly what the "then" is. Back in Chapter 2 of this letter:

having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,” (Colossians 2:12–13, ESV)

This is your connection to Jesus, his life death and resurrection. This is what makes the things that he did yours. In Holy Baptism your old sinful nature was crucified to death. And then you were made alive by God together with Christ. You have the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism. Jesus' death on the cross satisfies God's anger, pays the punishment you deserve, for the sinfulness that is in your heart; for your inability to do anything with a pure motivation; for your hypocritical "looking good on the outside" but being corrupt and self-motivated on the inside. This forgiveness is the "then" that comes to you from outside of yourself. It's the thing that gives you all of what God would have you do. Martin Luther said it like this:

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

St. Paul says it like this:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.

The peace of Christ is the peace proclaimed by the Christmas angels to the shepherds. It is the peace brought by Jesus in his birth, life, death and resurrection. It is the peace Jesus gave to his disciples on the first Easter Sunday when he appeared to them behind locked doors. They were hiding out, guilty of betraying him. And he appears not bringing punishment and anger but says instead "Peace be with you." In other words, "I know your sin, I know your heart, and I forgive you." Jesus put on them forgiveness and peace. When St. Paul says let this peace rule in your hearts he is saying nothing less than focusing on the gifts given in the water and the Word that were poured and spoken over you that made you a forgiven child of God. And then St. Paul says:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

And now because you have the peace of God, that is the forgiveness of sins, you can let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. And you can put on kindness, compassion, humility, patience and forgiveness. This is the new man that daily emerges through the hearing of God's word, confession of one's sins, and the receiving of forgiveness. Which is nothing less than living in your baptism every day. You can be compassionate because you know God was compassionate to you in forgiving the sin that comes with your internal motivation. And your neighbor benefits from your compassion. You can be kind because you know that God was kind to you in forgiving your sin that comes from your internal motivation. And your neighbor benefits from your kindness. You can be humble because you know God forgives you your hypocritical humbleness. You can bear with other people because you know God bears with you and your sin through the forgiveness won by Christ. And your neighbor benefits. And you can forgive. In fact St. Paul gives special attention to forgiveness. He says to forgive each other "as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Your inability and unwillingness to forgive is a sin also forgiven by Christ on the cross. When your neighbor comes to you and asks for forgiveness you must tell them they are forgiven. You cannot withhold Jesus' forgiveness from your Christian brothers and sisters as if your unwillingness to forgive them somehow made Jesus' forgiveness invalid. It is theirs because God gives it for the sake of his son's death on the cross. You can't change that by your sin, that is your unwillingness or inability to forgive. This is exactly why we used the confession and absolution this morning from Compline. We stand and face each other across the aisle, confess our sins to one another, and pronounce the forgiveness that is ours through Jesus Christ. And living in that forgiveness, you know that your sins are forgiven, as great as they are, you are able to forgive. You announce the grace of God to those who sin against you knowing that your sins are forgiven. And your neighbor benefits.

So put them on, all of them. Practice compassion, kindness, humbleness, patience, bearing with one another, oh and don't forget forgiveness. These are all yours given to you by God through faith in Jesus Christ who gives you forgiveness above all. You can put them on and do them for the benefit of your neighbor knowing that even though your motivation is not always right God forgives your sin and your neighbor benefits. Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Luke 2:1–20; Christmas Day; December 25, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)

(from a sermon by Rev. David Schmitt, Voices from the Edge)

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

The heavens were opened and the angelic host peered down upon the earth in wonder and excitement. They sang the song of God's glory to the shepherds and to the whole earth. The heavens weren't opened up so the shepherds could see the Angels. The heavens were opened up so the Angels could see the glory of God in Jesus Christ, born in a stable and Bethlehem, and to direct the shepherds attention there. "Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people." God is filling the world with great joy that comes from sins forgiven, death defeated, life forever with God. In this is a joy for all people. And it comes today, in a baby, and Bethlehem. And it comes in his life, death, and resurrection. It comes as God saves you from sin, death and the power of Satan.

One of the very strange things about this account of God's glory at the birth of Jesus Christ is the fact that it was first announced shepherds. Why would the Angels make the announcement to shepherds?

See that clearly we need to remember that in Palestine in those days there were two kinds of shepherds. There are shepherds who were peasants. They lived in villages. In the morning they would take their flocks out to the pastures around to feed them. And at night they would gather them together and bring them back to the fold. Jesus parable about the lost sheep in the shepherd that goes out to find it is about this kind of Shepherd. When he finds that he brings it home and calls his friends to rejoice. This is a peasant shepherd who lived in a village. He had a home to return to friends to rejoice with.

The other kind of shepherds were nomadic. They didn't have a home. They wandered about the countryside from place to place looking for green grass to feed their sheep. They were mistrusted by people because they didn't have a permanent home. They were considered liars and thieves and con artists. They could do and say whatever they wanted and miss the consequences because they would move on to a new village. They were not allowed to testify in court. These are the kind of shepherds that would be out in the fields "by night". Why is this important?

Caesar Augustus commanded that the world be counted. A census needed to be taken. People had to go to their cities of origin. That's why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house and lineage of David. Census didn't include nomadic people, like nomadic shepherds. They were not important enough to count. They had no family and bloodlines. There are not numbered among the Roman people or the Jewish people. The Angels appeared to them. God was counting them. He was saying even these kind of people were important to him. The joy of Jesus Christ born in the stable is not just for people count but for all.

It's easy for us to forget that God's joy is for all people. In fact our culture pushes us to isolate God's joy at Christmas to Christians. Everyone else celebrates the holidays with lights and gifts and cards in the joy of being together. But not Christmas joy that comes from a Savior born, crucified, and reason.

We are here to celebrate the real joy and reason for Christmas. And yet I have heard about churches who don't have services on Christmas morning. In fact back in 2005 Willow Creek in Chicago and Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids and first Baptist Church in Atlanta and fellowship church in Dallas all decided not to have Christmas Day services. The reporters had a field day with these mega-churches because it look like they canceled Christmas. Pastor at Willow Creek explained in an interview, "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas, hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day." (

churches, accessed August 12, 2012.) One thing these churches are doing is mistaking the kingdom of God with the American nuclear family. Isolating the joy of Christmas in that context. They wanted to help families have "a more personal experience that day". But actually they made matters worse. There were many people who have no family with which to celebrate Christmas. And by not having church they took away their opportunity to celebrate Christmas with God's family. Don't even think about not ask me to have church on Christmas day.

Sometimes we take the joy out of Christmas with our own expectations. We have hopes of a wonderful Christmas they are not always fulfilled. Christmas has way bringing back memories. Memories of what it was like as a child. And Christmas has a way of bringing out hope. Hope for a better future. We know what we want for our children and our grandchildren are friends and even ourselves. But the world as it is, broken, full of sin, often prevents our dreams from being fulfilled. It happens in our families. It happens in our lives. Sin tears everything apart. It tears apart our relationships with arguments. It tears apart our lives sickness and death.

God is the one who speaks to us the account of what happened on Christmas. We hear the voice of the Angels. God sent them to proclaim the good news of the Savior. And who did God send them to. There were important people gathered together, people who counted. God appeared to the ones that didn't count. He saying no one should be overlooked.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)

God sent his Son to takes upon himself human flesh. And in that human flesh God carries all of our human suffering. He dies under the just judgment and punishment of sin as he hangs on the cross for sake and by God. And most important he rises from the dead. Jesus Christ proves who we is, God and man together, in his resurrection. And he proves that the joy of Christmas is well-founded. He rises from the dead and shows he has power over everything, even death. And it Christmas God announces this Good News of the forgiveness of sin to people who didn't count, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The joy of Christmas was for shepherds in the field. The joy of Christmas is for you. God brings forgiveness through Jesus Christ to every person, every family, every county, every state, every country, in fact the world.

It doesn't matter if there's a death in your family, a divorce, the loss of a job, or insecurity about the future. God has brought you to this place to hear the good news, the voice of the Angels.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."


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

Monday, December 24, 2012

Luke 2:1–20; Christmas Eve; December 24, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)

(from a sermon by Rev. David Schmitt, Voices from the Edge)

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

The story of Jesus birth is very familiar to us. As Luke tells it is a very startling contrast that he invites us to see. But contrast is between a world that is breaking open in excitement and a young woman putting the pieces together and pondering them in her heart.

On the one hand, the world is breaking forth in excitement. God is peeled back the layer of the heavens so that when the shepherds look up they see Angels instead of stars. The sky is filled with light and angels sing shepherds in the field. Shepherds must think they're in God's presence in the angels song. They are told about God becoming present among in the swaddling baby in the manger. They can't wait to go and see. They find Mary and Joseph and the baby. On the return they tell everyone everything they saw.

There is so much excitement in what they do on the one hand, and on the other hand you have Mary who is treasuring up these things and pondering them in her heart. Everything in Mary's life has changed. And it's all God's doing. Engagement has been complicated by a child. She had to travel too far away place and lay her baby not in a cradle but a manger. Shepherds interrupt the stable with their excitement in their story about angels and singing. In the midst of all of that excitement Mary holds all these things together, pondering them in her heart.

