Monday, November 30, 2009

It's good to know

It's good to know that Steven Seagal is keeping Father Hollywood safe.

Seriously - Met Ott's grave and Deputy Seagal - Gretna may be the coolest place east of Lahoma.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A quick thought on closed communion

How is the simplest way to describe closed communion? When you commune at a Lutheran altar, we expect you to only commune at Lutheran altars until you die. That is what we ask of our confirmands - will you face all sorts of wickedness, even death, than fall away from the faith as you learned it?

This also explains the old "deathbed" exception. If someone is dying - well, yes, then this will be the last altar they commune at.

If little Sally comes home and wants to commune but next week she's going to go right back to her mega-church de jour -- sorry. No where else until you die - that's the standard.

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 29th, 2009 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This world is broken. Has been ever since the fall. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the world has been broken. We as people – broken. We are now prone to hatred and anger and envy and strife and sorrow and sadness. We are no longer perfect, and even if we were, even when there are times when we are not at fault – our neighbor still can be – and pain and suffering still comes anyway. Broken. And the world itself – broken. Nature itself seems out to get us half the time, to ruin itself with storms and natural disasters, animals tearing each other to shreds. All broken. Nothing works right. And indeed, God does spare us from some of this brokenness, gives us blessings and moments of joy here in this life – but still, here in this world, things all fall apart eventually. There is anger and pain and terror and suffering – all which flows from, all which is a consequence of sin.

The prophet Jeremiah, though, sounds the call for this Advent season, speaks out to us in this broken, fallen world that lies in the grasp of sin. The prophet calls out, “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.” There is a promise, given by God, that someday the King will come, and what will this king do? He shall be wise, and He will do justice, He will see that things are righteous. He will fix things, He will make things to be the way they ought to be. Now this, this is a thing to wait for, to watch for with eagerness! That is what Advent is – where we of the New Testament Church pause and wait to celebrate our Lord’s coming at His birth, where we watch and ponder what our Lord’s coming was for, what it means, how it happened, so that we might give God thanks aright for it.

Some 600 years after Jeremiah spoke these words, we see the events of our Gospel text. We see Christ Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey there on Palm Sunday, and here we learn about how our Lord comes. This is the promised coming of the King, a coming that is lowly and humble, a coming for justice, and a coming for righteousness. Christ comes to be all these things, to win for us salvation and forgiveness, to fulfill all the Scriptures spoke of Him, and to prepare heaven for us and us for heaven. This is what He does when He enters Jerusalem.

It’s not what the broken world expects. Back then, the crowds had something else in mind. The crowds had wild expectations for what would happen once Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Many were expecting the casting off of the hated Roman overlords. But Jesus doesn’t revolt. Many were expecting miracles galore. But that isn’t what Christ Jesus, who reigns wisely does. Jesus goes to the temple and teaches, and then Jesus goes to the cross. And the world is befuddled. Same thing today. The broken world doesn’t understand the coming of our Lord that we celebrate at Christmas. The broken world thinks that the coming of the King should mean 50 days of great sales at the stores - the broken world expects the Savior to save our lagging economy. The broken world thinks that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are happy during these cold months. The broken world is content to have its parties and its festivities, and then pack up what passing thoughts of an infant laid in a manger they had until next October when they can start making a profit off of it again.

But Christ never acts in the way the broken world wants Him to. Christ our King comes humbly – mounted on a donkey. When Christ enters Jerusalem, He does not come upon a charger of war, He does not come leading a host of zealots ready to storm Pilate’s quarters, slaying Romans. No, He comes humbly, and He rides His donkey up not to the worldly seats of power, but to the temple, and He fixes things there, focuses people upon God and prayer. Christ our King comes to bring Justice – but not the justice the broken world craves. The broken world thought Justice meant punishing the wicked harshly and severely – driving the Romans before them. They thought Justice would mean more cash in their pockets, just like the world today thinks justice means giving the right bailout to the right people, making sure health care reform is just so. But when Christ comes to execute Justice, He slays no one, He punishes no one. Rather – He Himself goes to the cross to see Justice done – to see the sins of the broken world punished in Himself. When you behold the Cross, you see Christ Jesus executing Justice, you see Justice done by the King, as He Himself takes up the sins of the world. And Christ our King comes to bring and to be righteousness – but not a righteousness the broken world expects. The broken world expects righteousness to mean that things are the way they want things to be. The broken people of Christ’s day would have expected a righteous world to be ruled by them, where the other peoples of the world all acknowledged their superiority and served them – that would be nice! But that isn’t the righteousness that Christ brings – when He wins for us forgiveness upon the Cross, He also pours out His Spirit upon us, enlivening us. Christ’s righteousness is not that He makes things to be the way we want them to be, but He comes to us and makes us to be the way God wants us to be. He fixes our brokenness, pulls us away from our own sin, strengthens us to resist temptation, makes us to be those who show forth love, who are humble and just and righteous again by the power of His Word.

What Christ did then, back on Holy Week, is the same thing He does for us today. He shatters our broken expectations of Him, and shows us indeed who God is and God’s great love for us. Today the broken world expects the Christian life to be a life of power and might and stuff – where we think that it is our time to seize the best of this life now. That is the seemingly constant refrain of the false preachers – they make millions off of this message. Yet how does Christ come? He comes through His Word – He calls us not to a life of Champaign toasts and caviar dreams, but to a life of contemplation, where we hear His Word and mediate upon it, think about it – and then speak it back to Him in prayer, sing it back to Him in hymns. He calls us to worship, where we are no longer focused upon ourselves, but are focused upon God and His love for us. He calls us to a life of service, where we care for the neighbor, show them love, make sure that they have their best life now – this is humility, to focus not upon yourself but upon God and upon your neighbor. This is precisely what our Lord does when He rides into Jerusalem on that donkey, when He comes to us in His Word. Our Humble Lord teaches us humility.

And Christ comes to us today to teach us what justice is. The broken world today still expects justice to be about the slaying of our enemies, where the neighbor who has wronged me will get his just deserts. Christ though, teaches us what justice is – He teaches us and gives us justice through His gift of Baptism. He says, “I will slay your enemy, your true enemy – and your true enemy is your desire to sin – behold My justice as I drown your sins and your Old Adam by water and the Word.” When we ponder Baptism, we see what Justice truly is, what it entails. At your baptism, God Almighty connected you to our Lord’s Crucifixion – tied you to Christ’s own death to be the proof and assurance that when Christ died for the sins of the world, yes, indeed and truly, He died for your sins – that when Justice was done to Him, it was done also for you. God’s Justice means that you have forgiveness on account of Christ, that your sins are washed away. And again, this is not of ourselves – we have this gift of justice and forgiveness not because of our boldness, not because of our worth – but because Christ Jesus is the King who does justice, who gives out justice, who does all that is needed to see that justice is done. We do not come to faith as spiritual vigilantes, taking God’s law into our own hands by our own decisions – but Christ comes, and He is just for us, and He makes us to be just – He justifies us.

And of course, Christ comes to show us righteousness. The broken world is selfish, is focused upon itself. Christ comes to draw our eyes off of ourselves and rather to make us righteous people who show love to their neighbor, Christ makes us to be whom He created us to be in the first place. This is what He accomplishes through His Supper. Christ comes to us in His Body and Blood to forgive our sins and also to strengthen our faith, to fill us with His love so that we might do righteousness, so that we might show forth His love in the coming week. This is why we give thanks to God upon receiving this Supper, praying – “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love towards one another.” And that is what God does, what God accomplishes through this blessed meal. God works upon you – when you are here, when you hear His Word, receive His Supper, God is active – the Holy Spirit acts upon you, improves you, restores you. He makes you to show a right and holy life.

Whenever Christ comes, He comes teaching us humility and giving us justice and making us righteous. The season of Advent, which we now enter, is nothing else than a call to remember this, to focus upon this, to see this. The broken world would distract us, dazzle and blind us to Christ – but our Lord tells us to be patient, to watch and wait for His coming and His deliverance – a coming and deliverance we celebrate and remember at Christmas, a coming and deliverance we have now whenever Christ gathers us to His Church, and a coming and deliverance that we shall have in full for all eternity when He comes again, taking us from this broken world unto His holy Heaven. May God focus our eyes upon Christ this advent season. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Sermon

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

When times have been tough, when the year has been not as wonderful as years past, Thanksgiving Day always seems a little more poignant. When everything has been coming up roses, we can approach Thanksgiving with a haughty attitude – ah, yes, what a year, I suppose we should give thanks – and then when it is done we fly away from Church and the tedium of thankfulness back to enjoy all our wonderful stuff. Thanksgiving, in a good year, can be almost perfunctory – something we have to do. But on those years when things are a bit tighter – when things have been a bit rougher, we reach this day, and it becomes a true day of reflection, a true day of thanksgiving – because that small touch of lack and sorrow simply serves to highlight all that we have received from God in His unbridled love and mercy.

Our Gospel lesson is a familiar one – the 10 lepers. And when we hear this story, sometimes we can be a bit detached from it. Sometimes it seems hard to relate to these lepers – I mean, they have horrible, wretched existences. We don’t. They were horribly ill; we live in a land with the greatest health care ever seen, where illnesses that were a death sentence 50 years ago are cured with ease. They were beggars with no wealth – we live in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. It can be hard to relate to them normally – but this past year. . . well, it’s a little different, isn’t? We’ve had those debates and fears regarding health care, we’ve seen chaos in the economy reminding us that we could lose our jobs – we saw crops become brittle and break – and suddenly, these lepers don’t seem as distant as they normally do. Instead of just looking upon them detachedly, we can understand them a touch better.

These lepers cry out to Christ for healing – they wish to be restored, to be healed, to be delivered. And Christ tells them to go into the city, to show themselves to the priests. And at His word they go, they walk by faith towards town, and as they go they are healed. They see first hand the wonders of God’s care and love for them, and they are ecstatic. But then, only one of them, a Samaritan, turns around and returns to Christ to give thanks. On this day, this year, when we have seen so clearly where we could be, we pause to turn and give thanks to God, because we see and understand how richly and undeservedly He has blessed us – and He has blessed us here at Zion. By rights, 10 percent of us should be unemployed – but God has preserved us. The odds say that at least some of us should have been evicted by now – yet our homes remain. We have seen horrible illnesses and tragedies in our community – and yet, we are preserved. Even those of our congregation who have died were preserved to either ripe old ages or lived much, much longer than their health problems would have led us to expect. Indeed, many of us have even received wondrous healing this year. We see what God has done for us, and we turn now, knowing it could be so different, and we give Him thanks.

But if we make this day a day of thanks for earthly stuff alone, as so many in this land will do, we will miss the point. These earthly blessings of God are indeed wonderful things – and we are right to rejoice in all the blessings that our Father gives purely out of His divine goodness and mercy without any worth or merit in us. But that is not the end. Whenever we think of our earthly blessings, we ought to then move in our minds to all the spiritual blessings which God has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is a year when we see a bit more clearly how messy this life, this world can be. We see the impact of sin a bit more clearly now – and we see its impact upon us more clearly as well. It is not swept under the rug – it confronts us, face to face.

Christ Jesus our Lord saw the trials and tribulations of this world – and then out of His great love for us, He chose to come down from heaven and enter this world in order to win us salvation. Ponder that for a moment – there is Jesus, enjoying the perfection and wonders of heaven – and yet, He takes on human flesh and strides into this messy place. And while here on earth He takes upon Himself all the things that we can fear. He takes on poverty, He takes on illness, He takes on the scorn of friends. Even Satan is astounded at what Christ takes on – even Satan at the temptation in the desert looks at our Lord’s suffering and says, “This is crazy – why do you treat Yourself so – command stones to turn to bread, eat something, you are God after all!” And yet, our Lord dives into this world with all its sorrows whole heartedly. And why? Because in coming to this world, our Lord joins Himself to us – He makes a tie between Himself and us, sealed in the waters of Holy Baptism. And then He suffers all – everything we could think of fearing, everything this world could throw at us, the things we’ve seen more clearly this year – even death, Christ tastes it. And then He rises – and He says to us – “I have done it all, and I have risen. This new life, this is yours now.” Christ Jesus wins us salvation.

And every time we see a temporal blessing, every time we realize just how much God has protected us in this earthly life, it should point us again to Christ Jesus, Who came down from heaven to be our Brother, so that we might see the love of God not just in earthly things which will fade, but that we might see this Love face to face for all eternity when we stand in the presence of God. These temporal blessings which we give thanks for are but an appetizer of what is to come – a sampling of the restoration that is ours in Christ for all eternity. And so dear friends, let us truly give thanks this day for all the blessings God has given us – the blessings of body – for this life, and the blessings of soul – for all eternity. God has made us to behold His love for us – let us rejoice and give Him thanks. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Excellent Petersen Post

Rev. David Petersen has a wonderful post on why we feel stress over at his blog.

I don't know why I cross post this here. . . I mean. . . really, if you don't have Petersen's blog bookmarked, why would you have mine?


Relatives. . . go over to this other blog and read it!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday – November 22nd, 2009 – Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
We have reached the end of another Church Year. Soon our thoughts will shift to our Lord’s first Advent and our preparations for the celebration of His birth – but now, we do not look back – we look ahead. Just as the days grow shorter and colder here on earth, we are reminded that the hour is getting late, and that our Lord will return, sooner or later. And yet, so often it seems like it will be later – that our Lord’s return seems delayed and pushed back. We can come to this Sunday of the Church Year – nod and say, “Oh yes, oh yes – Jesus will come back. . . I suppose – that whole ‘and He shall come to judge the living and the dead’ thing” – and then promptly forget about our Lord’s Second coming until November roles around next year unless there is some natural disaster or something that makes us wonder about the end of the world in the meantime.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the approach or attitude our Lord wishes us to have. We are not to be those who are complacent, but we are to be those who are watchful and prepared for our Lord’s Second Coming, so that when that joyous day does come – whether we are among those living or those who are rising on that day from the dead – we will be ready for that day. And so, our Lord speaks a parable to teach, to train, to tell us how we ought to prepare for His return. This is the familiar parable of the wise and foolish virgins, so let us attend to our Lord’s Words, and then take them to heart.

Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. So what in the world does this mean? Well, back in the day, as part of the high, formal festivities of marriage, the young, unmarried girls would get to come out, and they would serve as lamp bearers – they would be part of the groom’s procession, going before him, all young and pretty with their lamps – they would bring joy to the whole celebration. And this was a big deal – this was something you got to do when you were finally grown up – a rite of passage. The excitement of these girls would probably be like girls today going to prom – you get your hair done and get the nice dress, and it’ll be a late night, maybe with an all night party. So that is the type of eagerness that these 10 virgins would have – this youthful wonder and joy and excitement.

This is the same sort of excitement we ought to have when we consider our Lord’s return. When our Lord comes back, we will be leaving the childhood of this life, where we see things only dimly, where we struggle with burdens and sin – and instead we will be stepping into the heavenly feast, we will obtain perfection, we will grow up in Christ and be like Him. And when we think about the joys of heaven, when we think about what is to come, we are rightly excited.

Five of them were foolish, and five of them 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. But there is a problem for some of these girls – they are not prepared. They don’t have any oil – they figure that they will have time to get some when the time comes. Why would you not have oil when your job, the reason you get to come to the party is to have a lamp? I don’t know. That’s why they are called the foolish virgins – and as we’ve all been foolish on more than one occasion, I’m sure we can relate. The key point is that some are prepared, but others aren’t. Then. . .

As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. Of all things in this parable, this is what I love the most – they all fall asleep. I remember the first time my parents decided to let me stay up for New Year’s – I was little, and we were in Ohio visiting family, and I was so excited, bouncing off the wall the whole evening. . . and wore myself out and fell asleep around 11 from exhaustion. This is what happens here – these girls weren’t ready for the delay, and as such, they wear themselves out, they become drowsy, and they fall asleep.

We Christians – we often become drowsy as regards our Lord’s Return. We will think about it for a bit, we’ll be excited – but then, the humdrum of life creeps back into our lives. . . and we just sort of drift off. We don’t think about it. We confess the creed – but don’t think about it. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus” before we eat but don’t think about our Lord’s Coming. We pray, “Thy Kingdom Come” with nary a thought of our Lord’s return. We become drowsy and sleep. And our Lord knows this will happen. In the parable, all ten fall asleep. But the difference isn’t in who is awake or sleeping; the difference is in who is prepared.

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 yourself.” And now things come back to bite the foolish virgins. They are completely unprepared – their lamps flicker and falter. And it’s too late. The best they can do is try to hurriedly run to the store and buy some oil – but it’s midnight. What dealer is going to be open? They are going to have to wake the merchant up, and he’ll be moving slowly, and it is just going to take too much time. Really, it’s too late. Simple as that – they weren’t prepared, and they aren’t going to make it.

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. Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” The wedding starts – the party begins, and the wise virgins get to go marching in, and there is joy and merriment. But for the foolish virgins, they are left out in the cold. The doors are closed, they are not let in – they miss out. Their folly has cost them. And lest we think that this is just a tale about the importance of being prepared – lest this become a sermon where I merely admonish you about life insurance and such – our Lord says, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Our Lord reminds us here that we are to be prepared for His coming.

This is something that we need remember, that we need to be aware of. We do not know the day or the hour – our plans, our expectations of the future may not come to pass, for the Lord may interrupt them – either by bringing that day for everyone with His return, or by bringing that day just to us through our own death. And we don’t like to this about this – we don’t like being confronted by our own mortality, we don’t like recognizing the simple truth that this life we lead here can be ended in a moment – Christ will come, so we need to be prepared for that, not when we are older, not next year, but now.

So – what makes one prepared for our Lord’s return? What makes a Christian wise? Solomon says in proverbs “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The way in which we are prepared is when we have that proper respect and love towards God, so that we live our lives knowing that He might return at any moment. We are to be in His Word, we are to be living out our Baptismal life, we are to be receiving His Supper so that we are filled to the brim with His love and his Spirit. This is our preparation. This is the oil that we need. Sadly, often as Christians we will play the “later game”. We will do all that Spiritual stuff later. Push it off a bit. Oh, I’ll get back to Church more once things get settled down a bit. Oh, I’ll get back to Church more once I have kids. Oh, the kids are restless, I’ll start going again when they get a bit older. Oh, well, you know, there’s so much going on, I need the rest on Sundays – I can do more when the kids are finally out of the house. Oh well, you know, maybe when I retire I can make more time. Oh well, you know, I really like to sleep in. Later, later, later. Our Lord says this is foolishness. Consider the foolish virgins – they knew stuff. They knew the bridegroom was coming – but they did not prepare accordingly. Likewise – we here all know that Christ is coming – but do we prepare for it as we ought – or do we shrug worship off, do we act indifferent to the study of God’s Word? Do we sleep comfortably in our beds while our Lord comes to His House here to give the faithful His own Body and Blood for their forgiveness? Christ comes here every time we worship – God Himself is present. . . and we make excuses. To know Christ will come and to do nothing is the height of folly.

We do not know the hour – we do not know if we will have a later – and we do not want to be lulled into indifference – for indifference is merely a step away from unbelief and the death of faith. If we treat Christ’s return as if it will never happen, as if it is not important, then soon, we will treat faith itself as if it is not important, God as if He is not important, and we will be lost. And so once again, you are called by God to this place, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom calls out to you, pleading with you to be wise, to be prepared. And this is the utter wonder of it – your preparations are not hard – it is not some onerous task that God gives you – salvation is no 15 step plan or a series of flaming hoops to jump through. Rather this – Christ Jesus has died for you, and through His Word, through His Body and Blood, your sin is covered – your flasks of oil are filled to the brim with His righteousness and love – and you are prepared. And He shall come again. The Bridegroom has invited you to Heaven, He has given you His Word, a lamp unto your feet – He has anointed your head with the waters of Holy Baptism, more precious than any oil – live in these gifts, see that they are part of your life now, so that you may be prepared for eternity – for indeed, our Lord shall return. Until that day when He does return, He comes to you here in His House, in preaching, in the words of absolution, in His holy Supper, all so that you will be ready on that day when He calls you to eternity. May we all be found prepared in Him on that day by the power of His most precious Word and most lovely sacraments. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coming upon the busy time

Many Pastors might say Lent is the hardest time of the year, but I say Thanksgiving-Epiphany is the hardest time by far. We will say that Advent is short - that it is only 4 weeks, but then, we forget that the week before is generally Thanksgiving, and then after Christmas there is New Year's Day, and then a week after that is Epiphany. 6 weeks here (7 if I could get people to show up for Epiphany, which has never been a custom here) of extra services and the like - just as much as Easter.

And then multiple dinners and such like that - and Norman Rockwell expectations, and hustle and bustle and all that jazz. Ugh.

This is why Advent is such an important season - why thanksgiving is so apt. They are times of pause, times of rest, times to step away from all our stuff and to ponder what God has done for us. Even as it is so busy for the pastor - who moves from the 4 services of October to the 15-18 services of 7 weeks - it is a fantastic time of being gathered in the Word and brought to restful contemplation of His love for us.

Which just means I'm going to go work on Bible Studies now, cause I want to be at least 7 weeks ahead of schedule before thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We have "Sedes" - not proof-texts.

A religious argument is never a pretty thing. Mix politics and religious disagreement and you get something like the 30 Years War, but religious argument alone can be quite nasty. But sometimes these arguments need to be had - the faith needs to be defended. And in these discussions, Scripture is the weapon we use - sharper than any two edged sword.

But how do we use Scripture? Pastor Peters gives an excellent account of the dangers of proof-texting", which is what happens when one just tosses Scriptures out willy-nilly - out of context, to prove a specific point. Scripture is not a grab bag though, it is one unified whole - we don't just throw a verse out and say, "There." We don't use Scripture just as proof for our arguments - that's not the approach we should take.

Rather, we should speak in such a way that what we say flows from Scripture - where Scripture is not only the end, but also the beginning of what we say. As Lutherans, we don't have proof-texts, we have "Sedes Doctrinae" - or "Seats of Doctrine" - verses upon which doctrine rests. And so when we discuss a specific doctrine, we don't just run right to a specific verse and say, "Ah ha! I win!" Rather, we look at what the Scriptures say, and then shape our words from there.

An example of this approach would be infant Baptism. We don't look for the magic bullet verse that says, "Go baptized kiddos" - but rather, we look at the verses that establish what we teach about Baptism and seek to apply them. We are taught in Mark 16 that Baptism is part of the life of salvation (He that believes and is baptized shall be saved) -- we hear in 1 Peter 3 that "Baptism now saves you." Thus, we say that Baptism is part and parcel of salvation. Then we consider what Scripture says about sin - Romans saying that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", or David confessing that "in sin my mother bore me," and from verses like these we see that Scripture teaches that all people, including infants, are sinful and in need of salvation. We consider Matthew 28, that children would be included in "all nations" - or Acts where Peter says that the promise is for "you and your children" on Pentecost - or the whole households being baptized in Acts. To the objection that infants can't really believe, and therefore have no need of baptism (or no benefit), we point to where Paul says that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (for see, faith is not about human wisdom), or in Ephesians where we see that the faith by which we receive grace is a gift - not a working of our own, not even a working of our mind.

Doctrine is built upon the Scriptures - discussions of God's truth pull from all over His Word -- they are not ended by simply pointing to one passage all by its lonesome and saying, "Hey, there you go." We study the Scriptures - see the picture they paint, and then we speak -- our words that we say are to flow from what we see in Scripture.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trinity 23 - and Stewardship Sunday

Trinity 23 – November 15th, 2009 – Matthew 22:15-22

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So often when it comes to discussions and debates, we do things the easy, sloppy way – instead of trying to convince people that we are right, we just try to point out that the other side is foolish. Instead of saying why we should or shouldn’t do something, we’ll just trash the other side. This is the way of politics and fights and all sorts of things today. Name calling and trap questions seem to be what we expect. In today’s Gospel lesson, the Pharisees approach Jesus with a trap question of their own. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Ceasar, or not?” This is nothing more than an attempt to make Jesus look bad. Remember that the Jews of this time are a conquered people – the Romans are viewed as vile oppressors, a tax collector is the lowest of the low. And the question is asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes.” This is a trap question. If Jesus says no, why, then He is teaching rebellion! If Jesus says yes, why, then He is just a tool of those mean Romans. The Pharisees think any answer Jesus gives will make Him look bad.

But Jesus doesn’t just say yes or no. He asks the hypocrites for a coin. They hand him a denarius – and Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” It is the image of Caesar – and so we get the famous saying, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus’ answer is clear. Yes, you give to Caesar, to the earthly government the things that you ought to give, but you also give to God the things that belong to God. So then, this day, we will have to ponder two things – what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?

First, let us consider the government, for this is the far easier one. As a Christian, we are to be good citizens. We are to pay our taxes – and with this passage there is no way you can get around this. We are to obey the laws of the nation in which we live – we are to do our civic duty – we are to be informed voters, serve if called upon to serve, and all the things we learned in Civics class in High School. And all these things aren’t just matters of indifference – they are part and parcel of living your life as a Christian. This is because we remember that government is a gift from God – this is why every Sunday we pray for our government, pray that God would guide and protect our leaders and lead them into the way of peace. If you wish to read more on this, Romans 13 is the place to go on this. But the point is this – as long as we are still in this world, as long as we still live here on earth – we are to be good citizens. We aren’t to use our faith as an excuse to avoid or shirk our duties. We are to obey the laws of this land and serve our neighbor by performing the duties we have as citizens.

That is a simple idea. Distasteful when it comes times to pay taxes, distasteful on occasion when we see the griminess and name calling of what passes for political debate these days – but it’s clear – render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But the next part, ah, the next part tends to be much harder for us. Render unto God the things that are God’s. What are these things that belong to God? Well, the simple fact is that everything that we are and that we have belongs to God – but this doesn’t tell us much about what we ought to do, how we ought to behave. What are your duties as a Christian – what are your duties as a member of this congregation? And really, this should be straight forward, because if you are a confirmed member of this congregation, you not only have heard what your duties are, but you have answered publicly that you will do them. So, let’s review what we vowed at our Confirmation.

After we are asked about our beliefs – do we confess the creed, do we believe that the Bible is the Word of God – at our confirmation we are asked if we will do certain things. Here is the very first question about what we will do – Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? The answer – I do, by the grace of God. Did you note that – the very first thing, the highest duty that a Christian has is to hear God’s Word and to come to the Supper and receive our Lord’s Body and Blood faithfully. Very first. This is the most important thing – to be in the Word, to seek to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. And this makes perfect sense – when we think about the things that are God’s things – what is more of a God thing than His Word? What is more Godly than the Supper, for the Supper is the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord Himself! We are to tend to the Word and the Sacraments, we are to attend the Worship where these gifts of God are given to us. This is what Christians do – we are the people who gather together in Church and receive from God His love and mercy, who gather and praise Him for His goodness – this is something that we ought render unto God. In Divine Service two in the hymnal, the Offertory for that service, which is nothing but verses of Psalm 116, points this out clearly. What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call upon the Name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the Name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.” What are we to render – the thanksgiving and prayers that are proper of God – but this isn’t just meant to be something private – rather we gather together in the Lord’s House for this, we receive here the very cup of Salvation. Your highest duty as a Christian is to be part of the worship life of the Church in so far as you are able. Period. This is third commandment stuff – we are not to despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. First duty – attend Church.

Then, when we were confirmed, we were asked another question. “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” Again, the answer, “I do, by the grace of God.” Your responsibilities as a Christian do not end the moment you walk out those doors. You are to take what you have learned here and put it into practice out there. You are to recognize that everything in your life revolves around God. Are you a parent – remember that children are God’s gift to you – and serve them as parents as such. Are you a child – remember that your parents are a gift to you from God, and serve them as such. Your friends – a gift from God – treat them as such. Your neighbor – love them, for they are a gift from God. Your government – part of your service to God is rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. You are not to be merely a Sunday morning Christian – but rather throughout the entire week, you are to show and demonstrate Christian love. If you wish more on this – I would suggest looking at the table of duties in the Catechism.

Then we were asked another question – “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” I do, by the grace of God. This is a question of value, of priority. Your confession, your belief in God – your membership in God’s Church – is to be the highest thing in your life – to where you would suffer all – where as we sing they could come and take your goods, your family, even your life, and yet you would remain faithful. As Christians, we have a duty to not be swayed by the glitter and baubles of life, but to keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith – to see to it that we keep coming to Church rather than falling away.

And there is one final question – we don’t ask if of kids at confirmation, but we do of adults who transfer in – and it is most appropriate – “Will you support the work our gracious Lord has given this congregation with your prayers and the gifts that God has given you?” “I will, with the help of God.” When you are bound to a congregation, you have particular responsibilities to that congregation. I am bound here as your pastor – I have duties that were given me at my installation. I have no choice – I must preach, I must administer the sacraments, I must teach – I am bound, I am ordered so to do. That was the vow of my ordination. However, as members of this congregation, you also are given responsibilities – you are to support the work of this Congregation with your prayers and with your gifts. First, just briefly on prayer. I would ask that you hold not only myself, but this congregation, its members, in your prayers. Prayer is part of the Christian life – and your prayers should include this Church and your brothers and sisters in the faith here. But also, you are to support this congregation with your gifts – with the gifts that God has given to you. It is your job as a member of this congregation to see that this place has the funds to keep the building maintained, to provide for the people who work here. That is part of how you support this place. You are also, as your own talents give you opportunity, to help out with the activities of this congregation. If you can cook – cook so that we may eat. Sing when we sing. When we do something here – give the aid that your talents afford. This is your duty, this is the stewardship you are to exercise.

I would ask you now to pause and consider all these things we have discussed. Have you made attending church your priority? Have you sought throughout the week to live as a Christian, and done so. Have you been proud of your faith, or have you been ashamed of your confession, sad that you don’t fit in with the rest of the world, with your friends? And have you supported this place with your time, talents, and treasure as you ought to have? When we get these all laid out before us – it is a heavy load. The truth is, we have not been as faithful as we ought. There are times our attendance has been lax, our living lousy, the Church far from our thoughts, and quite often our time, talent, and our treasure remain at home. In our duties, we often fail.

Christ Jesus, though, does not fail. He has a duty towards you – and that duty is to win you salvation – and this duty He performs, He bought you, not with the gold or silver of Caesar, but with His own life blood – He did not shirk His responsibility but strode boldly to the Cross, winning us forgiveness. When you were baptized, Christ Jesus bound Himself unto you – He said, “You are now part of My Body, and I will care for you and forgive every sin and give you heaven.” Christ takes his duty seriously, and everything you need is given by Him. We have hope not because we do our duty – but we have hope because Christ has done His. And our God is not a cruel taskmaster – but rather this – He calls you here to His House, not to give you a random burden, but to give you rest from the burdens of this world, and to see that you always dwell in Christ, that you do not fall away – that in hearing His Word and receiving His Body and Blood you might be kept in the One true faith forever. Jesus does not turn away from you, but calls you here once again, so that you might receive and rejoice in His good gifts. God grant this unto us all on account of Your Son, Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What is the main point of prayer?

Discussions on prayer often make me. . . leery. Why? Because too often people approach prayer as though it's point is the Manipulation of God - as though if I just pray hard enough, or enough people pray, or if I'm righteous enough and ask God then X will happen, where X is anything from healing to a Mercedes Benz.

God does not need us to tell Him what is good for us. God does not need our instruction. Rather, we pray because we are in need of His instruction - because we need to place ourselves once again under His Word - and so we pray -- and all right and good prayer is simply speaking back to God His Own Word - to pray as He has taught us, to speak ourselves His own promises back to Him.

Prayer is applying the Word of God to one's own self. When I am ill (or those I love am ill), I pray for their health and healing if it be God's will, and I am reminded that God is not only the Author of life, but it's Preserver, and He does indeed love His creation, and will care for it in a way that is most excellent.

When I pray for temporal blessings (for myself or others), I am reminded that all that I have comes from God without any merit or worth in me, but simply from His Divine Fatherly goodness and love - and so once again I am reminded that He indeed knows what blessings are good for me, and indeed, what blessings would turn on account of sin into a burden, even a curse, too great to bear.

When I pray for mercy - I am pointed to Christ Jesus, the One who has come to win mercy upon the Cross. When I pray for joy, I am reminded of the One who came to win for me joy. When I pray for my loved ones, I am pointed to the One who blessed me with those loved ones. When I pray for the lost, I am pointed again to the mercy of the Good Shepherd who cares and seeks even the lost.

In all things, when our prayer is centered in the Word, it sees that we are centered in the Word. Prayer is not the manipulation of God - it is learning to place all things in the hands of God, trusting in Him. It is learning that "Thy will be done" is good, for the will of God is always good to His children.

That is the point of prayer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This is Normal

In my early morning ponderings, I thought once again of the discord and strife within the Church at large, within Lutheranism, within the Synod, even the strife I have seen within congregations - and it was on the verge of getting me all depressed. I mean, we see so much foolishness and tomfoolery. Everyone does what they want with no regard to what Scripture says. Everyone acts how they wish regardless of how their actions will impact their neighbor - will impact those they have agreed to walk together with.

And thinking about things - seeing all the chaos and confusion - I was thinking to myself in a most self-pitying way, "Surely, there has not been a more wretched time in the history of the Church." And then, the saving grace, that got me thinking about Church History.

I didn't live through the 70s and the walkout - that must have been rough.

The collapses of the Synodical Conference, in the 50s and then the 1880s, that must have been heartbreaking.

The thought that one needed to flee one's homeland to hold to the truth of God's Word - ugh.

The Silver and Golden Ages of Orthodoxy - where works were written to combat the most belligerent of foes while people bled out for the faith.

The days where opposing authority got you burned at the stake, even when you had a writ of safe passage (because who needs to keep a promise to a "heretic"?)

The vile divorce between East and West, more about power and ego than anything else.

The fighting over and over in the East at the later councils - and this with the Muslim hordes taking over their land.

The great heresies of the Creeds - and mobs singing false doctrine.

The Early Church, watered by the blood of the Martyrs.

Our Lord Himself, nailed to a tree for doing no wrong.

Yet even before - Jeremiah preaching even as he is dragged off to Egypt. Or what Isaiah saw - or Elijah. . .

The Kingdom divided.

The King Saul consorting with soothsayers.

The people of Israel abandoning God over and over even with the judges.

The people at Sinai choosing a golden calf over the God who had passed over them.

The tower of Babel, built 100 years after the flood, with all the eye witnesses still around.

Cain slays his brother Abel.

And so it has been since the fall. "And everyone did what was right in his own eyes". The curse of sin is the curse of being a law unto yourself - caring for neither neighbor nor God.

The things we see - the struggles, the trials we face - these are not exceptional - they are normal. They are the things that happen, even to God's people, in a sinful world. And God preserved the saints who went before us through their trials. So shall by the strength of His Word He will preserve us. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Observation upon a rough draft

Matthew 22:15-22, when combined with the Church's yearly "Stewardship Sunday" makes for a rather law heavy sermon.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trinity 22 Sermon

22nd Sunday after Trinity – November 8th, 2009 – Matthew 18:21-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Should you ask various people or preachers what the point of Church was, you might get several different answers. I’m sure that there are some who view Church mainly as a place to network, to make connections. I’ll go to this church, it has the most people, the wealthiest people there. It’s the Church to be at. For some, Church is mainly a family place, something for their kids. For some, it’s even their main social hub – this is where my friends go, and we get there and we chat. For some, Church is about learning to live a disciplined life, for some Church is about trying to get blessings from God – a favorite of the TV preachers. But all of these dance around what Church, what the Christian faith is really to be about. Church is about, first and foremost – salvation. The reason Christ comes down from heaven is for our salvation – is so that by being forgiven we may be reunited with God for all eternity. The central thrust, the central focus is that we have been Justified, made righteous, forgiven by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection; that we receive this forgiveness, that we hold on to it by faith.

This is what our Lord teaches us today with His parable. Peter had asked a question to our Lord – “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter was wondering just how much he really had to put up with – how much he should forgive. He suggests the number 7. . . and as we know where the story is going we can scoff at Peter. We shouldn’t. 7 is a generous number – it’s more generous than we think of today. For us, it’s Once bitten, twice shy. No, compared to we here who have long, long memories and can carry grudges long and hard – Peter’s suggestion of forgiving the brother seven times actually seems quite generous. But our Lord brushes Peter’s suggestion aside – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Nope, Peter, not even close – try 490 times – try forgiving your brother so often that you cannot even remember how often you have forgiven your brother.

This is what the Christian faith looks like. We as Christians are to be not simply those who receive forgiveness, but we are to be those who forgive. And we are not to make excuses why we don’t forgive, we aren’t to stop and pause and think, “Well, I don’t know if they were really sorry, so I’m still going to hold a grudge.” Nope. Put all thoughts like that far away from you – vengeance, punishment, comeuppance, just deserts – all that belongs to the Lord. As for you – when your brother wrongs you, forgive and seek to show love. Our every effort should be so that eventually our brother is restored to us in good love and fellowship – and we should never, never feel justified in bearing anger or ill will towards another – and any thought that would excuse or justify those ill thoughts is of the devil.

This is a hard teaching. We, in our own sin, like to find excuses on how and why we don’t need to forgive, to make excuses to dance around it – to be hateful towards our neighbor and yet feel good about our hatred. So why? Why can it be so appealing to hold on to wrath, why does it appeal to us so – and how can we learn to avoid it? Our Lord tells us a parable to explain why.

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. Now, first, let’s go over what a talent was – a talent was roughly 20 years wages. Consider that – let’s say that one makes 25,000 a year, at 20 years, that is half a million dollars. So, conservatively, this man owes at least 5 billion dollars. We are talking crazy, stupid money here. And the man cannot pay. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. Now note, this is very important. The servant never says he is sorry. The servant never says he is wrong. The servant is still arrogant and brash – I’ll pay you back. And yet, even for a servant as annoying as this – the master releases him, and he forgives the debt. No, you don’t need even to pay me back – I will write it off. What love! What generosity! What little that servant understood.

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, began to choke him saying, “Pay what you owe.” Now, hundred denarii is a hundred days wages – let’s call it $10,000. A serious chunk of change – not 5 billion, but something of note. But the servant just goes crazy – chokes the other servant, demands satisfaction. So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. No, for this debt, there is no mercy given. And this is shocking, it is horrifying to the other servants. And they go and tell the master, and the master summons this servant and says, “You wicked servant! I forgave all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy upon you?” And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Well, sometimes our Lord can be blunt, and His bluntness cuts through our excuses. We are to forgive. Period. But consider this question with me for a moment – why is the master so angry with the wicked servant? It has nothing to do with that servant’s debt – the master was willing to forgive that. Rather, what angered the master, what made the servant wicked, was that the servant did not recognize what mercy, what forgiveness really was.

Consider this – you have received God’s love. Christ Jesus has died for your sin – you have every blessing imaginable – you have life and salvation and heaven – all yours on account of Christ Jesus. He has covered your debt – every sin, every vile word or deed you have done, every unclean thought – He has forgiven. Do you see the depth of the forgiveness Christ has forgiven you with? Your debt to God is huge – it is nothing you could ever make up. Yet the Father in His love and mercy says, “On account of the death of My Son Christ Jesus upon the Cross – I forgive you.” To make this truth completely clear, God even sends pastors out to proclaim this forgiveness over and over. This is what God has done for you.

The wicked servant, though, seems to just blow by the mercy that he has received. He does not learn to show mercy – and instead he shows anger. He does not know what mercy, what forgiveness is. So – do you recognize, do you understand what forgiveness is? Do you understand what Christ Jesus has done for you? Do you see the veritable mountain of sin that He has forgiven you, is your focus and wonder there – or with wickedness, do you your turn your eye to the annoyance that your brother has done to you, and do you look at your brother with hatred and anger? This is where the rubber meets the road in the life of one who would be a Christian. Is your focus going to be upon Christ and Him Crucified, is your focus going to be upon the God who comes down from heaven to win you forgiveness so that He might have you with Himself for all eternity – or is your focus going to be upon the people who have wronged you, and upon your anger, upon your hurt, upon the petty self-satisfaction you get from thinking you are better than them? Your focus cannot be both upon Christ and upon your anger – and here is the kicker – when you choose to focus upon your anger, to harbor it, to be unforgiving – you are choosing to turn away from Christ. You are choosing anger and wrath over forgiveness – and God will say, “fine, have anger and wrath for all eternity, since that is what you crave.”

Kind of chilling, is it? This is why our Lord preaches repentance. Repentance means to turn away from your sin, your sinful desires, and rather to turn to Christ, to behold Him, to keep your eyes there. Your Lord knows you are tempted in this way – your Lord knows that Satan loves to stoke the fires of your anger – and so our Lord, in His great love you, in His ardent and fervent desire to have you with Him for all eternity, calls out to you once again, shows you the weight of your sin, so that seeing your sin, you might flee for refuge to Him, that you might once again seek and delight in and focus upon His mercy and love for you.

This is the wonder. Our sin is so real. The weight of it, the vileness of it, it’s real. It’s heavy – it’s a $5 billion dollar burden none of us could pay. And yet, our Lord forgives – and He wants this forgiveness to be the heart, the center of our lives. He wants nothing to take our eyes off of this, nothing to shake us loose from this – to let His mercy be the highest truth in our lives. And so, over and over, He tells us of His love, gives us His forgiveness again, calls us to receive His Body and Blood – all so that we might not fall again into great shame and vice, all so that when we do fall, we might repent and be restored. Christ in His mercy has forgiven you. Keep your focus there. Do not let sin, including the sin others have done to you, wrest your eyes off of Christ. Rather – remember that this place is a House of mercy for all sinners who desire forgiveness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day – November 1st, 2009 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Sometimes we as people can be very near sighted. And I’m not talking about the fact that I am wearing contact lenses that I’m basically blind without – I’m talking about our perspective. We can get so focused upon ourselves, our immediate surroundings, that we don’t see the big picture – we can miss the forest for the trees, as it were. All Saints’ Day is a day where we are brought back to the larger picture – where we are made to remember that Christ’s Church is more than just this place right now. The Church of God consists not just of we few who bothered to show up on a Sunday morning – but it is the full company of heaven, the countless throng from so many nations. It is not just us here – but the Church is full of countless millions of Christians all around the globe. It is not just us here – but the Church is made up of saints from all times, those who lived hundreds, thousands of years ago on earth yet live in the presence of God right now – and even those who are yet to be born and brought to faith before the Lord returns. Christ’s Church, His Body, spans all times and all places, and as we are united to Him, we are united together, bound up in His Holy Communion, in a way we so seldom pause to comprehend. All Saints’ Day is a day that we do this – where we remember all the saints – many times we will focus more so on those from our own congregation who have recently been given rest from their earthly labors and now see God face to face, but it is truly a day where we see just beyond the here and the now.

We must remember, dear friends, that the Church is not defined by us. The Church is not created by us, it is not made by us, it is not run by us. The Church is the Body of Christ – and yet, we can be so bogged down in the every day concerns of life, of bodies not in pews and bills to pay that we can forget this. We don’t define the Church. Rather, the Church is the Body of Christ, is those who are gathered around Christ’s Word, are washed into Christ’s Body by Baptism, who receive Christ’s Body for forgiveness and strength – and also those in eternity who are with Christ now, the Lamb of God, face to face. The Church is those who struggle now on earth, and those who have received heavenly joy. So, what does this look like – our Lord tells us.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Christians are going to be poor in Spirit. Christians in this world will see so much sin, and violence, and filth that our spirits must ache, must feel poor and lowly. Consider this past week. How much pain, how much disappointment did you see? In a sinful world, this is what we see, and rather than delighting in this like the world does – it causes us sorrow. It caused Christ Jesus sorrow as well, and for this reason He came down from heaven to win salvation – He Himself bore up our infirmities – so that He might win for us by His death and resurrection –the kingdom of God. Because Christ came and was poor in spirit, those who are of the Church have the kingdom of God. The Saints who have gone before us, they see this now fully. We, we have this in part, but then we too shall have it full.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. There’s much to mourn in life – not just death as a whole, but all the little, bitty bits of death we experience before hand. How many of us have dying ears, dying eyes? How many of us have dying friends, dying relationships, dying hopes and dreams? There is much to mourn. And what does Christ Jesus do – He comes down from heaven, and He mourns, He encounters all the loss and suffering that we do – even tastes death. And why? So that He might rise, and that in rising He might bring us with Him, so that He might comfort us with heaven the resurrection and life everlasting. The Saints in heaven, they see, they receive the comfort of our crucified and risen Lord right now – they behold Him in His risen Body upon the Throne and they therefore know that on the Last Day they too shall rise.

Are you seeing the pattern here? The beatitudes aren’t just pretty words – they describe the Church and Christ. The first part describes what we see here in this sinful world – the second part describes what all the saints who from their labors rest now see – and all of this, whether we are the Church militant here on earth or the Church triumphant is ours because of Christ – because He is the poor Man who inherits the kingdom of God, but makes it ours – because He is the One who mourns His fallen creation but is comforted by redeeming it. The Church has it’s existence in Christ. Let’s see more.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. As Christians, we are called to be meek. When wronged, we are not to wrong in return. We are not to focus upon ourselves, but our focus is to be upon our neighbor. And in this, we simply follow Christ. Christ Jesus is the Meek One, who went quietly and meekly to the Cross to win us forgiveness for those times when we are not meek, when we are brash and sinful. But our Lord was meek, and He has inherited the Earth, and He has promised this, and not only this, but a new heaven and a new earth to all His Saints.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Does this not describe us here? We hunger, we thirst for righteousness. We confessed our sin, we said we lack, we need righteousness, we need forgiveness, we don’t have enough of it on our own. Christ saw the world’s lack, and so He became Man, became our righteousness for us – lived perfectly in our stead and said to us, “Here, I long for you to be righteous, take My righteousness.” Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – Our Lord says, “Take and eat, this is My Body – take and drink, this is My Blood.” And this is the same feast that the Saints in Heaven are celebrating eternally – they are most well and truly satisfied by our Lord.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. We do not show mercy like we ought – often we are mean and cruel and self-centered. But Christ our Lord is merciful, and He has called us unto Himself, has bound us to Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism, applied His Name to us, and He gladly gives us mercy for His Name’s sake. We see this now – but we also often forget. We struggle with sin, we wander – our Lord must call us back over and over again. But consider the Saints of heaven – they see this mercy, they have received it in full, never to wander, never to stray. The Love of Christ has been made complete in them.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. In and of ourselves, our hearts are not pure. So what do we do? We cry out to God – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me! And Christ our Lord does – He gives us forgiveness over and over all our days, until our last day, and then what? The Saints see God face to face, they dwell with Him. God desires you to dwell with Him as well, and so He forgives you, makes your heart to be pure.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Christ Jesus is the true peacemaker – He made peace when He went to the Cross, when He suffered and died – when He cried out, “It is finished.” And it was finished – our war, our rebellion with God, begun by Adam and Eve in the garden – our Lord put an end to it – He made peace. That was 2000 years ago. But then, in the here and now, in our own lifetime, Christ took water and His Word, and He baptized you into His own death, made you to be a partaker in all that He has done – you share in Christ’s death, you share in His peace which He won for you, you speak this same peace out, and now God is your Father. The Saints see this clearly.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God. To be a Christian is to struggle, is to be reviled and thought poorly of, to be mocked by the world, indeed, in many places, to be a Christian is a death sentence, to mean the government, the angry mob, will come for you. Just as the world did to Christ, so too happens to Christians today. But what does our Lord teach us – yes, Christ suffered, but His in the Kingdom of God. Likewise, should we suffer – so be it – the Kingdom ours remaineth. We have this promise – the Saints in heaven see this promise in full now.

And finally, 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. You are part of the Church, and despite what we like to tell ourselves – the Church is never popular, we never live in a nice, clean world. This sinful, fallen place is always sinful and fallen, and if you strive to follow Christ, you will be mocked and reviled. For so the prophets were treated, for so was our Lord Himself treated. But what is the reality – the reality of eternity that stretches beyond the here and now, beyond our present suffering? That being united to Christ, we will face difficulties in this life, but Christ will see us through them until we too are brought unto the joys of heaven and life everlasting – joys far surpassing what we see here.

Do you see, dear Christian, the larger picture? Do you see from the Words of our Lord that you are part of something much greater than just your own little life? Your Lord Jesus Christ has had compassion upon you, beheld you in your sinfulness, in your struggles in this life, and He has had compassion to you. And He has gathered you by His Word, joined you to Himself through the gift of Holy Baptism, and He has said, “I will suffer all for your sake, so that you might have everything for My sake.” He has promised us new heavens and a new earth – told us that this fallen one shall pass away and we will get that which is better. Right now though, we are here on earth – we don’t see this fully. The Saints in heaven do, they behold Christ face to face right now. And our Lord knows that we left on earth don’t see this perfectly, that we only see dimly and in a mirror now, not yet face to face. So He calls us here to His Church, invites us to join in for a few moments with the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven – gives us His own Body and Blood, so that we might be sustained until the day when we do get to see Him face to face. Christ Jesus blesses all His saints, and thanks be to God, by the power of His forgiving Word and the wonders of His blessed Sacraments – you are numbered with those saints. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +