Advent 2 Midweek (O Antiphons) – A Sermon on Isaiah 11:1-11, 22:20-22, and Psalm 118:19-29

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us. O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It used to be that when pastors came up to preach and said something like, “You all remember King David,” that everyone know who King David was. That isn’t always the case these days. In this age where information is available from your pocket, there’s far less need to know it ourselves. And as a result, Biblical literacy is at an all-time low. But even if we do know quite a bit, it never hurts to revisit the basics.

David was the most important king in the Old Testament. Well, besides God Himself. He reigned roughly about 1000 years before Jesus was born. Our Lord makes a lot of promises to David. Not because David deserved them. No, he was not so great a hero, even when the people revered him as one. But David was the one whom God worked through. David was the one God chose. And because our Lord did, the people around David end up with some name recognition as well.

Take Jesse, for example. He was David’s dad. And we often trace the family tree in both directions from him. You can go back through Jesse to Ruth, or Judah, or Abraham, depending on how far back you want to go, all the way to Adam. You can also go forward, through all the kings of Judah. Solomon, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Josiah. Jesse was the root on the family tree for all of them. So his name gets thrown around a lot.

But Isaiah, a little over 300 years later, and about a hundred years before the Babylonian Exile, is given an interesting promise about Jesse. In verse one of our lesson tonight, there is one more promised branch to come in Jesse’s line. One more who will bear fruit in the line of kings. Because in Isaiah’s day, that line of kings hadn’t been all that great. They did not follow the Lord. They didn’t even do a good job being king. There was no justice. Favors were handed out to the highest bidder. And the people suffered. But this coming king would be pretty amazing. And He would fix all that.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

However, this branch will at the same time, according to verse ten, be a root Himself. A forefather of Jesse as well as a descendant. But how could that be? By tracing all the way back through the family tree to the very start. Because this branch would also be the root of Adam and Eve. It would be the Lord Himself. This branch and root of Jesse is none other than Jesus.

Isaiah makes that abundantly clear. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people. And Jesus does just that.

But we have one other prayer tonight. Not just of branches and roots. But of keys. What is the Key of David? Because a king doesn’t need a key. The King’s Word is sufficient to open and close. And no one dares do otherwise. The key of a king is the authority of a king given to one of His servants. Given to a steward to act on the king’s behalf. And what will this servant do according to Isaiah, the twenty-second chapter? He shall open and none shall shut, He shall shut and none shall open. The Key is not the King, but it has the authority of the King.

Just like with the root and the branch, how can this be? Because we know that the Key of David is Jesus. How can He be King and not king at the same time? Jesus can, and does. He is the King who lays aside His sovereignty. Takes on the role of a servant. Coming not to be served, but to serve. Becoming obedient to the lesser authorities. Obedient to the authority of Pontius Pilate, who hands Him over to be crucified. And yet, in the role of servant, He opens heaven and no one can take it away. He closes away our sin, and no one can bring it back.

Both Root and Branch at the same time. Both King and Key at the same time. Both God and Man at the same time. Both without beginning, and born at the same time. Both without end, and yet He dies, at the same time. Both without sin, and yet bearing every sin at the same time.  And by this paradox, by this sacrifice, Christ Jesus has saved us all.

And that’s what are prayers tonight ask Jesus to do. Come quickly to deliver us. Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death. That’s what we ask in our Psalm. Open to me the gates of Righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter though it… This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes. 

And that’s what we ask in our hymn as well: O come Thou branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from Satan’s tyranny, that trust Thy mighty power to save, and give them victory over the grave. O come Thou Key of David, come, and open wide Thy heavenly home. Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path that leads to misery.

What we ask, Jesus has done. Jesus sacrificed everything in order to go to that cross, and die on our behalf. And by that death, he has worked our salvation. Our every sin is forgiven. Our darkness is illuminated. Our death has been overturned. We have been delivered from Hell itself, and given a place in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has done this alone. Without your help. But He has given the results to you. Our Lord has given these promises to you. And He has fulfilled them all. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Comfort, Pardon, and Peace – A Sermon on Mark 1:1-8

December 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This morning, we saw the beginning of the Gospel, the birth of Jesus in our Christmas Pageant. We saw how Jesus came to us. Born in our flesh. But not just to be a cute little baby. Not just so that we could remember a pretty scene of shepherds and angels, wise men and a manger. But because there was a job to be done. The most important job that would ever be done. God Himself became a human being, because He had to. It was the only way to pay for the sin of the world.

