Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Different Kind of King[dom]

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“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:9-11).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
In October of 331 B.C., Alexander the Great entered the ancient city of Babylon. The city manager came out to meet him with troops and horses to surrender. The high priest had the road carpeted with flowers. Silver altars were set up alongside of the road. And they brought gifts of herds of cattle and horses and lions and leopards. Alexander rode into the city on a chariot followed by a procession of priests chanting his greatness and musicians playing instruments. Like any great king, Alexander understood that pomp and circumstance is important. Image is everything. No wonder he was called “the Great.”
The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us of Alexander’s arrival in Jerusalem. Supposedly the high priest had a dream in which God told him how to save the city. The people all dressed in white and went out to meet Alexander and his army. The priests in purple linen also went out, with the high priest in his priestly garments carrying the golden headband with the Divine Name written on it. To the surprise of everyone, Alexander honored the Divine Name. Taking the priest’s hand, he was led into the city, and then the temple altar where he made a sacrifice.
This was, of course, breaking all sorts of laws and traditions. A Gentile was strictly prohibited from going into the temple, a Gentile making a sacrifice was an utter abomination. But though such indiscretion is not unimportant, that is not really my point in bringing it up all of this history today. I would like to contrast Alexander’s entry as the conquering king, to another King, who makes His so-called triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Look at this King! He comes not with a powerful army in tow, but a rather ragtag assortment of unarmed disciples, mostly Galilean fishermen. He doesn’t come mounted on a proud white warhorse or riding in a chariot, but on a donkey colt not yet broke. And even that modest mode of transport is not His own; He borrows it because He has need of it. This King wears no royal robe or golden crown. There’s no scepter in His hand, nor committee of priests to officially welcome Him. In fact, the religious and societal leaders would like nothing more than to stop this impromptu parade.
Apart from faith, it’s hard to take this King seriously. Those looking on might think He’s seriously delusional—that much like Don Quixote, this King imagines His greatness; that in His mind, He’s riding a fiery, white steed, surrounded by His royal court and soldiers. The fact that He hasn’t denied being the Son of God doesn’t hurt this argument in the least. And He thinks He’s on a mission from God, perhaps even that He’s the Lord God Himself! Didn’t He tell His servants to say to the owner of the borrowed donkey: “The Lord needs it”?
Others may conclude that this King is running one of the most presumptuous cons ever—that if He just presents Himself with enough charisma, He’ll convince a few people to follow Him. The best con artists and cult leaders can exert that sort of influence on people. And there’s no arguing that people are convinced that He is a king. Even when He rides in on a donkey without the trappings of royalty, people do more than stop and pay heed. No, they don’t carpet the road with flowers, but they do spread their cloaks and leafy branches on the ground. And they shout out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Are they under some sort of hypnotic spell? Do they think they see something that isn’t there? No. When others ask, “Who is this?” the crowds answer, perfectly sensibly, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
No, Jesus is neither a madman nor a conman. He’s a different kind of King. His coming kingdom is different from the other kingdoms of the world. That very week, He will declare to Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from this world.”
So who is this King? And for what is His kingdom coming? The crowd tells you exactly who He is, as they welcome Him with praise drawn from Psalm 118: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna” means Lord, save us!” It is based on the Hebrew word yasha, from which Jesus’ own name, Yeshua, is derived: “the Lord saves.” The phrase, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” echoes the expectation that a descendant of David will be Israel’s king (Ezekiel 37:24-25.) It was also the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary: “the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David.”
Their shout, “Hosanna in the highest!” is not a desperate cry for help, but an eager anticipation of the salvation that comes with Jesus and His kingdom. It is an earthly echo of the celestial celebration of the angels at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14), and a prelude to the unending song of the saint and angels in Revelation 7:9-12: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Jesus hasn’t come to flex His muscle, or to subdue nations by the sword, or shed blood of other peoples like His ancestor, King David; rather He has come to allow His own innocent blood to be shed, so that His people might have eternal life.
Furthermore, though enthroned at the Father’s right hand, Jesus is not far away, but near to you—as near as His means of grace. There’s a reason we echo the crowds in our Gospel every time we come to His Supper. We sing: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” because in His Supper, Your King comes to you humbly; not on a colt, but in, with, and under bread and wine. Similarly, He is present for you in His Word and Baptism, too.
I know, that’s a lot to take in. It’s so contradictory to the ways of the world. So, it’s no wonder that Jesus and His kingdom are misunderstood today as much as on that first Palm Sunday. After all, Jesus is a very different kind of King. His kingdom is not of this world. He is powerful, but His power is made known in weakness. He is glorious, but His majesty is made manifest in His lowly humility. And that makes Him so easy to misunderstand or underestimate.
You’re probably familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Christ is allegorically portrayed as Aslan, the lion. And from time to time, Lewis reminds us that Aslan is not a tame lion; he simply doesn’t display His teeth and claws all that often. That is Christ on Palm Sunday, as well as today in His means of grace: He deals with you in pure mercy, not by overwhelming force. His teeth are not usually bared; His claws generally retracted.
But looking outward from the Church, you will find a world full of people who do not see Him that way. If they are convicted of their sin, they see only a hostile king who comes at war, a roaring lion with claws out and teeth bared. For those who are troubled by their sin, burdened with a guilty conscience, the coming of Jesus is not a welcome thing. They see themselves as outside of His beloved people: that leaves them either despairing or angry. Other people consider Jesus to be, at best, a tamed and toothless lion. If they don’t dismiss Him as a madman or a conman, they believe that He’s toned down His harsh stance on sins since He’s not striking down sinners right and left right at this moment.
Neither group sees Jesus as He truly is. One sees Him only through the lens of legalism and believes that He’s is out to get them. The other sees Him as a dispenser of cheap grace and pictures Jesus as a jolly old soul who doesn’t care what you do, so long as you do it in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity” and “love.” Neither group has much use for Christ crucified. They prefer a different kind of King; they long for another kind of kingdom.
The best, most merciful thing that the Church can do in this world is to proclaim Christ as He is. He is still the holy King who doesn’t tolerate sin and judges sinners; and He is still the King who has suffered our judgment in order to conquer sin and give life to all who believe. So we proclaim the Christ as He truly is—righteous Judge and merciful Savior. We proclaim the stern Law that shows us our sins and puts to death, and the sweet Gospel that gives forgiveness and life.
But we don’t proclaim that Word only to the world. You and I need to hear it, too. Admit it: Part of you wants the toothless lion, too. Your sinful flesh wants you to believe that Jesus is a kindly king who overlooks your pet sins, who simply lets you transgress your way through life, and who will still rescue you in the end. But remember: each of those sins offends the Lord who takes your deliverance so seriously that He went to the cross and suffered your judgment for you. Do you really think it safe to spit in the face of a lion, simply because it hasn’t bitten yet?
There’s another part of you that wants the claws out and the teeth bared—not at you, but at the afflictions that you face. Your hosanna emphasizes the “now” part of “save us now!” You want the King to execute judgment against your enemies right away. You demand that He strike back at people who have done you (or your loved ones) harm. You demand that He chase disease and affliction away—and do it immediately! I know as a pastor, there are times when I’d dearly love to say for the sake of God’s people, “Sickness, be gone!” or “Pain be gone!” and watch the Lord act immediately. But that betrays the extent of our sin, doesn’t it? So often we’d rather have the Lord act according to our will rather than pray: “Thy will be done.” We want a lion that bares tooth and claw on our command.
Jesus is a different kind of King. His power is shown chiefly in weakness. He permits those different afflictions according to His wisdom for your good. So afflicted, you might not look like a child of the King—but then, He didn’t look like much of a king when He suffered and died to deliver you from affliction.
Christ is neither tame and toothless nor indiscriminate in His prey; but the King comes to give you salvation, to save you from your sins. What you have and haven’t done can no longer condemn you. Where you’ve failed—in your life, work, family, or marriage—is forgiven. Not forgiven because you do this or that, or because you adapt your life or change it, but forgiven solely by grace, because Jesus heads into Jerusalem and then to the cross to suffer and die for you.
You see, if they were just “mistakes” you could fix them. You could make them right. You could have your good stuff outweigh your not good stuff with God and those around you. But they aren’t mistakes. They aren’t failures. They are sins—sins rooted in the fact that you love yourself more than God or the people around you. Desperate for some holiness, something that God would find acceptable, you try to change. You recognize how destructive such sins can be, but you bounce back and forth between trying to love those around you and the selfish, evil, self-centered, stuff you do. There’s a never-ending cycle of sin, failure, guilt, and shame. And it seems like during Advent, you’ll try even harder to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You’ll recommit. Refocus. And do whatever you must do to get that holiness from God that you know He requires. But you’ll never find that holiness, dear friends. Never. Not inside you… not even in Advent.
So repent and believe! You need not look inside you. Jesus is a different kind of King. He rides in to save you from your afflictions, to free you from your sins, to release you from your guilt, and to deliver you from your shame. Week after week, He comes to you humbly, not on a colt, but in His means of grace. In Him, you find the holiness that you’ll never find inside of you. In Him you will find love, so you might, in turn, love others. In your King Jesus and His kingdom, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life! Indeed, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Temple

“And when [Jesus] saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A funny thing happened on the way to the temple. Not “funny” in a humorous sort of way, but “funny” in the sense of peculiar, unexpected. On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes between Samaria and Galilee. As He enters a village, ten lepers come out to meet Him. Well, not exactly “meet him.” They stand at a distance. You see, leprosy is a terrible disease, so contagious that its victims are quarantined until death. They have to leave their families, friends, homes, and livelihoods to spend their last painfully dying days isolated in the wilderness. And if anyone walks toward them, the law demands they warn them away. Logically, such a quarantine also means a leper isn’t able to go to the temple of the Lord for worship and sacrifice, either. Therefore, leprosy becomes symbolic of the killing sinfulness, which keeps a sinner out of God’s presence.
As Jesus draws near the village, the lepers do not yell the standard warning: “Unclean! Stay away!” but rather, they beg for His attention: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” The Word about Jesus and His miracles has spread, and they believe that Jesus can heal them. In fact, since He’s healed so many by simply speaking, surely He can heal them without even coming close if He wants.
Some translations have the word “pity” rather than “mercy.” But mercy is a better word. In a recent Bible study, we discussed the difference between mercy and pity. We decided that “pity is feeling sorry for someone; while mercy is actually doing something about it.” That’s why it is more accurate to say the lepers ask for mercy, rather than merely pity. They know that not only will Jesus empathize with their plight, but He also has the power to do something about it.
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” This is a prayer of faith—or at least, the beginning of faith. The lepers know Jesus through the wonderful stories that have been told about Him. That Word of Christ has worked faith in their hearts. Their plea for mercy is an expression of this faith. They realize that they cannot buy or barter for the blessings that Jesus brings, but can only beg for it.
And Jesus, seeing them, and fully aware of their miserable plight, simply tells them to show themselves to the priests. It was commanded in the Law of Moses that those who supposed themselves to be cured of leprosy must present themselves to one of the priests on duty at the temple, in order that their healing might be confirmed. If it was determined they had been cured of their sickness, then they were required to bring a sacrifice (Leviticus 13:2; 14:2). The sacrifices in the temple included the shedding of blood, looking forward to the cleansing atonement of the Messiah, who, at that very moment just happens to be on His way to Jerusalem to offer His blood as the final, once-for-all cleansing. Jesus wants the priests to confirm that the miracle has taken place. It will confirm that Jesus is who He says He is: the merciful one who cleanses the entire sins of humanity.
The priests were those men who were appointed by God to stand between God and sinful man as they carried out the duties at the temple. According to the Law, they sacrificed the blood of bulls, sheep, and goats, presenting those offerings before the Lord. Once the sacrifices were made and accepted by God, they would then announce to the people that God would not hold their sin against them.
Priests served as intercessors, mediators between man and God; but they also stood between leper and society. If a leper thought he had been healed, he couldn’t just go back home; he had to first show himself to the priest. Only after he was cleansed in ceremony, and only after sacrifices were offered to God, and only after he was declared clean by the priest could a leper go back to his home and family. That’s why Jesus tells the ten lepers, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
So, the ten depart at a run, confident that they will be healed as they follow Jesus’ command, sprinting to find the priests and to start the cleansing ceremony. And, a funny thing happens on the way to the temple: they are all healed!
You know what happens next: nine keep on running, and one turns around. He comes to Jesus, falls at His feet, worships his Savior, and glorifies God. This, of course, prompts Jesus to observe, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” To the one, Jesus says, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
That takes care of our review. Now, for a pop quiz: in the text, how many of the lepers go to the temple to show themselves to a priest as Jesus commands?
The answer is… one.  Not nine, but one. The text does not actually say that the nine make it to the temple to show themselves to the priests, although it’s a fair assumption that they do. What is very plain—and cause for joy—in the text, is that the one man turns and returns to Jesus, falling at His feet.
A funny thing happens on the way to the temple: ten lepers are cleansed, and one, after the cleansing, returns to give glory to God—God in the person of Jesus, whose presence in the world and whose atoning sacrifice will bring an end to temple worship and the whole sacrificial system.
What’s more, this one who returns is a “foreigner,” an outcast, someone who would not be welcome in the temple courts even after he was cleansed. One of the chief functions of the sacrificial system was to separate Israel, the clean people of God, from the unclean Gentiles. But Christ’s cleansing of the Samaritan and His reception of the Samaritan’s worship demonstrate that He brings a new kind of holiness that is for all people. This is not a holiness based on circumcision, dietary laws, or the Jerusalem temple worship with its priests and sacrifices, but rather on Christ’s own person as the sinless Son of God and on His sacrifice as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And it is received only by faith.
The nine who do not return, fail to realize the significance of what has happened to them: God’s kingdom has arrived in Jesus Christ! Jesus is the new Temple! Jesus is the very presence of God in human flesh. The place to glorify God and to give thanks for cleansing is wherever Jesus is.
A funny thing happens on the way to the temple. The Samaritan falls at Jesus’ feet and shows himself to the Priest—the one from which all priesthood is derived. Remember: a priest is one who intercedes between man and God, offering sacrifices to the Lord for the sins of the people. Once the sacrifice is made, the priest then returns to the people and tells them that God has forgiven them.
Throughout the Old Testament, the priests at the temple did exactly that. However, as they did so, they foreshadowed the work of the Messiah. For not only did He offer the sacrifice for sin—He was the sacrifice for the sin of the world! He is the one who rose from the dead and returned to the people to announce that their sins are forgiven. He is the one who has ascended into heaven, to sit at the right hand of God and intercede on behalf of sinners until He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. There is one eternal High Priest, and His name is Jesus.
Scripture declares of Him: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Jesus is the High Priest, who sacrificed Himself and intercedes on your behalf. And because He is risen from the dead, His term as High Priest never ends. Therefore, there will never be a time when His sacrifice no longer covers your sins, and there will never be a time when He stops declaring your redemption.
So when Jesus tells the ten to go show themselves to the priests, we know that at least one follows through by falling at the Lord’s feet. He glorifies God for the healing he has received. On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus takes up the lepers’ uncleanness and disease from them, along with a world’s worth of sin and sickness. He bears awful that load all the way to the cross so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.
A funny thing happens on the way to the Temple: the Samaritan receives not only physical healing, but also the gift of saving faith. Our English translation robs us of the real joy that was intended. What Jesus really said was not “Your faith has made you well,” but rather, “Your faith has saved you.”
The man returns to Jesus because he has faith. That’s what faith does. It keeps running back to Jesus. Faith always runs back to Jesus for more. This is, perhaps the greatest tragedy of the other nine: Jesus has more to give them, but they run away. They’ve got what they most want—they have their lives, health, families, and home again. They won’t have to beg any more. But they don’t have what they need most—forgiveness, faith, life, and salvation. They run to the temple to see the priests, not realizing that there in their very midst is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrificial system—Jesus the Christ! 
The nine get what they want, but miss what they really need. That’s what unbelief does. Faith, on the other hand, keeps running back to Jesus. Faith keeps running back with thanks, and faith keeps running back for more. By faith, this leper knows that it’s not just that he was at the mercy of God; he remains at the mercy of God. And by faith, he knows there’s no better place to be. 
The way of faith, then, is ever returning, glorifying God for what He has given. And you will find that He always has more to give. Which leads to even more thanksgiving. The Lord wants this to be an endless cycle and the very joy of your life. What He wants, finally, is to give you nothing less than Himself, and He is, as Dr. Luther puts it so unforgettably, “an eternal fountain that gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good.” And so today—and every day—you gush forth constant thanksgiving for all the gifts of your Lord to you.
Thanksgiving is worship. Worship is continual repentance and faith—begging for cleansing and salvation, receiving by faith God’s good gifts in His Word and Sacrament. Offering Him thanksgiving and worship for all He has done for you. In this life, you never move beyond that. There is no greater purpose, no greater service that you can render unto the Lord. Not that God needs your thanksgiving. He doesn’t benefit from your thanking Him. You do! The more you thank God the Father through His dear Son, Jesus Christ, the more you recognize how generously and bountifully He deals with you, and the more you are motivated to share His love and mercy with others.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Temple…  You came here in need of Christ’s mercy and grace—soiled by sin, dragged down by despair; He sends you away with a Word of promised healing and restoration. There’s no need to show yourself to a priest, you’ve been in the very presence of God. You’ve praised Him and thanked Him and worshiped Him. And now, the great High Priest who offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for your sins sends you out into the world to serve your neighbor. His healing Word echoes in your ears: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.” You are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Not Just a 1st Article Thanksgiving

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Thanksgiving Day has a long history in the United States. The first thanksgiving was a harvest festival celebrated in 1621 at Plymouth Colony. President George Washington issued the first national thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, but it wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged “the ever watchful providence of Almighty God” with his 1863 proclamation that Thanksgiving gained popularity as an annual holiday. In 1941, Congress fixed the date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November.
Since that time, our nation seems to have turned this into a day of thanksgiving without specifying whom we thank. Thanksgiving Day is “Turkey Day” and takes a backseat to “Black Friday” for November holidays. More time is spent watching football games than in worship, giving thanks to God.
But we Christians don’t really need a presidential proclamation, or an act of Congress, or a special Thursday in November to give thanks to God. Do we? Thanksgiving is our priestly duty as baptized believers. That’s what priests do. They offer sacrifices. Thanksgiving is eucharistic sacrifice, thank offering to God for all His blessings not only to us, but to the whole world.
“The Church lives in thanksgiving,” writes Alexander Schmemann. “It is the air she breathes.” This is to say the Church lives from the abundance of the gifts God showers down around her unceasingly. Unlike the world that is blind to the gifts, the Church sees them, celebrates them, and rejoices in them.
Faithful hearts are grateful hearts. We are thankful for the gifts of creation—for this planet that we live on, for sun, moon, stars, rain, soil, plants, birds, fish, animals. For our own life—our body and breath, eyes, ears, all our 2,000 or so parts, our reason, our senses. We are thankful for God’s preserving gifts of clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, family, and government. All this God gives purely out of fatherly goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. And we, as His children, say “thank You for the gifts.”
But we must not limit our thankfulness to those 1st article gifts. The Native Americans who joined the Pilgrims back in 1621 could’ve celebrated a 1st Article Thanksgiving. They believed in a creator god and held their harvest festivals to keep him happy so that he might give them a plentiful harvest the next year, too. The pagans of Rome could’ve celebrated a 1st Article Thanksgiving. They had Saturn, the god of the harvest and Ceres the goddess of agriculture and fertility.
American civil religion can celebrate a 1st Article Thanksgiving as we are “one nation under God” (“the god of your own personal understanding,” of course). Muslims can celebrate a 1st article Thanksgiving. Mormons can. Deists. Masons. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jews. Wiccans. Members of practically any religious group can celebrate a 1st Article Thanksgiving. Only Christians can celebrate a Thanksgiving properly focused on worshiping the one true God and thanking Him for the gifts He gives us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So, in addition to His gifts of creation—for providing all that we need for this body and life—we also thank God for the gifts of redemption: for the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ… for His perfect life and death… for His rising from the dead… for His atonement for the sin of the world… for His reign over all things that we might belong to Him and serve Him in His kingdom.
We also thank God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the preaching of the Gospel… the Church and her pastors… our own rebirth and renewal in Baptism… our refreshment in the Lord’s Supper… the absolution of forgiveness… our fellowship together with all the saints in Christ… the resurrection of our bodies guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection… and the sure hope of eternal life.
          Did you notice that our readings for today follow this pattern? Each of them focuses primarily on God as described in one of the articles of the Apostles’ Creed.
Moses leads the way in our first reading with the reminder to the Israelites of God the Father’s provision for their pilgrimage. The Lord leads His people to the Promised Land. But along the way, He teaches them that their life isn’t kept by bread alone, but by every Word that He speaks to them.
God’s Word, after all, is the cause of all the gifts of the creation His people delight in. And He commanded the creation to provide sustenance for this earthly journey: manna that appeared every day in the morning dew, quail that came in the evening, and water from the rock. Later, as things got more settled for the Israelites, He provided them with a good and fruitful land.
“But don’t forget,” Moses warns Israel (and us). “You’re still a people on a pilgrimage. This isn’t home, but only a foretaste of the abundant blessings God has in store for you eternally. Remember to bless the Lord for the good land He has given you as you journey on with Him. Remember the great gifts.”
So the Church, seeing such gifts, raises to God her thanks—not one day a year, but continually “at all times and in all places.”
St. Paul swings in with the second reading reminding us to give thanks for the Son. He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
What truth is that? The truth of the gifts confessed in the second article of the Creed. The truth about the greatest of all gifts: the coming of the eternal Son into the flesh, as we shall soon celebrate during Advent and Christmas: “To you is born this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.” To you!
What truth? The truth about the Son, who bore our sin to the cross redeeming us with His own holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death as we shall celebrate at Lent. “He made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” For you!
What truth? The truth about the Son ripping a hole right through death and transforming it forever into a peaceful sleep with a joyous and certain wakening as we celebrate at Easter. Jesus said: “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Eternal life in a resurrected body and purified soul. For you!
What truth? The truth about our Lord we celebrate on Ascension Day: “Christ Jesus… who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” The Son who reigns in heaven and yet promises to be with His own in His Word and Sacraments: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” With you!    
Gifts all—and God wants them for all. For you! For me! For the whole world! We get included in all that. How can we ever thank Him enough?
But the Gospel reading challenges us with how easy it is to fall into the ways of unbelief. That is to measure the gifts of the Holy Spirit and say to God: “Fill it up right to that line. That’s enough. Don’t need any more, thank you very much.”
So the nine lepers went off with the little healing, no doubt quite grateful to the end of their days to the Rabbi who had miraculously healed them. But the Rabbi stood there asking: “Where are the nine?” He had more gifts to give! But no one came back for the rest, to give glory to God except the Samaritan. He came back for the more and got it. “Your faith has saved you,” Jesus says. And He doesn’t just mean from leprosy. He means from sin, death, and the devil.
Through His Word, the Holy Spirit creates saving faith. He brings greater gifts. The Lord always has more gifts. That’s His way. He always has more for you than you can ever imagine. So never walk away from Him and say: “I’ve had enough.” “I was baptized, so what do I need the Word for?” “I’ve received the Lord’s Supper, so why do I need absolution?” “I’ve been to worship this week. Why do I need to read my Bible at home?”
Oh, we’re guilty of telling way too often: “That’s enough.” And that is unbelief!
Thanksgiving as an act of worship is still a minority opinion. Ten lepers were cleansed that day they encountered Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. One returned to give thanks at the feet of Jesus. Seems about average doesn’t it? Ten percent or so, on any given Thanksgiving Day?
But Thanksgiving is more than a pious prayer and an attitude of gratitude sandwiched between the turkey and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is a concrete, tangible, real work of worship. Heads bowed, knees bent, hands folded, hearts uplifted in psalms and hymns and songs. Money in offering plates. Ears inclined to the Word. Mouths filled with prayer and praise.
I’m sure that the other nine lepers were grateful in their hearts as they went off to show themselves to the priests. I’m sure that they all talked about what a great guy Jesus was and thanked their lucky stars that they met Him on the road to Jerusalem. But only one turned around on the road, walked back, and fell down flat on his face at the feet of Jesus. That’s the faithful one, the one in whom God’s Word created faith. “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you,” Jesus says.
And the other nine? Did they have faith that saved them? Hard to say. Faith is seen only by its works. This kind of thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus is the fruit of faith in Jesus, to whom we are indebted not only for daily bread but for life. He is the living Bread come down from heaven, the Word through whom all things are made, in whom all things have their being, and for whom all things exist.
You are cared for by the Triune God. More than you could ever care for yourself. No detail of your life is too small or insignificant. You are precious and holy to Him. As precious as the blood of His Son that purchased you from sin and death. As holy as the pure and perfect life of Jesus who became your sin so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God. Every good gift He pours down, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty, our privilege, our priestly responsibility, to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
The way of faith, then, is ever returning, glorifying our Triune God for what He has given. And you will find that He always has even more to give. Which leads to even more thanksgiving from you. The Lord wants it to be an endless cycle and the very joy of your life. He wants finally to give you nothing less than Himself, and He is, as Dr. Luther put it so unforgettably, “an eternal fountain that gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good.” And so you gush forth constant thanksgiving for all the gifts of your Lord to you.
Just think of all the way that we give thanks in the Divine Service. In the Gloria in Excelsis: “We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee, for Thy great glory.”
After hearing the Old Testament and Epistle readings: “Thanks be to God.”
In the Preface: “Let us give thanks unto the Lord, our God.” And the Proper Preface: “It is truly, good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
The Thanksgiving and Collect following the Distribution: “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; and His mercy endureth forever.” “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift… “
Amazing, isn’t it? How much of our worship includes thanksgiving. In fact, one of the names we have for the Lord’s Supper—the Eucharist—comes from the Greek word for “giving thanks.”
Thanksgiving is worship. Worship is continual repentance and faith, receiving God’s good gifts in His Word and Sacrament. In this life we never move beyond that. Not that God needs our thanksgiving. He doesn’t benefit from our thanking Him. We do! The more we thank God the Father through His dear Son, Jesus Christ, the more we recognize how generously and bountifully He deals with us, the more our hearts and minds are opened to His hidden generosity.
So give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. Today as you gather around the table (here and at home)—some of His gifts before you, others of His gifts around you, the greatest of His gifts within you—lift your voice and glorify the God who gives, freely and without measure. He has created you and sustains you with all that you need for this body and life only out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you.
Give thanks to the good Lord who has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Give thanks to the Lord, who has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers.

Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Enter into the Joy of Your Master

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“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:21).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Have you ever worked for a good boss? What made that good? Or how about a bad boss: have you ever worked for one of those? What made that bad?  
I would have to say that the most difficult bosses that I have worked under tend to micromanage. It seems they were always looking over my shoulder, checking each and every step of the process, second-guessing every decision made. Ironically, the same bosses often fail to accurately communicate the priorities and goals of the team, and then they point a finger at everyone else when things go wrong. Working in that kind of environment can be quite unsatisfying—even so frustrating—that after a while, you find yourself avoiding all contact with the boss. And not surprisingly, your own job performance will end up suffering.
Fortunately, I have had the good fortune to work with many good bosses over the years. The best have given me well-defined goals, provided me with the resources to do my work, and then just let me go to it. They check up on me and give me productive feedback and accountability. The best bosses also are not afraid to get their hands dirty or do the work themselves. They don’t pass on the blame, but rather, accept responsibility—even when it is not their fault.  What a blessing it is to be able to work in such an environment!
Yes, how you view your boss can have a dramatic effect upon you and your work! Working for a harsh and ruthless master can wear you down and drain the life right out of you, while serving a good and gracious master leads to life and fulfillment, hope and joy. And so, we find much the same in Jesus’ parable today.
