Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday of the Fulfillment Jude 20-25

And you, loved by God, building yourselves upon your holy faith, in the Holy Spirit, praying; you keep yourselves in the love of God, awaiting-with-expectation the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ into life everlasting. On the one hand, you have mercy on some divided ones; on the other hand, others, you save, out of fire you drag away; and on a third hand you have mercy on some, in fear, hating even clothes stained from the flesh. And to the One able to safeguard you without stumbling and to stand before His glory blamelessly in gladness, in the Only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord glory, greatness, power, and authority before all the eons, and now, and into all the eons. Amen. 

Today is the very last Sunday of the church year, known as the Festival of the Fulfillment. On this occasion, our attention is drawn to that Day when everything God intends to accomplish in this world is completed. When the good & gracious will of God on earth is done, on that last day Jesus will return at the last trumpet, with the voice of the Archangel. He returns from the right hand of the heavenly throne to judge all people, sending the unrighteous to perish, the righteous remaining in Him. 

Now, the challenge before us this day is that we don't know when all God's work on this earth will be finished, so we don't know how long we have until Judgment Day. Because of this, there ought to be an intense sense of urgency for all of us in the church to do whatever we can to save those close to us, dragging them away from the hell-fire that is certain to come otherwise. But sadly, we don't seem very urgent about this. Instead, we go about our daily grinds as though Jesus isn't even returning!

For this we need to repent as a church, and you too as individual Christians. You have family members, friends, co-workers, fellow club-members, any of whom may not have saving faith in Jesus as you have. God gave you a faith in Christ as a gift of His love, to trust in His mercy that He delivers to you through the word preached to you, and in the sacraments–God's love-in-action which you receive. Do you not want the same mercy for those you care about, which you already receive here?

A second challenge is to have anticipation for Jesus to come back quickly. Do you eagerly pray for the return of your Lord & Savior? Is Judgment Day something you think about each day as you await Christ's return with expectation? Or instead, is this something far from your mind, most days? Perhaps you are content with your favorite trespasses and sinful habits you enjoy. Maybe you don't really want to shun all the ways of this wicked world, comfortable in your garments stained with sin.

For this too each of us needs to repent. As you await Christ's return, you need to be bathed constantly in God's mercy. Your baptism is given to you as a daily bath, to cleanse you from unrighteousness. You need daily contrition & repentance, so that the old Adam of your sinful flesh can be drowned & die daily as you remember that you are a baptized child of God, washed clean and made holy by the Lord He keeps you from stumbling and stands you up blameless in His sight.

A third challenge we face as the church awaits the fulfillment of all things on earth is being divided. God builds you, His church, into one building, upon the foundation of your holy faith in Christ Jesus. He Himself is the foundation stone that we all are to be built upon. Yet, there are times when you prefer an "us vs. them" attitude. You may look down on those with doubts, prideful of your own confidence. Perhaps you shun God's teachings of mercy in favor of your own way of thinking.

For this also, every one of us must repent. For God alone is the One with the greatness, power, might, and authority to provide the mercy the church needs to remain built upon the solid foundation of faith in Christ Jesus. He teaches us this in Sunday School, Bible class, and in devotions. He proclaims this unifying grace in sermons like this one, declaring to you: "Jesus gives you mercy to life everlasting from the +, where He gave His life as a ransom for yours, trading your death for his eternal life!" 

So what is given you as you await Christ's return on the last Day? First, His gift of saving mercy is yours, payed for in full at Calvary, delivered to you in His word proclaimed & in sacraments received. Secondly, God gives you a task as you eagerly anticipate Judgment Day: to take that saving mercy which you have received, and in turn, give it to others in your life whom you care about. How?

You can invite them to church to receive these gifts along with you; you can bring them to the pastor's adult information class to learn about this foundation of the faith; and you can tell them about what Jesus has already done for you. In this way you may have mercy on some, as God has had on you.


Hymns for today from LSB:
#663  Rise my Soul to Watch and Pray
#336  Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending
#659  Lord of our Life and God of our Salvation

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Therefore, I call (you) alongside (me), first of all, to make entreaties, prayers, requests, thanksgivings on behalf of all mankind, on behalf of kings and all of the ones being in high positions, so that quiet and restful lives we be led through in all godliness and seriousness. This–good and pleasing in the face of our Savior, God, Who wills all men to be saved, and into knowledge of truth to come. For One God, and One Mediator of God and mankind–a man, Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a substitute-ransom on behalf of all, the Witness in a proper season. Into which I myself was placed an herald and an apostle. Truth I speak, not falsehood, a teacher of the nations in faith and truth. I desire, then the men in all places to pray, raising up devout hands without anger and arguments.   

A blessed Thanksgiving to each of you! This is an occasion for us to especially remember what we ought to be doing throughout the whole year–giving thanks to God for all of His blessings. In our text for today, St. Paul reminds young Pastor Timothy that he should be thankful for not just the eternal, glorious blessings of heaven which God has given, but also for those earthly, temporary, and sometimes imperfect gifts which God bestows to all the people of the world out of His divine love. 

Paul is inspired to remind us all that our very prayers should include the giving of thanks. Now most times, we find this to be very easy, since our focus is first & foremost on those completely good, perfect gifts which God gives from above. Of course we are grateful for these blessings. But what about the not-so-perfect gifts from God? What about the ones that are tainted with obvious flaws? What about the blessings that are stained also by sin? Are you just as thankful for those, as well?

Paul instructs us to be thankful for those in high positions. We just had another election. Are all the candidates voted into office "perfect"? Not at all. Did some of the nominees get elected whom you *didn't* vote for? No doubt. Is there much distrust in general toward politicians and government? You bet! So how does this effect your prayer-life? Do you say, "I'm not praying for that so-and-so!" or "OK, I'll pray–that he gets abducted by aliens." Shame on you. This is not given to you as a Christian! 

Instead, you should be thankful for each and every office holder. You should pray for those who were just elected, regardless of whether or not they agree with your positions, and even if you don't find them to be all that "trust-worthy" in and of themselves. Why? First, because God saw fit to allow them to be in office over you, and you are given to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's". God, throughout history has used believing and non-believing rulers and leaders for His Own ultimate purposes.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, you pray for all people because Jesus died for all people! Jesus gave Himself as a substitute for all mankind, to pay the ransom price to redeem everyone! So as you raise up your devout hands in prayer, give thanks for everyone, not because all people are perfect, but that all people have the same Mediator that you do to reconcile you to God! You aren't perfect, but Jesus saved you, dying on your behalf at the cross, as He did for everyone.

So when you pray for fellow sinners who need God's grace as you do, make your requests for them with thanksgiving. As you pray for your sometimes rebellious children, thank God for them. When you pray for your sometimes-stubborn spouse, look at him/her as a blessing from the Lord for which you are grateful. When you pray for that church member who sometimes disagrees with you at meetings, be ever thankful that God has redeemed that person to be incorporated into the body of Christ!

Then, and only then, after you pray with an attitude of gratitude first, you make your requests for them known to God. Not just so that your life might be easier, but so that peace can remain between you and all people, so that your life may stay quiet, restful, godly and be lived with dignity. For the same Savior Who reconciled you to your heavenly Father by receiving all His anger & punishment in His Own body nailed to the tree, can likewise reconcile you to those who give you cause for arguments.

This is what it means that Jesus is a Witness in the proper season. The season is now to proclaim Jesus as the God of all reconciliation. Since He has already made the greater peace with the vertical reconciliation between God the Father and all mankind, how do we not have ultimate confidence that Jesus and His love can make peace between us and other people? As we pray for those who sometimes drive us nuts, be thankful at all times for the horizontal reconciliation God works. 

In word & sacrament, remain reconciled to God in Jesus, praying thankful prayers for all people.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pentecost 25 (Proper 28) Hebrews 10:11-25

And on the one hand, every priest stands according to the day 'liturgising' and many times offering sacrifices, which are not ever able to take away sin; on the other hand, This One offered one sacrifice on behalf of sins in perpetuity sat down on the right hand of God, the remainder He awaits until His enemies are placed–a footstool of His feet. For in one offering He has perfectly-completed into perpetuity those being made holy. And the Holy Spirit even testifies to us, for after the saying: "‘This–the testament which I will testify to them after those days,' says the Lord; ‘I will give my Law upon their heart, and upon their mind I will engrave them...and their sins and their lawlessness, no, I will no longer remember.'" And where there is forgiveness of these, no longer is there an offering concerning sin. Having been, then, brothers, we are bold into the entering of the holy place in the blood of Jesus, was made new to us, a recent and living pathway through the veil, that is, His flesh, and a great Chief Priest upon the house of God, may we come forward with a genuine heart in fullness of faith, hearts sprinkled from consciences of evil, and bodies washed in pure water; may we hold firm the confession of the hope unwavering, for faithful is the One Who has promised; and may we consider others into urgings of (God's) love and good works, and may we not abandon the gathering together of ourselves, just as the custom of some, but calling (them) alongside, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.   

Confidence seems to be lacking nowadays. No doubt, at least some of those you voted for this month did not get elected. We are concerned about escalating conflicts in the middle east that some fear could lead to a global war. We fear an oncoming "fiscal cliff" if our nation keeps borrowing money and increasing a debt that doesn't seem like it could ever be paid back. Moral decay in the social realms where human life is devalued more and more, and chastity is all but forgotten, decreases our hope...  

To this, some simply pray "Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus" as we see more and more evidence of decay in this world, and the Day approaching for the world to come. But as we await the return of Jesus from the right hand of His Father's throne above, we don't just sit down here twiddling our thumbs. Nor do we act like people who have no hope, or as those without any confidence in God. Instead, we do those things which God has given to be done among us, for the benefit of all.

The writer to the Hebrews first takes us to a picture of worship. The priests would conduct the liturgy of their day, the service of God to his people by sacrifices. Likewise, the called minister of Christ conducts the liturgy of the Divine Service to bless you this day. This liturgy is simply God's works which benefit His people. It is God's service to you today that He bless you with a triple helping of forgiveness of your sins, in both word and sacrament, from the one and only sacrifice of Jesus, for you!

For Jesus sacrificed Himself, once and for all, for you at the cross of Calvary. He gave up His life as an offering for your sins there. He is the Lamb of God slain in your place at Golgotha. Having died for you, Jesus raised Himself to life again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father to reign over you, and over the entire church in heaven and on earth. You won't see Him until He returns on the last day.

This same Jesus doesn't leave you lonesome here on earth, but comes to you in His Divine Service. When you were baptized, Jesus came then to sprinkle your heart clean and your evil conscience washed. He did this so you could come forward in worship with a genuine and true heart, one which He fills with faith. You enter this holy place, the house of God's presence because you are forgiven! 

In each and every sermon, you hear that Jesus died for you, for the forgiveness of your sins! His once and for all offering for sin had taken away your lawless thoughts, words, and actions. God remembers them no more! For your sins were borne in Jesus body on the tree, where He-Who-knew-no-sins of His Own, became your sin, and suffered the death you deserved there, in your place.

No curtain is draped in this church separating you from the presence of your holy God like it was back in the Temple. The veil is torn from top to bottom as Jesus' Own flesh was pierced on the cross for you. That is why the new veil is the flesh of Jesus given to you to eat in the Lord's Supper. You enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus shed for you, which you drink for your forgiveness in Communion.

So many of God's blessings occur each Sunday here, that we ought never neglect being gathered into God's house. Instead, we walk alongside others, calling and urging them to good works of God's love.