Mark’s Gospel begins on a different note. But it is definitely a beginning, as verse one says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” But this beginning is out in the wilderness, where Isaiah’s Words are fulfilled. 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. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. What makes this the beginning of the Gospel? Once again, it’s all about the forgiveness of sins. That’s what baptism is for. That’s what repentance is for. That’s what confession is for. It’s the theme of the entire Bible. Because that’s what Jesus is here to do.

However, there is part of us that doesn’t want to hear about the forgiveness of sin. Because that part of us doesn’t think we have all that many sins that would need forgiveness in the first place. Every one of us still has an Old Adam, a sinful self. And it thinks pretty highly of itself. It believes that it good. It believes that it is right. It believes that is knows better than God what is best for us. It can take anything we’ve ever done, and show it in it’s best light. Tell everyone why it was the best thing to do. Even when it hurts everyone but me. That’s the part of us that God condemns. That’s the part of us that rejects the Law written on our hearts. That’s the part of us that declares war on the Lord. Because it believes that’s it’s more important to be convinced it’s right than to live.

We say that’s a part of us. But without Christ, it is the whole thing. It is who we are. All of humanity has gone to war with God. And we would rather die than surrender. Even though we can never, ever win. You want to know why being proud is a sin? This right here is why. Pride can never confess a fault, much less a sin. And it offers no comfort to those who are hurting.

We need something else. We need a new part to be created in us. We need a new creation inside. And that’s what Jesus comes to do. That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why Jesus lived. That’s why Jesus died. That’s why Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. To create something new in you that isn’t the Old Adam who will die in its war. Because the new creation in you, the faith that is in you, Jesus who is in you, grabs ahold of the forgiveness of sins. Because forgiveness is the most comforting thing that you can ever have.

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. Jesus has ended the war. Jesus pardoned your every wrong. And Jesus has given you a gift worth more than anything in the world, or even everything in the world.

Forgiveness is the beginning of the Gospel. It is the point of the Gospel. That’s why John preached repentance in the wilderness. That’s why He proclaimed forgiveness in baptism. To point you forward to the baptism of Jesus that you have received. Because as good as John’s baptism was, it wouldn’t quite be the one that Jesus gave to you. John’s baptism was just water. But Jesus baptism puts the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit on you with the water. Marking you as His. Letting you know that His forgiveness is yours.

Your Baptism is a great comfort. Because there, Jesus tells you that it’s not about what you did, or didn’t do. Your standing with God isn’t because of your own merits. Even when we merited Hell itself by our stubborn pride. It’s all about what Jesus has done on your behalf. By taking all your sins away. Paying their price. Dying for you. Jesus cries out in the wilderness of your heart. He has prepared His way to you already. And He comes. Again and again, He comes. Your war with God is over. Your iniquities are pardoned. And you have received Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Advent 1 Midweek (O Antiphons) – Sermon on Psalm 90 and Nehemiah 9:1-15

December 6, 2017 Leave a comment

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Those two prayers were written over 1,000 years ago. And they were to be used for the days that lead up to Christmas Day. Those prayers were put to music about 600 years ago. Then translated into English 150 years ago. And today we know the “O” Antiphons as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The one Advent hymn that pretty much everyone knows, whether they go to church or not. It is a hymn that embodies what Advent means. Because Advent is the Latin word for “come.” And The season of Advent is the season where we look for our Lord to come. We cry out to Him to come. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. And in the prayers for this week, we pray: Come and teach. Come and redeem.

Our Lord came to His people in the days of Moses. Our Lord came to His people in the days of Babylon. Our Lord came to His people in the days of Peter, and James, and John. And He continues to come to us, again and again. Every time He speaks His Word. Every time He gives His sacraments. Every time He gives us the knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of our sins. O Come thou Wisdom from on high, Who ord’rest all things mightily; To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee O Israel. So teach us to number our days that we get a heart of wisdom.

But which way does Wisdom take us? Which direction are we to go? What are the ways? There is only one Way. One Truth. One Life. But the way He comes and goes isn’t easy. Because He comes to us by the cross. He comes in order that He might go to the cross. And the cross is where all our sins are. Where all our sins take us. Again from our Psalm, You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sin in the light of your presence. That sin cannot exist before a holy and just God without being destroyed. The only right thing to do with sin is to destroy it. Which means that if that sin is ours, we can never stand before God and live.

But what then can we do? We can’t just pretend that the sin isn’t ours. We can’t just hope that God doesn’t see it. We can’t just avoid Him either. There is only one thing we can do. We must confess it. We must say the same thing our Lord says about it. We must rely on His mercy.

That’s what the people in our Nehemiah text did. It was about 500 years before Jesus would be born. They had just been sent back home after eighty years of exile. They had endured the Babylonian captivity, and come through to the other side with their faith. But they also came home to a devastated city. A ruined temple. And they were tasked by the Persians to rebuild it all. And at this point, it had been a struggle to even get a wall built. Nevertheless, one the twenty-fourth day of that month, the whole assembly fasted. They put on sackcloth and ashes. For the first quarter of the day, for the first three hours, they listened to the Word of God being read aloud. And for the second quarter, they all confessed their sins.

Maybe that sounds crazy to us. Maybe we couldn’t spend five minutes confessing our sins, because we wouldn’t know what else to say. But that’s not because we have so few sins. It’s that we’re arrogant enough to believe that ours sins aren’t important enough to confess. That maybe they’re not actually sins in the first place. Which means that maybe we believe God is not telling the truth about how much sin we have. Or, maybe we believe that He will actually tolerate our sin. Maybe we even believe that He’ll even pat us on the back for some of them. So, we skip over the Scripture that condemns our many sins. We hear the words, but they do not register. However, listen again. All our days pass away under your wrath, we bring our years to an end like a sigh…. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? And that anger and wrath is all on account of our sin.

Are you sure we should be singing a hymn asking God to come? After all, it isn’t always good news to hear that the Creator of all things is coming. So this Advent season, this coming of our Lord season, is the time to repent. Just like those people in Nehemiah’s day. Repent, and put your hope in the mercy of our Lord. Our sins are as numerous as the sands. And we cannot save ourselves. We can only mourn in lonely exile without your help. O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

The wrath and anger of God are real. But so are His mercy and His redemption. Because God knows the problem better than we do. And He does something about it. After all, He loves us. And even though we’ve betrayed Him. Even though we’ve rebelled against Him. Even though we’ve stabbed Him in the back, crucified Him on a cross. Do you think that He loves us so little that such things would stop Him from saving you from your sin?

Emmauel comes. Wisdom from on high comes. The Lord of Might comes. Christ Jesus comes. And He comes to save you through the forgiveness of all of your sin. Rejoice! Rejoice! Because Jesus does not comes in anger and wrath. Jesus comes to endure the holy anger and just wrath on our behalf. Jesus comes to stand in our place. To claim our sin as His own. To give us His perfect, law-fulfilling life in exchange. Because justice must be done AND you must live. And this is the way that both those things can happen.

That forgiveness is shown to the people of Israel in the desert. That forgiveness is shown to the people of Israel rebuilding Jerusalem after the exile. That forgiveness is shown to the people in Jesus’ day. And That forgiveness is shown to you today. As we pray in our Psalm, so Jesus does for us. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Therefore Jesus comes. He comes to you here. Giving the greatest of gifts–the forgiveness of our every sin. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee O Israel. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Past, Present, and Future are All One in Christ – A Sermon on Matthew 11:1-10

November 29, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Those are the words of the Sanctus from Divine Service, setting one. Do you know what the word ‘hosanna’ means? Growing up, I thought it was just another way of saying, “give honor to,” or “give praise to.” But it’s not. It’s the Hebrew imperative that means “save us now.”

They’re the words of our Psalm this morning. “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.” They’re also the words shouted by the crowds when Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey during Passover. Hosanna isn’t a word of peace, it’s a shout for help.

Passover back in Jesus’ day was a big deal. Think of it like Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped up in one. Everyone travelled to their family in Jerusalem and got ready for the biggest feast of the year. And on the way, everyone sang the songs of the season. Only in this case, it was Psalms 113 through 118. They were known together as the Hallel. Which you might recognize as the root of the word Hallelujah. And that one does mean what you think it does. Even if we put it away for penitential season like Lent and AdventWhen you take these Psalms together like this, they tell the story of the salvation which God has given. There’s a looking back at the Exodus out of Egypt. A looking back at their whole history. Not only that, but also at the present reality. At the wages of sin, which is death. And at the forgiveness that the Lord, in His mercy, gives.

And in knowing the past and present, you can also know what the future holds. Because, in the end, these things don’t change. The circumstances might change. The details might change. But the world will still be the world. Man will still be man. And God will still be God. Our sin has, is, and will be the very thing that undoes us. The very thing that kills us. The very thing that makes us cry Hosanna. And likewise, our sin has, is, and will be forgiven by our Lord. Forgiveness is His action to do, which leads us to repentance. Leads us to reconciliation. That part has never changed, even though the temple where it used to take place would be utterly destroyed in 70 AD.