During Advent we listened to Voices from the Edge. It was a series of sermons from various people who spoke about what God was doing, and going to do in the coming of Jesus. The angel voices are also Voices from the Edge. They interrupt the shepherds out there in the field and first thing they say is "be not afraid, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people." But what makes it a great joy?

For you and me greatness usually is something we see as self-evident. Two guys talking about a football game might say something like, "what about that play?" The other will respond "yea, wasn't that great?" There is no need to explain which play it is, it's greatness as self-evident. It's the play that was repeated on instant replay over and over again. It's the play that was spoken about by the commentators. It's the great play. When we talk about things that are great we think of them as obvious.

The Angels tell about something that's great in way that is different from human beings. The Angels tell the shepherds they can see the great thing identified by the sign. "This will be a sign for you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger." The shepherds need assigned to see this great thing. The sign leads them to a place that they would never go to find something great. A baby sleeping in a manger, an animal trough, born to young girl from out of town.

Mary and Joseph have traveled about 60 miles, during the very last days of her pregnancy. The census has forced them to leave their home in journey to Bethlehem. There is no place for them to stay because of the crowds. She goes into labor, has the baby, and there's no place to put him but in a manger. If we wern't so familiar with this story we might wonder why everything was going so badly for them. You would never think that this was the account of the birth of God. And so the Angels had to give a sign, "this birth is for you!"

The joy that God brings is great because it goes beyond what we can see. If things are going badly God must be against me. If things are going well God must be for me. This is not what God's word tells us. We don't decide what God thinks of us because of the circumstances we live in. He has declared that he is for us in all circumstances. So his joy does not depend on the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it depends on God's love. And so God's great joy can be found places where we least expect it to be found. God's great joy depends on his love, so we can find it anywhere.

A pastor once saw this comfort in a very real way. He had a parishioner who was spending her Christmas at the bedside of her daughter who was dying. Lois was his parishioner. Her daughter Kathy was in one of the first weddings he performed when he came to the church. And this year, Kathy was dying. What started out as breast cancer had spread to her brain and her bones, and Kathy was at home in hospice care. One day, when pastor came and visited, he told Lois he was sorry. “I’m sure it’s difficult to go through this,” he said “especially this time of year.” “Yes,” Lois said “yes, pastor, it’s hard.” She told him how she and her husband were getting all of these Christmas cards from friends who didn’t know what was happening. Every day, her husband would bring over the mail and she’d open another card wishing her a Merry Christmas. She was staying at her daughter’s house. They’d put a hospital bed in the living room and she slept on the sofa, so her husband brought her the mail. Every day, someone was sending her a card and wishing her a Merry Christmas. And she said, “I’d like to send out cards this year but I just can’t.” He told her that, of course, she wouldn’t send out cards. People would understand. But then she said, “No pastor, you don’t understand. I want to send out cards this year because this year I know what Christmas is really about.” He asked what she meant and she told him that Christmas is about God being with us. She told him about how she sleeps when her daughter sleeps and gets up when her daughter wakes. How she gives her morphine and turns her and changes her and bathes her, and she said, “I know I wouldn’t be able to do any of this, if it wasn’t for God. I know he is here with us and he’s bringing Kathy to be with him.” This Christmas, Lois is picking up the pieces. She’s taking the excitement of her friends at Christmas, the cards and the letters, and the suffering of her daughter, and she is holding them together, pondering them and discovering a holy joy. Lois is trusting in the true joy of Christmas. God came to be with us so that in the end we might be with him, and await that day when he raises us from the dead and brings about a new creation.

In our Christmas celebrations we spend time trying to make everything perfect. We try to cook the perfect dinner, search for the perfect gift, want to have the perfect family gathering. It is a standard that we want to reach a picture we have painted in our mind of the perfect Christmas. Nothing wrong with that, it's good to want to rejoice in the great joy that God has brought to you through Jesus Christ in this way. But the picture of perfection will never be met. Sin always shoves in its ugly head to our families. Their arguments that never seem to end. May be a recent divorce or death covers everything. These things loom over us and try to ruin Christmas. Sin makes its appearance known even in the midst of our great joy. Right there in the middle of our broken Christmas we remember this is exactly why God came to be with us. He loves us regardless of our circumstances. He became a human being, lived among us, in the middle of our sinful circumstances, and offered his life for the forgiveness of our sin. He lived, died and rose again and promises that "I will never leave you nor forsake you." That includes when Christmas seems to be broken instead of perfect. Think about the Angels and their voices from the edge. God has given you great joy. That great joy is not always obvious. It isn't great because it's obvious. It's great because it is God's love. Because God shows his love to us in this way,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)

The great joy of Christmas is that God loves sinners. God, in Jesus Christ, was born of the Virgin Mary, for you and your broken Christmas. God, in Jesus Christ, is crucified dead and buried for you and your broken Christmas. God, in Jesus Christ, on the third day he rose again from the dead, for you and your broken Christmas. His great joy can come into your life and bring comfort. Because God has come to be with you and your broken Christmas. "You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." Amen.

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Psalm 51:10-12; Funeral Sermon for James Allen Bird; December 22, 2012;

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

Jim was a lifelong member of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston Iowa. His father and mother were very active here. He was born, baptized, confirmed and married as a member of this congregation. Unfortunately in the last number of years he has not been very active. There may be many reasons for that but at top of the list is probably that his health was very difficult. I didn't get to know Jim very well he was only in church a few times since I've been here. I didn't visit him at the house and only once in the hospital. This was my failing as a pastor, and grieves me. And yet in all of this I have no doubt that Jim had faith. He was raised by faithful parents and taught the Scriptures and confirmed and also made sure his children were raised and confirmed in the faith. And while I would never condone making oneself absent from the hearing of God's Word on a regular basis, today we cling to God's promises made to Jim in his baptism, the promises he publicly acknowledged on his confirmation day. The promises that we heard just a few moments ago. The promise of our death and resurrection with Jesus that means that this death will also end in a resurrection.

Here's a few things I know about Jim, from the few times I met him, but mostly from interacting with his family. He was a strong and quiet man, even though he was never afraid to say what he thought. He joked with me even as I stood over his bed in the hospital when the doctors were telling him he was having rejection issues with his heart. And he must've missed the outdoors a great deal when he couldn't do it as much as he wanted. And Jessica told me he loved to cook. It's something I never would've guessed about him. And there's one more thing, at funerals we always want to speak the best about people. And there are lots of good things to say about Jim. But the truth is we are here today for only one reason. That reason is not unique to Jim, it's actually common to us all. We are here today because Jim was a sinner. Nobody knows that better than his family. We don't need to go into details about Jim's sin. We know it's true because we are here today at a funeral. Jim has paid the wages of sin. You and I will pay the wages of sin.

But we are here today for a purpose. We are here to hear about Jesus. We are here because the wages of sin need an answer. And the answer is Jesus, and here's what it looks like:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10–12, ESV)

Actually, that sounds just like Jim. 10 years ago his heart was sick. The doctors replaced it with a new one. Jim was given a new life. Lana was just telling me how glad she was that they had those 10 years. Without the new heart this funeral would have been 10 years ago. So even then Jim went through sort of a death and resurrection. Look at all the things he was able to do. It was a new lease on life. And he enjoyed it, in his drives in the country, his coffee club, watching his children grow, and enjoying his grandchildren. It was a life full of joy. He got a new heart, clean heart, a new life. This is what Jesus promises. The words of Psalm 51 were written by King David. He too was a sinful man who knew of his great need to be saved from his sin. And this is what God does in Jesus. We receive a new heart, a clean heart, when we hear and believe the good news about Jesus. How he was born, lived his life perfectly for us, died on the cross to suffer the punishment of our sin, rose from the dead to assure us that all that he did was true and complete. And through faith in Jesus Christ and all that he has done, when those who have faith approach death, suffer death, they have God's promise they will not be cast away from his presence but spend eternity with him and all those who have faith in him.

We said it so strongly at the beginning of our service today. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, was crucified dead and buried. He suffered death for the sins of the whole world. The sin that drives you to the grave brought Jesus there for you. The death he died, the punishment he received, was yours. That is God’s promise for you. It is baptism that links us to Jesus death, through faith in Him. When you believe in Jesus you have already died to sin. Just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father we to may have new life. That’s the promise that we cling to with our whole hearts. Death comes, but it is not the end because life comes again. Jesus didn’t just die he rose again from death. He defeated the power of death to hold us forever. That’s God’s promise to us through baptism. That’s God’s promise to you about Jim, too. I don’t believe that because Jim has a long list of friends or accomplishments (he has!). But I believe it because I know it because of the promises of God.

That is our peace today. That's our comfort today. It’s not built on the good things that were done by Jim. It’s the peace and comfort that comes from depending on the promises of God. Amen.

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

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