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Sermon for Thanksgiving 2010

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Luke 17:11-19

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon is the Gospel lesson for tonight, the story of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers.

This is an appropriate reading for our national day of Thanksgiving.  It serves to highlight that we should not just be thankful for the gift but grateful to the Giver.  That’s really the theme of this sermon.

I think we are less grateful nowadays.   Think about it.  What do you do without?  Is there anything you truly lack?  What true need has not been met?  And when you think of needs, think of those that have to do with survival.  You have air to breathe.  You have clean water to drink.  You have food to eat.  You have adequate clothing and are sheltered out of the elements.  Most of you have friends and family close by to call on in need.  What do you truly lack?  Even the poorest of the poor in our country have access to clean water, and most of them have color televisions too.  It is only the devilish work of advertisers that convinces us we lack anything.  But even of those supposed gaps in our lives, what do we not have?  We have furniture and our food is seasoned with spices from all over the world.  Our water is filtered and maybe even bottled.  Our clothes match and are somewhat stylish.  The air in our homes is warmed or cooled depending on our desire.  Tonight we even have pie.  So what do we truly lack?  When was the last time you received something you truly needed as a gift?  When was the last time you put off buying something you could really use?  We typically don’t, even for our hobbies and our leisure pursuits and entertainments.  Because of our lives of tremendous abundance, I think we are less grateful, than in years past.

The ten lepers who met Jesus on the road lacked physical wholeness.  No doubt you’ve heard how physically terrible a disease leprosy is.  Most people recognize the white patches on the skin as leprosy but what’s worse is unseen.  The nerves would die in the fingers and limbs so that there was no sensation, no ability to touch.  Can you imagine not being able to give and receive touch?  But leprosy was more than a physical disease; it was a social disease and a spiritual disease.  Lepers were cut off from their families and communities and lived in leper colonies outside of town.  They stood far off from Jesus because they were forbidden to approach people.  And what’s worse, lepers were thought to be cursed by God.  Back in the OT God cursed king Uzziah with leprosy and so the “religious people” of Jesus’ day just assumed that anyone who had leprosy must be cursed by God.  And God specifically commanded His people in Leviticus to be serious about leprosy.  Contact with leprosy made them unclean.  To be clean again, a leper had to show themselves to the priest.  Those of you who have slugged it out with me in Bible class on Leviticus on Sunday mornings know that being unclean cuts one off from receiving the favor and blessing of God.  Cut off from their families, from their communities, from God.  So, the lepers might as well have been dead.  These poor lepers who met Jesus on the road were some of the saddest souls of their day.

Meeting Jesus changed all that.  They cried out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Surrounded by all the abundance we have, we fail to see we are worse off than these lepers.  Dead in trespasses and sins, we are cut off from God.  Sin cuts us off from our families and our friends.  Sin cuts us off from our community.  We are outcasts from the kingdom He came to bring and living lives in bondage to sin and death and what’s worse, sin deadens the nerves, so much so that we often don’t even feel the pain when we sin.  How many times we have sung the Kyrie with our lips, but not with our heart.  It is not the regularity of the liturgy that is at fault but our sin-deadened heart which does not even raise the voice to greet the Master as we come into His presence, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”

But for them whom the Word has quickened, to them whom the Lord has spoken, there is healing and restoration.  From them we should expect the greatest gratitude.  And yet, it is not the case.  “And as they went they were cleansed.”  You have all experienced the healing of forgiveness in your lives, in your relationships with others, in your relationship with your Lord and still too often that thankfulness is shallow and superficial.  Hearing this story, we expect all the men to thank Jesus for the restoration He worked in their lives but only one did so—and he was not even a Jew. How grateful the men should have been for the providence of God that brought Jesus into their area, for the love that caused the Lord of the Universe to pay attention to them and their need, and for the grace and power of God that brought about their healing. They should have formed an impromptu men’s chorus and sung the Te Deum together!  But only one turned back to thank Jesus.

Too often we are content to enjoy the gift but we forget the Giver.  In the words of David’s refrain from Psalm 107, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31)  It was the Samaritan who showed a thankful heart and proper worship of God.  The Samaritan shouted “Glory to God!” and fell at Jesus’ feet to praise Him and give thanks. It would have been logical for him to have followed the other men and gone to the temple, but he first came to the Lord Jesus with his sacrifice of praise (Ps. 107:22; Heb. 13:15). This pleased the Lord more than all the sacrifices the other men offered, even though they were obeying the Law (Ps. 51:15–17). Instead of going to the priest, the Samaritan became a priest, and he built his altar at the feet of Jesus (read Ps. 116:12–19).  This is the pattern for a true Christian.

By coming to Jesus, the man received something greater than physical healing: he was also saved from his sins. Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.”  Notice that faith is the hand that received Jesus’ healing.  The man’s faith did not cure him as if he just believed hard enough, his own act of believing could cure him; no, Jesus cured him and the man received it by faith.  The Samaritan’s nine friends were declared clean by the priest, but he was declared saved by the Son of God!  While it is wonderful to experience the miracle of physical healing, it is even more wonderful to experience the miracle of eternal salvation.

Dear friends, this is what you have received, the eternal salvation of God through Jesus Christ.  Our Lord is not so stingy that He gives out His salvation in half measures.  Our job is not to muster and marshal enough “thankfulness” for our God but rather to simply receive praise and thanks God for it.  “Rise and go, your faith has saved you.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Luke 23:26-42

Augustana, 2010

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson.

I think it makes for a very interesting Gospel text for the last Sunday of the Church Year.  This is what Luke records of Jesus’ crucifixion including two of the famous seven last words of Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  But before we get to the cross, there is one last apocalyptic word from Jesus.  Now, I preached about Jesus’ end times teaching last week.  Remember, Jesus isn’t so much delivering apocalyptic secrets to his disciples as much as words of warning to be prepared and words of comfort to encourage them.  Well, we have one last word here.  And I think the context helps to understand Jesus end times teaching and reinforce the points I was trying to make last week.  After we’re done this morning I hope you’ll agree that this Gospel helps to understand better Jesus teaching about the end times and will bring you the comfort and assurance we all need in trying times.

Like so much of what Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is prompted to speak by the circumstances.  Jesus sees the women lamenting for Him as he travels to the place of His execution.  And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  So let me just explain a couple of things here.  The women who are following Jesus here are not, I think, the women disciples like Martha, Mary and Mary Magdalene.  Jesus called them “daughters of Jerusalem.”  These women are probably some of the crowd who came out to be a part of the spectacle of an execution.  You’ve seen the movies of executions in history, there’s always a crowd.  It’s no different here.  Now I think these women are profoundly moved by the sight of Jesus’ physical suffering, and this is key, I think they are already beginning to regret their decision to release Barabbas and not Jesus.  Their lament is genuine and I think it represents the regret that is already beginning to set in about the execution of Jesus.  And so I’ll go one more step with them.  I think the daughters of Jerusalem, I don’t really like the word symbolize, but perhaps are representative of, the whole of Israel, for all people really.  Because all Jerusalem—indeed all Israel, all humankind—is guilty of rejecting the Jesus the Son of God sent to redeem the world.  And so what Jesus says to them is prompted by these circumstances.

But this is what prompts Jesus’ last saying, “Don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves.”  And then, “For, behold, the days are coming,” now like I said last week this is clearly end times language.  “For, behold, the days are coming, when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”  Now this is a tremendously ironic statement for Jesus to say to Jewish women.  You remember the soap opera between Rachael and Leah.  Barrenness was seen as God’s curse, not blessing.  And so Jesus is making a deeply profound statement to these women about the suffering they will endure.  The reason I keep referencing the sermon and the Gospel reading from last week is because I think this is the thread that connects them: I think Jesus is essentially continuing his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.  We know from the Jewish historian Josephus that things occurred almost to the letter the way Jesus prophesied here.   This is his account of the last day of the Roman siege of another Jewish city called Jotopata.

And on this day the Romans slew all the multitude that appeared openly; but on the following days they searched the hiding places, and fell upon those that were underground, and in the caverns, and went thus through every age, excepting the infants and the women, (337) and of these there were gathered together as captives twelve hundred;[1]

It is as if Jesus read the headlines of the Roman siege before He prophesied.  There is left then this last almost enigmatic saying at the end, “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  Jesus is basically saying, you yourselves are witnessing what the Romans are doing to me right now and you know I certainly don’t deserve this.  What do you think they will do to this city in a full scale rebellion?  Well, we know.  And it was the most awful thing you can imagine.  This helps us to understand the words Jesus spoke to the women of Jerusalem about the days that were coming.

Because this word comes from Jesus on the way to the cross, I think it holds special importance for Christians and should serve to steer us away from what commonly passes as end times teaching among most other Christian churches.  Now I spent some time last week painting with pretty broad strokes about false teaching about the end times.  I pointed out specifically that there is no rapture, no escape of the true believers before the tribulation.  The idea of the rapture is something that I think is terribly harmful to Christian faith.  Now to start, we should note, that from the first beginnings of Christianity up to arrival of a teaching called Dispensationalism in the middle 1800s made popular by the Scofield Reference Bible, no Christian father preached a sermon or taught about an escape from persecution for the disciples of Jesus, except one guy in 373 AD, named Ephraem of Nisibis.  He was a Syriac father and heavily influenced by Jewish rabbis.  Now I know what you’re thinking, pastor, you’re really getting out there, Dispensationalsim, Syriac Church Fathers.  What’s your point?  My point is, the rapture is a doctrine men made up some 1800 years after the time of Christ and apostles.  Now Lutherans are a church that believes the doctrine of the Gospel got clouded over in the medieval church, but we certainly know it was preached by Christ and the apostles.  I simply can’t believe a teaching is apostolic when it was essentially made up in the middle 1850’s.  So my first argument against the rapture is historical.  My second argument against the rapture is that it goes counter to Jesus teaching that the righteous will suffer.  Quite simply, the rapture seeks to escape the cross.  The way of the rapture is that all we have to do is to know Jesus as my “PersonalLordandSavior” (all one word) and we escape the terror that is to come.  This should be a giant red flag for any true disciple of Christ because Jesus said something completely different.  “If anyone should follow me, he should deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  The apostles continue this teaching.  Peter notes in his first letter that it is through suffering that we find fellowship with Jesus.  “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Pe 2:20–21)   Peter concludes this section of his letter with these words.  “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:22-24)  The rapture and the cross are simply incompatible.  Jesus gives this last word about the days that are coming on his way to the cross.  Jesus’ cross and our participation in it are the keys to understanding the end times sayings of Jesus.

Jesus words to the daughters of Jerusalem are a call to repentance; by them Jesus means to bring us from remorse to full repentance and faith.  “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’” (Lk 23:28–30)  Many of us I’m sure have seen Mel Gibson’s bloody portrayal of Jesus’ Passion.  So unjust was Jesus treated, even unbelievers are moved to sorrow over the suffering of the man Jesus of Nazareth.  But this is no ordinary human suffering.  Jesus has already warned  Jerusalem about the coming destruction, “because [they] did know the appointed time of [their] visitation.” (19:43-44) That visitation is now.  God is visiting His wrath on the sin of the world in the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah of God.  God is visiting His people with redemption through the one to be crucified.  There should be no tears for Him; he is simply going to the goal placed before him by the Father and that goal will end in resurrection.  There should be no tears shed for the rejected One; rather tears should be shed for those who continue to reject Him, since they refuse the gift of redemption He brings.  Jesus words to the daughters of Jerusalem are a call to repentance; by them Jesus means to bring all people from remorse over His suffering to full repentance of sin and faith in the redemption He brings from the Father.

This last apocalyptic saying comes from Jesus on the way to the place of his execution and so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see all of Jesus’ teaching on the end times from the perspective of the cross.  Jesus’ journey ends at the cross where he is crucified between two criminals.  One criminal rejects Jesus.  The other acknowledges his sin and asks Jesus to remember him.  He is the first to embrace Jesus as the one who saves others, the Christ, and the King of the Jews.  And Jesus says to Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  To be a Christian is not about knowing the secrets of the things that will come to pass, but rather the hardest knowledge of all; that we are sinners and under the same sentence of condemnation for our sin, indeed justly, for we truly deserve nothing but the punishment and abandonment from God that Jesus suffers.  Jesus was not raptured, neither will you be.  Instead, to turn to your Savior in true repentance saying, “Jesus, remember be when you come into your kingdom.”

Hear the clear word of promise and grace from your Savior Jesus Christ, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson.

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Sermon for the Twentyfifth Sunday after Pentecost

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Luke 21:5-35

Augustana, 2010

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel from Luke 21.

This is the last of Jesus’ temple teachings recorded in Luke.  After Palm Sunday, when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, all week he was teaching in the temple courtyards.  He would go into the city during the day and then leave the city in the evening.  If we were to continue on just after the reading for today, Luke records, “37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.”

So, it’s the last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus is teaching in the temple courtyards and somebody in the large crowd of people made a comment about the beauty of the stones in the temple.  This prompts Jesus’ first comment.  We modern folks are accustomed to skyscrapers over a hundred stories tall.  But Herod the Great’s temple was a marvel on a scale with the great temples of Rome and the Parthenon in Athens.  The outer courts were surrounded by a high and thick wall. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, says that this wall was the “greatest ever heard of,” which, although exaggerated, is not far from the truth (Ant. 15.11.3; 396).  Parts of this wall still survive today and have recently been excavated down to their original ground level.  Not surprisingly the stones used were large, especially those used in the lower courses and the corners. Josephus says that some of the stones were 40 cubits long (c. 20 m.) and six cubits (c. 3 m.) high (War 5.5.1; 189; Ant. 20.9.7; 221); the largest stone found to date is 12 m. x 3 m. x 4 m., weighing c. 400 tons (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 88). The outer wall consisted of three rows of blocks and was about five meters thick (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 90-91); the blocks were fitted together using the dry construction method, which means that no mortar was used in the construction. Each block had a “marginal dressing,” meaning that each had a frame or margin chiseled around its edge (M. ben Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 96). According to Josephus, Roman battering rams were unable to cause a breach in the outer western wall (War: 6.4.1; 220-22). [1] No doubt these stones were impressive to anyone visiting the city, but Herod’s goal in building it was not to glorify God but rather to make a name for himself and achieve legitimacy for his impure lineage.  This magnificent temple stood as a symbol of everything that was wrong with what had become the religion of the Jews, a religion which had morphed from the faith of Abraham, Moses and the prophets, into a religion Paul described as based on works of the Law, not grace.  Remember there is no Biblical account of the glory of the Lord returning to the temple after it was rebuilt after the exile.  It was a symbol of the religion of man, bound by time and space, its only significance temporal and earthly.

And Jesus begins to speak eschatologically, reminding them that “days will come” when not one of the magnificent stones will stand on another.  Lutherans have not been known for a focus on the end times.  There’s probably a Garrison Keillor joke or two in there somewhere but I think that we get a bad rap about our lack of eschatology.  Typically what many Christians think is eschatology is the Jack Van Impe type—newspaper in one hand and Bible in the other.  I went to Jack’s website this week and true to form, Jack has links to news articles from Ha Aretz about the new Iranian missile.  Jack thinks that Jesus’ second coming is tied up with the modern nation-state of Israel.  So you can imagine how excited he gets now that Iran has a missile which can deliver a nuclear warhead to any city in Israel.  Jack represents what is called pre-millennial eschatology.  He thinks there will be a rapture of Christians out of the great tribulation despite the verse that is our gradual for the last part of the season of Pentecost, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”  So, no, when we will be changed in a twinkling of an eye, that is not the rapture, it’s the second coming of Christ and the beginning of the resurrection of all flesh.  You just heard this Gospel text read, the words of Jesus, nothing in this text suggests that God’s people will escape the trials of the end times.  If anything, Jesus is doing the opposite; he is preparing his people for the trials that will come.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We need to go back to the temple itself.

The people are impressed by the stones of the temple. But Jesus’ comment “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  Why would Jesus want his Father’s house to be torn down?  Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, he meets a woman at a well in Samaria.  You know the story, Jesus asks for a drink of water and she says he should know better being a Jew not to ask a Samaritan woman to draw water for him.  Jesus responds with “Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  (Jn 4:10)  So woman asks about this living water, thinking he’talking about the water down deep, but Jesus responds, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (Jn 4:13–15)  Now, at first none of this talk about super water would seem to have anything to do with the temple, but then there’s a shift.  In an attempt to avoid Jesus’ questions about her adultery, the woman asks Jesus a question about the right place to worship. Being a Samaritan, she believes it’s on Mt. Gerazim, not the temple mount in Jerusalem.  And Jesus says something as equally eschatological as he says here in Luke 21, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The hour is coming,” that’s end times language.  When we couple these two things together, Jesus’ comments to the Samaritan woman at the well and his prophecy that the temple will be utterly destroyed, we see that Jesus is announcing there is a shift taking place.  God’s presence is no longer in the temple as it once was; his glory never inhabited the second temple.  No, the glory of God is now bound up forever in the hypostatic union of the Word made flesh.  We don’t need the temple in Jerusalem for anything anymore.  More importantly, no one does, not even the Jews.  The salvation of the world has come, Jesus.

We have Jesus—we have his living voice in the Word of God. We have his real and abiding presence at the Lord’s Supper.  The pre-millennial eschatology popular among so many Christians today says that our Lord lied when He spoke to the Samaritan woman and said the temple would not be located in a particular place.  It says that the Messianic age did not begin when Jesus came into His kingdom.  It says that all those end times signs on Good Friday, darkness covering the earth, earthquakes and even the dead rising from their tombs, were not the real end times signs.  They also must mean that the Church is not the everlasting spiritual temple of God because a new real temple needs to be built on the temple mount in Jerusalem.   And they say that it essentially every Christian’s duty to bring about the kingdom of God, even by force if necessary, to include the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (many of whom are Christians!) from Israel in the name of “Christianity”.  This is a dangerous and completely un-Biblical eschatology.  No dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have Jesus.  He reigns, right now.  We prepare to dine at his table shortly, a foretaste of the great Messianic banquet to come.

And so the signs of when these things will come.  Jesus prefaces his comments with a warning, “See that you are not led astray.”  You can look for signs all you want, but don’t be led astray.  “ For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’”  Well, we’ve got those kinds of preachers by the bushel.  Jesus warns, “Do not go after them.”  Next.  “Wars and tumults,” check.  “Great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences,” check and check.  “And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”  Have ya’ll anything about Near Earth Objects?  These are things like super asteroids on a collision course with earth.  So, I’m going to mark that as check.  “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you,” Yep.  That happens every day, all over the world, check.

Then Jesus warns about the destruction of Jerusalem.  Now I think that Jesus is doing two things here.  I think he is first talking about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 AD.  But I think he may also be talking about the last days.  But then he goes on to talk about the signs of his second coming.  “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.  You can imagine a guy like Jack Van Impe was all over this one after Christmas in 2004 with the tsunami in Indonesia.  Signs and signs.  But then a final warning.  “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  In all, Jesus is not imparting apocalyptic secrets to the disciples as much as he trying to prepare them spiritually for what lies ahead.  This is the goal of true Christian eschatology, not some secret knowledge about who and who won’t be “left behind” or who might be the “antichrist”, or about which Israeli attack helicopter is called a locust, but rather to teach that the end times begin with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are living in the end times and have been since Jesus entered this world in the flesh.  Now that Jesus has come into the world, God’s grace does not come through animal sacrifice at a temple made by hands.  Rather His grace will come through the New Covenant in the Messiah’s blood.  The Jews were the chosen people of God.  They were chosen to do one thing, usher in the Savior of the world.  He has come.  The temple, a modern nation-state for Israel in the land of Palestine no longer matters.  The life God brings in Christ is the life that springs forth from this new font at the side of Christ on his cross.  This life, a life in Christ, truly prepares God’s people to expect the second coming of our Lord, even to long for it, at all times.

But in the midst of these words of teaching and warning, we also can find great comfort.  We will find consolation in the communion of the saints during the persecution that lies ahead.  Dr. Arthur Just points out the Divine irony that God allows his former temple to be destroyed because He no longer dwells there but that he also allows Christians to be killed as they proclaim that His presence now dwells among them.  As Christians, we bear in their bodies Jesus, the new temple.  We are the living stones.  For Christians, persecution for Jesus’ sake is the opportunity to witness to the world the testimony of Jesus.  The testimony to the truth of Jesus’ teaching is His own death and resurrection wherein a new creation is breaking in to replace the old and the end times have arrived in Him.  When that hard time comes, we need not even worry about the eloquence of our words in that hour.

I will say this about Jack Van Impe and preachers like him.  Along with all the rest of his false doctrine, he gets this part right: he truly believes Jesus is coming back soon.  That’s more than I can say for a lot of Christians maybe even for more than a few of us.  Because as false as it is to believe the false teachings of the rapture and the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, it’s just as false to believe that this is it.  The last day is the day we die and Jesus second coming is a long, long way off.  No.  We are to expect Jesus soon and very soon.

Jesus’ final words are in line with the rest of his speech here, equal parts warning and teaching.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The day will come.  Rejoice and be glad your savior has prepared you for it.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for All Saints’ Day (Sunday 11/7)

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

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“Blessed are they…”

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The Gospel reading is the text for the sermon today.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s no mistake that in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus goes up on a mountain to begin his teaching career.  Just like the greatest teacher and prophet of all, Moses, the lawgiver, Jesus goes up on the mountain.  But Jesus goes up on the mountain not to listen and write as Moses did, but to speak and teach.  And what follows are what we know as the beatitudes.
He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying:
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 the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

The first three of the Beatitudes are beautiful.  There is not a peaceful religion in the world what could find anything wrong with them.  Everyone who is sensible and somewhat moral at all will agree with these.  It is in fact these three that get confused with the next four that people confuse Jesus with a great teacher on the level of Buddha or Confucious.  But then the next four come and there is a hint at something bigger.  Jesus is talking not about just being nice to each other.  Righteousness.  Mercy.  Purity.  Peace.  Jesus uses big words, eternal words, at least hinting at if not identifying something bigger, something transcendent, something eternal.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

And this is where most people stop when looking at the Beatitudes.  They stop after seven.  If they know anything about Moses at all, they know there are supposed to be Ten, but seven is nice so we’ll stop here.  But you can’t stop here.  You have to keep going.  Seven is not Ten.  Seven of the Ten won’t do.

Eight.  Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Persecuted, um excuse me?  What are we supposed to do with that.  Why would anyone want to persecute us just for doing the right thing and being peaceful and all that.  I wish I’d stopped at seven.  I don’t like eight.

Nine.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  I don’t particularly like being insulted and I definitely don’t want to see any of that biblical style persecution that usually ends with the loser being fed to the lions.  I don’t like it when I think my clothes are out of style, I certainly I don’t want to suffer any persecution.  I really wish I’d stopped at seven.  I don’t even want to read ten because it’s got to be worse than insults and persecution.

Ten.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

That sounds kind of nice.  At least I’m in good company with the prophets.  Wait just a minute; didn’t the prophets get killed for being prophets?

I apologize to many of you for the last 6 minutes.  It was a stream of consciousness experiment.  For those of you who are much more linear and logically constructed it was point 1.  More to the point it might read like, the Beatitudes, though widely received as the most identifiable and well-known of Jesus’ teachings, are actually better understood from the view that Jesus’ eschatological kingdom has come near, rather than the post-modern notion of extracting the “spiritual” bits we like and leaving the rest because they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of “blessedness.”   If read this way, we get to a right understanding of who the blessed are and what Jesus means by that.

If you’ve ever taken a cruise on a cruise ship, you know life is pretty good, lots of people waiting on you, steward to tidy up your stateroom, incredible meals. It be nice to live like you live on a cruise ship for the rest of your life.  Well taken care of, well fed, well entertained.  It would be magic.  So sorry that’s not how life works.  It’s a lot harder than that.  Life can be really tough.

Sorry, I’m not trying to be a spoil sport today but today, All Saints Day, is a reminder that no matter how bad things get, we win.  Even if the government were to outlaw Christianity and start to imprison those who prayed to Jesus, we still win.  Take the antiphon for the Introit, straight out of Rev. 7.  Who are these John sees?  These are they who have come out of the great tribulation!  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  Who are they?  They are those who have gone before us and one day they will be us!  We can’t be insulted or put to shame; our refuge is in the Lord.  And there’s more good stuff from Psalm 31.  Not a bad one to have memorized, either.  Why?  Because we win!  In Christ, we win.

You might say, how can I be winning when I feel like I’m on the verge of losing?  Truth is, we were losing, in fact we had lost already when Jesus Christ came to set things right and make us his blessed ones.  Happy is not quite going cut it in my translation of the Beatitudes.  I know what the translator is trying for but he just doesn’t get there with happy.  The amplified Bible might be headed in the right direction here.  “Blessed (happy, [1] to be envied, and [2] spiritually prosperous–[3] with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
4Blessed and enviably happy [with a [4] happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!(1)
5Blessed (happy, blithesome, joyous, [5] spiritually prosperous–[6] with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the meek (the mild, patient, long-suffering), for they shall inherit the earth!(2)  It’s kind of wordy but it gets us there.

It’s tough work trying to preach the Beatitudes as Christ meant them to be heard.  We live in the most prosperous nation the world has ever seen with freedoms unparalleled in the scope of human history.  We not only have freedom to believe in God, or anything else we choose, we don’t have to nominally believe in our leaders’ gods.  That’s freedom, folks.  Let’s face it, persecution in the United States has to do with whether you’re a blond or a Chicago Cubs fan.  Persecution in other parts of the world, where religion and personal faith really matter, is real.  In places like Chad and the Sudan, Malaysia, Iran, and China Christians still experience the kind of persecution Jesus was talking about on a mountainside so long ago.  This week in Iraq, at least 39 of our brothers and sisters in Christ at Our Lady of Salvation Church, lost their lives at the hands of Al Qaeda. Their crime?  Attending church.

I pray that you never have to experience that kind of persecution ever in your lives.  Persecution like that is rare for us.  We like to think it’s when cancer strikes or arthritis. But that’s not really persecution.  Cancer cells don’t multiply faster because you believe in Jesus, do they?  But it’s like persecution in this sense; the old evil foe could very well be using disease or to draw you away from Christ.  Regardless, we have a refuge in Christ our Lord.  In Him we are blessed and will rejoice on that last day when we join the choir invisible and come out of the great tribulation having washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  This is the feast of victory for our God.  Alleluia.  Rejoice and be glad that God counts you among his blessed.  Amen.

And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep watch over your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon preached at the Circuit Pastors’ Meeting

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

All Saints Day – Translated 11/2/2010

Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12 for the Bi-circuit

Clicker here for MP3 Audio

“Blessed are they…”

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The Gospel reading is the text for the sermon today.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.

“He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” The Beatitudes, though widely received as the most identifiable and well-known of Jesus’ teachings, are actually better understood from the view that Jesus’ eschatological kingdom has come near, rather than the post-modern notion of extracting the “spiritual” bits we like and leaving the rest because they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of blessedness.”  And so only when we read them the way Christ intended do we get to a right understanding of blessedness and what Jesus means by it.  Of course the trick is to read the beatitudes the way Christ intended.

In support of that idea, I would offer this on the basis of the first beatitude alone. “Blessed are the spiritually poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”: that Jesus preaches the beatitudes to the poor in spirit.  Gibbs notes in his commentary that “the poor in spirit” is a dative of reference and therefore a virtual adverb leading to the translation, “the spiritually poor.”  They are in an objective condition of need.  They are without spiritual resources of their own.  They must have their spiritual needs met by another.  They are, as Jesus describes them elsewhere, like sheep who are lost and distressed (9:36) or like sinners who need forgiveness (9:13).  They are “poor, miserable sinners.”  I flat out reject that Jesus is referring mainly to the materially poor and that the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is an extended ethical treatise from the great teacher of Palestine.  Rejecting a modern social Gospel reading of the beatitudes should be easy.  Preaching to those who are spiritually poor but don’t realize it is exceptionally difficult.  But make no mistake, Jesus is preaching to those who a spiritually poor.

To those who are spiritually poor belongs the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus calls the spiritually poor blessed.  Any preacher with a theological lexicon knows “happy” doesn’t come close to cutting the mustard here.  They are blessed.  They already possess life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions.”  This is eschatological blessedness, now already, but in some ways not yet.  The blessings of the reign of heaven in Jesus already belong to those who, in themselves, do not have spiritual ability or strength.  They have the blessings of forgiveness, healing, and divine knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and He has begun his rule.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

It is tough work trying to preach the Beatitudes as Christ to people who don’t see themselves as spiritually poor.  Part of the reason is, I think because most Americans don’t see themselves as poor or oppressed in any way, least of all spiritually.  We live in the most prosperous nation the world has ever seen with freedoms unparalleled in the scope of human history.  We not only have freedom to believe in God, or anything else we choose, we are free to not believe even nominally in our leaders’ gods.  That’s freedom, brothers.  Let’s face it; graded on a Biblical scale, persecution in the United States has to do with whether you’re a blond or a Chicago Cubs fan.  All of you are well aware of persecution in other parts of our Lord’s Church, in places like Chad and the Sudan, Malaysia, Iran, and China Christians still experience the kind of persecution Jesus was preparing his disciples for on a mountainside so long ago.  And yet, there are those in our midst who are truly suffering. No doubt the economic downturn has had a profound effect on your congregations and the people in them.  In some ways, the bloom may well be off the economic rose in this region as the last of the furniture and textile industries cling to profitability.  Increasingly, folks see themselves less as middle class more as working poor.  Perhaps as our people begin to see the material need in their own lives, they will begin to see their spiritual needs even more clearly.  But for now, it remains tough trying to preach the Beatitudes as Christ did to people who don’t see themselves as spiritually poor.

It’s even tougher work to preach as Christ did, if we, the preachers, do not see ourselves as spiritually poor.  The explosive biological and spiritual growth of the Missouri Synod in the post-war period, led to programs and emphases that borrowed from our heterodox cousins in the wider church and were not always helpful to our beloved Synod.  Striving to be relevant, we down played the role of Christian instruction in order to cow tow to the soccer moms and the baseball dads.  We raised generations of Lutherans who will fight you over the doctrine of Scripture and yet not attend Bible study or read it devotionally with their families, who will fight you over the doctrine of the church but only attend when it’s convenient, and who will fight you over the doctrine of the real presence in the sacrament but only commune once a month, etc. etc.  We now have a generation of church leaders both clergy and laity alike, for whom “this is most certainly true,” is simply not operative.  And so we now face this new era weaker than we have ever been, and yet our leaders say we’ve never been stronger.  As certain as I reject the co-opting of the Beatitudes by the liberation theologians, I reject the notion that the congregation should try to adapt and be relevant to what people need nowadays.  Now I’m not unreasonable on this point.  I recognize that a congregation is a human organization and that an organization has to function in this world to keep the lights on, but to insist, as some do, that other tasks should take precedence over the preaching of the Good News of the kingdom of heaven, is to take our eye off the task given to us by Christ.  That does not preclude new avenues or venues for “preaching” and I’m using this term very broadly, but it does propose a certain test along the likes of:  if an outsider cannot see any connection to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel is probably not what you’re doing.  If we think we have become such experts in preaching the kingdom of heaven that we can pursue other areas of “ministry” truly, we are the blind leading the blind.  So it is tough work to preach the Gospel to those who do not see themselves as spiritually poor, but even tougher to preach as Christ did, if we, the preachers, do not see ourselves as spiritually poor.

“The kingdom of God comes even without our prayer but we pray that it may come among us also.”  Luther’s catechisms are truly a gift from God to us, perhaps only just short of inspired.  “What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.  Luther gets the connection between the kingdom of heaven coming and preaching.  54 All this is simply to say: “Dear Father, we pray Thee, give us thy Word, that the Gospel may be sincerely preached throughout the world and that it may be received by faith and may work and live in us.”  The kingdom of God is a life of abundance the likes of which we’ve never seen even on the old “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It is an inexhaustible fountain which, the more it gushes forth and overflows, the more it continues to give. He desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him; and on the contrary, he is angered if we do not ask and demand confidently.  Luther provides the example of a very rich and mighty emperor who instructed a poor beggar to ask for whatever he might desire and was prepared to give great and princely gifts, and the fool asked only for a dish of beggar’s broth.  What an ignorant fool to think so little of his king.  What a great dishonor to God if we despise his inexhaustible blessings and heavenly riches prepared especially for us by Christ through His cross.  Truly we also dishonor God if we lack confidence that we will receive these gifts and scarcely venture to ask for a crust of bread.  “The kingdom of God comes even without our prayer but we pray that it may come among us also.”

Jesus was anointed by God to come into this world to usher in the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  This is a word of complete and utter promise and grace.  The kingdom of heaven belongs to the lost, to the sinners, to those who have no spiritual resources of their own.  There are no conditions, no prerequisites, no limitations.  God does not hold back on the favor He shows to those who are spiritually poor.  He blesses them with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Jesus is the Servant of Yahweh anointed and sent to comfort those who mourn.  (Isa 61)

There is certainly more here that we could spend the rest of the day on, but let this suffice for now.

Let us pray.  “Dear Father, we pray Thee, give us thy Word, that the Gospel may be sincerely preached throughout the world and that it may be received by faith and may work and live in us. So we pray that thy kingdom may prevail among us through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, that the devil’s kingdom may be overthrown and he may have no right or power over us, until finally the devil’s kingdom shall be utterly destroyed and sin, death, and hell exterminated, and that we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep watch over your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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