However, in Jesus’ day, there was still one more thing to come in the future which hadn’t happened yet. There was one more advent that needed to take place. The Messiah, the Christ, the Savior was still in the future for them. The promises were all there. The Word proclaiming His advent were written. It just hadn’t happened yet. And for the moment, they sufficed with knowing that this future Christ held sway over the past and present anyways. Still, the anticipation for that day ran high. And had been running high during the Babylonian captivity, the Persian occupation, The Mede occupation, the Greek occupation, and the Roman occupation.

This coming Messiah was going to be a great man. He was going to be quite the hero. And He had to fulfill everything that has been said about Him. And there were a lot. Today, for us, Zechariah 9 and Genesis 49 will be of the most interest. But the whole Old Testament is all about Jesus. Zechariah 9: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Genesis 49, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes.”

While people in Jesus’ rode into Jerusalem all the time on donkeys, it wasn’t every day that someone of Jesus’ notoriety did so. Such a thing would normally be beneath a man of that renown. But Jesus sends in two of His disciples to go into the nearby village and get one. And not just any donkey, but a foal, upon which no one had ever ridden. One fit for the Son of Judah, the Son of David. So that’s what they do.

Now imagine that you’re on your way to Jerusalem for the great Passover feast week, singing Hosanna to the Lord the whole way. You’re looking forward to the one who will be the one who embodies the name that means Yahweh Saves. You’re looking forward to the one who will be the Christ. And you’ve heard about Jesus, and have wondered if He were the one whom everyone was waiting for. After all, He has fulfilled some of the things written already. But you’re looking for just a little bit more. And there He is, riding that donkey, just like it has been written.

That’s what it took to convince the crowd flocking to Jerusalem for the Passover who Jesus is. Now they’re not just singing to God somewhere up there, but singing to the one sent to save. The direction changes, but the song remains the same. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Past, present, and future, are now all wrapped up in the advent of Jesus.

However, Jesus didn’t come to save them from something as small as a foreign occupation. Jesus didn’t come to set up a small earthly kingdom. Jesus didn’t come for only the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac, and Jacob. No. Jesus came to overcome our sin. Because sin, my sin, your sin, their is our primary problem. As it is written in our Isaiah text today, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

There is no bigger problem than our sin. And every other problem we have comes from that sin. When we shout Hosanna, we don’t just need saved from the effects of sin. We need saved from sin itself. It belongs to us, and we cannot get rid of on our own. Because it clings to us. Infects us. Rules our every choice and action. We are slaves to our own sin. And we have no way of escape on our own. That is why the season of Advent is a penitential season. A season where we reflect on our sin, and the price that such sin required.

But that is also why Advent is the season where our Hosannas are answered. Because Jesus came to save the whole world from the power sin holds. Jesus came to conquer death itself. Jesus came to bring an eternal kingdom. That’s why the all the Old Testament was written describing the Messiah. That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why Jesus comes to Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus goes to the cross. That’s why Jesus rose from death. The Advent of Jesus is for you, to purchase forgiveness for all your sin.

There’s a reason we still sing Psalm 118 today. There’s a reason we sing Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. And there’s a reason why we sing it before the Lord gives us His Supper. Because this is the Passover brought into its true form. This is the meal where death passes over you. The meal that brings you out of slavery to sin and into life. And that is found in the very words Jesus speaks. Take, eat, this is My body, given for you. Take, drink, this is My blood, shed for your forgiveness. This supper, this Jesus is given to you. So that you might have Jesus in you. The very Jesus who gave Himself as a sacrifice in payment for your every sin.

There, in the Supper, past, present, and future come together. Jesus’ body, hanging on the cross nearly two thousand years ago, is Jesus’ body that we receive today, which is also Jesus’ body, the body of all believers, brought into the kingdom on the last day. They’re all the same. They’re all your Hosanna answered forever.

