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Sermon for December 9, 2018, Second Sunday in Advent

Luke 3:3-17 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series C)

“The Forerunner’s Zeal”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 9, 2018

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson for today recorded in Luke 3:

3And [John the son of Zechariah] came into all the region around the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it stands written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: A voice of one calling in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5Every ravine will be filled and every mountain and hill will be made low, and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough places into a smooth road. 6And all flesh will see the salvation of God. 7Therefore, he said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who pointed out to you to flee from the wrath about to come? 8Therefore produce fruits worthy of repentance and don’t even begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10And the crowds began to ask him saying, “What, therefore, should we do?” 11He answered and said to them, “Let the one who has two tunics share with the one who has none. And the one who has food, do likewise.” 12And tax collectors also came to be baptized and they said to him,” Teacher, what should we do?” 13And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are instructed.” 14Now soldiers also asked him saying, “And we, what should we do?” And he said to them, “You should not extort money from anyone by violence, neither should you accuse falsely. And be content with your wages.” 15As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 

 

          I’d like to begin this morning by having you turn in the hymnal to hymn number 346, “When All the World Was Cursed.” It is one of the Distribution Hymns today. Let us read together stanza 1 of hymn 346:

When all the world was cursed / By Moses’ condemnation,
Saint John the Baptist came / With words of consolation.
With true forerunner’s zeal / The greater One he named,
And Him, as yet unknown, / As Savior he proclaimed.[1]

The line that always stands out to me in this hymn is the first half of line four: With true forerunner’s zeal. John, the Son of Zechariah, had zeal. But what is that? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, zeal is “eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.” Zeal is passion and intensity. And that’s how I picture John—wearing his garment of camel’s hair held in place with a leather belt, unkempt hair and beard, eyes wide and bright and full of expression; excitement and urgency in his powerful voice. John is the God-appointed forerunner of the promised Messiah-King. His father, Zechariah, had prophesied at his birth as he sang in Luke 1 what we call the Benedictus, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,  to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk. 1:76-77 ESV). The Lord Himself, the Messiah, would be coming on the scene shortly and His ministry would begin and John’s would come to end in Herod’s prison. So time is short. The urgency is great. John’s zeal for his task doesn’t wane but is full of intensity.

           “Brood of vipers! Who pointed out to you to flee from the wrath about to come? Therefore produce fruits worthy of repentance and don’t even begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

          I wonder how it would go over with you if I began preaching in this way, calling you a brood of vipers! I bet you’d take notice if I passionately called you a bunch of snakes, children of Satan! That is to what John’s phrase refers, that the crowds, which included the Pharisees and Sadducees, were descendants of that ancient serpent, the devil or Satan. “Who pointed out to you to flee from the wrath about to come?” Lost and condemned in their sins, they are all destined for God’s wrath and punishment against sin, and being children of Abraham wouldn’t be of any value to them if they did not submit to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior.

          To preach the Word of God’s Law takes zeal. John’s passion for his ministry of the Word did not shrink back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. “The axe is laid to the root of the trees,” John announced. This is God’s axe. The people are the trees. John announces with true forerunner’s zeal that God’s wrath is beginning to be poured out already in his own ministry. The wrath of the Lord will then reach its climax with the death of Jesus as the full wrath and displeasure of God against sin will be poured upon Jesus at the cross.

          Now, we don’t like to hear about God’s wrath. However, the truth of God’s Word is that God is angry at our sins and failures to follow and to keep His commandments. St. Paul writes in Romans 1, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18 ESV). We are reminded of this in the

Media vita spoken or sung as part of the committal service for Christian burial, “In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help? From You alone, O Lord, who by our sins are justly angered. Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.” A stark reminder that our sins lead to death under the wrath of God’s just punishment.
          Truly, then, John would have called us a brood of vipers, for we too are children of the devil, held captive under his kingdom by our sins of thought, word, and deed. As children of Adam and Eve, we desire to be like God. We seek after fame and fortune. We desire the praise of others. We covet pomp, power, prestige, and possessions. We believe ourselves to be above all others. We are often people full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. We are at times gossipers, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful. We admit that we are senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless at times. A brood of vipers, indeed, who believe the lies of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh! With true forerunner’s zeal, John must also proclaim to us God’s Word of condemning Law.

During this Season of Advent, you and I must also hear the call of the Baptizer proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. For you and I have received, not John’s baptism, but the Baptism of water and the Word of Christ who has baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire. The grace of God has washed away our sins, cleansing us by the very blood of Jesus which He shed on the cross as He endured God’s just wrath and anger in our place. Jesus Himself has been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. He has undergone this baptism as the substitute for all people. He endured the fire of God’s wrath on the cross, purchasing the forgiveness of our sins and the new life of repentance and faith which we received in our baptisms. In Holy Baptism, Jesus has cleansed us with the Holy Spirit and fire as we are united to Christ’s baptism, death, and resurrection. The forgiveness of sins now is ours. New life in Christ is ours. With zeal, the Gospel proclaims these gifts of forgiveness and life to be ours through saving faith in Jesus the Christ.

          So what now? What happens next? By the hearing of the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection which has gifted to us the forgiveness of sins and the new life of repentance and faith, we are turned from our sins to live in the power of the Gospel with the zeal and passion for the Word and commandments of God. We are able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to produce fruits compatible with the new life of repentance and faith we have been given by Jesus.

          The crowds asked John, “What should we do?” His answer, “Share what you have been given by the Lord with others. Show love and mercy.” The tax collectors asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “Don’t lie and cheat others. Love them. Be honest with them. Take care of them.” Soldiers asked the Baptizer, “And we, what should we do?” Answer: “Don’t extort money from others with violence. Don’t falsely accuse. Be content.” In other words, be merciful as the heavenly Father is merciful to you (Luke 6:36). Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. Show that love with zeal and passion as you do acts of mercy for “the least of these.” And showing mercy certainly includes announcing with zeal the message of Jesus Christ, the Messiah-Savior, who has come to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the world. As John the Baptist proclaimed with zeal, so do you and I:

Behold the Lamb of God / That bears the world’s transgression,
Whose sacrifice removes / The devil’s dread oppression.
Behold the Lamb of God, / Who takes away our sin,
Who for our peace and joy / Will full atonement win.[2]

          The message of Advent leads us to the manger, which leads us to the cross and empty tomb. With true forerunner’s zeal, John pointed to Jesus, the Messiah, the very Lamb of God who takes away our sins. With that very faith and trust in Jesus, we bear the fruits of repentance by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. We show love and mercy as with zeal we announce the Good News that Jesus, the Savior, is come for all people. Let us then pray during this season of repentance and faith:

O grant, dear Lord of love, / That we receive, rejoicing,
The word proclaimed by John, / Our true repentance voicing,
That gladly we may walk / Upon our Savior’s way
Until we live with Him / In His eternal day.[3]

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

 

         

 

[1] Text: Stanza 1, © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752.

[2] Text: Stanza 3, © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752.

[3] Ibid. stanza 4.

Sermon for December 2, 2018, First Sunday in Advent

Luke 19:28-40 (First Sunday in Advent—Series C)

“Peace in Heaven and Glory in the Highest”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 2, 2018

 

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Advent recorded in Luke 19:

 

28And after he said these things, he journeyed ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29And it happened that as he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, to the mount which is called Olivet, he sent off the disciples 30saying, “Go into the opposite village, in which entering you will find a colt tied there, upon which no person has ever sat, and after you have untied it, bring it. 31And if someone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ thus you will say, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’” 32And after they departed, those who were sent found it just as he said to them. 33Now while they were untying the colt, its maters said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34And they said, “Because the Lord has need of it.” 35And they led it to Jesus and when they had thrown their cloaks on the colt, they put Jesus on it. 36And while he was traveling, they spread their garments underneath on the road. 37And when he drew near now to the descent of the Mount of Olives, all the multitude of the disciples, rejoicing, began to praise God with a great voice concerning all the miracles which they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed the Coming One, the King, in the name of the Lord. In heaven peace and glory in the highest.” 39And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40He answered and said, “I say to you, if these will be silent, the stones will cry out.”

          Customization is all the rage. You can literally customize your cell phone to look and sound different every day of the year. No one really likes the standard stock-items. They want to be able to make things their own. My brother-in-law is in the custom flooring business. You get the types of flooring that you want for each room of your home. Each week, the craft store Michael’s has coupons for 50% off your custom framing order. You can get a frame in the color and style you want to fit that odd-shaped photo of great-grandpa in his military uniform. You can frame that non-standard size painting your daughter made for art class. Customization is the name of the game!

          That brings us to the Gospel of Luke. As we begin a new church year today, we move into the year in which the Gospel of Luke is the primary Gospel text for our weekly readings. Luke was a missionary companion of St. Paul. In Colossians 4, Paul identifies Luke as “the beloved physician.” It was this Luke through whose pen God the Holy Spirit breathed the words of the Gospel of Luke and its companion volume, the Book of Acts. And Luke, through the God-breathed words of the Holy Spirit, does a little custom framing work. This is unique to Luke; something that only he has in his Gospel.

          The “top half” of the frame (if we use the image of a picture frame) is found in Luke 2. “Oh,” you say, “that the Christmas story!” Indeed it is. Luke 2 is the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus. But the custom frame begins, not in the manger, but out in the fields where the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night. The custom frame’s first part is the song of the angels, “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace among men of his favor.”

          The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, has taken to Himself a true human body and soul in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the miraculous power of God the Holy Spirit. God the Son has become a man in His incarnation. The Holy One of God has taken up human flesh and blood and is born of a Virgin. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:11-12). Yes, a human baby, and yet, fully God is He who lies swaddled in the manger. At His incarnation and birth, the angels praise God and sing: “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace among men of his favor.” The birth of God-Made-Flesh who is named Jesus brings about peace on earth. He is the Messiah, the King, the Coming One in the name of the Lord!

          But wait! There’s more. Our frame only has the top half. It needs the other half to be complete. Luke gives us the second half of the frame today in our Gospel text in Luke 19. Here, the people, Jesus’ disciples, sing: “Blessed the Coming One, the King, in the name of the Lord. In heaven peace and glory in the highest.” Luke 2:14 (the top of the frame) has the angels sing, “Glory in the highest.” Luke 19:38 (the bottom of the frame) has the people sing, “Glory in the highest.” As Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He comes as the Messiah, the King, who will make atonement for the sins of the people by giving up His life into death on a cross. Jesus will shed His holy, precious blood to cleanse all people from their sins. He will die their death and suffer their hell under the wrath of God the Father. On the third day, Jesus would rise from the dead, defeating death forever, thereby assuring resurrection life to all who trust in His blood-bought sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

At Jesus’ birth and at the beginning of Holy Week, Luke records that the heavens are filled with glory! The incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, the King, and the atonement that He would accomplish with His death and resurrection, bring glory to the highest heaven! The entire divine plan of redeeming people from sin, Satan, and death through the Son brings this glory in the highest. But that is not all that’s included in this customized frame. There is also peace.

Again, the top of the frame is where the angels sing, “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace.” The bottom of the frame is where Jesus’ disciples sing, “In heaven peace and glory in the highest.” What do both Luke 2 and Luke 19 have in common? Peace! But notice, at the incarnation and birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the King, there is peace on earth. At the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, there is peace in heaven. What does this mean? It means that with the incarnation and the atonement of Jesus Christ, earth and heaven are joined together in peace. In their song, Jesus’ disciples announce that there already exists peace between God and humanity through the Lord who now comes to His temple. This is a foretaste of the peace of the atonement, an anticipation of the peace whose source is the Messiah’s death and resurrection.

 St. Paul tells us this in Romans 4 and 5 that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 4:25-5:2 ESV). Peace comes to heaven and earth because of a person and it comes in the form of a person, the Coming One, the King, in the name of the Lord. Peace is personified in Jesus Christ.

The peace that Christ is and brings is much more than our feeling or experiencing tranquility. Jesus brings about an objective state of peace that goes beyond our experiences and feelings. We have peace with God despite what we might sometimes feel. All people have cut themselves off from God by their sin. We are unable to get along with others because we can’t get along with God. But Christ has mended that breach with God. God is no longer angry with us over our sins because they have all been forgiven by the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are no longer God’s enemies because of our sins. Jesus has reconciled us to God by becoming sin for us and paying for that sin with His very life. The peace that the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection of Christ give us is real, even if we don’t feel it. When we do, we rejoice in it as God’s gift to us in Jesus. When we don’t feel it, we rejoice that we are still, through Christ, at peace with God on earth and in heaven. “Glory in the highest!”

Because of the Coming One, the King, in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, we are able to trust ever more firmly in the peace that His incarnation, life, atoning death, and triumphant resurrection has given to us in the forgiveness of sins. We trust in Him who has come and will come again, and who indeed comes to us with His Body and Blood as we receive the Holy Supper today. Heaven and earth have been joined in peace through Jesus Christ and He comes to His Christians today in His Supper with forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our faith. As the King comes to us with peace, we sing as His disciples in the words of the Sanctus, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Peace on earth and peace in heaven. Incarnation and Atonement. Bethlehem and Jerusalem. How marvelously the Holy Spirit through the pen of St. Luke customizes this frame for us as we begin a new church year! This is, after all, what the focus of the church year is all about, Jesus the Messiah, true God who became flesh in the Incarnation, was born and lived among us so that He might go to Jerusalem and die on a cross to atone for the sins of the whole world by winning the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting with His death and resurrection. And so it is, the One for whom we sing is the Coming One, the King, who is blessed to come to us in the name of the Lord. “In heaven peace and glory in the highest!”

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

 

 

 

Sermon for November 25, 2018, Last Sunday of the Church Year

Isaiah 51:4-6 (Last Sunday of the Church Year—Series B)

“Salvation Forever”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 25, 2018

 

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

Our text today is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Isaiah 51:

4Pay attention to me, O my people, and my nation, listen to me. 5For instruction will go forth from me, and my justice as a light to the peoples I will establish. 5My righteousness is near; my salvation goes forth, and my arms will vindicate people. On me coastlands will wait. And upon my arm they will hope. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look closely at the earth beneath, because the heavens like smoke will vanish and the earth like a garment will wear out,  and its inhabitants like gnats will die, but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be abolished. 

 

          Restoration and renovation television programs are wildly popular these days. You can find programs on car restoration, restaurant renovation, pool restoration, bathroom renovation, vintage and antique restoration, and over-all home renovations. Shows like American Restoration, Fixer Upper, This Old House, Rehab Addict, Hometime, and Love It or List It all fall in the top-rated programs for this genre. Did you know that God is also in the renovation and restoration business? Yes, God is all about making things new (Is. 48:6; Rev. 21:5).

          His good creation got ruined. The devil brought sin (rebellion against God and His Word) into the world and that messed up the entire creation of God. Everything in the world has been subjected to the futility of sin, corruption, and decay (Romans 8:20). Of course, this directly affects people. Human beings created to be immortal now suffer the curse of sin which is dying and death. From our conception and birth, we humans are marching toward death because we are sinful, corrupt, and subject to decay according to our fallen sin-filled nature.

          What is true for 21st century A.D. Americans was also true for 6th century B.C. Israelites. They had rejected God’s covenant Word and Promises and had worshiped other gods. They did what was evil in the sight of God according to their sinful nature. And the very people that God had called out of the nations to be His set-apart, holy, people, acted just like the other nations. And so according to the covenant, the people of Israel were punished by God. He allowed the Babylonians to come in and take the people captive, having destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. But when the time of punishment would be over, God had also promised restoration to His people. He would bring them out of Babylon and return them to their home so that, through the promised Messiah, He might not only restore and renovate Israel but all peoples and nations as well.

          This has a profound impact on you and me. God has promised not only to restore and make Israel new but also to include us non-Israelites in His renovation project! Isaiah chapters 51-55 show God’s rescue of Israel through a new exodus accomplished by the Suffering Servant of the Lord. In verses 1-3 just before our Old Testament lesson today, God promises to restore Zion (Jerusalem and his exiled people). But He says this, “For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (Isa. 51:3 ESV). By mentioning the Garden of Eden, God signals that He has more in mind that just Israel. He signals the restoration of all things. God promises that salvation is both sure and near. Pastor Reed Lessing comments, “The prophet urges that just as Yahweh blessed and multiplied Israel’s dried-up-as-a-rock patriarch Abraham and his barren wife Sarah (51:2), so he can once again make Zion a beautiful park abounding with people and music (51:1-3). Not only does Yahweh have the power to redeem his people and their city, but his saving arm will also deliver Gentile nations, even though the heavens, the earth, and its inhabitants will pass away (51:4-6).[1] That’s what the Old Testament lesson tells us.

          So who needs a renovation, restoration, and a renewal? All of us! Why? Because of our fallen, sin-filled human nature. We’re “old and busted.” We’re rusted and falling apart spiritually. Sin’s effects and consequences ravage us emotionally, mentally, and physically. Pile on some guilt. Throw in some fear because you are not right with God in and of yourself. Hear the rattling of the doubt that so often fills hearts. Let’s face it, this sinful “junker” isn’t going to make it to the mechanic. It’s way too late for that. The junk pile of death and hell is all that we are suitable for in this condition. Just leave us here on the side of the road of life as we “wear out like a garment” and “die like a gnat!”

          But God doesn’t abandon us by the side of the road. He saves and restores Israel. He saves and renovates rusted out, decaying sinners like us. He does this by having sent the Suffering Servant who brings Yahweh’s righteousness near and sends forth Yahweh’s salvation through the strength of His arms. Isaiah asks at the beginning of chapter 53, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” It is the Suffering Servant who reveals and embodies the Lord’s arm that redeems, saves, and restores.

          Listen to the story of this Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:4-11 ESV).

          Through the incarnation of God the Son, the Suffering Servant, and by His dying and rising again, Jesus has redeemed all people from sin. Jesus has rescued all people from the power of death and the devil. Through the gift of faith which receives the blood-bought forgiveness of sins, you are given new life through the waters of Baptism. You are new creations whom Jesus has restored to the favor and pleasure of God the Father. You are new creations whom the Spirit has fashioned into the faith-filled people of God who trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, you have been renovated and restored by the saving work of Jesus, the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. He died your death and suffered your punishment and condemnation for sin. On the cross, He became “old and busted” with your sins so that you would emerge from baptismal waters shiny and new, cleansed by His blood and made whiter than snow wearing His own righteousness as a garment that will never wear out.