The parable begins with a man going on a journey. Before he goes, he entrusts his servants with some of his property. He gives to each servant according to the servant’s ability. One receives five talents—a talent is about twenty years’ wages for a servant, so this one is entrusted with a hundred years’ worth. The next receives two talents, about forty years’ worth of wages. The third receives one talent, which is still an awful lot of money. This isn’t their money: it belongs to the master, and he has entrusted it to them while he’s gone.
After a long time, he returns to settle accounts—to find out what they’ve done with his money. The one who received five talents has doubled it to ten, and the one who received two talents doubles it to four. Each receives the same praise from the master: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
At this point, it is important to mention an often overlooked detail: this master is wealthy. Between these two servants, he’s put out about 280 years’ worth of servants’ wages—and he calls it “a little.” He’s not going to miss one talent if the third servant fails to produce. And the third servant has failed to produce: he comes to the master and says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
The master is furious. He says, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
 So what makes the master so angry? It’s not that the servant failed to double the investment: the master got his original investment back, and he isn’t going to be angry about one measly talent that was never his to begin with. No, what makes the master angry is that the servant regards him as a hard man. There’s no proof that this is true. This is simply how the servant thinks of him. The servant considers his master to be a hard man, ruthless and unforgiving. And, as I said earlier, how you view the boss can have a dramatic effect on your work.
Ruthless masters are easily resented, and it seems from the parable that—rather than serve the master—the servant has done nothing at all while the master is gone. He is so afraid of provoking the wrath of the tyrant he’s created in his mind that he’s done nothing with what’s been entrusted to him. He’s lived a life of fear, paralyzed into inaction. Or to put it another way, he doesn’t trust the master. He doesn’t see the master as merciful. He sees his life of service as one of trying to outwit an angry boss for as long as possible.
To reiterate: there’s no proof that the master is actually a hard man. This is simply how the servant regards him. But because the servant regards him as ruthless and treats him as ruthless, the servant ends up with what he’s invented. Essentially the master says, “You don’t believe I’m merciful, but hard. No matter how I act, this is what you are going to believe. You’d much rather that I be away than here with you. Therefore, you don’t want to be here if I am: so, be gone.”
That’s the sin of the servant. He believes his master to be hard. Because he believes his master is hard, he doesn’t want to serve him. If we understand that, the parable makes a lot of sense and we can apply it to ourselves. From the string of parables that Jesus tells in Matthew 24 and 25, it’s obvious that the master is the Lord. He is “gone away” in that He waits to return in glory on the Last Day. In the meantime, He entrusts many gifts to His people—to you. You’re stewards of what God has entrusted to you, and you are to use it in service to Him.
How, and how much are you supposed to make use of these gifts in order to earn the Master’s praise? That’s the wrong question. Is making use of these gifts simply in order to earn the Master’s praise really all that much better motivation than holding back from doing anything because you consider the Master to be harsh and unfair? Either view puts the focus wrongly on you and your efforts.
No, the real question is this: how do you regard your Master? Do you regard the Lord as hard and ruthless, or gracious and merciful? When you come into His presence do you expect to face the brunt of His righteous wrath or His great joy?
If you regard the Lord as hard and ruthless it will be reflected in your stewardship. You will live a life where you fear God’s anger for your missteps, rather than confident of God’s unconditional love. You will want to hoard what you have to yourself rather than freely give offerings or spend time in service to others. You’ll believe that what you have is yours apart from God (perhaps, in spite of God), and you’ll use your stuff to distract yourself from Him. Why? In part, it’s because you’re afraid. You’re afraid that your Master is a cheapskate and that He won’t provide you with anything more than you already have.
In part, it’s also because you’ll have no love for your Master if you see Him as a hard man: and you do not want to support what you do not love. If you regard the Lord as a hard man, you’ll also resent when He gives more to others because it’s so unfair. If you regard the Lord as ruthless, you’ll see worship as a mandatory check-in so as not to anger Him, and you’ll see opportunities to serve as one more chore that you have to do to keep the Master off your back. Or you will seek avoiding coming into His presence whenever you can.
If you regard the Master as a hard man, you will never believe that He loves you. You won’t want to be anywhere near Him. And so, on the Last Day, the Master will grant you your desire: an eternity far away from Him—the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But God is not a hard man. Where God is, there you will find mercy, grace and kindness—because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. There is no greater demonstration of this than the cross, for that is where God demonstrates above all that He is not a hard man. Christ becomes man to win salvation for you by His death. The Master becomes the Suffering Servant.
If the Lord were a hard master, the message of Scripture would be, “God demands righteousness from His servants. If you can’t be holy, He wants nothing to do with you.” But God instead declares that He desires you to be His beloved child so much that He has given His only beloved Son to die in your place, so that you might be forgiven and holy and righteous in His sight. Your life isn’t one of somebody who hopes he does a “good enough” job that God will let him into heaven. You’re not a slave, but a beloved child of God. Heaven is already yours!
There are two other demonstrations of God’s mercy and grace found in the master’s words to the first two servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” After your less-than-perfect stewardship here on earth, what does the Lord say? He’s going to give you more. The kingdom of heaven is yours—not because you’ve been such a productive servant of all the gifts God has given you now; but because Christ has sacrificed Himself on the cross to deliver you. There He exchanged His perfect obedience and righteousness for your sin and rebellion.
Rather than live in slavish fear of a hard master, you live as a servant convinced that your Master is gracious and merciful. This will be reflected in your stewardship of all that He entrusts to you. Rather than fearfully trying to escape God’s notice, you will live in a life in which you acknowledge joyfully that you are the Lord’s instrument to serve. Rather than fear His anger at your missteps and sins, you’ll quickly run to Him and confess your sins because you’re confident that Christ has died so that you might be forgiven.
 If you regard your Master as gracious and merciful, it will also be evident in your giving of offerings and service as you are able—because you’ll be able to give with the glad confidence that the Lord is able to supply everything you need. You won’t live in fear that God will turn off the spigot, because He has promised to provide. You will contribute to the needs of the Church and the needs of the saints because you want to, out of love and gratitude for the Lord’s gifts to you.
If you regard the Lord as gracious and merciful, then worship is not a chore, it’s a time in which you enter into the joyful presence of the Master, a place where He graciously pours out upon you forgiveness and faith, salvation and eternal life.
If you regard your Master as gracious and merciful, you won’t resent when others receive more from His hand than you, because you acknowledge that holy God knows better than sinful you as to what you can handle. The Lord entrusts to each of His stewards many different gifts according to ability, as He sees fit.
This text then, is not primarily about how you use what God gives. Your stewardship of what God gives is a way to examine how you regard God. And that is the primary question here. How do you regard God? Do you consider Him as a hard master? If you do, then that will be reflected in begrudging stewardship. Do you regard God as gracious and merciful? Then you will act and give and serve out of gratitude for all that God has done for you.
How do you regard God? The truth is that you’re probably somewhere in between. If you regarded God as only hard and ruthless, then you probably wouldn’t be here in church. If you unreservedly acknowledged God as gracious and merciful, then you wouldn’t be here either—you’d be in heaven, delivered from the sinful nature that still clings. But here you are, which means that you’re a conflicted mix of acknowledging God’s grace and worrying that He’s not going to provide. You are simul iustus et peccator, saint and sinner at the same time. And you will struggle with this until the day you die.
What should you do about it now? Put that old sinful nature to death daily through contrition and repentance so that your new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Repent when you consider God hard. He’s never really given you a reason to think that way. Confess the worry and fear. Rejoice in His forgiveness—forgiveness that takes away the sin and strengthens your faith against fear, and equips you for holy living.
Our Lord is not a hard master. He is gracious and merciful and he continues to pour out upon you grace and life, all for the sake of Jesus. By the faith that He gives you, cling to this treasure of salvation that Christ has won for you. For the sake of Jesus, you can be confident that, on the Last Day, your gracious and merciful Savior will say to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master… because you are forgiven for all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Foolish Oil Shortage (2)

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“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise” (Matthew 25:1-2).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Who would've thought that the day would come when anything under $2.80 would seem like such a good deal for a gallon of gasoline? But it wasn’t that long ago that it cost me $25 more to fill the gas tank on our van than it does today. While political parties point at each other, and many say greedy oil companies are the culprit, the fact is that the high price of gasoline is caused by a number of foolish choices, shortsightedness, and the simple law of supply and demand.
For several years American refiners have been operating at above 100% capacity (however you can do that). While consumption of oil products has continued to rise steadily, no new oil refineries have been built for three decades. In addition, regulators have restricted development of pipelines that would carry crude oil from Canada, and environmental concerns have prevented drilling at a number of promising oil fields. This all comes on top of the fact that much of our imported oil comes from the most politically sensitive area in the world.
But as much as the price of gasoline might affect our everyday lives, we didn’t come here to hear about foolish oil shortages, did we?
Come to think of it, maybe we did. Or at least that’s what Jesus seems to have in mind to teach us today. Here, in “The Parable of the Ten Virgins,” Jesus speaks about an even more foolish oil shortage that occurs among those who call themselves Christians—those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, those who fully expect to be with Him in the heavenly Paradise one day. Here, Jesus proclaims the truth to His people to warn the foolish and to comfort the wise.
Jesus depicts His Church as ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom. All them have heard of and know the Bridegroom. Every virgin anticipates His arrival. Each fully expects to be ushered into His marriage feast. All of them become drowsy and fall asleep. Each one of them, when she is aroused by the midnight cry, goes out with her lamp in hand to meet the Bridegroom.
This corresponds to the complete congregation here at St. John’s and elsewhere—those here today and those who for one reason or another are not. Each has heard of the Lord God and has been brought to faith in Christ through the Gospel. Everyone fully anticipates the arrival of Jesus. Each fully expects to be ushered into the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb.
But take a closer look at the virgins. Half of them are foolish and the other half are wise. The foolish virgins have no oil with them. They’ve got their lamps in hand, and the wicks trimmed, but they’ve neglected the oil. Is it any wonder that Jesus uses the Greek word for moron to describe them? The wise virgins not only have their lamps, but also flasks of oil to keep their lamps burning, enabling them to behold the gracious Bridegroom and remain ready for His coming.
So take a closer look at those Christians. Some of them are foolish and the others are wise. The foolish ones have no oil with them. They’ve been baptized and have been taught the basics of the faith (some of them have even helped teach the faith to others in the past), but lately they’ve been neglecting the oil for one reason or another.
In contrast, the wise followers of Christ not only have the promise of their baptism in hand (the same promise just given to Oakley this morning), but also faith, which hears the absolution: “Your sins are forgiven.” Yes, faith, which trusts such Word of God in the water and which is strengthened by Christ’s very body and blood. Each of the ten virgins has a lamp. The wise have made sure that there is oil, but the morons neglect the means whereby faith is kept alive.
And then the Bridegroom is delayed. Why? The parable doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t really matter why? The effect is just as severe, whatever its cause. In fact, though some will be condemned for heinous crimes and gross sins, many more will fail to enter heaven, because they neglected their faith through simple busyness or carelessness. Jesus warns that many invited to share in the eternal joy of His kingdom will miss out by failing to have a living faith at the end.
That’s why I stressed to Lindsay and to Oakley’s sponsors previously, and I remind you, who are gathered as witness of this miraculous rebirth today, the importance of continuing to teach her the Christian faith, to bring her regularly to God’s house, where she might hear God’s Word and store it up in her heart and mind. Faith once begun can be lost. The smoldering wick can be snuffed out by the world’s antagonism world or our own carelessness
But it need not be so! Not for Oakley, nor for you! No matter how depleted one’s faith is, Jesus’ grace can fill you to overflowing with a single word. That’s what makes this oil shortage so foolish. You see, there’s plenty of oil to go around for everyone! Everyone can have their lamps filled—again and again. You just need to go to where the oil is offered while there is still the opportunity. The important point of this parable is this: Christ could return at any time to consummate His kingdom. Make sure you have enough oil!
So what is the oil? The oil in the lamp is the means of grace. The oil is the Word of forgiveness bestowed in the Absolution. The oil is the baptismal grace that daily rejoices in the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The foolish say, “Hey, I was baptized in church.” The wise, “I am baptized into Christ’s death.” They die and rise in their baptism daily through contrition and repentance.
The oil is the bread and wine of the on-going feast of victory from our God who sustains and nourishes our faith in His Supper. The morons think that the Table of the Lord is nice, but it’s not necessary. Thus they cut themselves off from this on-going feast. Not hungering for the body of Christ, their soul waits for the Lord like a fool carrying around an empty lamp and walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Two or three weeks of fasting from the feast becomes two or three years. And that, in turn, extends to two or three decades.
A friend of mine recently described such foolishness this way: “The one who says, ‘I believe Jesus is my Savior, so I don’t see why I have to go to church every Sunday,’ is no different than a man who says to his bride, ‘I know you are my wife, but don’t expect me home for dinner every night… two or three times a year is all I can manage’ [HT Donavon Riley]. Only a fool would despise such love and grace and fail to partake of these gifts while they are offered so abundantly and freely during this season of grace and time of the Lord’s favor.
The wise Christians long for the Divine Service. The wise one hungers for the meal and is thankful that it is served often. The wise one holds God’s Word sacred, and gladly hears and learns it. The wise one prepares for entrance into this sanctuary by recalling the holy triune name into which he or she was baptized. The wise one recognizes that this is the holy place where Christ announces His forgiveness for all sins of  thought, word, and deed. Such a wise one may return home justified and able to fall asleep at night knowing that whenever the Lord returns, she is ready. Here is the oil of gladness that sustains the soul in a land of darkness and keeps it prepared for the eternal joys ahead.
And what of those without oil? What of those who think that God will open the door to them only because they once had oil? The foolishness of these morons is such that they still fully expect to enter into Paradise. So, they lay down at night with self-deceptive thoughts. They fall asleep unprepared.
Then at midnight comes the cry: “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” All are awakened and all arise. Each one readies her lamp and every wise virgin has the oil needed. What a time of great joy and hope and anticipation! What each one has lived for and prepared for is at the door of eternity! The wise virgins will be escorted from the ongoing feast of the Church in time to the eternal feast of the Bridegroom that lasts forever in Paradise.
But what about the foolish? The horrid reality hits them hard. They realize they have been negligent. But the day of salvation has passed and the time of God’s gracious invitation has ended. They’ve tried to get everything in order, but in their frantic activity they neglected the one thing needful. And so the foolish virgins rush out to find oil. But it is too late, and when they come back they find the door shut. “Lord, Lord, open to us,” they plead. But would those who have not found it necessary to partake of the on-going feast here, suddenly want to be with the victorious, ascended, reigning, majestic Son of God who has the eternal feast?
They still think so, but it cannot be. If the Ancient of Days opened the door to Paradise and stood before them, they would cower and be consumed, for they would meet Him, not according to His grace and mercy, but in full view of His perfect wrath and holy righteousness. They will be like the naked who stand exposed before the eyes of the entire world in complete shame, guilt, and uncleanness, only they will be standing before God’s omniscient eyes.
So what will be said by the Lord God Almighty standing on one side of the door to those foolish, unprepared individuals on the other side? In what is most certainly among the saddest sentence of all Scripture, the Bridegroom replies: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
And so Jesus ends this parable concerning the kingdom of heaven with this consoling comfort for the wise and word of warning for the foolish: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
And so you wise ones watch. You watch with joy because although the Bridegroom delays, you know He is coming. He who shed His blood to redeem you will not forget you now. He is coming; and because He has prepared you by His death and resurrection, you know the end of the story—yours is the wedding feast, and you will live literally happily ever after with the Bridegroom.
This is true, not because of your merit or your knowledge or faithfulness or courage or diligence, for all of that is only foolishness. This is true because the Lord has made you wise unto salvation. By His blood and merit, Christ has taken away your sins. By His grace and invitation, He keeps you ready for His coming, filling your lamp with the oil that keeps your faith burning until the day He returns.
So, pray without ceasing. Watch over your heart so that you don’t extinguish the Holy Spirit’s fire. Study God’s Word and meditate upon it continuously. Repent daily of your sin and foolish neglect of your faith. Diligently go to your Lord’s Communion. For it is these means of grace that will keep you in the faith.
It is faith that unites you with Christ and lets Him live inside of you. Where that faith exists is where you’re ready to meet Him when He comes—whenever He comes. Through that faith you constantly live in the forgiveness of sins. Even when you sleep. Even when the devil accuses and taunts you with the guilt of past transgressions. Even when you can’t think about Jesus because the darkness and despair of depression or death seek to overwhelm you. Even if you should come to a time when you can’t remember your loved ones’ names. Even if you lie unconscious and near death, unable to respond to those at your bedside. See to it that Christ keeps you in the faith now. Then you’re ready, whenever He comes—even if He comes in the middle of the night or on a day when no one expects it.

Truly this day you are prepared. You have heard God’s Word that makes you wise unto salvation. Trust it and live: You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...