Now, we still sing Hosanna. But it’s precisely because that prayer has been, is, and will be answered through Christ Jesus. That’s why we call ourselves saint and sinner at the same time. Only the sin will one day be forever past tense. The saint will be forever in Christ. That’s why we call out Hosanna. Call it out to the very highest person there is, in the highest place that can ever be. Because Yahweh saves. Or in Hebrew, yeshua. Or in Greek, Iesus. Or in English, Jesus. Blessed is He who advents in the name of the Lord. For He has indeed saved us all. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

A Prepared Kingdom – A Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

November 25, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You might be aware that the Church follows its own calendar. Of course, things like Christmas and Easter are big parts of it. But also days like Ascension, and Pentecost, and Trinity. Seasons like Advent, Epiphany, and Lent. Today is the last Sunday in the Church year. On November 30th, we start a new year with St. Andrews Day and the beginning of Advent. And with a new year will come the switch from mainly Matthew’s Gospel each week to mainly Mark’s Gospel. Though we’ll also get a fair amount of John’s Gospel also, since Mark is shorter than the others. But today, we’re transitioning towards Advent. We’re getting ready for the season of Jesus’ coming to us by looking first at Jesus coming again.

For the last three weeks, we’ve been looking forward in our Gospel lessons to the last day. And on that day, there is either good news or bad news. This time, it’s being separated to right and left. Like a shepherd does with sheep and goats. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

So why did those on the right get to enter the kingdom? Was it because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, took care of the needy? Because of good works? If that’s true, shouldn’t that shake us Lutherans to the core? Because do you know what we have been preaching for the last 500 years? That salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone, by Christ alone, apart from our works. Yet, this text is the Word of God too.

So which text do we believe, and which one do we not? Are we saved by grace through faith, and not of our own doing, but rather by the gift of God, apart from works? Or do we come into the kingdom because we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and took care of the needy? Because these can’t both be true. So why would a text like this appear in God’s Word? Out of the mouth of Jesus no less? What are we missing?

Now, a couple of rather remarkable things happen in our Gospel lesson that we need to see. The first is that the ones on Jesus’ right are very confused by Jesus’ Word. When did we ever do anything like that? What do you mean we did these things? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Apparently they did the works, but no one remembers doing them. 

Which bring us to the second remarkable thing. The group on the left goes through the same explanation, except that they’re told that they didn’t do the works. And, having heard what Jesus said to first group, they will say, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? In other words, they had fed the hungry. They had clothed the naked. They had taken care of the needy. Only now they weren’t being let in.

If this text is about works getting you into the kingdom, then why does the first group not remember doing any works at all? And why does the second group think that they did them without fail? But if text is not about works, then why does Jesus say what He says? Why is the good works done and not done the focus of the last day before the throne?

However, Jesus’ Word today does exactly what the Law of God is supposed to do. It hits us on both sides, leaving no room to wriggle out from under it. On the one hand, if we think that it doesn’t matter if we help our neighbor or not. If we make the excuse that our neighbor doesn’t deserve to be helped. Or that our help would only be enabling, so we let him suffer. Or whatever it is that gives us the self-justification that we do not have to help, then we are goats. On the other hand, if we’re helping our neighbor as a way to buy our way in. If we help, thinking we’re doing what it takes to get God’s favor. If we help in order to justifiy ourselves, then we are also goats, and left outside the kingdom. And it so very easy to choose one, thinking that only the other is wrong.

That’s why when we look at both what we do and what we fail to do, we fall on our knees in repentance. If we’re not doing any good works, then the kingdom is taken away. And even if we’re doing the most good we can, the kingdom is still taken away. That is the perfect Law of God. It leaves all who sin outside. Us included. So repent. Turn away from self-justification. Turn away from not helping. Turn away from helping for the wrong reasons. And turn towards the mercy of God.

Now, the Law of God is good, even when it condemns us. Because when the Law does condemn us, it also prepares the way for the Gospel. For the Gospel is the good news that it’s Jesus’ work that saves us, not our own. Jesus, hanging by nails on a cross. Jesus suffering it all–pain, grief, and shame. Jesus ridiculed by men, abandoned by His Father. Jesus crying out, giving up His Spirit, and dying on behalf of all. Jesus pierced in his side, buried in the tomb, and resting over the Sabbath. And Jesus rising from the dead on the third day, leaving the grave, and announcing to the world that He has indeed defeated dead forever. That’s the one good work. And He did it for you.

But we don’t have to go any further than today’s Gospel lesson to see what Jesus did. Because Jesus knew from the beginning who we are. He knew our sin, our rebellion, our failure. He knew our work, and lack of work. And yet Hell is not prepared for you or me, or any of humanity. It is the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And our Lord has no intention of letting you go there that easily.