          Through His loyal Servant, Jesus Christ, God has brought to all the nations enduring salvation from sin, Satan, and death. You have been renewed through the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of saving faith. Your heart has been renovated, made clean from sin, a right spirit created within you (Psalm 51). Lift your eyes to the heavens. Look confidently to God in faith. His everlasting salvation and righteousness are His gifts to you through Jesus, and they will never fail. Even if the heavens and earth disintegrate, His love for you in Christ will never cease. And on the Last Day, when the present heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth wears out like a garment and its inhabitants die like gnats, Yahweh’s salvation will be forever, and His righteousness will never end. For on that day, the Lord will raise all the dead and escort all believe in Jesus into the new heavens and earth. For you see, the Lord our God is in the restoration and renovation business through His Servant, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

[1] R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis, Concordia, 2011), 541.

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve, November 21, 2018

Psalm 104:24-31 (Thanksgiving Eve)

“Giving Thanks All Year Long”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 21, 2018

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

The text is for Thanksgiving Eve is the Introit for the day from Psalm 104:24-31.

24How many are your works, O Yahweh; in wisdom you have made all of them. The earth is full of your creatures. 25This sea there, great and broad, teems with innumerable swimming creatures, living things, small with great. 26There go the ships and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. 27They all wait for you to give them their food at the proper time. 28You give it to them and they gather it. You open your hand and they are satisfied with good things. 29When you hide your face, they are dismayed. When you take away their breath, they die and they return to their dust. 30When you send forth your Spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the ground. 31May the glory of Yahweh be forever; may Yahweh rejoice in his works.

 

          Dr. Luther commented on our text saying, “The 104th psalm is a psalm of thanks for all the works that God had accomplished in heaven and on earth, beyond those done for us here on earth. He has surely ordered all things according to a wise place to produce works, fruits, and crops. The psalmist recounts these one after the other: the heavens—full of light and outstretched as a tapestry without post or rafters; the clouds—an arch without foundation or pillar; the wind flying without wings; the angels going and coming, appearing like a wind or a flame.

          Thus sings the psalmist. He finds his desires and joy in God’s creations, which are so wonderfully made and so beautifully ordered together. But who pays attention to this or sees that this is so? Only faith and the Spirit.”[1]

          A Day of National Thanksgiving certainly draws more people’s attention to the wonderful creation that God has given to people. Even non-believers are inclined to at least say “thanks” for what they have, even if they do not acknowledge the true source of their physical blessings in God Himself. However, it is also believers who are, should I used the word “forced”?, to give thanks to the Lord at this time of year when their thanksgivings have been grossly overlooked all year long? We Christians ought to be the most thankful people around! We daily pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and as we do, we remember that God gives daily bread—everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body—to everyone without our prayers, but we pray that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving! (Small Catechism, 4th Petition).

          Also, when we hear God’s Word in the Divine Service, what do we give God after receiving that gift? Is it not thanks? “This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!” It’s not just a cute little phrase. We are thanking God for His Holy Word of Law and Gospel! In the Service of the Sacrament, there is another opportunity to give thanks to God. In the Preface, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give Him thanks and prayer. It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, O Lord, our God.” But how many times do we let the ritual cloud our thinking and our actions as we speak our thanks just because we’re “programmed” to speak these words?

          A Day of National Thanksgiving is a time to examine ourselves in light of God’s Word. We are “forced,” if you will, to see how often we fail to thank God for what He richly and daily provides for us simply out of His Fatherly love and care. All of His creation waits for God to give to give them their food at the proper time, says the Psalmist. If God doesn’t give and provide, guess who goes without? The whole of creation is totally dependent on God for sustaining it day to day. And when we come to realize that total dependence through the hearing of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit enables us to be more thankful people. When God gives, God satisfies with good things. That is cause for thanksgiving simply because, without the good things from God, we would be left empty and wanting for even the basics of life.

          Thanksgiving Day, then, is a time for repentance and faith. It is a time to confess that we have not always been the thankful people of God that we should have been throughout this year. And it is a time to trust that we have been recreated and renewed by the Holy Spirit to be people of faith who trust in the goodness of God who satisfies us in body and soul with the forgiveness of sins. You and I are forgiven for our failed thankfulness. God the Son humbled Himself to become a human creature. He took to Himself in the womb of Mary by the power of the Spirit a true human body and soul. God the Son became man so that He could live a perfectly thankful life in our place and then suffer the just punishment for our thanklessness and all our sins.

          God the Father hid His face from His One-of-a-Kind Son as He hung on that cross, bearing our sins as if they were His own. Jesus, the sin-bearer, was dismayed: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” Jesus gave up His breath. He died and was buried. But He did not return to the dust. He rose again on the third day, the beginning of a new creation. He ascended into heaven and with the Father poured out the Spirit on all people through His Word. So we are created new by grace through faith. We are renewed in body, soul, and spirit with sins forgiven and life everlasting as our present possession. By faith, we come before the throne of our God and Father in the power of the Spirit with faith in Christ. We confess our sins and our un-thankfulness and we receive the forgiveness that Jesus’ shed blood purchased and won for us.

As the forgiven, renewed, and thankful people of God in Christ, Lord rejoices in us! We are His adopted sons and daughters who are thankful for all of the Lord’s blessings of body and soul. Our lives of thankfulness reflect God’s glory to the least of these in how we show the love of Jesus to other people in words and especially in deeds. We have been given what we need and so many of us are blessed to be able to share with others who are in need of the basic things of life. With thankful hearts for what our God has done for us in Jesus, we share not only the Gospel Word with people, but we also share in their burdens of this life. “Jesus loves you, go in peace,” is true and a message that we must share so that others may hear the Gospel and, by the power of the Spirit, confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. But those Gospel words won’t matter a whole lot unless we show them what that love looks like in action. St. James put it this way, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:15-17 ESV).

What good is that, indeed! God in Christ uses us to provide for others so that they too might give thanks and praise to the Lord. God opens His hand to satisfy the needs of people with good things through you. That is why we have encouraged you to bring these personal care items to the Lord’s altar this Thanksgiving. When we share these blessings with people at the Food Shelf, they see in you the love of Jesus. They see God’s hand open and providing help to them. And what an opportunity to tell people how much God loves them, the very God who has saved them from sin, death, and the devil by sending them Jesus. The Gospel in word and action gives folks a reason to be thankful.

I am thankful for you, the saints of God in this place. I am thankful for your God-given faith through the waters of Baptism. I am thankful for the desire to hear and to learn God’s Word better. I give thanks that His Spirit has renewed you in repentance and faith so that you come to the Table of the Lord to eat and drink His Body and Blood with the bread and wine, receiving in this Sacrament the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your most holy faith. By the power of the Spirit as He works through these gifts, each one of us will be made into ever more thankful people, and not just on a Day of National Thanksgiving, but every day. “May the glory of Yahweh be forever; may Yahweh rejoice in His works.”

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

         

[1] Martin Luther, Reading the Psalms with Luther (St. Louis, Concordia, 2007), 244-245.

Sermon for November 18, 2018, Twenth-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 13:1-13 (Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 28—Series B)

“Time to Be On Guard”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 18, 2018

 

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

The text is the Gospel reading recorded in Mark 13:

1And while he was going out from the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look what tremendous stones and buildings!” 2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There shall surely not be left here stone on stone which shall surely not be torn down.” 3And when he had sat down on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will these things be and what is the sign when all these things are about to be completed?” 5And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will lead many astray. 7Now when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. It is necessary for these things to be, but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These are the beginning of the birth pains. 9But watch out for yourselves. They will hand you over to the Sanhedrin and you will be beaten in the synagogues and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake to bear witness to them. 10And first it is necessary that the Gospel be proclaimed to all the nations. 11And when they arrest you and hand you over, do not be anxious beforehand what to say, but speak whatever is given to you in that hour, for it is not you who are speaking but the Holy Spirit. 12And brother will hand over brother to death and father his child, and children will rise up against parents have will have them put to death. 13And you will be hated by all on account of me. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

          It is the middle A.D. 60s. Nero is the Roman Emperor. It is a time of severe persecution for those called “Christians” in Rome. The persecution threatens to divide and decimate the young church. The Christians in Rome were regarded as revolting despisers of people whose superstitious allegiance to Jesus was worthy of exemplary punishment. Nero’s persecution made this a horrible reality as he blamed his arson on the Christians. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing about A.D. 69 didn’t think that the Christians were justly accused of arson, but he saw no harm in “the execution of a contemptible, anti-social group ‘hated for their vices’—for by his time, if not by Nero’s, the Christians were vulgarly thought to practice incest and cannibalism at their nocturnal meetings. (These charges probably arose from language about universal love and the [Lord’s Supper].) . . . It was a precedent that magistrates had condemned Christians to death because they were Christians and on no other charge.”[1]

          The first readers of Mark’s Gospel were likely Roman Christians living in this horrible setting. How poignant were Jesus’ words to them in their life’s situation? They were harassed by the State and disturbed by the confused reports of turmoil in Galilee and Judea from various uprisings against Roman occupation. Into their alarm and concern came the Gospel of Mark, the words of Jesus as He spoke them to His disciples just 30 years prior, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will lead many astray. Now when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. It is necessary for these things to be, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These are the beginning of the birth pains.”

          Here Jesus focuses on the events and situations rocking the Roman world of the first century. Jesus warns that the people of God may be led astray by false leaders who appear in a situation of crisis. In the Old Testament, it was the false prophets and leaders who led Israel astray, who led them to trust in other gods. Jesus cautions that the same would happen in these New Testament times. People will falsely claim to be Him, the Messiah. They will lead the people of God to believe that the time of vigilance is over. But Jesus shows that is not the case. He urges vigilance in the faith and in the mission: “See that no one leads you astray. Pay attention and be on your guard. Now is not the time to be lowering your spiritual defenses.”

          Jesus also alerts the reader to the possibility of misinterpreting the significance of contemporary events like wars and natural disasters. When disciples of the Lord Jesus hear of armed conflict and the threat of war, when they receive the reports of disasters like earthquakes, they are not to be alarmed or diverted from their task. They are to continue to remain vigilant in faith and in mission. After all, the fact of the matter is that the one true God is in control of all things, including the historical destinies of the nations. “It is necessary for these things to be, but the end is not yet.” These things point forward to the end and provide the promise that it will certainly come, but these things are the preliminaries. Jesus’ words are designed to prepare God’s people for facing a turbulent world with a firm confidence and an unwavering faith. Vigilance in faith and mission is what Jesus empowers.

          For Mark’s readers in Rome, Jesus’ words provided assurance that all the events that they heard about from wars to disasters were all under God’s control and were working for His purposes. Their task, strengthened by the Word and Spirit, was to be vigilant so that they were not led astray. They were to stand firm, refusing to be disturbed by contemporary events, for they were all under God’s control for the ultimate blessing of His people of faith.

          The second half of the text focuses Mark’s readers on what they will experience, indeed, what they WERE experiencing because of their association with Jesus Christ. Jesus’ disciples would face rejection and abuse because of their trust in Him as God and Lord. It happened to Peter, to Paul, to James our Lord’s brother. It happened to the believers in the church at Rome. Again the pastoral encouragement, “Watch out for yourselves,” Jesus said. The disciple would be like his Teacher and Lord. As Jesus was abused and persecuted, beaten and killed, so would His followers be. Even those closest to them, family members, would treat them with contempt. Followers of Jesus will be hated on account of Him! His disciples are persecuted because they are identified with Him.

          Nevertheless, these Christians were called to vigilance in faith and in mission. “And first it is necessary that the Gospel be proclaimed to all the nations.” The believers in Jesus were called to be steadfast under persecution and unbelief. They were encouraged by the Word of the Lord that those who endure these trials with faithfulness will be vindicated by God. They were called to a complete reliance on their Lord and Savior in the fulfillment of their mission in a hostile world. Despite all the opposition, the Gospel must be proclaimed throughout the world.

          The Roman Christians as they first read Mark’s Gospel and the precious words of Jesus would have understood that no suffering had come to them that had not been known beforehand by the Lord and even experienced by Him. He endured the mockery and the beatings. Jesus wore the crown of thorns and the purple robe as He was taunted and spit on and struck. He patiently bore the cross to Golgotha where He was crucified so that He would also bear in Himself the sins of the world and the full punishment of those sins. Three days later, Jesus rose again from death, forever laying death in the grave and defeating the power of sin and Satan. Through Jesus’ patient suffering, death, and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins was purchased for the world. Through the gift of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit bestows that forgiveness and salvation to the people of the world through the Gospel.

          For you who read and hear Mark’s Gospel today, the words of Jesus enable you to be vigilant in your Christian faith and in mission until the end. By the power of the Gospel, you are able to bear suffering for the name of Jesus with patience in order to fulfill the missionary task of telling people about the Savior, Jesus. The Gospel that bestows on you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life also empowers you to stand firm, relying on God to fulfill His mission through you in a hostile world.

It is not uncommon for our world today to be compared to the world of the first century. There is a marked hostility toward Christians which ranges from very subtle to very overt persecutions because of our association with Jesus Christ by faith. In various places and in various ways, even here at home, Christians are harassed by the State. We are confused by reports from around the nation and globe—wars and rumors of wars, murders, mass killings, earthquakes, wildfires, storms, and floods. And just as Jesus did for the Twelve and for His disciples in Rome, He gives us the Gospel promises in Word and Sacrament through the power of the Holy Spirit. This Gospel empowers us to be vigilant in faith and in mission so as not to be led astray by false teachers and leaders. We are empowered by the Gospel Word and the Sacraments so that we are able to refuse to be moved to crippling fear at contemporary events, for we are able to trust that these are all in God’s control for the blessing of His Church.

Through the gift and blessing of your Baptismal faith, by the hearing of the Gospel, and in the eating and drinking of Jesus’ own true Body and Blood with the bread and wine, the Savior Himself strengthens your faith even as He delivers forgiveness of all sins and eternal life to you through these Holy Means. The Word and Sacraments strengthen and empower your firm vigilance in the one, true faith and in the mission Christ has given to each believer to announce the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, whose name you bear as His Christians.

Eusebius, the historian of the early church, records the story of aged Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. A persecution of Christians had begun and believers in Christ were being rounded up. Christians were threatened with wild beasts or death at the stake unless they denied Christ and swore allegiance to Caesar. Polycarp was arrested and brought before the proconsul, who urged him, “Swear by Caesar’s fortune; change your attitude. . . . Swear, and I will set you free: curse Christ.” Polycarp answered, “For 86 years I have been His servant, and He has never done me wrong: how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”[2] How vigilant and firm in faith and in mission Polycarp must have appeared to the watching crowds as the torch was set to the stake! Let the same be said of you and me as we remain more firmly vigilant in the faith and the mission of Jesus today.

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

[1] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Pelican Books, 1967), 25-26.

[2] Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. G. A. Williamson (Minneapolis: Augsburg) 171.

Sermon for November 11, 2018, 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 12:38-44 (Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 27—Series B)

“Faith Trusts When Reason Fails”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 11, 2018

 

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

 

The text is the Gospel reading recorded in Mark 12:

 

38And in his teaching [Jesus] said, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39and the best seats in the synagogue and the places of honor at the banquets, 40the ones who devour widow’s houses and make long prayers for show. These will receive a more severe judgment.” 41And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched how the crowd put money into the treasury. And many rich people were putting in large amounts. 42And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which is a penny. 43And after he called his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put more in than all those who are putting into the treasury. 44For all of them put in from out of their wealth, but she from out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole means of living.”

 

          “People watching” is not an official spectator sport, but it sure is interesting. When you are out and about around people, do you ever simply put your cell phone away and just watch them? Airports and train stations are great people watching spots. Malls and food courts can be too. You see such a wide variety of personalities and types of dress and behaviors. You might pick up on someone’s idiosyncrasies or habits. No doubt people watching can bring our own nods of approval, headshakes of disapproval, and raised eyebrows of reaction asking, “What did I really just see?”

          In Mark 12, Jesus was doing some people watching. He was teaching in the temple precincts “and the great crowd heard him gladly” (12:38). Jesus issued a warning based on his people-watching observations: “Beware of the scribes.” The scribes were a special class of priests who devoted themselves especially to studying and teaching the Law of Moses. William Lane notes that in “the first century A.D. the scribes lived primarily on subsidies, since it was forbidden that they should be paid for exercising their profession. While few scribes were reduced to begging, an abundance of evidence shows that the Jerusalem scribes belonged to the poorer classes. The extension of hospitality to them was strongly encouraged as an act of piety; it was considered particularly meritorious to relieve a scribe of concern for his livelihood.”[1]

          What prompted Jesus’ warning regarding the scribes (who were primarily Pharisees)? Essentially, Jesus exposed the scribes for knowing how to “work a room.” They walked around in their long, white linen robes adorned with a long fringe. When a scribe passed you on the street or in the marketplace you would have been expected to stand respectfully in greeting because of their pious knowledge and holy words that flowed from their lips in long prayers. If you were an important person and you gave a banquet, it would have been to your advantage to have a distinguished scribe and his students in attendance. The highest places at the table would be assigned to them, places of honor over the aged or even your parents. And at church, the scribe would sit right up front with his back to the chest containing the scrolls of the Torah, in full view of everyone.

          “Beware of the scribes,” Jesus said. “They sponge on the hospitality of people of limited means, devouring widow’s houses! By their showy prayers they want to win the esteem of people and be the center of attention in the home and in the synagogue.” The scribe’s desire was for tokens of status and self-satisfaction. And it’s all very reasonable, isn’t it? If you are forbidden from earning your livelihood from studying and teaching God’s Law, you’ve got to do all that you can so that you have a firm financial support base, even if you have to stretch the truth and put on a show to get noticed. And so Jesus simply points out what’s going on, that the scribes like to walk about in long robes. They desire greetings in the marketplaces. They want the best seats in the synagogue. They crave the places of honor at the banquets. They’ll make sure you are impressed with what they know about the Law and how well they speak and pray. And you’ll want to support these pious men of God, even if you have very little yourself.

          Jesus’ people-watching continued. In the temple, in the Court of the Women, 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles were placed against the wall. That’s where you made your offering to the Temple treasury. The people-watching Jesus observed a “poor widow” in addition to many rich people who were putting in large amounts of money. This widow put in two lepta, copper coins of the smallest value like the penny is our smallest valued coin. To give you an idea of value, a day’s wage for 8 hours of work in Connecticut at the minimum wage is $80.80. In this illustration, your two small copper coins would be worth about 84 cents. That’s your whole means of living—84 cents. With two lepta, this widow could have bought a pomegranate and a cluster of grapes.

          But Jesus’ sees this widow, poor indeed, put her whole means of living into the Temple treasury. She won’t eat today. She probably won’t eat tomorrow either. She won’t be able to support herself at all unless someone else helps her. And yet, she forsakes reason and makes her offering to God with her whole heart. This sharpens and brings into focus the contrast between the sham righteousness of the scribes who were concerned only about themselves and the wholehearted devotion to God which characterized the faith of this widowed woman.

The Lord commends her to the disciples, but not for the amount that she put into the Temple treasury. She was commended by Jesus for her trust, her faith. This poor, husbandless woman trusted that she would be provided for in her need by the Lord Himself and so she responded in gratitude by giving to the needs of others, including the scribes!, putting in her gift for the Lord to use in order to bless others. The Church Father St. John Chrysostom wrote, “If you calculate by the value of her money, her poverty is great. If you bring her intention into the light, you will see that her store of generosity defies description.” And I would add, so does her store of faith and trust in the God who provides for her.

Jesus points us to this widow in order to illustrate the character of absolute dependence on God through faith even when reason fails. The whole of her possessions, the last of her money, two measly coins worth about 84 cents she drops into the offering plate. She can only do this as a result of the trust that had been given to her as a gift of the Gospel. She had God’s promise in His Word, for example, from Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” She had the example of how God provided for the widow at Zarephath in the days of Elijah the prophet, as we heard in the Old Testament lesson, “And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the world of Yahweh that He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:15-16). The promises of God in the Gospel bestow faith. They give us trust in God that He will provide “all that we need to support this body and life.”

The scribes placed their confidence and trust in themselves, in what their flowery-show of piety could earn for them—money, respect, honor. The widow placed her confidence and trust in God and in His Gospel promises. Do we not see that contrast in our own lives? Do we not confess that our old sinful nature likes to be noticed so that we can feel popular? That’s the most important thing for so many—to be noticed, to be known, to be someone significant in the eyes of another. Important, sure. But that’s not what is MOST important. Do we not confess that our sinful nature really likes it when we are top dog, first place, the best? It’s more than just being proud, it’s taking it to the extreme when it’s all you want and all you need. It’s like that credit card commercial, “I just had to have it.” Honor, popularity, power, and money can lead to an “I’m the king of the world!” attitude. We fear, love, and trust in ourselves much like the scribes, and fail to fear, love, and trust in the God who created us, who sustains and cares for us, and who loves us so much even when we fail to love Him at all.

 

But Jesus Christ demonstrated complete fear, love, and trust in God the Father. His love for His Father and for us, the fallen creation, sinners, caused God the Son to take on human flesh and to live among us. When tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus remained faithful to the Father. He did not bow down and worship the evil one. He didn’t go for the glory and the honor of all the kingdoms of the earth. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus did the will of His Father as He kept the Law perfectly which we cannot. He obeyed all of the commandments, which not even we nor the scribes and Pharisees can do.

Jesus proclaimed, not the wrath and punishment of God against our sins, but repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He loved and cared for the unlovable—tax collectors and sinners. He healed the sick of all their diseases. In His earthly life, He gave of Himself completely in order to bring the reign and rule of God to a people lost and hurting and in need of the means of living in this world and in eternity.

Then came the ultimate giving of Himself. Jesus trusted the heavenly Father to the end. In Gethsemane’s Garden Christ prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Reason wanted to abandon the plan of salvation, no doubt! But Jesus went to the cross willingly in our place in order to suffer and die for our sins and those of the whole world. Jesus endured God the Father’s wrath and punishment against our sins as He suffered hell in our place on the cross. But He never stopped trusting. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Jesus gave us His all. He gave up His very life into death so that we would have life and have it in abundance forever. 

          That is the Gospel message that is proclaimed to you this day. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. He suffered hell for you. He shed His blood for you. He rose again from death for you. Now you have the complete forgiveness of sins. Now you have eternal life. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel Word and the Sacraments, delivers these precious gifts of faith, forgiveness, and salvation to you personally. You believe in Jesus Christ as your only Savior from sin, Satan, and death. You trust that God the Father, as surely as He has said so in His Word, will indeed take care of you and provide for you all that you need to support this body and life. It is the Gospel that produces this trust in you by grace as you cling to His Word of Promise, even when reason fails. 

           Reason surely said that this widow was crazy for putting into the Temple offering plate her whole means of living. But faith shows that she was trusting in her God and Lord to take care of her no matter what. Her honor and glory came not from flashy prayers or the best seats in church or at the banquet, but from the faith and trust she displayed to Jesus and to us who also get to watch her drop her coins into the treasury through Mark’s Gospel. The widow sacrificed what was necessary by God’s grace through faith in Him alone. That’s what Jesus needed his disciples to understand both then and now. By the grace of God given to you, trust more firmly in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who lived, suffered, died, and rose again so that you might have forgiveness of sins and everlasting life along with all the things that you need here and now. Reason might try to tell you otherwise, but the gift of faith which is yours through the Gospel will continue to cling to the Lord as you receive His blessings to you here in time and in eternity.

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

 

[1] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 440-441.

Sermon for November 4, 2018, All Saints’

Psalm 149 (All Saints’ Day—Observed)

“The Cheerful Faith of the Saints”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 4, 2018

 

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

The text this morning is the Psalm appointed for All Saints’ Day, Psalm 149:

1Praise Yahweh!

Sing to Yahweh a new song; His praise in the assembly of the saints.

2Let Israel be glad in his Maker; Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King.

3Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them make music to Him with the tambourine and lyre.

4For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He beautifies the humble with salvation.

5Let the saints exult in glory; Let them shout for joy upon their beds.

6Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands

7to make vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples,

8to bind their kings in chains and their nobles in chains of iron,

9to execute on them the judgment written. This is the honor for all his saints.

Praise Yahweh!

          Why? What’s the reason to praise Yahweh and to sing to Him a fresh and new song? What reason do we have to be glad in our Creator and King? What could be the reason for praising God with dancing and music? Why exult in glory and shout for joy even in the quiet of our beds? Answer: Because it is this God who takes pleasure in you. He beautifies you with salvation.

          What would cause you to take pleasure in someone? Probably because the person is like you in some way. You share similar interests. You think along the same lines. Personalities are compatible. You say, “That is a person I can take pleasure in being around. I enjoy the conversation, the humor, the activities.” Often the person that we take pleasure in we call “friend.” Should they be a person of the opposite sex, the one we take pleasure in might become our “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” We might take so much pleasure in that person that they become our husband or wife with whom we are united in holy marriage.

          The Psalmist says in verse 4, “For Yahweh take pleasure in His people.” That’s the reason which prompts the new song and the praise of God, the rejoicing and celebration. Sure, we get pretty psyched when someone notices us and takes pleasure in being in our company. It means we are a “fit” for them. We’ve got something in common; we’re on similar pages with our thoughts and actions. We get along. But that’s not quite the situation with God.

          Well, it was the situation, a long time ago, in a garden far, far away. God took great pleasure and delight in the crown of His creation—man and woman—whom He created in His own image. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Adam and Eve knew God perfectly. They were righteous and holy, walking with God in purity and in perfect communion. And in an instant, everything in all of creation was changed forever. Adam and Eve disobeyed the commandment of God. They sinned by their disobedience. The bliss of Eden was shattered and destroyed. The image of God was lost to the man and the woman and to their descendants. No longer is humanity like God in righteousness and holiness. No longer does humanity walk with God in purity and in perfect communion.

          Sin has separated the crown of Yahweh’s creation from its Creator. Sin has thrown up a dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14). Sin causes all people to be God’s enemies (Rom. 5:10). As sinners, we do not now “get along” with God. We are not on the same page. In fact, we are in all-out rebellion against Him and His Word. We put our fear, love, and trust in ourselves and in our possessions and in created things. These become our gods as we have abandoned the one, Triune God in favor of these idols.

          There is no reason that the righteous and holy God, who created heaven and earth, should take pleasure in people. By rights, according to His justice and holiness, the Lord must condemn and punish sin and sinner, “to make vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples. . . to execute the judgment written.” God should avenge how evil and sinful we humans are with eternal death and condemnation in hell forever. But God, who is just and holy, is also gracious and merciful. Instead of enduring His wrath in judgment against our sins, rather than facing the punishment of His holy justice, Yahweh takes pleasure in people whom He beautifies with salvation.

          While you and I and the rest of humanity were separated from God by sin, while we were enemies of God, God the Son took to Himself human flesh and blood so that He might endure the full wrath and punishment of God against sin and sinner in our place. Jesus, God the Son-made-flesh, assumed the ugliness of our sin. Christ became imperfect for us. He, the perfect Lamb of God without blemish, became like “one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:3 ESV). All of our imperfections, all of the blemishes, all of our flaws—yes, all of our sins and sinfulness—He took upon Himself to the cross. For us, Jesus, true God and true Man, endured death and hell as He suffered, bled, and died. All of God’s perfect justice was focused on Jesus as He became sin for us. For us, Jesus endured the separation from the Father who abandoned His beloved Son on that cross because He was bearing the unholiness of all people.

          Jesus’ death on the cross purchased and won the forgiveness of all your sins with His holy, precious blood. God takes pleasure in you because your sins are forgiven. You are once again in a right standing with God because He has made you beautiful through His grace and mercy in Jesus. Not too many years ago one of the latest boy bands to hit the music scene, One Direction, had a hit song. (Pastor Tim Martinal, my dear friend and brother in Christ would be groaning right now at the fact that I mention them in a sermon! We had a lot of jokes back and forth while he was on vicarage about One Direction and if it were my favorite or his favorite band.) At any rate, the song was titled “What Makes You Beautiful?” The Bible answers this question for us—What makes you beautiful to stand before God in righteousness and purity forever? Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection.

          You and I as sinners have been beautified by the cleansing blood of Jesus. Your sins and mine are forgiven. We’ve been given a total make-over and not one you can get at the spa! We’ve been given new, clean hearts that trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins, for eternal life, and salvation from sin, death, and the devil. Isaiah the prophet celebrated this very event, “[God] has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isa. 61:10 ESV). In John’s vision of the Last Day, Jesus gives John a picture of the forgiven and redeemed saints of God “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). 

          By faith in Jesus Christ, you are beautiful to your Father in heaven, beautiful in the salvation that the Savior won for you. Yahweh takes pleasure in you and calls you friends and heirs of eternal life. That is why, dear saints of God in Christ, you sing a new song together in this assembly. You are glad in your Creator and rejoice in your King as you give thanks for the blessing that God is gracious and merciful to you, His people, through Jesus Christ your Lord. By the gift of faith in Jesus given to you in Baptism, through the Gospel, and strengthened with the Savior’s body and blood in His Supper, you know that you have a gracious God and that you rightly should rejoice. You have the blessing of His grace—the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

          You are the saints of God, His holy ones who have been made holy by the work of the Spirit who delivers the gifts of Christ to you in Word and Sacrament. You are beautiful to the Lord your God. He takes pleasure in you because you are His sons and daughters by grace through faith in Jesus, your Savior. On this All Saints’ Sunday, we give praise, honor, and thanksgiving to Christ our King. By His suffering and death and the shedding of His blood, He has redeemed us from the kingdom of darkness and made us partakers of His victory over Satan, sin, and death. He has given us a cheerful faith to sing of His grace with heart and soul and to make known His salvation among people. Hallelujah! Amen.

 

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