Saturday, November 26, 2016

Small Church Sunday

Whether you join in the commercial chaos or not, I’m sure you’re all familiar with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that has become the biggest shopping day of the year. I would guess that many of you are also aware of Cyber Monday, the first Monday following Thanksgiving, in which e-commerce businesses offer specials and deep discounts. But not as many of you may have heard of Small Business Sunday, an event established to encourage holiday shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses that are small and local.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about small, locally owned stores is their personal service. When we lived in Freeman, SD I bought almost all my hardware and building supplies from Wipf’s Coast to Coast and Freeman Lumber Company. I was willing to pay a little bit more for the convenience and service. Whenever I was in the middle of a do-it-yourself home improvement project I could drive five blocks, purchase my supplies and get expert advice from Monte, Dan, Roman, Don, Willis, or Orville on how to complete the project for no extra charge.

I also appreciated the fact that whenever I came into the store they would immediately greet me by my name. But they knew more than my name. They had an idea of my skill level, my knowledge of tools and products, my family, and our values, so they tailored their questions and advice to my needs.

And because I was a loyal customer, they treated me well. They knew we could have gone into Sioux Falls to buy our Christmas gifts and make our big purchases, but chose to keep our business close to home. When our young children would go Christmas shopping, we could let them wander the store without having to remain in our immediate sight, knowing they would be watched and given help to purchase gifts for others. I can’t tell you how many times that the storekeepers in Freeman told me how much they enjoyed watching our children shop.     

As I think about it, many of the benefits of patronizing small businesses have their corollary in the benefits of membership in a small church. For purposes of discussion, I’m thinking of small churches as those with under 500 members, which includes about 73% of LCMS congregations. Like small businesses, small churches face many challenges. I don’t have to tell you this. Many of you have been in the leadership of small churches for decades and have experienced the struggle firsthand. But for today, I’d like to focus on the benefits of a small church.

On a practical basis, in the small church you have a better opportunity to get to know your pastor and for him to get to know you and your family. Knowing each other’s struggles and joys, you can both offer specific support and prayers for one another. As you get to know your pastor, you will be more comfortable sharing even more sensitive areas of your life with him, so that we might give you tailor-made guidance from Scripture. As your pastor gets to know you better, he will also be able to help you discern your special talents and interests and help you learn how to use those gifts for the good of Christ’s Church and your own family, friends, and community. He’ll teach you how to use the spiritual tools already at your disposal and perhaps add a few new ones to your tool kit to help you in your Christian life and service.

Sometimes parents with children with gravitate toward larger congregations that seem to offer more programs and activities for their children. But children growing up in a small church can be mentored among people of a wide range of ages, outside interests, vocations, and levels of spiritual maturity that it difficult to happen in congregations that must split into groups based upon age or interest for sake of management. Older adults have the chance to share in the joy and wonder in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the little ones offer and that we so often lose over the years.

More important than anything else is that in the small church (as in every church), Christ Himself, through His blessed Word and Sacrament, dwells to give life and salvation. That is a point that C.F.W. Walther like to drive home when he sensed any devaluation of smaller parishes by anyone in the Synod.

Matthew Harrison writes: “Small churches so well approximate the ideal that Luther held up for the Church, as we are all members of the same body, caring for one another. Christ cares for us, gives Himself for us. We, in turn, give ourselves for the neighbor. This happens nowhere as well, as naturally, and as consistently as in the small parish. Where mistakes are made, we flee to the forgiving waters of baptism, confess our sins, and resolve in faith to begin anew in love, both “laying down our burdens in the midst of the congregation” (Luther), and finding the burdens of others there to take up. God knows that as we often know well the sins of our neighbors (and they know ours!) in smaller congregations, the need for forgiveness and grace as we work together is all the greater!”

So, given all the benefits of the small church, and in the spirit of the holiday marketing campaigns, I propose we start observing “Small Church Sunday,” this Sunday, and next Sunday, and every following Sunday, always remembering, celebrating, and sharing the blessings of membership in a small church.

Live Every Day as If It's the Last

The Flood by Agostino Carracci 

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[Jesus said,] “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:37–42).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A few years ago, Tim McGraw had a hit country song. It was about a man who received a disturbing diagnosis from his doctor. Realizing that he might not have much time left on this earth, the man decided to live his final days to their fullest. In addition to sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, and riding a bull named Fu Manchu, the man reconnected with his loved ones, read Scripture, and re-evaluated his life. For him it was such a life-changing experience that he said to his young friend: “Someday I hope you get a chance to live like you were dying.”   
The last three Sundays of Pentecost, the constant theme of our Gospel lesson was you need to be prepared at all times, because Jesus is coming in glory to judge, and He’s coming at an unexpected time. And today, as Advent begins and we look forward to the coming of Jesus at Christmas, the message of our Gospel lesson is… you need to be prepared at all times, because Jesus is coming in glory to judge, and He’s coming at an unexpected time. Live every day as if it’s your last.
Once again, here in Matthew 24, our Lord tells us that He’s coming to judge, and you don’t know when it’s going to be. However, in this text Jesus tells you how it’s going to be: it’s going to be like the days of Noah.
Of the days of Noah, Genesis records that the wickedness of man had grown so great, and his thoughts were so continually evil, that the Lord was sorry for creating mankind. He therefore resolved to destroy man.
Let that sink in for a moment. Suppose your mother or father were so disappointed in you and your life that they told you: “I wish I had never brought you into this world. In fact, I’m so sorry that I feel it is my solemn duty to take you out of this world!” Then multiply that shame and disappointment by the millions of people who might have been alive at that time. That’s a disturbing thought, isn’t it?
And how was this wickedness and great evil reflected in the lives of the people? They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. It wasn’t necessarily daily drunken revelry as cartoons depict. It may have been an advanced society with all sorts of social programs to help the underprivileged, but the people had nearly all turned against God. At any rate, eating and drinking and getting married is not a description of people who are aware of great evil and impending doom. As far as they were concerned at the time, life couldn’t be better. Everything was okay. There was nothing out of the ordinary that would say otherwise.
Except, of course, for Noah. There was that one man, along with his three sons and their wives. He was building a boat. A big boat. And, for all we know, there wasn’t a large body of water anywhere close. He was a preacher of righteousness; and for the 80 years or so that it took to build the ark, he was preaching the Word of God and telling his neighbors to repent. He was warning that a flood was coming and the whole world would be destroyed.
So, look at this from the perspective of the unbeliever. Life was good, except for a nutcase building a giant boat in a world that had never known a drop of rain, much less a flood. Except for the seven others who believed the Word of God, everyone else was convinced that Noah was a fool. But God, praises Noah as a righteous man and a preacher of righteousness (Ezekiel 14:14; 2 Peter 2:5).
Keep another thing in mind: Noah preached God’s Word to his neighbors for eighty years; and after eighty years of ministry, he won not one convert from those around him. By the standards of those in our present time who measure the success of a church by statistics, he was a miserable failure; but God extols him as a faithful preacher of righteousness. Sometimes, the mission field is just that rocky.
Noah faithfully preached the Word and built that boat, while the world enjoyed itself and sensed no impending doom. In fact, Jesus says that the people around Noah had no idea anything bad was going to happen until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and took them all away. And that, says the Lord, is how the end of the world will be. The world will continue its merry way, with no idea whatsoever that God’s judgment is coming. But suddenly, that judgment will come and all who do not believe will be taken in judgment.
So, let’s take stock of the world today. The threat of terrorism and mass destruction remains, but otherwise life is good. Technology and sciences have made our lives easier and of higher quality for a long time. In many ways, it seems that we may be on our way to a utopian dream where all our problems are solved.
On the other hand, it’s legal to kill the unborn, and it’s getting to be legal to kill the elderly and disabled. The world demands that we tolerate all sorts of sexual immorality, even help fund it. We’re told that we can’t talk about God in society or have Him in public education, even as we’re told that we must talk positively about any other god. Rather than admit that it can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, popular science declares that we accidentally emerged over billions of years from primordial soup, cutting God out of the picture. Many have rejected the Word of God for false doctrines. In fact, society will tolerate just about anything except the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, while the world seems to be moving alone quite well, it’s ripe for judgment. The Lord could return at any time. Live everyday as if it’s your last.
Therefore, we heed Jesus words and make the following applications:
First: Don’t judge the state of the world by the world’s measures; measure the world by the Word of God. If God doesn’t exist, if Jesus isn’t coming back to judge, then this is a better time to live than any time in history; and the unbelieving world will do its best to convince you of that. And since the world has your own sinful flesh as its ally, it’s easy to believe that everything is good and getting better. Cling to the truth of God. Acknowledge the reality of evil, confess your sin, and rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness. In other words, live every day as if it’s your last.
Second: Don’t measure the Church by the world’s standards. It is a terrible, popular notion that a congregation that is blessed by God will automatically grow in numbers; and if it doesn’t, then there must be something wrong. Remember the days of Noah: after eighty years of preaching, there were only eight names in the church directory. In our business-oriented world, we’re accustomed to measuring everything by profit and growth; and it sure is a lot easier to measure a congregation by a couple of statistics than it is faithfully to study the Word of God. But if you are to accuse a congregation of error only because it doesn’t grow quickly, you must first believe that Noah was a rotten preacher. Then you must explain why the Lord is wrong when He calls Noah faithful and righteous.
Third: We take a moment here to condemn the notion of Dispensational Millenialism, a false teaching of the end times popularized by Tim LaHaye and his Left Behind series. Among its false teachings is the Rapture, a silly notion that before the end of the world all believers will suddenly disappear and be taken to heaven, while all unbelievers will be “left behind.” Among the verses you supposedly can find the Rapture is our text: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” “This proves that, one day, all Christians will disappear, while everyone else remains,” they say. You don’t want to be ‘left behind,” do you?”
But recall the days of Noah. When the Flood came, what happened? The unbelievers were all taken away; only those on the ark were left behind. Likewise, when the Lord returns in judgment. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken away in judgment, and the other left behind in God’s care. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken away in judgment, and the other left behind for eternal life. This text does not teach a Rapture of Christians 1000 years before the end of the world; it teaches the end will come suddenly and that it’s unbelievers who will be taken away. When the Lord returns, you want to be left behind.
Enough about the days of Noah as the days of judgment, and heed the warning well. The Lord could come back anytime—suddenly, without warning. Live everyday as if it is your last. But as you heed the warnings of God’s Law, do not despair. It can be easy to be discouraged and distressed about the condition of the world today—and for good reason. However, the days of Noah were not just days of judgment; they were also days of grace. Out of all the people in the world, only 8 were counted righteous. It would be easy to overlook 8 people among the masses of humanity at the time, but the Lord didn’t overlook them. Rather than wipe out the righteous with the unrighteous, He delivered all who trusted in Him.
As we begin this Advent season and prepare for Christmas, we give thanks that the Lord is faithful to His promises and delivers His people. Centuries after Noah, Jesus became flesh and was born of Mary to win redemption for the world. Instead of simply wiping you away with the rest of the sinful world, your loving Savior would rather endure scourge and cross and hell to save you.
The Lord remains that faithful now. Therefore, as you watch and remain ready by His grace for His return, you do so with the confidence that you are not forsaken. No matter how futile it looks to cling to the means of grace, and no matter how the Church will look in the world, the Lord is with you and promises to deliver you. He remembered Noah. He remembers you.
He remembers you because He put His name on you in Holy Baptism. Peter refers to Noah as he calls the Flood an antitype to Baptism; as the Flood destroyed the wicked and saved the righteous, so also Baptism drowns your old sinful nature and saves you. At your Baptism, Jesus declared “I have put My name on you, and I have brought you into the ark of My Church. No matter what the world says or the devil whispers, you belong to Me, and I will not forsake you.”
The Lord remembers you and still speaks His Word to you. The world will continue to reject the Word of God and insist on its own hopeless, killing ways and words instead. But you have this glad confidence: in the days of Noah, when there were only 8 righteous remaining, the Word of God still brought them grace and hope. Should the Church in this world be reduced to only 8 souls—or even only two or three!—you have the Lord’s promises: “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The Lord remembers you and feeds you. He provided for the eight on the ark, and He provides for you. The world goes on eating and drinking and giving in marriage unconcerned about judgment and eternity. But you have better eating, drinking, and marriage. Your Bridegroom comes to you that you may eat His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, so that you might be sure that you will be at the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven.
Thus sustained by the love of God in the work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, and in fervent faith in your Savior Christ, you live everyday as if it is the last, confident that whatever may happen, you will be with the Lord in His kingdom forever. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Prayers for All People and Our Leaders

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I must tell you: I started to think about this theme about six weeks ago, long before the recent presidential election, but certainly during the heat of the campaign when the outcome was still undetermined. It is not intended to be a celebratory spike of the ball in the end zone. It is not intended to be a sore loser’s lament. It is not intended to be political in any way—though given today’s climate in which even one’s choice in entertainment, fashion, or food source, is seen to have political ramifications, I realize this is a futile goal.
In our text, St. Paul exhorts: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). In Romans, Paul instructs: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God… Therefore pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (13:1-7).
I must confess: I’ve failed miserably. I’ve failed to honor and respect our leaders as I should. I could try to give you all sorts of reasons why they are not worthy of my respect, but God’s Word doesn’t give me that latitude. I’ve failed to thank God for providing the leaders He has given. I’ve failed to pray for them. I’ve sinned against God, who has bestowed His authority on these servants.
Paradoxically, while failing to honor and respect those in authority, I’ve also somehow managed to stake too much on who is in authority at a certain time. The psalmist writes: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (146:3). Sadly, I have too often failed to trust God rather than princes.
I remember 16 years ago, staying up all night waiting for the returns of the presidential election, because I was just sure it was “the most important election of our lifetime.” Four more such “pivotal” elections have come and gone, some things are better, many are worse, but it becomes more and more evident that no matter who we elect our problems are not all going to be immediately fixed. And it is not reasonable to expect that they would be. We live in a fallen world; the last utopia was in Eden in the day before the fall into sin.
That is where our problem with authority began. When desiring “to be like God,” the first man abdicated his headship and the woman ignored the one authority on earth God had placed over her, and, consequently, both of them ended up seeking to rule over one another. I would suggest that the problem each of us has with authority began at that moment, when Adam and Eve exchanged paradise for the fruit of the forbidden tree, the authority and will of God for their own will.
So, what is our problem with authority? At its root, the cause is the sinful human nature we inherited from our first parents. Our old Adam is a natural born anarchist who wants to rule the roost himself. He will not submit to God’s rule, and he certainly won’t submit to the rule of law unless under duress. Old Adam has no king but himself. He hates order, government, submission—all the words associated with authority. Each of us want to write our own rules, or at least bend the existing ones to suit us. We want to determine for ourselves what is best for us.
You can see the sinful nature at work very early on in our children (and grandchildren) in their defiant “no!” to a parent’s command, or that coy little way they have of not doing what they’ve been told to do, then trying to make the rebel look cute with a cheesy grin. The “inner brat” is in you and me, too. Don’t think you grow out of being a sinner. Even as baptized believers, we remain to our dying breaths, sinners in the flesh of Adam. Hence, the gift of government.
“Gift?” you ask. “Pastor, didn’t you see the recent political campaign with all its negative ads, gossip, slander, deceit, and name-calling? How could you possibly call government a gift?” Short answer: because God says so in His Word. Longer answer: Government is a good gift of God. A 1st Article gift—along with clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, and all that we need to support this body and life. Gift as in “daily bread,” under which the catechism lists “good government” as one of those things for which we pray—even in the Lord’s Prayer.
Luther says, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying that God “give wisdom, strength, and success to emperors, kings, and all estates, and especially to the rulers of our country and to all counselors, magistrates, and officers. Then they may govern well and vanquish the Turks and all enemies. We ask that He give to subjects and the common people obedience, peace, and harmony in their life with one another.”[i]
 Some people call government a “necessary evil,” but government isn’t evil. It is a “necessary good,” a gift from God to curb our sin, to keep temporal order, to provide protection, to judge disputes, to keep us from infringing on our neighbor’s peace and liberty. Even if the whole world were Christian, we would still need a police force, laws, and a military, because we remain throughout our lives 100% sinner. Justified for Jesus’ sake, yes, but a sinner nonetheless.
In Romans 13, Paul calls the governing authority “God’s servant.” But make no mistake, this is no servant of the Gospel. Don’t expect the government to forgive sins and preach Jesus. The government is a servant of God’s wrath against the disorder sin brings into the world. The government is God’s left hand of power to punish the wicked with temporal punishments like fines and jail time, and, in certain cases, taking your life. This presumes, of course, that the authorities know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, which should serve as a guide for what kind of people we elect to such positions of authority.
We have a peculiar form of government in our nation. Paul certainly wouldn’t have recognized “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are, in a sense, rulers and the ruled at the same time. When Paul was writing about praying for and honoring our rulers, his ruler was Nero, the Roman Caesar later known for his great persecution of the Christians, including the beheading of Paul and the upside-down crucifixion of Peter.
We elect our own government officials to exercise this authority of God’s left hand. When they abuse or misuse this divine authority, we can peacefully get rid of them and put others in their place. Our forefathers wisely recognized the corruption of our humanity, and rightly didn’t trust anyone to exercise full authority. Instead they spread executive, legislative, and judicial authority across three branches and let them fight with each other, sometimes even to the point of gridlock. The last thing we need is for government to be “efficient.”
Scripture clearly indicates that the main purpose of government, as divine authority, is to punish evil and reward good. Essentially to keep order and temporal peace. Not redistribute wealth, not to create a “great society” or an equitable society or any other sort of society, not to engineer social change, not to provide a safety net against our recklessness. Government is given by God simply to punish evil, reward good, adjudicate disputes, keep the peace, and protect the people. God didn’t give government to save us. There is only one King given to save us, and He died on the cross in order to save us from sin and death.
And what is our calling with respect to God’s gift of government? What do we owe? Taxes to whom taxes are due. Revenue to whom revenue is due. Respect to whom respect is due. Honor to whom honor is due. Who would have thought that paying taxes is a spiritual act of worship, a living sacrifice to God? Who would have thought that when we dishonor and disrespect the governing authority, we are dishonoring and disrespecting God, whose authority it is in the first place?
In addition to taxes, revenue, honor, and respect, I would add one more thing that we owe: our prayers. Paul says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
It may surprise you that in urging us to pray for “all people,” St. Paul zeros in on one group: “kings and all who are in high positions.” Perhaps he does so because we so readily forget prayer in behalf of those in authority over us.  This is especially true if they are heathen and oppressive rulers. As I already mentioned, the Caesar of the Roman Empire during the time Paul wrote our text was Nero. I don’t care what you think of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama: none of them are as dangerous to Christians as Nero was. Those who govern need our prayers. It is not an easy thing to be the instrument of God’s left hand.
A stable civil government allows Christians to carry out their vocations unhindered and without harassment. The uncommon prosperity and peace of the Roman Empire opened many doors for Paul to carry his ministry throughout the Mediterranean world. What a blessing when the Church can worship and proclaim the saving Gospel, unhindered by burdensome restrictions, war, and violence!
In praying for “all people,” including our leaders, the Church can know that we are doing what “is good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).
With these words Paul shows why it is so important to come to a knowledge of the truth. There are not numerous gods, each providing truth and salvation. One, only one, is God. Between this God and us human beings there is only one mediator, the man Christ Jesus, who at the same time is also true God.
Sin has separated all of humanity from God. Jesus came as our mediator, “who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” A ransom is the payment made to free, or redeem, someone from enslavement. Our enslavement carried with it the penalty of sin, which is death. Jesus said that He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Inherent in a ransom is the idea of purchase, to give in exchange. “To give His life” is to sacrifice it, that is, to die as our substitute. Jesus has redeemed [you], a lost and condemned person, 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[ii]
Jesus willingly subjected Himself to the government of His day. He obeyed the laws of the land. He perfectly honored father and mother and every other temporal authority that in His humility was placed over Him. He did that for you. Jesus became a citizen of this world, under a less than perfect government for you. He stood before Pontius Pilate, Caesar’s local representative, falsely charged with treason, for making Himself a king. He reminded Pilate that his authority to judge Jesus, either to free Him or crucify Him, came “from above,” from God. And He confessed that His own kingdom “is not of this world.” Jesus was the willing victim of gross injustice, an abuse of the Roman system of justice. God used it all for the salvation of the world, for your salvation.
Christianity, following Jesus, does not try to “change the world” through government. It doesn’t even try to change government. It doesn’t seek to establish a “Christian nation” or world government the way Islam does. It does not seek to establish the kingdom of God on earth. The reason for that is that we are Christians are in the world but no longer of the world. We live as resident aliens in this world, hold “dual citizenship” in whatever country we live, praying for and supporting the governing authority, yet always recognizing that Jesus died and rose to rescue the world from its own destruction, and now reigns as Lord of heaven and earth.
Like the Israelites in Egypt or Babylon, we live as pilgrims, going home but not yet home. This country is our temporary home, and we pray for it, we participate in it, we honor and respect its government, and we pay our taxes. We are good citizens. This is our home away from home. And we know that there is coming a Day when the kingdoms of this world, including this one, will cease. Until that day, we live as obedient children of God, and citizens of the nation in which we live. And we pray for all people, especially those in high positions.
Let us pray.
Lord God, on this Day of Thanksgiving, as we pray for all who are in authority, we thank you especially for the form of government given us in our beloved country. Give us the grace with our fellow citizens to value the officers and the magistrates of our government as those sent by You. Instill in us that respect and honor that is due them. Lord, endow them with wisdom for their several duties, with a spirit of sacrifice for the common welfare, with mercy and justice, with uprightness and kindliness. Correct the evils of selfishness, greed, a vain desire for honor, or abuse of power among us as well as in the other governments of the world. Grant that the true purposes of government may prevail, safeguarding peace and prosperity, so that we may live soberly and uprightly in Your sight and have opportunity to tell of You and Your kingdom. These petitions we direct to You because in Jesus we know You as our Father and Lord. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 418). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
[ii] Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, November 14, 2016

In the Real World

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:17-18).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A few years ago, The Matrix trilogy offered the premise that the world we see and experience is not real, but computer-generated. This is a secret known only to the few humans who’ve been liberated. Only after being freed from the machine do they finally see how deceptive what they thought to be the “real world” truly is!
In our text, the people of Israel had their own perception of the “real world.” They were still living in the glory days when their nation had been very powerful and God had blessed them with peace and prosperity. Sadly, they failed to remember how they had fallen away from God and His Word, and how God had allowed them to be crushed and taken captive to a foreign land. They forgot that it was only by God’s grace they had been able to return to their land and rebuild the temple. Failing to learn from their past sins and errors, they were once again being led astray by false priests and deceptive rulers. Blinded by their own sin and rebellion, what the people saw with their own eyes became “reality” for them.
Into that setting came Malachi, one of the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was sent to call the people to repentance and to proclaim the truth of God amid the squalor and confusion of humanity. Though he prophesied more than four hundred years before Christ, his words are as vivid and applicable for today’s church as they were when they were first spoken.
It was easy then, and it’s easy now to let what our eyes see become the defining reality not only for our lives, but also for our very understanding of our relationship to God. What a tragedy, says the message of Malachi! There is something far greater and far more real than this present moment and this present world. Although we can’t see it now, we will see it on that great and final day when Jesus returns as Lord of lords and King of kings. Everything else, including this moment in time and all that appears to be so real, is transitory and ultimately will pass away. Only God’s future, the new heaven and earth, is the real world.
The people of Israel in Malachi’s day thought they had it all worked out. Everywhere they looked, the wicked seemed to be doing just fine. The people even said to the Lord and His prophet, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and He is pleased with them.” And they wearied the Lord with their cynicism, as they repeatedly asked, “Where is the God of justice?”
When the Lord confronted them for their baseless accusations, they sought to evade the question. “How have we spoken against you?” they asked. And the Lord replied, “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of wailing as in morning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and escape’” (Malachi 3:14).  The people of Israel were convinced that what they saw was all there was, that their perceptions were the “real world,” and so they lived as if it were the real world. But they were living in delusion.
What about you? What do you think you see? After all, that was then and this is now. It’s different for us, right? Or is it? It does still often seem as if the arrogant and evildoers prosper. Doesn’t it? Immorality is portrayed as a healthy alternative lifestyle. Public figures can live reprehensible personal lives and still be lauded as great people. Popular role models for children seem to be models of immorality and rebellion against God rather than people of virtue.
And unfortunately, at times even the church seems to be caught up with this nonsense. A watered-down version of religion, far removed from the biblical tenets of Christianity is all around us. We’re told: All gods are the same. It’s intolerant to insist there is absolute truth. It’s not so important what you believe, but that you believe something. The church must look and act more like the world around her to be accepted by the world. We buy into this foolishness, saying by our actions, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of wailing as in morning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and escape.”
But we can no more get away with this perception than could those who first heard Malachi. Our Lord, in His mercy, confronts us as He confronted them so long ago. What condemned the ancient people of God also condemns the modern people of God—you and me. But, more importantly, what redeemed, renewed, and reclaimed the ancient people also redeems, renews, and reclaims us!
The tragic fact is that not all who heard the prophet believed his words. They couldn’t get past their own perceptions of how they thought things were in the “real world.” Unable to reconcile what they heard and were taught with what they saw and experienced, they chose to ignore the prophet’s words
Some did listen to the prophet’s warning, however, for we’re told, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name” (Malachi 3:16).
From the tragic mass of rebellious Israel, God called forth His faithful ones. They saw with their eyes the same things others saw. But they knew that the Lord had a greater reality—one defined not by sight but by faith. They came to realize only God’s future is the real world. It’s confessed without seeing, believed without experiencing. By God’s grace, some heard the Word of the Lord and believed.
What did they say to each other? We’re not told, but it’s apparent that it was pleasing to God. No new actions on their part were required. They simply confessed what God’s Word had stirred in their hearts. A renewed and revived faith, a “fear” of the Lord, an “esteem[ing] of His name” defined their confession. Through this faith their names were written in a book of remembrance.
Now, what about you? What do you believe? Is the world around us all there is? Is this the real world? When you hear a call to repentance, do you process it through your fallen human experience in this fallen world? Or do you hear, believe, and confess a more powerful reality than this world has to offer?
We Christians are indeed called to faith through things not understood by this world, though they use the things of this world. Have you heard a pastor with his all-so-human voice say, “Your sins are forgiven”? Have you been touched by the water of Baptism? Have you knelt at the altar and received bread and wine while fully believing they are the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins? If so, then you’ve experienced the very promise of God’s future! You’ve experienced, in part, the real world. In this foretaste of the feast to come, you’ve received a glimpse of eternity!
All this is based solely on the magnificent grace of God. It was His grace that sent His Son from heaven into this world to share our humanity. It was His grace that led Jesus to Calvary, where He, the Lamb, was slain once and for all humanity. It was His grace that raised Jesus on Easter morning, granting eternal life, freedom, forgiveness, and hope beyond this finite world for all humanity.
This day the God of all grace sets us free from the world by presenting to us again His Word of forgiveness, a forgiveness that extends even to our love for the dying world around us. He calls us to a new life in Him, a new life lived in this world in joyful anticipation of His heavenly kingdom! You see, God’s future is the real world. It will be revealed in the end when all will see the real world.
Listen again to the final words of our text. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him” (v. 17). They who feared the Lord and esteemed His name are His “treasured possession” and are treated with the compassion a loving father has toward his child.
But notice something else. The Lord through Malachi says, “Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not” (v. 18). In this world, that distinction seems blurred. In the reality of God’s future, there is no blurring for them or for us. The difference will be stark and distinct.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis uses a fictional account to picture the “realness” of life in heaven in comparison to life here on earth in a fun, memorable story about taking a bus tour of heaven. As they arrive, the ghostly figures that file timidly off the bus are so insubstantial, they are barely visible, almost transparent in the bright light of heaven. And the grass in heaven is so much more real (or true) than the new arrivals are, that each step on the lush lawn hurts their feet.
One man tries to pick up a golden apple that has fallen to the ground, but it is like trying to lift a boulder. Another discovers he’s able to walk across a river as if he’d found a series of strategically placed stepping stones. (Talk about hard water!)  Lewis himself, writing in the first person, fears a coming rain may pummel them into the ground or perforate them like a hail of machine gun fire.   
Now don’t take this description literally. You certainly won’t find buses mentioned in Scripture. For that matter, I can’t see grass mentioned as growing in heaven either, though it certainly could be. These are just imaginative ways of describing something that is far beyond our understanding. The reality of heaven is so far beyond our experience here on earth, that we finite human beings have to use imaginative language to begin to picture its glory and majesty.
I guess for now, we’ll have to settle for that, realizing that one day we’ll fully understand what the real world is like. St. Paul put it this way, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  
But that doesn’t mean we’re left with no idea of what heaven is like. Scripture doesn’t leave us clueless. While it doesn’t describe all the physical attributes of heaven, it does give us number of the important details of what you will see in this real world. The most important being this: You will see the blessed Son of God, who redeemed you through His holy, precious blood. You will see the great “Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” described in Revelation 22 as you gather with all the saints of all ages for the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Do you realize what you’ve been doing this last hour? In the worship service, you’ve been rehearsing for the real world. Through Word and Sacrament and song, God has been preparing you for eternity! This is your future for it is God’s future. This is the guarantee of God’s own holy promise. This is the end of all He has done for you and in you. This is what defines you: you are His child, being prepared for a life far beyond anything this world has seen or known.
Until then, you and I will live in this world. But here we live as strangers and pilgrims. Our reality is greater than that granted by this poor world. By His grace we go beyond what our eyes see to what our hearts believe without seeing—the real world, which, will ultimately be seen by all creation! God’s future is your future, His real world is your world. For Jesus’ sake, for you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Jesus, Your Redemption, Is Drawing Near

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The story of the boy who cried wolf is intended to teach an important lesson. If you don’t speak the truth, you become known as a liar. And when you have a reputation for tall tales it doesn’t take long before no one will listen to you. The boy in the fable amused himself by crying, “Wolf! Wolf!” when there was no wolf. Then when there was a wolf, no one would help him.
This story has a vital lesson, but it also has an application to the Church and our teaching on the end times. The preacher sees this text and he wonders: Are the people going to listen? Or are they going to think I’m just “crying wolf”? Have they been conditioned to just dismiss it and say: “Yeah, yeah—the end is coming. We’ve heard that before! Tell us something we can use now!”
We accept the Scriptures in their entirety as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. We agree with the teachings about the end times we hear in church. We look forward to the day when Christ returns to bring us home. But rarely do we give it much consideration in our everyday lives. The sun comes up every morning and goes down every night, without Jesus making His return. After a while we just take it for granted that the same thing will happen tomorrow.
Indeed, how long can the Church and her preachers speak of the imminent return of Christ Jesus and the destruction of the current heavens and earth before they are completely ignored? And how long will the people of God be forced to discern between the faithful interpretations of Scripture and the sensationalizing of God’s Word for profit? The boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome is repeated any time a false teacher comes forth with a new teaching about the imminent end.
As well-meaning as they might be, churches and preachers who insist that Jesus is coming back in our lifetime because of blood moons, Bible codes, or the ongoing situation in the Middle East, are in fact turning the whole Christian Church into the boy who cried wolf. Each false prophecy of the end times leaves the impression that no one speaks the truth, that no one speaks with authority. A generation comes and goes, the end has not come, and Christians are left with egg on their faces in the eyes of the unbelieving world. The end times are simply a tool, says the doubting world, for keeping people in line. If you threaten people with the stick of destruction and everlasting punishment or hold out the carrot of a blissful afterlife you can control them. That is the accusation of the world against all “organized religion”; and unbelievers consider themselves vindicated every time another false teacher comes through with a false prediction of the end.
But Jesus wasn’t fooling around when He warned of the things to come. He warned His disciples to flee Jerusalem when the armies surround them, for that will mean that the city’s destruction is near. Pregnant women and nursing infants will be particularly distressed. Many will fall by the sword and others will be led out as captives, scattered among the nations. All Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. All this desolation is punishment for the sins and unbelief of the people in fulfillment of what was written in the Old Testament.  
It is likely that many of the people who heard Jesus’ words that day were still living when this came to fulfillment. The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that in 70 A.D., the Romans put Jerusalem under siege. Great mounds of earth were set up to breach the walls, and the entire city was surrounded. The starving people left inside the walls grew so desperate they even resorted to cannibalism. Over 1,100,000 Jews were put to the sword and another 97,000 were taken to Rome as part of the triumphal procession into the capital. The great temple and the wall surrounding Jerusalem were destroyed.
But as terrible as that day in Jerusalem was, the signs of the end of the world will be even more upsetting as God begins to withdraw His longsuffering patience from the wicked human race. Things will occur that will cause fear and trembling in everyone on earth—the godly and ungodly alike. And it will be more than the wars and natural disasters that are already plaguing God’s creation. The sun, moon, and stars will be shaken, the seas will roar, as the whole universe comes unglued. These signs are judgments of God on man’s sin and unbelief. They are a call to repentance, a warning to prepare for that great and awesome day of the Lord.
Many will not heed the warnings, thinking it’s just another cry of “wolf.” Only the Christians will realize that this is a call to repentance. Only Christians will know that the day of the Lord and repentance are not fearful things, but things to be embraced and prayed for. For Christians, repentance is the way of life. For with repentance, comes forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. This is why Christians continually gather to hear the call to repentance and faith as they receive God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. It’s been God’s message ever since the fall, when He called the first couple out from hiding and promised them a Savior in the Seed of the woman, the One who would defeat sin, death, and the devil.
Our Old Testament lesson continues that message as God calls Israel to repentance through Malachi. After warning of great destruction to all who failed to heed God’s call, Malachi foretold the coming of John the Baptist who would prepare the way for the Savior, turning “the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (4:5). And sure enough, John the Baptist “went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance to the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). His message was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” (Matthew 3:2) and “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).   
Jesus’ message and ministry was also one of repentance and forgiveness. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” He warned the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (Luke 5:32). Later, He declared: “I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
After His resurrection, Jesus opened the minds of His disciples so they could understand His ministry, passion, and death in light of God’s holy Word: “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47). Following Christ’s example and commission, the apostles began to preach this same message. When the crowd at Pentecost, were crushed by the Law and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
Did you notice? That’s the same message we hear in our worship service: “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins into God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness.” But how long can the Church and her preachers proclaim repentance and forgiveness before no one listens? Not very long, when you consider what Jesus says next: There will be “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
It doesn’t sound as though these things will be greeted with enthusiasm, does it? To be sure, for the non-Christians and those who have fallen away from the faith, the coming of the Son of Man will not be a joyous occasion, but one of weeping and gnashing of teeth. For they will bow before Him, not in reverence, but under compulsion as they are condemned before His seat of judgment and cast forever into hell, where the worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched.
But Jesus tells us Christians not to fear, for when all of this comes to pass, we are to know that our redemption is drawing near. Our fear will quickly be turned into joy, as we bow the knee before Jesus with gladness and humility, and are caught up with HhhHim in the air for the dawn of the new heavens and new earth. That’s what Malachi means when he continues, “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (4:2).
Yes, the events Jesus describes in our text are terrifying. They are God’s judgment on man’s sin, and beyond man’s ability to control or understand. As the end approaches, the confident become fearful and the fearful become confident. The big difference is faith in Christ. Only the believer will have the right view. He listens to Christ and His Word. Amid all troubles he lifts up his head and is constantly watchful. He repents and looks expectantly for his redemption.
This redemption of which Jesus speaks here is not the redemption from sin—this redemption we already have through Jesus’ blood and the forgiveness of sins. We already have such redemption now through the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is already ours through faith, given to us by God’s grace in the water of Holy Baptism and His holy Word. The redemption that will be drawing near, however, is the redemption from the consequences of sin that remain with us—namely our own sin and death.
As sinners, we still must differentiate between the now and the not yet. We have now the forgiveness of sins. We have now salvation by grace through faith. We have now the promise of everlasting life. We have such things already through Christ Jesus who comes to us and is present with us here today. But we still await the perfection that will come only when our souls are delivered from this world, and the Last Day when our bodies are raised to eternal life.
In the meantime, we will continue to suffer the consequences of sin in the world—sickness, suffering, and finally, death. Conceived and born in sin, our bodies must return to the dust from which they came. But be assured, that your redemption from these things is drawing near. The same Jesus who died for your sins and rose again to conquer your death, will return as your Redeemer.
The office of Christ as Redeemer illustrates beautifully what He did for you and for me; and it is more specific even than Savior. For He saved you not by simply showing you the way or serving as a mere example for godly living—He redeemed you. When He came the first time, He bought you back from the power of Satan as He shed His blood and died upon the cross. And when Jesus comes again, He will redeem you from the power of sin and its consequences. There will be no more sin, no more sadness, no more suffering, and no more death.
Until that great day, the Church will continue proclaiming that message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. As your Lord comes to you with His gifts in the present age, be comforted in the knowledge of His love and of the redemption that He has won for you. Continue to live in your baptism through daily contrition and repentance. Come often to receive the very body and blood of your Redeemer for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Come each week to repent and hear this Good News: Straighten up and raise your head. Your final redemption is drawing near! You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Hospice for Sinners

One of my pastor friends posted a picture of the old sign that was in front of the church he is serving. They were getting ready to celebrate their 125th anniversary and had just got the lights on the sign working after many years. Some thoughtlessly commented on the condition of the sign. “It’s your 125th anniversary, shouldn’t you get a nicer looking sign?” they asked, somehow forgetting that they might be offending someone. Maybe this sign was the best the congregation could afford. Maybe there was sentimental value. I was more struck by the message on the sign than anything else: “A hospice for sinners.” What a wonderful motto for a church!

Oh, I know, when we think of the word “hospice” it conjures up unpleasant thoughts and emotions: sickness, death, sadness, grief, mourning, just to name a few. But what is the purpose of the hospice? It offers palliative care (comfort) to patients whose medical condition is determined to be terminal and for whom no further medical treatments offer hope for a cure or relief. It offers a time for family to gather so that they might spend the last days and hours of a loved one’s life on earth together, remembering good times, forgiving old hurts, and telling each other we love them one more time. For Christians, it is a time to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ and hold one another up in prayer.

Isn’t hospice care an apt picture of the Church and our work here on earth? We are all born with a terminal illness that leads to death: original sin. The wages of sin is death. None of us, unless the Lord returns before, will escape death. But as we gather with our fellow Christians, our brothers and sister in the faith, we are giving and receiving palliative care. Christ our Lord is speaking His Word, baptizing us into His death and resurrection, feeding us with His body and blood. We are encouraging one another in the faith, lifting one another in prayer. We are praying for and looking for a peaceful death, a release from this vale of tears and the shadow of death into the presence of the Lord. And we mourn and grieve, but we do not mourn and grieve as the world does. For we have a hope that goes beyond this world and life. Physical death is not the end. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection. We have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Jesus rose again from the grave three days after giving Himself into death on the cross, we trust in Him for the resurrection of our own bodies and souls unto eternal life.

Perhaps we would each do well to think of our congregation as “A hospice for sinners.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Beloved Children of God

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:1–3). 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
This short text is brimming with Good News:“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” Did you hear that? God deals with us in love and calls us His children. 
Not only that: He calls us “Beloved!” Much loved. Dearly loved. We’re not just some orphan children God brought into the world and then left to fend for ourselves. God is not some deadbeat absentee father. We are His dear children; He is our dear heavenly Father. God loves you dearly in Christ! 
For the sake of His beloved Son, God deals with you in love. He does not deal with you in anger, saying, “You’ve got one more chance to shape up before I drop the hammer. He doesn’t deal with you in fairness, saying, “I’ll help you out as much as you help Me.” He doesn’t deal with you on a contractual basis: “I’ll give you one blessing for every five good deeds you do.” No, God deals with you in reckless, extravagant love. He declares, “Love equals hard work, service to others. I love you so much that I’ve worked hard for your salvation. I’ve given My Son up to death on the cross to save you from your sin.” 
Furthermore, God’s love is ongoing—He hasn’t stopped loving you. He gives you all that you need for life today. He gives you all that you need for eternal life. All this He does this out of His Fatherly love and mercy without any merit or worthiness on your part.
Furthermore, God calls you His children. He doesn’t call you His enemy, even though you were born as an enemy of God (Romans 5:10), naturally doing what He commanded you not to do. Rather than defeat you as an enemy, God gave His Son to make you His beloved child. Rather than condemn you for eternity, God gives you everlasting life. Rather than treat you as a foreigner, God calls you one of His chosen people. Rather than treat you as His servant who must earn your keep by how hard you work, God calls you His beloved child.
The Father has made you His beloved child for Jesus’ sake. He’s borne you into His family—not by your labor, but by the work of His Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. As a Father, He’s declared His Word to you, teaching you about matters of life and death. He’s given you His commands, so that you know the rules of the house. He’s told you about His love for you in Jesus. As a Father, He’s promised to keep speaking to you in His Word, and He promises to keep you fed.
And what does He do to you if you disobey Him? He keeps providing for you—He keeps telling you to repent and keeps giving you forgiveness. He keeps providing forgiveness to keep you as His child. That’s what a loving Father does for His beloved children. And what does He do if you run away? He pursues you, inviting you back at every opportunity. He patiently waits for you, welcoming you back with open arms. That’s what a loving Father does.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” This is, by the way, the theme of the family handbook—you probably know it as the Small Catechism. (Show copy of Small Catechism)
Here, you learn the Ten Commandments to learn the house rules—and how much you need to be forgiven for not keeping them. Here you learn the proper fear, love, and trust of God taught in Scripture. You learn the Creed to learn about the God who has sacrificed to make you His child forever, and how He provides for all your needs of body and soul. You learn the Lord’s Prayer, to learn how children speak to their Father who is in heaven. You learn about Baptism, how you were born into the family and live in the family. You learn about the Office of the Keys and Confession, so that you might be sure that the Lord keeps speaking His Word of life to you. And you learn about the Lord’s Supper, where He feeds you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of  your faith unto life everlasting. And you are to keep on reviewing these doctrines for a lifetime.
You’re beloved children of God. That’s what we all confessed today. And here’s the Good News: God says the same thing about you, too. You’re God’s beloved children, right now. It’s not a future thing, but right now you’re sons and daughters of the king. In Christ, you’ve already conquered the world. For His sake, the kingdom of heaven is already yours.
Here’s the tough part: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him." Because the world doesn’t believe in Jesus, it’s not going to honor you as His children. But you are His beloved children! You are blessed, even when it looks to all the world as though you are not. 
Look at our Gospel lesson from Matthew 5 today. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
It’s still the same. The world didn’t get the prophets so it persecuted them. The world didn’t know Jesus, so it had Him put to death. The world doesn’t know Jesus, so it doesn’t know you. It doesn’t get you and your faith. It doesn’t understand why you’d go to worship instead of sleeping in or going to a sporting event, because it knows about rest and recreation, but it doesn’t know about Jesus. 
The world doesn’t understand why you’d preserve the life of the unborn, even when that child has Down,s Syndrome, because it doesn’t know the Author of life. It doesn’t understand why you’d resist immoral temptations that would make your life “more fun,” because it has no faith in Christ or the eternal life that He brings. It doesn’t understand why you would spend two hours of your weekend hearing and studying God’s Word in the worship service and Bible class, rather than spending it on a thousand other things you could be doing with “your time.” 
The world is self-serving: it has to be, because it’s rejected the only true God to serve. Therefore, it’s not going to understand you. For your efforts to help the unborn or stand for morality, you’re going to be considered a kook. For your hunger and thirst for the righteousness found in God’s Word, you will be called a "hater." So you live by faith. The world doesn’t know you, but God does. In His love, He’s made you His beloved child. He supplies strength to endure. He forgives your sins for Jesus’ sake, and He promises you everlasting life.
Be aware that the world has a willing ally close to home—your old sinful nature. Your Old Adam doesn’t get you, either; and he’s going to make the most of every opportunity to work you over. Sometimes, you’re going to make a mistake—one that brings with it a lot of shame and consequences. The embarrassment will be thick enough to taste, and it’s not going to feel good to be you. 
Old Adam will get a hold of this, trying to persuade you that you’re either too rotten to be God’s child, or that God must be to blame if He let you mess up so badly. He’ll do his best to make you despair. But you live by faith; and by faith you remember the love that the Father has given to you for Jesus’ sake. You have God’s Word that He calls you His beloved child. Even if you have misused the freedom He has given you in order to sin, God still loves you. For even though you may be unfaithful, the Lord is faithful to you. He who did not spare His own Son to make you His will not forsake you now, but stands ready to forgive.
Sometimes, things are going to happen—bad things. Whether you’re in high school or a great-grandparent, tragedies are always possible. The world and Old Adam are going to team up to declare that you must have a worthless Lord if such things would happen to you. But you live by faith. Even as the world mocks your sorrows, you know by God’s Word that your sorrows are part of this world which is passing away. By faith, you know of the love that your Father has given unto you. You’re His beloved child, and so His kingdom of heaven is yours forever.
Sometimes, thanks to Old Adam, you’re going to like that world that doesn’t know Jesus—you’re going to like it better than the Lord who has redeemed you. The temptations are many. You know your weaknesses better than anyone else, and they are too often measured not by how hard you resist them but by how much you indulge them. If sin were always terrifying and its wages immediately evident, this would be less than a problem; but all too often sin looks necessary if you’re “really going to live your life” in this world. To be honest: Sometime sin looks more desirable. Old Adam is so near-sighted he has a hard time seeing anything beyond himself and his own comfort and appetites. 
Old Adam will do his best to make grace and eternal life look boring and burdensome, and to make sin interesting and desirable. But you know better. You live by faith. Despite the pleasures that this world promises, you know that they will pass away with the world, and a better kingdom is yours. Behold God’s love for you. He’s made you His beloved child, and the kingdom of heaven is yours.
That’s what God says to us in today’s text, and that’s what we rejoice to confess—to say with Him. You’re going to see a lot of stuff in this world—some that seeks to seduce you from your Savior, some that seeks to repel you from Him. But by God’s grace, you know better. For now, you live by faith—but the Lord is at hand. He is as near as His Word, declaring that you are His beloved child for Jesus’ sake. 
This is so, because the Holy Spirit has washed you by water and His Word in Baptism, so that you might be God’s beloved child forever. Christ feeds you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. For Jesus’ sake, you are beloved children of God. His kingdom is yours, and you will see Him in His glory. You are blessed. You are forgiven for all your sins. 
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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