Sunday, December 11, 2022

James 5:7-11; The Third Sunday in Advent; December 11, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:7–11, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is very hard to be patient. With all that is going on in the world that stand directly against God’s Word. One of the primary examples is the “Respect for Marriage Act” that was passed by the Senate and House just recently. Our president will sign it soon. It codifies same sex marriage in law. 12 Republican senators and 39 House members voted for the legislation, that puts the Church in the cross hairs. It is evidence that “Government is not the solution to a problem; it is the problem.” And Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. (Psalm 146:3, ESV) At times like these it is good to remember God is in control, he calls us to remain faithful to what he teaches, and he calls for patience. Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it. There is a lot that we are troubled by in the world. There is a lot we would like God to fix right now. But God says, “Be patient.”

My other churches were primarily rural farming communities. Those communities understand patients. It is the example that James gives. Patients is required to put a seed into the ground and then wait… wait for it to sprout, break the surface of the ground, grow to its full height and bear fruit. There is very little for the farmer to do. Oh sure, he can weed the field, and fertilize it. He can fret over the growth. But none of that will make it sprout and grow. That is in the hands of the Creator. It is the spark of life created in all living things that makes them reproduce. Plants bear seeds that will grow. Humans have children that have other children. Dogs have puppies, cats have little monsters. It is creation, and God himself that put it into action, and he continues to cause it to happen. Planting season is busy for farmers, harvest is busy for farmers, in between there is lots of waiting and patience. God says, “Be patient, like the farmer.” It isn’t easy for the farmer. You should not expect it to be easy for you either.

James goes on to say, “Establish your hearts.” Another way to say that is “Strengthen your hearts or fortify your hearts.” It is confidence in Jesus, your Lord. Trust that what he says is true, beyond all that you see. James tells us why, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Jesus coming in judgement of the world is closer today than yesterday, closer than when James penned these words. Trust in his Word from Revelation:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV)
What Jesus says is a warning and a comfort. When he comes, he comes in judgment. The whole world will stand before him. He will show each one every sin that they have done. And as the Athanasian Creed confesses:
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
Evil here being defined as “all that is against God’s Word and will.” Those who reject it, will suffer punishment forever in hell. It is a terrifying thing for sinners to be placed “in the hands of an angry God.” God’s judgment is far worse than “throw the bums out!” or “Wait for your father to get home.” Those who go against God’s Word face eternal punishment. Hell was created for Satan and his angels, but sinners who reject God, will be placed there forever. It is just punishment. To reject the creator is to want to be away from him. Hell is the only place that can happen. We should not be so quick to say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” when we find people fighting against the church. We would not wish hell on anyone.

James continues,
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:9, ESV)
Also, it is terrifying that it could (and should) be you and me, simply because we grumble. We so often go against God’s Word and will. Will we be judged and condemned with the rest of the world? Will the good we do be good enough to save us? If we put our “good works” on a scale with our “evil works” the scale will break by pounding down on the evil side. It is very common for people to say, “I hope I’ve done enough good to outweigh the evil.” But it is a pipe dream. It only takes a bit of inner search to see that that is true. And Jesus confirms it:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, ESV)
He echoes Isaiah:
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)
Just to be clear, that’s the good things we’ve done, “our righteous deeds”. It is true because God judges the heart, not the actions.
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)
The Judge is at the door, ready to enter the courtroom. When we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are praying for all human hearts to be opened and judged. It is a terrifying thought.

And yet, the church has always prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” How can it when it knows, above everyone else, what the world faces when he comes?

It’s what James finishes with in the text,
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10–11, ESV)
It’s that last phrase, “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” That’s the God we know, and the world does not. It is the God we confess. He is compassionate and merciful. He does not desire the death and punishment of sinners. It is what his righteous judgment demands. But he has done what is necessary to save sinners.

So, why here in Advent to we say so fervently, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Well, it is all about Jesus coming. Both times. First, when he came to save sinners. When he took on human flesh and was born in a stable. Fully human, he did everything humans should do. As a squirming baby he was unlike any baby before. He cried when he was hungry, he needed his diapers changed, he cooed at his mother. The difference is he did it all without sin. When he as found in the temple by his parents, talking to the priests, that too was without sin. When he was baptized in the Jordan river and preached repentance saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” When he healed myriad of sick that came to him. When he raised dead Lazarus. When he confronted the Pharisees and the Sadducees calling them “You brood of vipers”; When he drove the money changers out of the temple. When he stood before Pilate as “the Man”. When he was fastened to the cross. When he spoke words of comfort to his mother as he died. When he gave up his spirit. All was without sin. It was confirmed when he walked out of death to life. His resurrection is proof that God, the Father, the judge of all humankind, judged this single person righteous.

Most importantly, for his first coming, he showed God’s compassion and mercy. Because all that he did, without sin, was done for everyone, even those who hate him and disregard his Word. He sacrificed himself, in the place of sinners. He “became sin”, our sin. Taking punishment to the cross and death, and suffering hell.

So, when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is a prayer for our judgment to be place on Jesus. All that we have done outwardly, and even inwardly in our hearts, we pray is given to Jesus. “Come to me Lord Jesus! Take my sin. Take my guilt. Take my imperfect life as yours.” And in faith, God, the Judge does just that.
For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
We are not/will not be finally judged by our works or accomplishments. Be we become the righteousness of God. We are/will be judged on Jesus works and accomplishments. This transaction of the cross is based on faith. Sinners cling to Jesus for it, and only sinners. Our faith in all of this is faith in the promise of God, given in Jesus. If we find him to be faithful to his promise, compassionate and merciful.

Will you stand before the creator of the universe on the last day in judgement? It must be so. Because then, and only then, when you see the shambles you have made of your life, standing there in your filthy rags; your sin; your selfishness; your failure to heed God’s Word; your failure to help those in need; the sins you know, and those you don’t; your laziness; your lack of action for those who can’t protect themselves; and the total depravity of your sin; only then when you are declared guilty deserving eternal hell; and Jesus says to the Judge, “This one is mine, he has been gifted faith in all that I have done.” And he says to you,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
Only then will you understand what it fully means to be saved by grace. Only then will you be able to have full joy at what God has done for you. Only then will you revel in the presence of Christ, your savior, forever. “Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Matthew 3:1-11; Second Sunday in Advent; December 4, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:1–11, ESV)
Listen to the voice in the wilderness

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

He wasn’t what you’d expect in a voice of authority. His clergy vestments weren’t elaborate. Instead of a long flowing white gown he wore camels’ hair and as simple leather belt. His baptismal font wasn’t gold incrusted, or even wood, like ours. It was the muddy Jordan River, a shallow spot close to the main crossing place between the east and west sides. His church wasn’t a beautiful man-made building, lined with stained glass, and beautiful decorations. His was a place, outdoors, near a major thoroughfare. The rocky, un-cultivated area around the river. Because of his setting he was called the “voice in the wilderness.”

But, despite the setting, in spite of his appearance, his message was one of critical importance to the kingdom of God. So important, in fact, is John’s message, that the Gospel lesson for today and next Sunday are about him. Two out of the four Gospel lessons in Advent are about John. I think that means we should pay attention to what he is saying, if we want to prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus. So, the question for us is this: What does John have to say to us, today, here in Grand Marais, MN, the second year in a century 20 centuries removed from the sound of his voice? Why should we “Listen to the Voice in the Wilderness?”

John the Baptist was a fearless preacher. He didn’t hesitate to confront people with their sin. He didn’t mince words. Can you imagine walking up to a group of people today and calling them, “You brood of Vipers!” That is just what John did. He screamed it at the Pharisees. They were hypocritical, meaning they acted one way but underneath they were quite different. They had turned the religion of the Jews away from true worship of God, the one who had delivered them from Egypt to a meaningless performance of rituals, and countless rules and regulations. And he shouted at the Sadducees that denied the words of God himself by saying that there would be no resurrection of the dead. In today’s climate it isn’t considered proper to tell other people they’re wrong. But John the Baptist didn’t pull any punches. The sins that he pointed out were worthy of such warning from this voice in the wilderness.

But sin, of course, isn’t limited to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. If it where we wouldn’t need to gather here today. Sin is a fact of our everyday lives. We encounter it in others, and we see it in ourselves. But all too often we want to block out the voice in the wilderness when it speaks about sin, especially when it strikes a little too close to home. We would rather concentrate on the little baby to come. But God speaks to us in warning whenever we would turn away from his declaration of our sin. “The axe is laid at the root of the tree,” he says. Judgment is due, sin has its consequences, and you cannot go on sinning forever. Sin is serious business. Without a recognition of that, a right relationship with God can never begin. Listen to the warning of the voice in the wilderness.

John’s voice was more than just a voice crying out a warning. He had a very special role in God’s plan of salvation. He was the great prophet who was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the promised Savior. He was the final voice in a long line of voices beginning with God himself, who spoke of the one who would crush the serpent’s head. John’s voice was also a prophetic voice. He was preparing the way for Jesus to come. He was preparing for the baby that would lie in swaddling clothes, and sleep in Mary’s loving arms. But John’s words don’t quite seem to fit that little baby.

“He is coming,” said John, “don’t be caught un-repentant! When the Messiah comes, he will come as a judge and separate the wheat from the chaff. Just like a man harvesting grain, the chaff must be burned. To be un-repentant is to be destined for the fire.” John’s message carried with it strong judgment. We have a difficult time seeing the little baby as bringing with him strong judgment. But that little baby is the same one who used John’s words to speak out against those who didn’t repent. As surly as Jesus was born in the quiet darkness of Bethlehem, he also brought God’s judgment to the world.

But judgment and destruction aren’t God’s delight. John also said the coming Savior would gather his own wheat into his barn. There they would be safe and protected for all eternity. And Jesus does gather his own, “My sheep hear my voice, and they know me,” he said. “I am the Good Shepherd, I will do what is necessary for my sheep, even though it means my own death.” Like wheat gathered in the barn, Jesus will gather his own. These are the words that John gives for the comfort of those who belong to the Savior. These are the words of peace and hope from the voice in the wilderness.

And there is even more in John’s message to listen to. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” St. Paul would say it like this, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) John’s says that Jesus brings with him the Holy Spirit and fire. Just as fire refines, so does the Holy Spirit. When he comes into our lives, he continually points us to Jesus. He continually reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that that Savior is Jesus Christ. When he does faith in Jesus grows, and we draw closer and closer to Him. John speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit… Listen to the voice of promise in the wilderness.

And John’s voice, that voice in the wilderness, is a voice of invitation. You see, his message centers on Christ. Wherever Christ Jesus is proclaimed there is always and invitation, a very gracious invitation from God himself. Maybe we hear it more clearly when John calls out to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” “Look,” he says, “Here he is. The promised one from God, who will make everything that has been wrong since Adam and Eve right again. Believe in Him!” In this message today, the invitation sound like this; “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Maybe we don’t quite see it because maybe we don’t quite understand what John means by the word ‘repent’. We know that ‘repent’ means to be sorry for our sins, but it doesn’t just mean that. That is a part of it, a very important initial part. But true repentance doesn’t stop there. In its fullest sense it includes being turning around. It means to reach out and grasp a hold with the hand of faith the healing for sin that God offers through Jesus Christ. It involves a new attitude of the heart, a new outlook on life. For sinners who repent, they have a new Lord and Master. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, they are ruled by Jesus Christ, the newborn King. That’s us, we have been declared members of the Kingdom of God, in Holy Baptism, the kingdom has come to us. By faith, through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us making us a new creation. Wherever God is in Jesus Christ there is the kingdom of heaven.

There is a lot to listen to in this voice in the wilderness. It cries out a warning to us. “Repent! Turn from your sin. Get right with God.” It’s a warning all of us should listen to. It also cries out to us with a promise. “Jesus is coming! He is the promised one who makes all things right with God again.” And that voice in the wilderness invites. “Look here at Jesus. He is the King. He comes to bring the kingdom of God to you.” Amen.

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