That is why Jesus is so intent on delivering that Gospel to you, and to the world. Making sure that He says to you, “Come… [into] the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Because that’s the means by which we enter the place He’s worked so hard to bring us. Despite our sin, Jesus prepared His kingdom for you. And prepared a way for your sin to be taken away–the cross. That is why in John’s Revelation, we are told that Jesus is crucified from the foundation of the world. That’s how the kingdom has been prepared. Even though it happens in time well after the beginning, that death and resurrection is the foundation upon which we are stood. That’s the place Jesus puts us. Because He has taken our work away, and given us His own instead.

Now, if we insist on justifying ourselves. If we claim our own goodness when the Law had already condemned us. If we rely on our works, apart from Christ, then the last day is not going to hold good news for us. But we know Who has already stood in our place. We know our Savior, who has prepared the kingdom for us by his death and resurrection. We know our Lord, who does His good work through us for our neighbor in need. We know Jesus. And it’s Jesus Himself who says to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Thanksgiving Rituals and Lepers – A Sermon on Luke 17:11-19

November 20, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Ritual is such an archaic word. Rituals are what people who didn’t know any better did. They’re relics of a bygone era. A discarded vestige of history. Well, at least the word is. The ritual actions themselves are more alive than ever. Take Thanksgiving Day for example. There are rituals that happen every year. Many times it involves turkey, masked potatoes, stuffing, or some other food. Many times it involves family and friends. Sometimes, it even involves a television with football on it. And when anything loved is missing from the ritual, then everything feels wrong.

Rituals are nothing new. Humanity lives for ritual. Any kind that we can get ahold of. Something to anchor our lives in this world. Which is why God gives his own rituals to us. So that while we take comfort in something that lasts, we can know that it lasts because it’s His.

Though not every ritual is a joy. Like for our ten lepers in today’s text. They were quarantined outside the city walls. Exiled from parents, spouses, children. They weren’t allowed to see their family, hug their loved ones. All because that’s what the Law of God demanded. A ritual had been established. Leviticus 13:45 and following: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” And this ritual was regularly carried out, when necessary.

Granted, without that Law, the disease could be spread through the entire city, and everyone would suffer. It was better to leave your family, than to expose them to this sickness. The ritual was needed, even when it hurt. And those lepers knew the reasons why. But it didn’t make such a separation easy. These ten were alone. Not a one knew how their families fared. Not a one knew if things were going well or badly. Some may have even been quarantined for so long, that their sons would have grown up without them. Their daughters would be married. All without them around. Do you think they might have wondered if they had been forgotten? Might they have wondered if their families still cared?

At least they had each other. Someone else to talk to. Someone else who shared their condition. Not all lepers had this small luxury. So they helped each other. They worked together. Shared news with each other. They were their own little merry leprous band. But each of them hoped for the day when they could all go back home. Which could only happen if they got better.

So when one overheard news of a certain Jesus of Nazareth, he quickly shared with the others. This guy was a healer, apparently, who did miracles. He had made the lame walk. He had made the blind see. He could even bring people back from the dead. Surely this Jesus could heal them as well. And then one day, this Jesus came. When they heard the people run out of the town to meet this Jesus, they went too. And standing far off, like lepers had to do, they all cried out together, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!

And Jesus saw them! In fact, Jesus yelled back to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Oh, yes. This was the news that they had been waiting for. And each one of them knew what this meant. This was the first step in the ritual to be pronounced cured. Leviticus 14 outlined it all. Everything that needed to be done in order to be ritually clean once again. To be publicly declared free from leprosy. And that very first step was going to the priest. So off they went quickly. And on their way, Jesus did in fact heal them from their leprosy.

How exciting was this? After living through what may have been years of sickness and quarantine, to suddenly be clean? What joy! What happiness! They could return to their homes! They could hug their families! They could see how their children have grown! As soon as the ritual was done. Praise God! Praise God for sending Jesus to heal us! Thank you! Thank you so much! What could possibly be better than this?

What indeed? Only one of them found out. All were thankful. All were praising God for this Jesus of Nazareth. But only one found out that Jesus had more to give. Only one found out that Jesus had an even better gift to give. And that one found out because he was a Samaritan. Because he would never be clean, even when he was free from leprosy. Because the ritual was not for him. After all, Samaritans would never, ever be ritually clean. At least not before a Levitical priest. The Samaritans would always be a lower class, an unclean class. They were the ones who rejected God’s temple in Jerusalem. They were the ones who mixed their religion with the Canaanite gods. They were the ones who made alliances with Judah’s enemies. And being healed of leprosy would not change that fact. A Samaritan was a Samaritan. Even though there was not a spot of leprosy to be found, he would never be let in to the community.

The ritual for the other nine for being declared clean from leprosy, however, is quite an involved process. We already heard the first step is going to a priest. But there’s more. And the details given in Leviticus are very precise: The leper to be cleansed must go out and get two doves, some cedarwood, some scarlet yarn, and some hyssop. One bird is to die in an earthenware pot. And the cedarwood, the scarlet yarn, the hyssop, and the remaining bird are dipped in the bird’s blood. And from the wood, yarn, hyssop and bird, the blood is sprinkled on the leper awaiting cleansing. After that, the live bird is freed into the wild. Eight days layer, the cleansing is followed up by the more familiar sacrifice of a lamb on account of sin. The kind of sacrifice we are used to seeing as pointing forward to Jesus, the Lamb of God, dying for the sin of the world. But the initial part of the ritual cleansing is very specific.

So as the nine prepared their doves, cedarwood, scarlet yarn and hyssop for the ritual of cleansing before the priest, the one went back to the only priest who could help him. He went back to see Jesus. And seeing that he was completely free from leprosy, he was very excited. Even without a ritual to perform. That one returned, “praising God in a loud voice and he fell at Jesus feet giving him thanks.” And after a few questions, Jesus told him, “Rise and Go your way; your faith has made you well.

Why did Jesus do that? There were no doves. No cedarwood, or scarlet yarn, or hyssop at all. That part was skipped completely. Why? Were the Old Testament rituals unimportant? Actually, no. They were very important. But important specifically for pointing forward to Jesus. And the one who returned was already seeing Jesus. You see, all rituals have a point. Thanksgiving rituals underscore family. Which is why when they’re there, it feels good. And when they’re not, it hurts like hell.

So also the rituals God gives. They’re there to point us to reconciliation of God and man. To point us to the sacrifice which pays for our every sin. To point us to Jesus. Because it was Jesus, who took on our flesh. The same human flesh which God had formed from the earthenware clay in Adam. And that’s the same earthenware flesh in which Jesus, our brother died. It’s His blood which coated that wooden cross. His blood which covered our scarlet red sins. Which splattered the hyssop branch raised to His lips with the sponge of sour wine before He cried out, “It is finished.” It’s His blood, which washes you and makes you clean. And after being washed in His blood, you are free. Free from the sickness of sin. Free from the disease of death. Free from the leprosy of Satan.

The nine went to the place that points forward to Jesus. Which isn’t the worst place to go. And they went with thankfulness in their hearts. But only one returned to Jesus Himself. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” You don’t need the ritual, when you have the thing the ritual is for. And this Samaritan had Jesus right in front of him, in a way that we do not.

We’re still waiting for that day when we can stand before Jesus and look Him in the eye. And so our rituals, given by God, are still important. We do not have the ones pointing forward to Christ’s sacrifice, because we have that sacrifice. But now our rituals point us forward to the eternity of life in the new heavens and the new earth. And the central part of that ritual is being a part of Christ’s sacrifice.

So we receive Christ’s forgiveness, given at the Calvary. We receive the water that flowed from His pierced side in our Baptism. We receive the very body and blood of Jesus from that cross. We receive the Word proclaimed of Christ’s death and resurrection. We receive Jesus Himself, in all of these, in the flesh. And we receive them as a ritual pointing us to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Because rituals are important. At least until the day when we no longer have to say “not yet.”

So this Thanksgiving Eve, we do give thanks for the very Son of God, who gave His life as a ransom for all. Thanks for the forgiveness of every sin. Thanks for the adoption as children of God, and heirs of eternal life. We give thanks for the gift of faith. Thanks for the gift of love. Thanks for the gift of hope. Tonight we give thanks for the rituals of God that are no longer necessary. We give thanks for the rituals of God that are necessary. And we give thanks that Jesus will be coming again with His resurrection for us all. Today is the day where we mean it when we say: Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

That Great and Terrible Day – A Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

November 19, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is like a man journeying, who called his own servants and handed over to them everything he had to live on. And to one he gave the equivalent of about a hundred years worth of wages. To another, about forty years worth, and to yet another, about twenty years worth, each according to his ability. 

Growing up, when heard this text, I always knew what season it was. It was stewardship sermon season. This text in particular was devoted to making sure my time, talent, and treasures were properly invested. In Sunday School, we were taught how to divide dollars into dimes, and learned clearly what the word tithe meant. We might have been saved by grace eleven months out of the year. But the budget wasn’t going to pay for itself. Jesus does bring up money in this parable. And right stewardship is certainly a good thing. But today’s text isn’t about either. Today’s text is about that great and terrible day. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. The Day of the Lord.

Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.” “You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents…. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

The last three Sundays of the Church year, at least this year, remind us that there is a day of judgment coming. Five virgins without oil are left outside. A servant buries his gift and loses everything. And the sheep will be separated from the goats by Christ Himself. Judgment is the one side of our God that we never like looking at. That’s the side of our Lord makes us afraid. We don’t want to even think about His anger, and wrath, and punishment. Because it is too terrifying to imagine.

However, here they are. Like it or not, this is part of who our Lord is. And we need to see this side of Him. We need to know that He has a reason for His anger. A reason for his wrath. A reason for such judgment. We need to know that our sin isn’t just a little mistake. That it’s not just a slip up that happens because we’re only human. No. Sin is evil. Our personal sin is evil. And when we try to justify that evil, we only make it even worse.

Just like the servant who buried his gift. His reason why was more sinister than the act itself. He blamed his master for giving him a terrible burden, rather than realizing that he had been given the means to live. After all, the master never commanded the gift to be invested. Rather, each servant was given to according to their ability for them to live on. Even though he was the one who needed the least help, the servant who buried his gift didn’t live. Not the way he was intended to anyways, the whole time while the master was gone. Instead, he despised His gift, and threw it back in the master’s face when he came home. And the gift in this parable is the same gift that Jesus always gives. The complete forgiveness of all sin.

If we never see just how bad off we are, then we will never know just how much we need. Nor will we see how great the gift Jesus gives is. Because even though we are evil because of our sin. Even though we are even more evil when we justify our own sin. Christ Jesus still came to take our sin away. He still was born, taking on our humanity. He still lived, enduring the same temptations we all face. He still was betrayed, abandoned, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, and crucified for our sake. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And by His death, every sin has been paid for. Every sin has been taken away. The wrath of God that we see in every lesson this morning, both Old and New Testaments has been poured out on Christ. The day of wailing. The day of sudden destruction. The day of the Master’s return. All of it is on Christ’s shoulders. And Jesus Himself cries the cry of that day of judgment, giving up His Spirit.

That is how great the news of the Gospel is for you and me. The judgment day that should have been ours fell on Jesus instead. The forgiveness of sins has been given to us. Not just, one, two, or five talents worth. Not just twenty years worth, or forty years worth, or a hundred years worth. Every sin has been forgiven by Jesus. And when we are given that forgiveness, it always grows. We always receive more. Because there is no end to that forgiveness.

We hold tightly to that forgiveness, even though we also acknowledge that forgiveness only comes to sinners. We confess who we are. We confess what we deserve. I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities. Receiving forgiveness is a confession that I am not enough on my own. That I cannot pay my own way. That I am evil because of my sin. Which is why some would rather not be given the forgiveness Christ won for them. And would instead face the day of judgment on their own, without Jesus. And for some, that will happen. But we earnestly pray that they would have theirs minds changed.

Because forgiveness changes everything. It even changes that great and terrible day. When we heard our Old Testament Lesson this morning, did it sound scary? Listen again, but this time, remember what Christ has done for you through His death and resurrection.

Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. The sacrifice of His Son, Who has invited us to His table. And on the day of the LORD’s sacrifice—I will punish the officials and the king’s sons, the very Son of David Himself, and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. For indeed, the sins of all have had their punishment meted out, only that punishment fell on Jesus alone.

“On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. Wail, O  sin, death, and the devil. Your prizes have all been taken away.

The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. And that mighty man is our Lord Himself. A day of wrath is that day, the wrath of God poured out on Jesus alone. A day of distress and anguish, with the cry of “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” A day of ruin and devastation, a day of earthquakes that raise the dead and a temple curtain torn in two. A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day when the sun itself stopped shining from the sixth hour unto the ninth hour. A day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. Beware, O gates of Hell. Jesus has come with the keys in His hand. And He’s letting the prisoners free.

The Last Day is coming. But for those of us in Christ, the Day of Judgment has already passed. There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. And yet, we still look at our sin. We still look at the evil, old Adam within us. We look so that we never take for granted the enormous gift that Jesus has given to us. And He gives it once again today, in His Supper. For even if we were handing out a hundred years worth of wages in that meal, it wouldn’t even come close to the treasure we are given in Jesus’ body and blood. Because it’s there, along in His Word, and in His baptism, where our every sin is forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon