Sunday, November 26, 2023

Joel 2:30–32; The Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 26, 2023;

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” (Joel 2:30–32, ESV)
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“A great and awesome day” is coming, so says the Prophet Joel. I don’t want to second guess the translators of the ESV, but I think they are pussyfooting around the harshness of the text. If you look at the context, Joel talks about the great day.
Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.
But in context I believe the translation is better stated “a great and fearful day” The word in Hebrew is the same root word that is used in Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV) While it can be translated awesome or respect, fear is much more appropriate for those who will not be saved. It will be a great day for those who call on the name of the LORD, but decidedly not for those who don’t.

The scene is set,

signs in the heavens and the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be dark and the moon blood.
And then comes the judgement. It is in that context we have our gospel lesson for today. Jesus, the Son of Man coming in glory “to judge the living and the dead.”
In this little parable of the Judgement, the sheep and the goats are judged based on what they have done. The sheep, on the right, those who have faith in Christ and the goats, on the left, those who do not. The contrast is a big one.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34, ESV)
That will be a great day for them.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41, ESV)
That will be a terrible and fearful day for them.

And the judgement seems to be clearly based on what both the right hand and the left hand have done. Jesus goes through the same litany.
I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison.
Those on the right have fed, welcomed, clothed, and visited. Those on the left have not. “Come” he says to the right and “depart” he says to the left. It is Jesus’ sheep who do those things, the goats do not. It is a fair question to ask, “What about me? Which am I?” In fact, I believe that is exactly what Jesus wants you to ask. But we will get to that answer after a bit.

In 1 Corinthians surrounding our epistle reading for today, Paul talks extensively about the resurrection. It is all tied together with the Judgment. His argument goes something like this.

If Jesus in proclaimed as risen from the dead. Then the dead are raised. Since Jesus did rise, everyone will. Because of sin all people die. But because of Christ, his life, his death, and especially his resurrection, all will be made alive again. That is all the dead will be raised from death. And death, the last enemy of everyone, will be destroyed. After the end, no one will ever die again. Jesus was the firstfruits to rise, then those who have died in faith (Paul says those who belong to Christ). Then the end comes. That is where the judgment of the living and the dead happens.

We Christians often miss the point of the judgment and resurrection rather focusing on the in between state. The resurrection is the culmination of all of God’s promises in Jesus. The ultimate Christian hope isn’t to die and go to heaven. It isn’t to shed our sinful bodies and remain with Christ forever. It is to shed our sin, and live with Christ forever in our sin free, perfect, resurrected bodies. The idea comes from the Philosopher Plato. He viewed all things physical and worldly as evil, and all things spiritual as good. We should be very careful to state the Christian hope clearly. We respect the body as a creation of God. Jesus redeemed the whole person, both body and soul. The resurrection promises a restoration of a whole person. If you look at the service of the comital of the body, we carefully place our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies in the ground in God’s keeping until the resurrection. It says this,
May God the Father, who created this body; may God the + Son who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
For those who have faith in Christ, the judgment and resurrection of all flesh will indeed be a great day!

However, there is the other side of the coin. It will be a fearful day for those without faith. For them the resurrection brings a sin free, perfect, resurrected body that will spend eternity in hell. There, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in a physical body.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49–50, ESV)

That brings us back to the question, “How can I assure myself that that fate will not be mine?”

It is at the very end of our text from Joel.
and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
So, our assurance comes from God’s call. I could go with some Christian traditions that say,

“Look inside yourself to see if you really love God.”

“Look at your life to see the fruit of faith.”

But that would be nothing short of Pastoral malpractice. How many times have you doubted your salvation? How many times have you fallen short of the fruit of faith? The problem is that you are a sinful imperfect person. If you look truly inside yourself, with honesty, you will only find sin. You will not find comfort there.

Rather than looking into yourself and your actions, you should look to Jesus and his actions. … those whom the LORD calls.

Your actions and faith will always fall short. But God’s actions never will. He has called you through Holy Baptism. His work is always sure. In Baptism, God has connected you to Jesus. His life, death and yes, his resurrection is given to you by grace. You will never deserve it. You will never earn it. You will never add anything to it. Your faith in Jesus is the result of only God’s doing.

You will notice in the parable of the sheep and the goats, that the sheep don’t see the fruit of their faith.
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matthew 25:37, ESV)
In other words, when they searched their hearts, they did not see the good work they did. They didn’t see the proof of faith. They didn’t count what they did as worthy of salvation. The goats on the other hand put all their trust in their works.
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’” (Matthew 25:44, ESV)
It is the difference between looking inside yourself and looking to the Cross of Christ.

So, for you, who have been called by Christ, the day of Judgement will be a great day. On that day your body and soul will be rejoined. You will see Jesus with your very own, these same eyes (Job 19:26).
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)
So, with Job, you will live a physical life forever with Jesus. How it will look is beyond our comprehension. That’s why Job says.
My heart faints within me!

But as much as we don’t know, we do know a little part of the joy we will feel. It’s why we did the Psalm instead of the Introit today. It is a song of praise in what God has done. We can place this psalm on our lips at the resurrection. It clearly puts all the credit where credit is due. As I read it take special note of the last verse. Listen to it again.
Psalm 95:1–7 (ESV) 1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

1 Timothy 2:1-6; Thanksgiving Eve; November 22, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It seems like such a simple thing. Throw away words even. "I'll pray for you." A bit like "Hello, how are you?" The question is asked when we greet someone, but we really don't want to know the whole story. A bit like Andy Warhol's (im)famous Campbell's Soup can painting. When people see it, they say things like. I have a can just like that in my kitchen! It's too simple. I could have done that! That's not art!

How can prayer do anything? It's too simple. Words spoken into space. Our Sunday prayer list is long. We've heard the names so many times. How can these short petitions mean anything. Wouldn't a long meditation in the heart be more meaningful to God then speaking these prewritten words? And besides, often our well-meaning promises of prayer go unfulfilled. "Please pray for me", "Of course" slips off the tongue as easily as "The Lord be with you." is answered by "and also with you."

To pray is a part of what it means to be a Christian. Christians pray. And yet prayer is difficult. St. Paul urges young pastor Timothy to lead his congregation in prayer. And not only that, but he tells him what should be prayed. He uses four words that are similar but have different nuances. Prayer is to cover all the bases. Supplications are asking for things. Prayers are speaking to God about our thoughts and desires. Intercessions are praying for those in need. And thanksgiving well, that's why we're here this evening. We give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings that he's given. We are to pray for all people, says Paul, especially those in authority. We are to pray that God would move them to do what he has given them to do to care for their people. Prayer is about all these things.

It's next though, that Paul gets to the heart of the matter. Prayer is pleasing to God because he wants all people to be saved. At the heart of our prayer is to be prayers for God's word to be proclaimed to all people. At the heart of our prayer is for those that we pray for to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus after all who prayed for you and me. He desires our salvation more than we do! During his life on earth and even still at the right hand of the Father he continues to pray for his church. And those prayers were answered whenever faith was given to you through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and water. Those prayers are answered every time you open your mouth and Jesus Christ passes over your lips as you eat the bread and wine and, in, with, and under is his very body and blood.

But as faithful as Jesus is, and was, in prayer we are not. In fact, most often our prayer comes at the point of necessity. And most often our prayers are self-centered. We only pray for those in need when we are asked and even then, our prayers are lacking. Paul gives instruction on prayer because we are unfaithful in it. He tells us what to pray and who to pray for because we need to be told. And he tells us why we pray. We pray because Jesus is the faithful mediator who lifts our prayers to the Father. Through faith and the work of the Holy Spirit we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are children of God through faith and the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ on the cross. And God the Father promises to answer the prayers of his children.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them the "Our Father." It is the simple perfect prayer. It asks for what we need and want. It's like Warhol's deceptively simple Campbell's tomato soup can. We pray for God's will and his kingdom. We pray for our daily bread. All of it in a simple way that we can remember. The Lord's prayer is always the perfect prayer. And when we pray it, we pray for ourselves and all those who need the things that are prayed.

And at the center of that prayer too, is forgiveness. Forgiveness puts the "our" in "Our Father". Listen again to Luther:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
This petition is the center point of faith. We receive forgiveness because the Father forgives us through Jesus sacrifice that satisfies our need for forgiveness. Jesus’ death on the cross is the punishment we deserve and what we don’t receive though faith that what he did he did for us, in our place. We receive forgiveness freely through Jesus, even though we don’t deserve it. It is God’s grace in action. So therefore, we are to forgive in the same way, freely without cost. That means without requiring anything in return. Without requiring a changed heart, in those who sin against us. Without requiring that they not sin against us in the same way. That is what it means to have mercy. That is grace given freely to those who don’t deserve grace. When we refuse to do this, we show that we believe we deserve forgiveness, and others don’t.

The Lord's Prayer isn't a backup prayer to pray when you don't know what else to pray. The Lord's Prayer is prayer as St. Paul commands Timothy. It's the tomato soup of prayer. Simple, nutritious, easy to use. These words are words to pray because God, our Father promises to hear. These words are words to pray because we, as Christians, live them.

This is what St. Paul means when he says:
that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
No matter what words we pray, whether the Lord's prayer or other prayer, our lives become the prayers we pray. We pray for God's will and daily bread. God uses us to provide these things to our neighbors. We pray for forgiveness, and God uses us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ here, in our community and around the world.

We shouldn't dismiss prayer (especially the Lord's Prayer) simply because it seems too simple. Like those who dismiss The Soup Can painting. It is a simple but necessary part of our Christian life. So, as you gather at the Thanksgiving table this week, remember to pray. Maybe pray the Lord's Prayer this year. It is everything that Paul tells us here to do and it recognizes all the gifts we have received so graciously from God, our Father's hand. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Matthew 25:14-30; November 19, 2023, The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Uh Oh! I know that story. We’re about to be hit with a “stewardship” sermon. With the new church building on the horizon Pastor is about to tell us the church needs money. He’s about to tell us that this parable tells us not to waste the “talents” (as in money) we’ve been given. Here we are in the middle of an international financial crisis and we’re going to be told to open our wallets and give to the church.

Well, the truth is, the church does need the money and you shouldn’t waste the talents that God gives you. The church does need money to operate. Your pastor needs a paycheck. But, in fact, this parable isn’t about money or stewardship at all. It is probably one of the most misinterpreted parables of all time. That’s because, despite how you might have heard it before, this parable isn’t a stewardship parable. One reason for the trouble is the word “talent.” In Jesus day a “talent” was an average daily wage. We confuse that word with the things that we are able to do. The varying gifts we’ve been given to do this or that. I think we would better understand this parable if the word “talent” were replaced with the word “coin.”

One pastor I know says that a parable is a story that’s not talking about what it is talking about. You know a parable about shepherds and sheep isn’t talking about how you are to be a shepherd. A parable about plants and gardening is about how you get to be a prize-winning gardener. A parable about a father and his two sons isn’t about parenting. A parable about money isn’t about finances. So, this parable about money isn’t really about money.

So, what is it about? Matthew, the Gospel writer, tells us, but we must go back to verse three in this chapter. The disciples and Jesus sat around talking. The disciples ask a question and Jesus answers it. The question is,
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt 25:3, ESV)
The guys want to know what the signs that Jesus is coming again will be. He tells them by stacking up a bunch of parables. This one about the “talents” or “coins” is one of them. So, according to Jesus, this parable is really about Jesus and his return, not about us and how we are to be faithful with our talents. That fits the rule I told you about parables too. If we find a way to make Jesus the main character then, then we’ll be much closer to understanding what the parable is all about.

In this parable then Jesus is the man who went away and left his servants in charge of some of his money. Some invest it and one hides it in the ground. When the master returns, he has praise and criticism for them. When Jesus praises people it is always because of faith. Jesus criticizes unbelief. The guys who invest the money do so because they believe that the master will return. They have faith. They’ve been given something to do, and they do it because they believe the master is coming back. The servant who buried the coin in the ground lacks that faith. The task they’ve been given is to take the master’s money and use it in the community on behalf of the master. When they invest it must be in the master’s name. The guy who buries the coin is unwilling even to put it on deposit, because that too must be done in the master’s name. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s connected to the master. Better to bury the coin and forget all about it. He can go about his own business in his own name. He doesn’t really believe the master will return. He has no faith in the master. He doesn’t believe he will have to be accountable for what he’s been given.

So, this parable is about faith and Jesus. Faith shows itself is the fruit it bears. We either work for the Jesus, who has given us good gifts to share in his name, or we work for ourselves. We either anticipate Jesus’ return to earth with joy or we will see him as a cruel judge when he does return.

But I think one thing more than anything else makes this parable come alive. And that’s pushing the coins as far away from the word “talents” as possible. If we look at the gifts, the coins given freely, as the forgiveness that God gives us freely for the sake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, I think it all comes clear. When we see it this way, the gift and the giver become the most important thing in the parable. The master who goes away is Jesus who gives us forgiveness of sin. He is going to return. Each person receives, by God’s grace, the forgiveness that is needed. Forgiveness always comes from the cross. Jesus always gives forgiveness freely because he paid the price for our sin. It’s not about the amount but the grace, the giving, the gift. The gift flows out of us to everyone around us. We pray this in The Lord’s Prayer, forgive us as we forgive. When we believe we are forgiven, when we receive the coin, forgiveness flows out to others. Two coins turn into four. Five coins turn into ten. It isn’t our work at all, it is God’s work. It’s the coin doing what coins do; forgiveness doing what forgiveness does. (and much of it we don’t even know is happening. But that’s left for a fuller discussion next week with the parable of the sheep and goats.) All the modern translations hide this point when they add the word “done” to the master’s reaction to the increase (it isn’t in the original Greek). ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,” Would be a much better translated, “Very well, my good and faithful servant.” “Well done” places the work in our laps and puts us at the center of the parable instead of Jesus and his forgiveness given freely.

So, what about the guy who buried the coin? He is rejecting forgiveness.

Dear Christians, make no mistake about it, this is us when we are shown our sin and refuse to see it clearly. This is us when we carve out exceptions for our own sin. We think God makes exceptions for us and our sin because we’ve earned it, because we are good church members, fill the collection plate, or through our hard work and perseverance have keep the church doors open. “If I come to church faithfully on Sunday, I can do whatever I want on Saturday.” And this is us when we think that our suffering, our trouble, or our pain entitle us to continue to live in sin. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy? This is about love not rules.” This is just burying the coin, rejecting forgiveness. And let’s be clear here. You are probably looking around for your favorite target of this condemnation. “Go get ‘em pastor. I know someone who really needs to hear this.” But before you point your finger at your friend / neighbor / relative point it first at yourself. You are guilty of burying the coin, rejecting God’s forgiveness, continuing in your pet sin, and wanting to live for yourself. You and I live every day as if we really don’t believe we are accountable for what we’ve been given. We live every day as if Jesus really isn’t returning. And what does Jesus say about that?
‘You wicked and slothful servant! … take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Hell bound. That’s me. Hell bound. That’s you. Well, at least that’s what would be true, except for the gift, except for God’s grace, except for God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This is exactly why God’s grace is grace. We are lost on our own. We would reject the gift of forgiveness completely, outright, because we have no faith without it being given to us. We would have no way of holding on to forgiveness unless the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to show us our sin and our need for it. And that he does.

The coin, forgiveness is given to you. God has given you faith, first to see that you need it for yourself, and then to see that what you need your neighbor needs, your children need, your parents need, your pastor needs, in fact the whole world needs. And here is where five coins makes five more. Where forgiveness is freely given, it is freely given again and again.

Jesus is really returning. He has given us the greatest gift we could ever have. We have it for ourselves. We have it for our neighborhood, and town, state, nation, and world. As we share what we’ve been given, God makes it grow. It will be seen clearly when Our Savior returns and says, “very well, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

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

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Matthew 25:1-13; The 24th Sunday after Pentecost; November 12, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:1–13, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Be prepared. Watch therefore… Jesus says. That’s what this parable is about. The ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom. Five came prepared, five came unprepared. Five brought enough oil for a long wait. Five didn’t. It is that simple. If the ten virgins are the church (and they are), the church should be ready for the bridegroom to arrive at any time.

There are so many passages in the bible that talk the same way. In fact, in the passages just prior to this parable, Jesus sets the stage. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:38–39, ESV)

Everything will seem normal. The world will be going about its regular business and be caught unaware. He continues,
Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:40–44, ESV)
Speaking to us, he says he is “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Anyone who says they know when Jesus will return, doesn’t. He will come when he is not expected.

So, what are we to think of the conflict in the middle east. What does it have to do with Christ’s second coming? Isn’t it a sign that the end of time is at hand? It is a common misconception (especially in Pentecostal circles) that the current nation of Israel is equivalent to the Old Testament Jews, as God’s chosen people. Modern Israel, as a nation is not the chosen people of God. Nor are modern Jews, who are not Christian, God’s people. That privilege falls on the church. The prophecies of the Old and New Testament that talk about Israel are not talking about the current Jewish people or the Nation of Israel founded in 1953. They speak of the Church of God in Christ Jesus. These wars in the middle east are no more a sign of the coming than any war. The church of God, God’s chosen people, have never been defined by boarders or bloodlines, but by faith. And that faith has always been faith in the forgiveness of sins delivered through Jesus Christ on the cross. In the Old Testament they looked forward to Jesus, in the New we look back on him.

Jesus did, however, speak about war as a sign of his return.
And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet.” (Mark 13:7, ESV)
Don’t you think the people who lived during WWI and WWII thought that the end was near? Those conflicts were far bloodier than what is happening now. What Jesus says is “do not be alarmed” and “be prepared” for you won’t know when it will be.

The fact is that every war, since Jesus ascended, every earthquake, every environmental disaster, every mass killing, every pandemic, every sinful act of human beings, are all signs that Jesus return is eminent. As we march through time, we are certainly closer to his coming today than ever before.

And what should our reaction be to all these signs? Jesus calls us to be prepared, be ready, always. In terms of our parable, bring enough oil for a long wait, because we don’t know how long it will be.

How exactly do we do that? Martin Luther was asked if he knew for sure that Christ was returning tomorrow, what would he do? He said, “Plant an apple tree.” What he meant was that he would continue to do exactly what he was doing.

So, should we continue to build a church? Should we hunker down and wait for Jesus eminent return? We should continue to do what we have always done. Preach the Gospel of Jesus. Call for repentance. Offer baptism for those who God calls to faith. Live at the foot of the cross. It is there we receive the promises delivered by Jesus. The forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. As Luther said, “Where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation.”

And what of the terrible things we see around us? They should drive us to the cross, in repentance and faith. Faith that God is in control, and the time will come when all these things will end. And they should compel us to tell the world about the solution for distress, trouble and evil. That solution is faith in Jesus.

Only faith in Jesus overcomes evil. Only faith in Jesus allows us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Only faith in Jesus allows conflict in our personal lives to end. Only faith in Jesus gives us comfort in the face of death. Only faith in Jesus allows us to see war for what it is; a horrible consequence of sin. One that has its only solution in Jesus, and his death on the cross to forgive that sin.

“Always be prepared.” I think the Boy Scout motto goes something like that. It is what we are to do also. And to be prepared we do what we have always done. Trust Jesus. Trust his word. Trust the gifts he gives us in the sacraments. And proclaim his forgiveness to the ends of the earth. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Matthew 5:1-12; All Saints Day (observed); November 5, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Matthew 5:1–12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what happens to people (even Christians) after death. There is a new movie “After Death” that seems to be a bit of a problem. Firstly, it uses experiences that can’t possibly be verified, to try to prove the existence of heaven. I’m not going to say these subjective experiences didn’t happen, but nothing earthly, aside from Scripture itself, can prove heaven exists. When what is said agrees with scripture we can say, “maybe”. When they disagree with scripture (and most of the time we see that in these near-death experiences) we say “no”. It is simple a case of taking the word of a sinful heart, and human experience above God’s own word on the subject. It would be best to simply avoid this movie.

Some of these misconceptions have invaded Christian thinking. You can even hear Christians say things like: “Grandpa is fishing with Jesus.” Or “Aunt Nelly is knitting up a storm, thinkin’ about all her grandchildren joining her in heaven.” Or “Joe, just loves the auto races they have there.”

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

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

All the beatitudes really fall under the very first one.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
All of the beatitudes, all nine, follow the same pattern. There is the part before the “for” and the part after. Another way to say that “for” is “because.” Someone who has a need is blessed because God gives them what they need. Now look again at the first. “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All the rest says “they shall… all the way to the next to last that says “is” again. Do you see what the “is”, is about there. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t have to think about this very hard at all. The word “is” means right now, and forever. The ones who are poor in spirit (we’ll talk about that in just a second) have the kingdom of heaven now and forever. The way that Jesus has opened and closed this list is to say that all these things are describing what it means to have what we have, what it means to be in the kingdom of heaven right now… and forever.

Ok, pastor, what are you saying that we are “the poor in spirit”? We’re not poor. Look at all that we have. Our little corner of the arrowhead is a great place to live. There’s housing and food. We’ve got a great church that seems right on the cusp of exploding into something really great. What else do we need? Are you saying we are the ones who are poor in spirit? Yes, tThat’s precisely what Jesus is saying. In fact, unless you see yourself as “poor in spirit” you’ll miss everything that God has to give here.

If you have any doubts get out your bible and look up the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes. In it Jesus sets some pretty high standards. He says if you are angry you are guilty if killing your neighbor. If you look at a man or woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. Divorce is always evil. Leave payback to God alone. Love your enemies and do only good things for them. And oh, just so you don’t miss it he finishes all these commands off with “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)

You see all these things that you do or don’t do really reveal a spiritual problem. You are sinful. You cannot be perfect. You deserve only the punishment that Jesus describes in this sermon.
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ” (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
That’s what it is to be “spiritually poor” bound for hell with no way to change.

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, most of us, you and me have been in God’s grace for our whole lives. God poured water on our heads in Holy Baptism and since then we have had God’s gifts and blessing so long that we have no idea what it was like to be without out. In fact, we may have even come to think that we deserve these things and we could never be hell bound. But the thing is, if God were to for one moment withdraw his grace, there would be nothing here (in your heart, or mind, or spirit) that would save you. You are blessed, saved by God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ and nothing in you or about you. Because he does for you what you are unable to do for yourself. You are spiritually poor, without any resource to save yourself. Standing on the forgiveness of sins you have in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and nothing else. No work or merit, no goodness in you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is salvation in Jesus Christ without any conditions, or limits, without any thing you must do to earn it. It is a gift given for you, oh you who are poor in spirit.

And just what is it that is given? The kingdom of heaven, or as one of my seminary professors says, the “reign of God.” Jesus describes it like this.
““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ” (Matthew 5:4–9, ESV)
Actually it’s exactly Jesus; sins forgiven; blind people see; deaf people hear; lame people walk; and here’s the thing that ties it all together with All Saints; dead people live!

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

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

Did you ever wonder though why the sign of the cross? Of course it points to Jesus there and his death as your death, his resurrection as your resurrection. But there is more.

All described also in the Beatitudes. The sign of the cross on you means that the life of a Christian is one of suffering.
““Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)
You are blessed, you have the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing just what he promised for you. You can’t always see it because sometimes it looks like mourning, meekness, hunger, and so forth, but it is true for you. But there is always the “because”; because mourners will be comforted; unrighteousness will come to an end. Mercy will be given and shared. There will be peace and we will see God! Face to face in resurrected bodies; standing with our loved ones hand in hand rejoicing in Jesus. Amen.

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