Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Midweek 3

Advent Midweek 3 – Isaiah 52 – December 17th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Advent King +
          For this final Advent lesson, we are going to look at the beginning of Isaiah 52.  Now, what is interesting is you know what comes after this – this passage rolls into the great suffering servant section from Good Friday.  However, we don’t normally pay much attention to this part of Isaiah, yet these verses capture the joy, the passive joy of our salvation that is accomplished by Christ Jesus.  Let us go through the text and see.  “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.”  We get a familiar start.  The idea of waking up is a familiar way of describing the idea of waiting for the Lord, of the Lord’s coming.  We know the parables of the Wedding Feast that Jesus gives – put on your beautiful, wedding garments!  Wake, awake, for night is flying!  And what is the hope – Jerusalem isn’t going to be messed with again.  But here is the twist – put on strength.  No, the strength isn’t going to be your own – Isaiah isn’t saying “You folks need to man up” – no, put on strength like a garment.  Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”  Arise, be seated.  “Good night, almost as much up and down as Pastor Brown makes us go through in our service!”  What’s going on – wake up, pay attention – now rest, relax, sit down, and behold what God is going to do for you, Jerusalem.

          “For thus says the LORD: ‘You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.’”  When you went into Egypt, you were welcomed with open arms – Joseph’s family, the family of the wise man who saved the nation in the face of famine.  And then, as time passed, you were just cast into slavery.  God delivered you from Egypt – not by buying you, but by rescuing you.  Likewise, now, Israel, you won’t buy or bribe your way out of the current political problems you are in.  You aren’t going to sweet talk the vile Assyrians out of anything.  Instead, God will deliver you.  But even more than that – this points forward to Christ Jesus.  This is actually going to be our Catechism lesson this next Sunday – what has Jesus my Lord done – “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

          This brings us really into the topic, the idea of redemption.  We will talk about Christ Jesus being our Redeemer – but I think that we often forget just how visceral that word is.  To be Redeemed means you had been a slave, that you had been trapped and caught and unable to go where you wish, unable to do what you wanted.  And this is actually the classic Scriptural depiction of original sin, of what it means for us to be born sinful.  We are born stuck in sin, slaves to sin.  Often we tend to think of sin as a mere bad moral choice – I can choose to be good or I can choose to be bad.  That’s not the fullness of it – we are born sinful, full of sin.  We aren’t able to simply choose God or come to Him, we aren’t able to choose to be righteous in God’s sight.  We cannot of our own power choose to believe in God – But how are they to call on Him in Whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard?”  We know this – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  Without that Word of God coming you to, you are stuck without faith, and if you are breaking the first commandment, it doesn’t really matter how “nice” you are and choose to be.  Rather, God must come in, burst in and win salvation.  Christ Jesus must defeat and destroy sin and death, and that is how He delivers, how He redeems, how He buys us out of the mess we are in.  When it comes to our salvation, our redemption, it isn’t about what *we* do – we are passive.  We were sold into slavery, even before we were born – and we were purchased out of slavery, redeemed.

          That is why we get this next part – “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”  Feet are associated with the Gospel – it’s why in Ephesians when Paul is talking about the full Armor of God, he says, “and, as shoes for your feet, having the Gospel of peace.”  The reason for this is that the Gospel is never something *you* do, but something you hear, something that is announced to you, that is proclaimed to you.  Something that a messenger comes and proclaims.  We get this – the word for messenger in Greek is “angelos” – angel.  A week from now, come Christmas Eve, what do we think of when we think of angels?  They come and they announce good news to the Shepherds – and what had the Shepherds *done* to earn or merit this news?  Nothing.  It’s not about them and what they do.  It’s not about us or what we do.  Rather, the news, the good news, the Gospel is this – your God reigns – Christ Jesus has come and with His death and resurrection has defeated sin and death and won you eternal life.  It’s not about you, but it is for you – it is the declaration of God for you, being born for you, suffering for you, in your stead, rising for you – and even coming again for your good.

          “The voice of your watchmen – they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.”  Your watchmen are the folks standing on the city walls, keeping a watch out for anything approaching – so they would be the first one to see the messenger coming.  They would be the first one to see, maychance even to hear the shouts of joy and victory of the messenger.  And then, there is rejoicing, rejoicing that cannot but help to spread.  “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.  The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God from this time forth and forevermore.”  This is the might of God.  Even the waste places, even the dead and dull places, they will break forth in singing.  So, what of you?  Do you face and feel the weight of life in this sinful world?  Do you feel worn and beat down, like a used up piece of land?  Christ Jesus has redeemed you.  And all this relies not upon you, but upon Him.  He has bared His arm, He bared His arm as He hung bare upon the Cross, taking upon Himself all the weight of sin, including that weight that bothers, that oppresses you.  This is why He came – to take on sin and death and to burst them open and destroy them with His death and resurrection.  Christ is risen – Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is alive – a true Man is alive, never to die again – and thus you will live; we are all going to follow after Him.  God grant that we who are still on earth in this life see this salvation ever more, even until He comes again and we see Him face to face and break forth with the watchman’s joy.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11 and Isaiah 40 – December 14th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +     
          “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.  This is what Isaiah is told to proclaim, to prophesy.  The war is over, sin is pardoned, the Messiah will come.  Great words.  And then, there is the verse pointing forward to John – “A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.”  Everything is great – the prophecy is in place.  And then, what do we hear.  Just a few verses later – Cry?  What shall I cry?  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades.  Even knowing the Messiah is coming – what does Isaiah see?  As the old hymn puts it, death and decay in all around I see. It can raise fear and doubts and worries – even in Isaiah, even in a prophet.  What to do?  There is only one thing – The word of our God will stand forever.  Look to the Word, trust in that.

          This is played out in our Gospel lesson today with John.  When we see John, he is in prison.  And he isn’t in prison singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”  He is in prison in a bad way, a cold dark cell, and when next he sees the light of day it’s because they are pulling him out simply to chop off his head.  It’s a dark place, harsh, terrible place.  And we hear this – “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”  Well, doesn’t John know?  This is John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness!  He was there in the Jordan river when the heavens were torn asunder and the Father boomed forth, “This is my beloved Son!”  This is John the Baptist who pointed to Christ with words that we sing to this day, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  No man in History, not even Peter or Paul has more fervently proclaimed Christ Jesus to be the Messiah than John.  Sure, he knows - and yet – there John is.  In a cell.  Cold and dark.  About to be killed.  Right then and there, John sees another truth – that this world is not how it should be, that things in this life are about to go poorly for him. The grass withers, the flower fades. And so He calls out to Christ and asks - Are you to the One who is to come – is this long advent, this long time of waiting done, or do we need to wait for, to look for, to trust in another?  This prison is horrible, Jesus – am I still, even now, to put my trust in You?

          Do not be surprised, my dear friends, when doubts and fears assail you, when Satan has you look at your life and whispers to you, “Is this how it really is supposed to be – If God loves you so much, why is your life like this?”  This is what the serpent was doing to John in the prison.  It’s the same thing Satan will try to do to you.  But John doesn’t simply listen to fears and doubt, he doesn’t just focus on the walls of his cell – he does one thing that is beautiful.  He seeks the Word of Christ – go ask Jesus – please, let Him speak to Me, let Him tell me what I need to hear.  The Word of our God will stand forever.  And so John’s disciples go to Jesus, and they tell Jesus what John asks, what John wants to know.

          So, what is Jesus’ response?  Does He say, “What, John is in prison?  Come on boys, we’re breaking him out!”  No.  Does He lambaste John, “You go tell John that he should know better and that he just needs to suck it up and tough it out.”  No.  Does He say, “Ah, one who pays any attention to such fears and doubts is not worthy of me – be gone with him!”  No.  Jesus does what is wonderful – He proclaims the Gospel.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

          Go tell John what you hear and see – Go tell John what Christ Jesus has been doing.  The blind – they see now, because Jesus speaks a Word of healing.  Ditto the lame, the lepers, the deaf – all healed at Christ’s Word.  Even the dead are raised – and the poor have Good News, have the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins preached to them.  All this stuff, all these things that Christ does is the answer to John’s question.  Are you the Christ, Jesus – well, look at all these things – these are the things that the Messiah has been promised to do – these are the signs Isaiah tells you to look for.  Yes, John, I AM.  I am the Messiah.

          But this is more than just Jesus saying to John, “yes, yes, I am the Messiah.”  What happens with all these things that Jesus would have John be pointed to?  The blind see.  A horrible wrong in this world, a horrible problem – Christ comes and fixes it.  The lame, those with legs that don’t work – Christ comes, and they are restored.  Lepers, those who are made outcasts by their disease – they are cleansed and restored to their communities.  The deaf, those who are cut off from people even being right among them – they are restored by the Word of Christ.  And even the dead, they are raised.  What does all this mean?  It means that the Messiah has come, and that the effects of sin, the ways in which it messes with life here in this world, that is all being undone by Christ.  And the highest example, the greatest way in which wickedness is undone – Good News is preached to the poor.  Not just the effects of sin like blindness or lameness, not even just the wages of sin, but sin itself is done away with and destroyed by the preaching of the Gospel.  To those who have nothing, who have been utterly battered and bruised by life in this sinful, fallen world – your sin is forgiven, and you shall have life everlasting.

          And through this Jesus says to John – “John, this too is proclaimed to you.  I have not forgotten you in that prison, I have not abandoned you.  You know why you are there – you are there because wickedness and evil and sin reigns in this world, and things are not as they should be.  I come to put them aright, once and for all upon the Cross – believe in Me, trust in Me, be not offended by Me – but rather see and know that I put all things right – that even when Herod takes your head, you will rise, forgiven and justified to live forever.”

          And through Matthew, through Matthew recording this Gospel – this is what Christ Jesus says to you here today.  Do you look on the world and see things that are just horrible?  Do you see your own situation, your own sin, and are nothing but ashamed and shocked and disheartened?  This makes sense, for sin and wickedness is very real, and often it is very present in our lives.  But listen to what Christ has done.  In His days on earth, He undid evil, undid that which was wrong.  But the chief thing He does is this.  The Christ whom our fathers waited for, the Christ whose birth we prepare to celebrate, this same Christ, seeing you, seeing your struggles, your burdens, your hardships, goes willingly to the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection He would fully defeat Satan and the world and death, and by His resurrection win and assure you life everlasting.  These trials of this life – they do not last forever.  How long will the trials you face last for you – beats the tar out of me.  Tomorrow might be better, or it might not.  Some burdens might disappear, and some burdens might accompany you all your days.  Over and against these, one thing holds true – that Christ Jesus has died, and thus your sins are forgiven; and He has risen, thus you too shall rise, and these troubles will be gone.

          This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday, is “Gaudete – Rejoice”.  Why then such a dour text?  Because, oh Christian, your rejoicing is not rejoicing because things are great, not because right now life is high and everything is coming up roses.  There may be times that is true, great for you.  But that is not the center of your rejoicing.  No, rejoice in this – You are poor, you are a poor miserable sinner, and there are times when it is quite apparent and overly apparent that you are – yet to you, Good News, the Good News of Christ’s love and redemption is proclaimed, and thus you have forgiveness and life in His Name – and this can never be robbed from you.  This Word of life which Christ has given to you is yours – whether today is the happiest day of your life or the worst.  Every day, wherever you are, wherever the twists and turns of this life, this world leads you, Christ Jesus is your Lord and Savior who has died and risen for you. 

          And whatever happens in your life, whether it be joy or sorrow, better or worse – be directed to the Word of God – come and hear what the Scriptures record for you – be told again what the Apostles have seen and heard – your Messiah has come – He has died and risen for you – He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that you are never alone but that He is with you in the face of every trial and shall see you through them unto life everlasting, He comes to you [today, now] on this very altar and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in His Supper, so that you can face anything in this world until the day you see Him face to face on the Last Day.  Because of this, you may rest secure in Christ, for He has proclaimed the Good News of His salvation unto you, redeemed you, forgiven you, made you His own.  He came to win you this redemption, and now we simply rejoice and wait until He comes to bring all goodness unto us.  Thus we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Midweek Sermon 2

Advent Midweek 2 – Isaiah 9 – December 10th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          One of the things that is so refreshing about the Scriptures, about the prophets, is that they never feel the need to softsell or white-wash anything.  They are blunt and honest, and blunt and honest about the harsh and lousy realities of life in a sinful, fallen world.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”  Whom is Isaiah addressing here?  People who have been walking in darkness – those who are faced with doubts and despair even as they go about their daily life, their normal walk.  Isaiah is addressing those who live in a land, not just of darkness, but of deep darkness.  A land that is rife with wickedness and trouble, a land where so often there is little or no leadership, or what leadership there is oppresses and rules unjustly.   It’s a wonderful, poetic way of describing the blunt and often sorrowful and nasty reality of this world, realities Isaiah saw terribly clearly in his days.  And there are no platitudes – Isaiah doesn’t waste his breath saying, “It’s not so bad.”  He doesn’t just tell folks to just buck up.  That’s not the way of the Scriptures – when addressing the sinful fallen world – that’s what it is.  Sinful and fallen.  Gloom and darkness.

          Yet there is this – even though there is gloom, even though there is darkness, real, impactful, frightening and terrible darkness, God does not leave you to your own devices in the midst of those troubles.  No, He sends a great light – indeed, He sends the Light of Light, Christ Jesus, to be the Savior, Redeemer, and rescuer.  And what we see here in the rest of Isaiah 9 is Isaiah recounting, telling who exactly the coming Messiah would be, how He would be Light in the midst of that darkness.  How He will come and give growth and joy and put an end to war.  And then we move to the famous part from the Messiah.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”  The prophecy pointing forward to the coming Messiah highlights the idea of hope, of something new – but also a wait.  A kid isn’t elected president the day after the Baby shower; oh, sure, one of my kids might cure cancer, but it ain’t going to happen tomorrow.  Isaiah is calling for patience, but hope in that patience.  There will be One coming in the future. 

And what shall He do?  “And the government shall be upon His shoulder.” This is one of those wonderful bits of language that can be read, can be seen two ways – a theological, prophetic surprise.  Yes, Christ Jesus would be the ruler, He would take the burden of ruling upon Himself.  But how would Christ Jesus do this – how would Christ Jesus take up rule and leadership?  When the government, when Pilate places the cross upon His shoulder.  What we have here is a pointing towards the Cross – and of course we do.  The world is full of darkness, deep darkness, and the Messiah who comes to rescue us, to be the light in the midst of this darkness is going to run head on into the worst of it.  So there He will be – innocent, falsely accused, a victim of an unjust government and a bloodthirsty mob.  The government is laid upon His shoulders as He goes to His death in order to destroy the very violence and wickedness that He suffers from. 

This is an important point – because what comes next is the famous “name” section – “And His name shall be call-ed”.  And these names are important, but they are all tied to the fact that the Messiah comes and suffers, dies, and rises.  They are tied to the fact that the Messiah takes upon Himself, upon His shoulder the weight and wages of sin and brings redemption.  Because Jesus goes to the Cross, what will Christ Jesus be called?  He will be called “Wonderful.”  Why is Christ Jesus called wonderful?  The Latin puts this as “Admirabilis” – as the one you look upon and admire with awe and wonder.  Because what do you see when you see Christ Jesus?  Though He is God, He doesn’t cling to that fact, He doesn’t demand His rights as God.  Rather, He comes down from heaven, empties Himself, and goes to the cross for our sake.  There is nothing more wondrous, more admirable than this, nothing more profound.

Jesus is the “counselor”.  Now, normally we think of a counselor as someone who gives advice.  I’m the circuit “visitor” but that used to be called the circuit counselor – I’d give advice.  But this word here is bigger, stronger than that.  A counselor, a helper – this is your attorney.  It’s counselor like in the phrase “legal counsel.”  Jesus is your defense lawyer – and he’s a good one to have.  When Satan comes with his accusations, when he cries and threatens that you deserve death and hell and eternal punishment – you have the best defense lawyer ever.  Christ Jesus has already borne your punishment; He has already died for you.  He has taken up your sin – there’s no more sin to pin upon you.  That’s some defense counselor!  Christ Jesus is your great defense.

Jesus is the “Mighty God.”  If you want to understand the might or power of God, you don’t look to earthquakes or thunder – you look to the Cross.  Consider from 2 Corinthians, where Paul is lamenting the thorn in his side, and God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” – but the verse doesn’t stop there, it continues, “for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  Where do you see the power, the might of God?  In weakness, where God Himself hangs upon the Cross – and what does He cry out there?  “It is Finished”.  That word for “finished” is the exact same word for “made perfect”.  Everything is accomplished, completed, made perfect – you have salvation and redemption won for you by God suffering and dying for you, and that is how you see that He is the Mighty God.

Jesus is the Everlasting Father.  Now, of all the names Isaiah gives, this is the one we use the least for Jesus today – and partially this is to avoid confusion between Jesus and the Father when we are speaking about the Holy Trinity.  Partially, this is because we don’t have a king, we don’t have a tribal set up.  Think on the old Native American title for the president – he was the “great white father.”  The leader is the “father” – that’s why the 4th commandment, honor your father and mother, extends over all sorts of government and authority.  Christ Jesus’ rule is everlasting, He sits at the right hand of the Father and of His kingdom there will be no end.

And then there is the final name – Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  He is the One, who as soon as He is risen from the dead breaks into the upper room, dark and cold and locked for fear of an angry mob, and who declares to the Apostles “Peace”.  Jesus is the One who creates His Church to go out all throughout this rough and tumble world to proclaim peace – to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and restoration to God.  He is the Prince – all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Him, and He uses that authority to make peace, to forgive sins.

“Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”  The Messiah comes, the Light of Light comes to stand up to the darkness of this sinful, fallen world.  He comes to conquer over sin and death with His own perfection and death and resurrection, and all this He does for you, to redeem you, to save you.  Thus He is Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and He shall be called this forever and ever.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name Christ Jesus, our Advent King.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do You Really Expect to "Win"?

Do you really expect to "win"?

Your grand crusade - do you expect to win?  That sweeping reform, that great attempt at fixing "_____" - whatever that blank happens to be filled with. 

Do you really expect to "win" - and if so, what would winning look like?

+ + + + + + +

One of the things I love about advent is all the eschatology, all the end timey talk.  Why?  Because the Scriptures remind us that until Christ comes again, there will not be triumphs and endless success and praise.  No, there will be trials and troubles and tribulation until *Christ* comes and He obtains the victory.

And you know what?  That wonderful, pious crusade I'm on.  I'm not going to "win".  I'm not going to "fix" things - because until Christ returns, we're going to be dealing with sinful folks who will still be sinners until the end. 

We don't win in this life.  We don't fix the problems.  We don't bring in the new and great golden age.

Instead - we pray for endurance.  Self-control.  We learn to rejoice in suffering.  We learn that God's grace is sufficient, that His strength is made perfect in weakness.

If I look to my efforts, even the most pious and grand efforts, they will all fail; they will all fall by the wayside. 

There is no victory expect Christ's - and we need to wait to see that in full.  And any other "victory" is just the triumph of my sinful flesh -- that is, something I need to repent of.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 7th, 2014 – Malachi 4 and Luke 21

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  In fact, our Old Testament lesson today are the very last words of the Old Testament.  Malachi proclaimed these words right around 500 BC, give or take a few years.  And then, that’s it.  For 500 years, from Malachi to John the Baptist (the Elijah here promised), you don’t have any more prophets in Israel.  The Word had been proclaimed, and that was what was needed until the Messiah would come.  So – what did people need to hear, what did they need to know?   The text starts off ominously – “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”  Well, that’s sort of blunt and dire, isn’t it?  Kind of a strong contrast to all the ho-ho-ho music we get on the radio this time of year.  And at first glance, this seems so inappropriate – why when preparing for Christmas should we talk about the end and judgment when it gives us the willies and makes us scared?  Well, that’s the problem – the end shouldn’t cause you fear, my friends in Christ Jesus.  Listen.

          “But for you who fear My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.  And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.”  You are in Christ Jesus – we all gathered here today in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – we are baptized, God’s own people.  And all we have to look forward to is joy, and healing, and total and complete victory.  You see, we often mishear the warnings about the end days, and this is because of centuries of bad doctrine.  Once you get to the middle ages, we fell into some messed up thinking about the second coming; we became terrified of Jesus and His return because of that stupid, false, made up, unscriptural teaching of purgatory.  Instead of joy and leaping like calves, Christians thought Christ’s return would mean millions of years in detention, burning in purgatory.  That’s not the point in Malachi, not at all.  No, his message for the faithful is this – yes, you still see wicked folks around you – but don’t worry about them.  You don’t have to try to outwit them or defeat them or even punish them.  God will take care of that – boy will He ever!  But as for you – wait on the Lord.  Show love to one another, seek and give forgiveness and mercy, and trust upon God – know that God is stronger than the world (for that is what the “fear of the LORD” is) and that He will deliver you when He comes.

          And in the intervening 500 years, the children of Israel saw enemies come and go.  Alexander the Great came – but there was no prophet.  No, your instructions are the same – don’t worry about the enemies; rather, remember the Word of God, His promises to you.  Then other enemies conquered, the Selucids, and they did horrible stuff.  Still, no prophet – carry on, I will support you.  Then Herod’s family and then the Romans, and still Israel was given to wait, wait 500 years… 500 years takes us back to before the Reformation.  A long time of waiting – but the promise is still sure.  The Messiah will come, and you’ll have the forerunner before Him, and He will take care of things.

          And then we move forward to our Gospel Lesson.  And this is in the midst of Holy Week, this is after Palm Sunday, on the way to Good Friday.  And Jesus knows what is coming.  He is going to suffer and die.  That’s why He came, that’s what needed to be done so that come the last day you all can go leaping in joy.  And yes, He will rise, but He won’t be establishing an earthly kingdom.  Instead, there will be a wait, again.  There will be time given so that more and more can come to faith – including every single one of us in this room.  But in the meantime, before His second coming… the waiting is going to be rough.  And so, He teaches, He tells us how to view and understand the world around us.  “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  What’s life before the second coming?  Well, the world is going to fall apart, and people are going to freak out about it.  I’ve been here 10 years – and we’ve seen tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes, and people freaking out over it.  Global warming, climate change, fracking – and this isn’t even getting into wars and rumors of war and nuclear power plant meltdowns and ISIS and terrorists.  The world is a messed up place.  Got any doubts – turn on the national news any given evening – it ain’t going to be pretty.
So – what is to be our response to this – what is our reaction when we see all this junk in the world?  Tremble with fear?  Wring our hands?  Panic and get angry?  Not according to Christ Jesus – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  What does all this tragedy and trouble point us to?  Christ shall come again.  And how are we to view His coming – straighten up.  Don’t hunch down in fear, get up, be ready, don’t cower in fear – raise your head.  Why?  Because redemption is coming, redemption for you.  Christ Jesus, who has conquered death with His own death upon the Cross, He is coming and it is going to be good.  Again, the idea of the last day is meant to be a joy, a comfort to you as Christians – because all this lousiness of life in this world will be done away with, and we will have the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come where none of these things will bother us – where the “former things” that vexed us will be remembered no more.

And Jesus gives a parable.  “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.”  How many of you are going to say in Spring, “Oh drat, look, there are leaves on the trees, I was hoping we’d have 5 more months of it being freezing cold and windy”?  No, this is a good thing.  A cause for rejoicing.  Christ will come.  “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.”  And here we get a passage that can be somewhat tricky.  Some people say, “Well, all those people there died before Jesus returned… what went wrong!”  Nothing at all.  What is “this generation”?  For a hint, I’m going to bring up a theological term – we will talk about “Baptismal Regeneration” – the idea that we are born again in Baptism.  Jesus is talking to the faithful in Jerusalem, to the Church – and the Church will endure until the end.  There will always be Christians waiting for the coming of the LORD – they might not live where they used to, but the Church will remain.  Why?  Because the Word of the Lord does not pass away.  The Gospel is still proclaimed.  Baptism – it still brings people into Christ’s Kingdom.  Christ still comes to us in His Body and Blood in the Supper – these things remain – the Holy Spirit still calls people by the Gospel and richly and daily forgives our sins here in the Church.  So this wasn’t a “it’s coming right now” point – but again, like Malachi - don’t worry about the wait.  Don’t worry about the time inbetween.  I will preserve you, then I will come, and it will be good for you.

And one final note.  “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.  For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Ut-oh!  We need to escape!  It’s a trap!  Watch out!  Panic!  No… not quite.  It is a warning, a reminder.  People can fall away from the faith.  They can just stop caring, they can just live it up and get blotto-ed, they can just be too busy and successful to care.  And that’s when it’s bad.  But Jesus mentions two things, two ways of being prepared, of “staying awake” as it were.  Prayer and then also standing before the Son of Man.  Oh my, if only there were some place where we Christians came together to pray, where we stood before Christ Jesus Himself and received strength from Him.  If only there was some place where, instead of having my heart weighed down, I was told, “Lift up your hearts.”  If only there was some place where God would strengthen us in faith towards Him and in fervent love toward one another.  Did I lay it on too thick?  Jesus here is pointing us to Church, to coming to this place where we gather in prayer and then receive from Him His own strength, His own righteousness, His own forgiveness.  The Church isn’t an afterthought.  The Supper isn’t an afterthought.  It wasn’t as though the Apostles were standing at the Ascension and said, “Oh, um, hmm…  Guess we better make something up.”  No, God has always gathered His people together around His Word. And you today, you are no different. You are in Christ, gathered in His Name – and you are prepared for His coming, whether it is coming to this Altar today to bring you forgiveness or whether it is His coming on the Last day to give you the resurrection and the life.  It’s okay – in Christ it is all good, and all good for you.  Be at peace in Him.

We believe that He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, and that His kingdom will have no end.  Not only that, but we know that this is a good thing, because you are forgiven by Christ, you have been joined to Him in Holy Baptism, and until He comes again He will continue to come to you in His Word and in His most Holy Supper.  And yes, the world around you often will fall apart – so be it.  You belong to Christ, and because of Him, because of His Word of life, you will endure even when this heaven and this earth have passed away, for He will take you to the new and better heavens and earth.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent Midweek 1

Advent Midweek 1 – Isaiah 40

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          This Advent Season, we will be looking at various passages that were used by George Frederich Handel when he wrote his famous “Messiah”.  It may be the most famous English language chorale in the world.  And it is one of those pieces that gets pulled from all the time – the Hallelujah Chorus shows up all the time.  And the Messiah shows up in the Advent Season a lot, because so much of it dealt with the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of Christ.  And so this Advent, we will look at three of the passages from Isaiah used by Handel which we hear quite often, and tonight it is Isaiah 40 – where you have that famous “Every valley shall be exulted” line.  But let’s start at the beginning of the passage and see what we hear from our Lord tonight.

          “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”  Again, another famous Advent passage.  Several hymns that we sing yearly are based off of this verse – but here is the question I will pose tonight.  What is comfort?  One of the things that comes up when reading the Scriptures is the use of language – words can start to shift their meanings over the centuries – so, what do we think of as 21st Century Americans when we hear the word “comfort”?  If the word “comfort” is used during the week, or on the TV – in our commercialized day and age, it so often means “nice” or “luxurious”.  We can think “comfortable” – like I want a nice comfortable chair, or sure, you could buy a Ford, but this Christmas season go buy an Audi – it’s a more comfortable ride.  And that’s not the point of this passage in Isaiah.  It’s not that God wants to give Israel an upgrade from coach to a more comfortable first class seat – it’s something more, profound and important.

“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  This isn’t about luxury.  This is about serious, heart-wrenching stuff.  This is about the impact of sin upon our lives.  Sin brings violence and pain and suffering and heartache.  And while it is true that many will use luxury to just deaden the pain and hardship of this life, it doesn’t work.  In the times of the Prophets, Jerusalem was constantly getting dumped upon.  Wicked kings, massive idolatry, wars, rumors of wars.  And the faithful there knew that as a people, they were just getting what they deserved.  Sin was ever before them – and life was going to be just dealing with sin until they went down to the grave and that was it.  Everything was ruined.  And it was to people who saw the world that way that Isaiah was sent to proclaim comfort, to proclaim pardon.  What is comfort – comfort is this.  You are forgiven, and even though you die, yet in Christ Jesus, because of the Messiah, you shall live.

This is shown in the next section.  A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”  Let’s talk a little bit about geography.  You have the land of Israel, on the west side of the Jordan river – and it’s a good place, however, it’s rather rugged, mountainous, hard to get around.  But then, when you cross the Jordan, you start moving into the wilderness.  For a Jew, the word wilderness brought with it both terror and shame.  Remember, what happened to the children of Israel in the wilderness?  That’s where they were left for 40 years to suffer for their sin!  And during the Exodus, God took care of them – gave them Manna, their clothes didn’t wear out.  But now – you cross the Jordan… the wilderness is bad.  It’s harsh, it’s dry, there are wild and dangerous animals – you go to the wilderness and you suffer.  The wilderness is the highest example of what is wrong with the world, with what happened when Adam and Eve fell and creation got messed up.  Sin makes a garden turn into wilderness.

Be comforted, God’s people.  Be comforted you who dwell in a land and world impacted by sin – the LORD comes to you here in this “desert drear”.  Why is Jerusalem to be comforted, why is she pardoned?  Because the LORD Himself will come; He will come to this wilderness of a world, and He will be tempted, and He will over come, and He will drive away Satan, and He will affect your rescue.  Jesus, the Messiah, will run roughshod over Satan.  And then what happens – “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”  And there’s the thrust of Handel’s music – that lilting “every vall-hal-ley”.  Do you see what is going on here?  The Messiah has come, and what is He going to do?  He is going to fix creation.  Don’t get me wrong, the Jewish people loved the promised land, loved their home – but it was hard to get around.  And one of the things that they understood was that this ruggedness of the land – that’s part of the fall.  It’s when you have the raging flood waters come, the rending of the earth to open the fountains of the deep – that’s when you get all this geological confusion kicking in.  That’s when walking from here to there means instead of a straight line (like you’d get on a plain) became over the hills and through the woods and around the bends and the like.  Geography was a reminder of sin, of sin’s impact upon the world – that’s why the end will be accompanied by earthquakes, and thunder and lightning.  But the Messiah comes to comfort His people, to put an end to sin, to bring forgiveness – and even to fix creation, to restore, to make things the way they should have been in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

That is what we look forward to.  Yet, it’s not always what we see.  A voice says, “Cry!”  And I said, “What shall I cry?”  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.  Isaiah sees reality in this world.  Yes, we are waiting for the Messiah, but what is life like?  We suffer and die, like the grass.  Israel could be dry and warm and windy – just like Oklahoma summer.  And what happens when the good Lord blows upon our lawns with that warm south wind?  The grass withers, the flower fades. That’s the reality that we see in this life so often.  Yet over and against that – the Word of God stands forever.  In the face of the trials and difficulties of life, in the face of sin and its impacts, Isaiah pointed forward to the promise of the Messiah – that promise is good, and we will see it. 

And we are somewhat in the same boat at Isaiah. Yes, we know that the Messiah has come – but we will await His second and final coming.  We still walk by faith and not by sight.  We still see heartache and pain and a world racked with sin and violence and suffering.  Yet the Word of the Lord remains.  Comfort, comfort my people.  Your warfare is over.  Your sins are forgiven, for Christ Jesus has won you full pardon, double pardon, with His death and resurrection, and He shall come and bring you to the new heavens and the new earth, where you too, by the power of the Word of God, shall stand forever.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

What's Attacking Your Pastor (A Bit of Advice)

I ending up bringing up an interesting tidbit with the Bible class this past Sunday.  In the course of conversation (I cannot remember exactly how) preaching came up - wait, I do remember.  Saul was paranoid and wicked and rebellious, so he expected David (post the defeat of Goliath) to be tricksy and false and rebellious.  And from there preaching came up.

I noted that to most preachers, hearing the tales of the Fire-and-Brimstone anti-sex preacher getting caught in an affair or the strong "anti-gay" preacher being caught in "that" park in "that" side of town was never really surprising.  This is because, well, most of the time when a preacher is attacking a hobby horse its because he's been riding that hobby horse.  There is a certain theological truth to the adage "he that hath smelt it, hath dealt it."

Here's phase one of advice - Pastors - get off the hobby horses of the Law.  If you think every sermon has to deal with topic X... well, your own struggles with X are showing!  Just stick to the lectionary and deal with all the points of the Law.

But this also brings up another truth.  Pastors are constantly under attack.  Satan and their flesh hound them -- there is nothing Satan loves more than a pastor who falls off the wagon.  And perhaps, this should temper our approach.

If you are a parishioner - remember, your pastor is a sinful human being who suffers temptations, just as you.  Take opportunities yourself to build him up and encourage him - especially in the holidays when the number of services and social obligation triples.

If you are a pastor looking at other pastors - remember, those foibles, those problems, even those errors.  That's how Satan is attacking them.  That works-righteous guy -- he's tortured with guilt and denial.  That growthy guy -- utter fear of failure and disdain.  That cold and insular guy -- he's been burned and jaded.  Even the guy who jokes all the time - sadness and despair.

They're not enemies to be defeated, or guys to be gotten rid of so the Church or Synod can be "fixed".  They are sinful men who need care, who need Christ Jesus and forgiveness.  Patience and love.

Huh - patience and love.  Almost an Advent theme.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 30th, 2014 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          Who is God?  Who is He?  What does He do?  While that seems like a broad and wide question, it is basically what Jeremiah was asking the Kingdom of Judah in our Old Testament text.  See, Judah was in a bind.  It was right around 588 or so B.C., and the Babylonian kingdom up north was rattling its sabers and had already invaded Judah a few times, had already taken Daniel off to captivity.  And Judah didn’t know what to do – but the prevailing wisdom was that Judah should buddy buddy up with Egypt and trust in Egypt to protect them.

          If Jeremiah had asked a Jew of his day who God was, the expected answer should have been this: “He is the LORD our God who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.”  That’s really how the 10 Commandments start – that’s the point of Passover – the LORD is the God who got us out of slavery in Egypt.  And now what – with fear and worries about Babylon, you forget the LORD your God, you continue in idolatry, in fact, you want to run back to Egypt, back to the people who enslaved you.  And so Jeremiah preaches.  Says that Babylon will win, and they do.  But in our text he also says the day is coming when they will call God “The LORD who brought us up and led the offspring of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.”  586, Judah is conquered.  538, King Cyrus sends them back home.  Jeremiah was right.

          But Jeremiah points forward to a greater truth, a greater prophecy.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”  No, Egypt won’t be the solution.  A stronger military or just paying tribute won’t be the solution.  Nor will the troubles of this day endure; Babylon won’t vex us forever.  Instead, here is the truth – the Messiah will come, and He Himself will fix the problems.  He will be the Righteous One for us, and His day is what we should be looking for, more than just any military victory now.

          And then we come to our Gospel Text.  The triumphal entry.  Palm Sunday.  And once again we can look at this in terms of a “who is” question.  Okay, Israel, who is your King?  What does your King look like, what does He do?  Jeremiah had prophesized a righteous Branch for David – that is, someone Righteous from the line of David who would be King, and there hadn’t been a king since Babylon conquered them – and then here comes Jesus.  And Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, just like King Solomon had when he was enthroned.  And everyone gets the symbolism; this is why they cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  Son of David!  The Guy who should be King!  The fervor and the excitement are astonishing – so high that come Palm Sunday in a few months, we’ll get in on it [at Zion] with little kids waving palms.  But again, there was a problem.  Who did they really think this King was, and what did they really think He was going to do?  Immediately after our text, we hear this: “And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’  And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”  Wait… just a prophet?  Just a guy from Galilee?  Why don’t they call Him the King?  That’s because for the people, He wasn’t really viewed as their King – why in a few days on Friday morning they will cry out that they have no king but Caesar.  He ended up not being what they wanted.  Now, Matthew even connects the dots for us – Jesus is fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy about the donkey – but that’s not enough for the people.  And a lot of this was based on their expectations.  Sure, a king was wanted, but you don’t call him the king until he’s driven out the Romans!  Once he’s made the nation glorious again, then we can give the fellow the throne – you only get the throne after you’ve beaten the bad guys!  That’s the way it still is in stories and movies today.  But here’s the problem.  That wasn’t what was promised to them.  They were promised a king who would be wise, who would execute justice and righteousness.  That wasn’t what they wanted.  Power was they wanted.  Earthly glory was they wanted.  Revenge against the Romans was they wanted.  And Jesus doesn’t do that.  That’s not wisdom.  That’s not justice, that’s not righteousness.  Jesus is more interested in driving out the money changers in the temple and reforming worship than He is in driving out the Romans and reforming an Empire.  And by the end of the week, Pilate orders his death to prevent a riot.  Think on that.  It’s not that there would be a riot because they are *killing* our king and we will rise up to rescue him.  No, the riot would come if you don’t do Him in.

          So.  What of us today?  Let’s ask ourselves the same questions.  Who is God?  Who is our King?  What does He do?  What are the expectations, what do we look for from God?  If I turn on the religious tv channels, I get horrified.  If I look on-line at facebook, I get horrified.  I’ll see tons of stuff about God giving money and wealth and success and power and making your dreams come true if you just trust in Him.  Is that what we want from our God?  We are in the Advent season, where we focus on the fact that Jesus came down from heaven.  Is that what we think He came to do?  In Advent we focus also on the second coming of Christ.  What do we want?  Do we want a Jesus that is going to reform American society and make us a better land where we’ll get rid of crime if only we obey Him?  Is Jesus the guy who brings the better rules that will make sure your family keeps its nose clean?    And, of course, if you don’t send in money, if you don’t click “like” Jesus will be mad at you and punish you.
          What does your God look like?  Does He look like a Man coming humbly, seated on a donkey?  Does He look like a Man who is beaten and whipped and scourged?  Does He look like a man hanged upon a cross and left to die?  Because this is what Jesus comes to do.  Jesus is the LORD, our Righteousness.  And He is our righteousness by going to the cross and suffering and dying, by being buried, by rising again.  This is the point, the point of contention, the reason why so many people forsake Christ Jesus even to this day.  Jesus deals with what we need, not what we want.  Jesus isn’t Santa Claus; we don’t get to just tell Jesus what we want and know that if we are good little boys and girls that we’ll get it.  Because the simple fact is this – a lot of times what we want is foolish.  What we think is important isn’t.  Judah wanting Egypt to deliver them was foolish – that would be even worse than Babylon in the long run – at least Babylon respected the Jewish culture.  Wanting to take down the Roman Empire was foolish – if you aren’t certain of that, when Rome falls, we call what comes next “the Dark Ages” – it’s the fall of Rome that allows Islam to conquer and destroy Christianity in the middle east and in Egypt and in Babylon.  And that’s just immediate problems – that’s just current events turning to history.  Where was the thought given to sin – where was the thought given to the fact that I am a sinful human being and I am going to die in my sin unless God intervenes and saves me?  Meh, they didn’t think that was important.  Who wants a spiritual solution – we want a better war machine, we want “justice” that looks like our enemies crushed and bleeding and destroyed.

          That’s not what Jesus comes to do.  Oh, He could have come with legions of angels brandishing flaming swords – in fact, He will come that way on the last day.  But first, He had a job to do.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”  His job is to be your righteousness.  His job is to win you life and salvation and the forgiveness of your sins.  His job is to execute justice, by taking up upon Himself all the weight and wrath of sin and crucifying upon the Cross.  His job is to fulfill all righteousness, to live the perfect holy life, and then to cover you with that righteousness in Holy Baptism so that He may say to the Father, “See these, My brothers and sisters, they are righteous and holy and without blemish in My name.”  His job is to see that you dwell securely, not just for a day, not just for a season, not just until the next election, but for eternity.  This is His wisdom.  And He still comes to you, brings this righteousness, this forgiveness and salvation here in this place, preached, proclaimed to you, comes to you humbly riding in, with, and under bread and wine, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

          So, who is this Jesus, our God?  He is the One who pays no attention to human expectations.  Rather, He comes to fulfill the Scriptures, to fulfill the Word of God that has proclaimed your redemption and your salvation.  And in His great wisdom, He does whatever must be done to accomplish this – even if it means coming down from heaven, and being incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and born in a manager, and suffering and dying.  He is determined to be wise for your sake; He is determined to execute justice for you, to be the LORD our Righteousness.  And so He is.  This we have heard in the Word, this we have received in Baptism and the Supper, and this we shall see face to face when He comes again.  Amen.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Sermon

Thanksgiving Day – Luke 17:11-17 – November 27th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          There are moments, things in life, that just amuse me – that I find ironic and funny and yet also off.  And one of those strange quirks is just how many churches, how many congregations don’t have service today on Thanksgiving.  And then we get this Gospel lesson – “Where are the nine?”  It just sort of stands out to me as ironic.  And I’ll talk with guys, and the reasons are familiar – folks are traveling to see family, and there’s all the busy cooking to be done, and now there’s even shopping tonight to get ready for (although people tend to be embarrassed telling a pastor that).  And all of this I understand – I’ll do all of it today too.  But it does give background, insight into our text and also into the whole idea of thankfulness.  This text is not “good people give thanks, bad people don’t, aren’t you glad you are a good person” – rather, it shows how easily we can be so absorbed by the blessings God has given us that we forget God, more or less.

          “On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”  As background again – remember, if you were a leper in the ancient world, you were banished from the cities.  You had a contagious skin disease, and for everyone’s good, you had to go.  You were consigned to a life of isolation and solitude – unless you banded together with a bunch of other lepers.  It was horrific – you are banished and also sick, and sick in a somewhat gross and disgusting fashion.  And so when Jesus comes, these folks call out to Him – have mercy.  Heal us!  Help us!  Precisely what they ought to do.

          And Jesus responds.  “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priest.’  And as they went they were cleansed.”  One of the things that always, always amazes on this text is that every leper starts walking to show themselves to the priest while they are still sick and full of leprosy.  There is no better picture of what our lives are like, of what faith is, of what is walking by faith and not by sight.  When they look down, they see nothing us sickness, but Jesus has said, “Go” – and so they go.  Go show yourself to the priest, show yourself to be healed – because that’s what you had to do to get back into the community.  If the priest found that you were clean, you could come home.  And even as they see the sores still upon them – they go at Jesus’ word.  Now, consider this.  You see and know your own sin.  You are a sinner – that’s just reality.  And let’s face, there are times when that reality, that truth, the horror of our own sin stands out and smacks us right between the eyes.  But what has Christ Jesus said to you?  You are baptized, and washed clean by Me.  Father, forgive them.  Take and eat, take and drink, shed for your for the forgiveness of sin.  This is what He has declared… and yet, day in and day out, we see our sin.  But at Christ’s word we believe, and we know that we are clean before the Father in heaven.

          It’s a powerful depiction, a powerful image of faith.  And it is true – “And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks.  Now, he was a Samaritan.”  And they get healed.  The word of the Lord rings true.  And here we move to the crux of this text – only one returns and gives thanks.  And so often it becomes the finger wag – you better be thankful, unlike those lousy 9 lepers.   But that’s not quite what Jesus would have us ponder.  Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Did you hear it?  We don’t have Jesus condemning the nine – we don’t hear “And Jesus called down fire from heaven and smote those ungrateful jerks.”  No, Jesus asks a question.  Where’s the nine?  Why didn’t they return and give… praise.  It’s not really a question about thankfulness, but rather, praise.

          I’m sure the 9 lepers were quite happy that they were healed.  I’m sure they weren’t indifferent or shrugging things off.  In fact, I’m sure they were quite enjoying the blessing that Jesus had given them.  I know that if I were suddenly healed and able to see and hug and hold my wife and kids for the first time in months, in years, I’d be quite happy.  Just as the folks who are traveling to see family or busily cooking or plotting out their shopping runs are delighting in blessings that God has given them.  But here’s where the rubber meets the road.  When you are focused on the blessings you have received, it can be easy to in your joy forget to where those blessings came from.  We rejoice in family – but how often do we remember the words “What God has joined together… let not man put asunder.”  We rejoice in our food – but how often do we remember that this is the daily bread that God has provided?  How often do we say the common table prayer at record speed?  And of course, even with the shopping and sales, how often do we pause and think, “Ah, yes, this is how God wondrously and fantastically has provided for me, how He has clothed me and sheltered me and supported me in ways that Solomon in all his splendor couldn’t have imagined?”

          “Was no one found to return and give praise to God….”   That is the question.  To praise God is to declare what *He* has done, and so often we can view the things in our lives forgetting that they come from God.  We can say “my family, my wife, my kids” – forgetting that they belong to God and He has give me to them in order to serve them.  We can open up our wallet when paying for the turkey or that great sale and think about how hard we worked in the office, in the fields, and forget that it is God’s own bounty that has provided for us, that has given us time, talent, treasure, skills, opportunity.  And again, this isn’t finger wagging.  When I went shopping for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, look at how blessed I am” – I was thinking, “Good night, turkeys are expensive this year.”  It is just the reality of being sinners in a sinful world that we are not always aware of what God has done, that these truths that we know are not always first and foremost in our mind. This is part of the reason why it is good to pause, to return to God in His Presence in His House and give praise.  Because here together we are pulled away from that rat race out there and made to think about God, made to praise Him together in our worship.

          But more than just that.  The key point of worship isn’t the praise we give.  That isn’t the highlight, isn’t the focus.  The text doesn’t end simply with Christ’s question about the 9.  It continues.  “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”  In the end,what’s the difference between the 1 and the 9?  They all get to go on their way, they all get healed, they all get the blessings – indeed, they all had faith in what Christ Jesus had told them and received the benefits He promised!  But the Samaritan gets to be in the presence of Jesus, gets to be in Christ Jesus’ presence and hear Jesus speak directly, personally, closely to Him.  They had only heard Jesus at a distance – now this Samaratian hears, sees face to face as it were.  And that is what Church is.  The fellow who gruffly says, “Well, I can think about God while I’m fishing on Sunday morning – I can be thankful while I’m on the golf course” – they are right.  You can.  But it is here, in this service, where God is present for you, where God comes to you and blesses you directly.  It is here where you hear His Word proclaimed, here where He comes to you in His Holy Supper, here where God Himself is Present for you.  And that doesn’t happen golfing or fishing or shopping or cooking or in any of those other first article blessings.  It is where two or three are gathered in His Name that He has promised to be – bring love and mercy and forgiveness.  Where He has promised to say to you, “see, you are made well, your sins are forgiven.”  It is here were we are refreshed and prepared to rightly enjoy the blessings of both body and soul that He richly and freely provides for us.

          Dear friends, God has been gracious to you, and this grace rests not upon you, upon how great or how thankful you are.  Rather, it rests upon His love, His steadfast love for you that endures forever.  And He is faithful and just, and whenever you are gathered into His house, He will see that His love is proclaimed again to you – all thanks and praise be to Christ Jesus our Redeemer, who has gifted us with the Holy Spirit and restored us to the Father.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  + Amen.