Monday, December 29, 2014

The First Sunday After Christmas

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2)

No matter how much you tried you could not pull off the perfect Christmas. You couldn’t do it no matter how hard you tried. It simply did not measure up to hallmark expectations. Your table setting and your food was not exactly Martha Stewart quality. The yuletide cheer, the Christmas spirit, whatever the heck that is, did not really measure up.

Some of us have had to say goodbye to our wives. Some had their first Christmases without their mothers. Children rebel and write their parents off and some of us had to wash the dishes alone. 

If you were fortunate and pulled off a relatively warm and sentimental Christmas – the warm fuzzies still melted away quicker than the ice in your brandy ol fashioned.   

If you were, in some small way – slightly disappointed by the time the festivities were over it does not mean you are unappreciative, unthankful, or even sinful. It just means you’re still living in this world. So long as we remain on this side of the kingdom of heaven – even the best of times will always fall short. Divorce, family squabbles, pretty allegiances, family fights, coworkers who manipulate you, and bosses who take advantage of you can put a damper on holiday cheer.

None of this means you are less fortunate than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong or have a pessimistic view of life. It just means that you still live in the kingdom of this world – still ruled by sin, brokenness, and decay.

That is of course why we love Christmas movies so much! Because life is actually not like them at all. The nostalgia of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas does not match up with what you experience. Unlike Ralphie we don't always get our red rider bb gun. Things don’t always turn out wonderful like George Bailey in a wonderful life – angels don’t always get their wings – and even though George Bailey eventually found his way home after a night at the bar – not all daddies do.

But remember the first Christmas was not all about warm fuzzies and hallmark perfection either. Jesus was born outside in the cold. Joseph was on the verge of divorcing his wife, when the angel Gabriel appeared to tell him to do otherwise. Mary was gossiped about in town about her so called virgin birth. And if anyone did call her the virgin Mary it was with spitting tongues and shaking heads. Herod, the Hitler of the day, would unleash slaughter upon the babies of Bethlehem seeking to get Jesus. And so Mary and Joseph would be forced to flee to the foreign land of Egypt – in fear – just to survive for another day. If we’re honest with ourselves we’re just surviving too – hoping to conquer another day, just by the grace of God.   

Which brings us to today’s Gospel text. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. At the temple is an old man waiting. A man who was devout, waiting for help. This old man had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Which is to say, God had promised Him he would not die until he had seen Jesus – the Messiah – who was to come into the world.

This old man Simeon represents all the people of God – he represents the whole Old Testament – all the prophets – all the patriarchs who were waiting for the one who was to deliverer them and save them.

It’s a wonderful scene today. Mary places the baby Jesus in his tired, sagging arms – and this old man Simeon blessed God and said “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face of all people.” I hope you recognize these words and you should because you sing them every Sunday, like Simeon, after you cradle Jesus in your hands and welcome him under the roof of your mouth. You say “Lord now, let me depart in peace according to Thy Word.” What is the significance of saying that? It means, like Simeon, that we are ready to die – we are ready to fall asleep while holding Christ in our arms even as he holds us.

Like Simeon, we learn to depart this life in peace – and only, in smiling at death, can we learn to smile in this life. It means that Christmas is not about presents, pie, and the nostalgia of a white Christmas and Bing Crosby. Christmas is about Christ – and only him.      

We should learn to be jealous of those who have died in the faith before us. If we are Christians we should always be somewhat dissatisfied of this life and eagerly wait and along for the life of the world to come.

Just as it is not wrong to be somewhat disappointed with earthly life – it is also not sinful to be filled with joy like Simeon in this life – knowing with certainly that when your eyes fall asleep in death you will awaken to the face of Jesus in heaven – in heavenly light. That is why we receive the Lord’s Supper here – which we call the medicine of immorality and the antidote to death.

Like Simeon we hold Jesus in our hands - His life-giving body and blood, then, we walk back to our pews and sing “Lord not lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” – the words of tired old Simeon. Which is to say, I am ready Lord for whatever you send my way – be it sicknesses or health, or even death itself. I know that you love me – you have proved your love in sending your son to make everything right. I know that your will is always good and you do everything together for good for those who love you. And Lord I trust you.   

Dear Christians, whatever losses you have suffered this season, whatever disappointment weighs heavily upon your heart, whatever sins oppress you, none of these things will rue the day. The guards were struck dumb when Jesus walked out of the grave on Easter morning. It is He who loves you through the cross all the way to the opened tomb – lined with angels announcing His and your resurrection.

From the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross he has made all things new – delivers us from every loss. Our wives will come back to us – sons will hold their mothers again – families are restored to wholeness whether in this life or the next. All of your sins are forgiven. Jesus was born for you.

So maybe your Christmas didn’t totally measure up. Maybe the ham was dry, maybe someone made the mistake of bringing up politics, maybe someone drank too much and said something they shouldn’t have. Maybe there was a Grinch who stole Christmas. And the most troubling of course someone very dear was missing from the family table.  

Don’t worry, in a way, it’s supposed to be this way. All these things are meant to be reminders that this life is not all there is. And contrary to our commercialized culture, Christmas is not about warm fuzzies and warm feelings – it’s about the certainty that God is good to you. It’s about the comfort that God is in the process of transferring you from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of His Son. Christmas is about realizing like the wise men that you are still on a long journey – and your destination is not yet totally complete.

Christmas is about the joy of Simeon who is not embarrassed to admit his desire to depart this life and to be with Christ.

So let us be like Simeon and take the Lord Jesus in our arms, and depart in peace to our homes, always ready to leave this world and join another. This is if you will, the true spirit of Christmas and the joy itself of being a Christian. In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ember Wednesday in Advent

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" (Luke 1).

We often fantasize about living somewhere warm like celebrities, maybe in Southern California or Beverly Hills perhaps. We think that’s where things are really happening and maybe it’s human nature to glance casually at celebrity gossip magazines on the way through the checkout at Walmart.

But if there was a celebrity gossip magazine at the time of Jesus birth, there would be no reference to any of it – even though it’s the most important even in history. Mary is not a celebrity. She’s a maid and a servant. She is no more than 15 years old, perhaps even an orphan. Her name in Hebrew literally means “bitter myrrh.” For the Jews at this time, babies were named based upon the circumstances in which they entered the world. So, even from the time of Mary’s birth, there exists in her life, a bitterness which anticipates the life of her Son. The old man at the temple, Simeon, will later tell Mary that a sword will pierce her soul.  

For now, Mary draws no ones attention except another poor hardworking carpenter named Joseph.
The town in which they lived is not Beverly Hills. It’s Nazareth. And all scholars and archaeologists agree there is nothing really significant at all about the town. Nazareth is tiny, maybe even a bit of a slum. There is no reference to Nazareth in the Old Testament and in the New Testament there is only one reference where a scoffer yells out to Jesus that nothing good could ever come out of Nazareth.

But nevertheless, the mightiest angel in heaven is sent by God to announce a significant birth among insignificant people in an insignificant village. Gabriel greets her with the words “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God, and behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus."

Unlike Sarah, Mary does not laugh. She is not old and cynical like us. She is childlike in her faith. She closes her eyes and trusts in God. She listens to the angels -  even though common sense was against everything she heard. She shut her eyes and opened her ears. The angels speak and in response she sings - she believes. 

And so she conceived God in human flesh in her womb. Here we see the new and greater Eve. Pregnant and carrying with Her the eternal Word of God. She is the mother of all the living. And in her womb is the seed, which is Christ, who will crush the serpents head -  unbar the gates of paradise and raise up man to be born again - to live before God in innocence and purity forever.

This faith of Mary is a miracle greater than the Virgin Birth because she believes that she is the mother of God. She believes that the child nursing from her breast will feed the whole world. She believes that she holds the merciful and gentle Savior of the nations upon her breast. She cradles Him in her arms.  She kisses him with her lips. The Lord will fall asleep in her lap.

There will be no paparazzi there to witness what happens in a stable, next to animals. But it doesn’t matter because all the heavenly hosts are already singing.

For you, tonight, when the angels come to you to tell you that the Lord is with you, that he loves you, that your sins are forgiven, how will you react. Do you doubt it? Are you numb or indifferent to the love of God. Have you become tone deaf to the speaking of the angels? Maybe.

Life takes a toll on all of us. Unfortunatly we all become grownups and soon all that we think and do is conceived in sin. So tonight we look at the Mary, the mother of Our Lord.

Mary in Hebrew means 'bitter myrrh.' And like Mary, and all Christians, your years of life have left behind you a trail of bitter tears. A sword has pierced your soul as well, with bitter losses, hurts, betrayals, and regrets.

But when the angels announce to Mary that she will carry the Savior of the world, she believes. She shuts her eyes and opens her ears. She trusts in God. We all must do the same and believe that God is good and gracious to us.

We close our eyes and receive Christ. And this child belongs to you. He dries your tears. He draws near in the Holy Eucharist. You cradle him in your hands. You kiss him with your lips.       

Tonight we follow the star to where he lays – in a manger – on an altar – given and shed for you. He lives and everything good that you have comes from this child. In the Christ-Child all bitterness dissolves and all the sweetness of life is fully restored.  

Our lives may not be as exciting as our favorite celebrities. We may not live in Beverly Hills or have fairy tale lives. Maybe the world pays no attention to you, but God so clearly does. Maybe we have said silly things like the people in Jesus day, saying, nothing good can come out of Nazareth or Wittenberg for that matter.

But tonight there is no better place to be than here.  Because the same message spoken from the angels to Mary is heralded to you tonight by the very same angels. The angels are saying to you, “Rejoice, for the Lord is with you.” Meaning, that he notices you. You are in his heart, you are in his prayers, your name is on his lips. You are of supreme importance to him. He has dealt with all your sins and remembers them no more. Through His cross He looks kindly upon you without any disappointment, without any reservation.

Through the church, you are born again. In baptism you are Immaculately conceived. Rejoice, O highly favored one.

Let yourself be transformed by his love. Like Mary, close your eyes and trust in God. Carry the Lord with you wherever you go. Let your heart be softened by his touch. Your Lord and Your God is sweet and gentle as a baby. And this child belongs to you. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Sunday of the Fig Tree

The Second Sunday of Advent 
Luke 21:25–36                                                        

We are duty bound to hear the Word of God every Lord’s Day. To hear that Word of God, believe it and take it to heart. And today he gives us clear words. Everything will come to an end. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken and then we will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. But first nation will rise up against nation. There will be wars and riots terrorist attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsuanamies. Record high heat, record cold, record snow, record floods. As we look around it’s becoming clear that man and the elements are out of control. All of this is evidence that things are coming undone. That things cannot continue as they are.  

The environment is stifling itself with pollution. Crime is out of control. Politicians are being exposed for their greed; sports stars are being exposed for their violence. Abortion, gay marriage, sodomy is celebrated.  Even America’s favorite dad this last week has been exposed as a sexual predator. No family on earth, not even the huxtables, is free from sin and public scandal. And neither are we. King David was right when he said that all men are liars and no one is righteous before God. No not one. 

We say all sorts of things to make us feel better about the situation. We blame it on young people, we blame it on the media, politicians, or a decadent culture. But that’s not the problem. Jesus says out of the heart come all evil lusts and inclinations, adultery, theft, and fornication.

There is a cartoon way before my time, called Pogo. In one of his most famous quotes he says "We have met the enemy and he is us." No one is innocent. We are the problem. Hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes pale in comparison to the chaos of our sinful hearts. And the anarchy out in the world is a reflection of the lawlessness which exists in every sinful human heart. 

As Pogo said “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Which is to say, the buck stops here. Advent is a season of repentance, of coming again to the sobering realization that we are dying sinners in a dying world. To confess with our mouths that we need Jesus to come, not just for this whole world gone awry but most importantly for us, for you personally, for me. Advent is a time to confess that we have exhausted our resources, our resolve has failed, and that we are in desperate shape. It’s a time to confess that we need a Savior.

In the meantime the violence out there and within us will continue. But do not lose hope. The Word of God teaches us in Psalm 46 verse 2, saying: “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” God is with us.       

When you see all these things, Jesus is here to comfort you. Even now, this morning Christ says to you, “Do not be afraid, you are my disciples, you are Christians…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. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 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.”

Our Lord ends his teaching this morning with a parable. He says: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This is a wonderful and comforting picture. Jesus is teaching us that when all things are crumbling and falling apart in this whole creation it does not signal death and destruction, not its cold winter, but the dawning of the unending summer of God, and so the creation’s completion, its final joy, its perfection. Our Lord’s words are designed to chase the fear away from our hearts when we see the universe (or our personal universe) crumble; there is something more certain than the universe. The words and promise of Jesus.

On that day when we shall finally be free, the prophet Malachi tells us, then we shall go out leaping like calves from the stall after a long winter. Free from the bondage of our sins, free from death, and free in the glorious resurrection and everlasting life.

The child born in Bethlehem is called the Prince of Peace because he dies for sins he didn’t commit. He lays down on the altar of the cross to make right everything that’s gone wrong. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whomever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Even now He calms the wind and the waves of your anxious heart. And says, Peace, be still, know that I am the Lord. I am making all things new. And everything will finally be calm. Everything will be still. Your sins are forgiven, you belong to me. I have called you by name. Do not be afraid because I am with you. Enter into the kingdom of God prepared for you from the foundation of the world and receive this crown of righteousness that will never fade away.

And enter in. For there is a city set high in the heavens – the new Jerusalem -with streets paved with gold. This city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is Christ.  Here it is eternal summer. Everything is in full bloom. Rejoice and be glad.

Dear Christians at St. Paul Lutheran Church. All the signs are out there. The end is near. So straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption draws near. He draws near this morning, swaddled in lowly bread and wine – He comes with clouds descending to rest in the manger of our hearts and under stable of our souls. And we have peace. He says heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.  

Here in Christ, and only in Him, is true and lasting comfort for anxious hearts and weary souls. And so we pray Come Lord Jesus. Come Quickly. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Thanksgiving Meditation

The essential movie around this time of year is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey has it all, a beautiful wife, children, and a successful job. He’s got a good reputation, loyal friends and everything a guy could ask for.  But his bank takes a nose dive. He loses just a few thousand dollars and, despite all his blessings, he is convinced the only way out is to throw himself over a bridge and end it all.  

Before he can hurl his body into an icy river His guardian angel Clarence stops him, and Clarence gives George Baily his wish – to have never been born. Then Clarence shows him what his little town, and his own family looked like without him – and it wasn’t a pretty picture. His town was a slum, his wife was a lonely and frightened mess, his children non-existent. Altogether the world was a darker place. George Bailey begins to beg God for his life back. He pleads for a second chance. And he gets it.

Things are back as they ought to be. George Bailey is alive, back from the dead. Bedford Falls is brighter. He throws open the door to his house and he walks in overjoyed into a warm and cheery home to loud shouts of celebration. He has only been gone a few short hours but his children run to him, his wife embraces him, and showers him with kisses. His bank is not fixed yet but he’s still a hero. His friends from town soon pour into the house and give money to save the bank, and restore his livelihood. But the bank, his livelihood, that doesn’t really matter – it’s not really important. Because George Bailey is home.

Nobody at the end of their life says, I wish I could have made more money. Nobody on their death bed says “I wish my business could have been more successful.” People don’t even say things like “I wish I could have traveled more or seen more of the world.” Generally they say “I wish I could have seen more of my children or grandchildren.” “I wish I could have told my friend what they meant to me.” Fathers don’t wish they could have climbed higher in their work or ambitions, they generally just wish they would have spent more hours on their hands and knees with their sons.      

When George Bailey was ready to throw himself into the icy water to end his life, he lacked one thing. Thankfulness. All he saw was a ruined family business and thought that life itself was over.

You see, even if we are not considering throwing ourselves overboard, we all do stupid things when we no longer thankful for what we have. When we have no gratitude we become irritable. We take other people for granted. We find fault too easily. We become overly critical of the people whom God has placed in our lives, our friends, our spouses, our children, or the people we work with.

This is the time of year, where God calls us to reset our spiritual lives. Already with another early winter coming on folks are already talking about another propane shortage like last year. How will we stay warm and safe?  Yet what if we were equally concerned about a shortage of thankfulness and gratitude – which alone can warm our hearts and soften our souls with joy.  

Obviously life is not like a black and white feel good movie from the 1940’s. And maybe George Bailey’s financial ruin pales in comparison to the sufferings that you have been through. But the same message applies to you. Our community here, your family, this congregation is better off with you rather than without you. Like George Bailey, no matter what your position in life, things are brighter with you. You are needed here.

You are probably a bit like George Bailey too. You are overly worried about your future. You fret and fume and worry. You forget your blessings and think a few thousand dollars might be the end of you too. And maybe at one point, just as a fleeting thought, you too thought about taking that dive into the icy deeps. But remember that Jesus has already been thrown overboard into the whale of death for you to save your life. Like Jonah he took your place. But he was spit up on the third day – resurrected – fresh from the grave, alive from the belly of the earth. He was dead but now lives.

Your sins have been paid for, even your ingratitude. Your mistrust, your worries, and doubts about God’s love. All that is forgiven. Your life is redeemed. Your life is pleasing to God. You are valued and appreciated. You are loved.

In tonight’s Gospel Jesus heals Ten Lepers and only one turns back to give God any thanks at all. Which is to say, thankfulness has always been in short supply. But for you, who turn to God in faith tonight. It is still a wonderful life. Because it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.

Tomorrow is a great day to count your blessings – to be grateful. You’ll have family, the NFL, Macy’s parade, turkey, stuffing, brandy, and tryptophan.

But these things all pass. Thanksgiving is only one day. Friends and family leave. You return to an empty home. The Packers can’t go the superbowl every year and the leftovers in the fridge eventually run out. But your one best blessing yet remains. You belong to Christ.  His blessings are not for one day but for all eternity.      

Tonight you are in the perfect place to count your blessings. Because you come to the family table with the whole people of God. To thank God for what He has done by sending His Son to save you from our sins. Like George Bailey you are alive, back from the dead, rescued by angels, and returned home- to the kingdom of heaven where true joys are found. 

Everything is restored and you realize like George Bailey that your life has more meaning than what you ever thought. Because in Christ, it is and always will be a Wonderful Life.

The Sunday of the Great Entrance

Advent 1 (Levavi) 
Matthew 21:1–9

This morning Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey as the prophets of old preached. The crowds welcome him with shouts saying “Hosanna in the highest.” The Savior predicted since the foundation of the world is now here. He rides into to Jerusalem on a donkey – a beast of burden. The king born in Bethlehem in a feed trough, to poor parents. And this child is God. But today his work is getting closer to it’s completion. This King rides into town to do what no other king has done. To die for his own subjects.  Today’s reading is the center of human history. God rides into Jerusalem as a poor king to save this whole dying world from sin, death, and hell itself.

But it’s easy to miss it, especially this week, after Thanksgiving, black Friday, and now a full weekend of football. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is bigger than all this but it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Because our Lord is not making a show of it – he’s in a parade or sorts – but it’s not like the Macy’s Day parade on thanksgiving with Clydesdale horses, trumpets, and marching bands.

The people around Jesus recognize who he is. He is the Lamb of God – the Savior of the world – the Messiah. They cry out saying “Hosanna,” which literally means “save us now” or “save us quickly.” And this is fitting becomes Jesus name in Hebrew simply means “The Lord saves.” And here he is. But not everyone is rejoicing because the Pharisees and the Jews are watching but they don’t like what they see. This Jesus has been preaching about repentance, the seriousness of sin, and talking about dying and rising and the coming kingdom of God. For some, for most, this is a message that falls on deaf ears, because frankly, most observers were rather secure in their sins in Jesus day like they are now. Which is to say, if someone does not consider themselves lost or damned by their sins – they don’t really need to be saved at all. No rescue is needed. They have no need for Jesus.

But for us Christians it’s different, because without him, God’s word tells us we are all on one giant funeral procession into eternal death. The scriptures say that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The Scriptures say that apart from him we can do nothing. But we still have a tendency to puff ourselves up and parade around as if we needed no help from God or anyone at all.

But we all know the truth. Since that crunch of the apple in paradise we have been carrying around a heavy weight. We carry around on our hearts a lot of guilt. We know we don’t measure up to what God demands – and He demands perfection. He demands holiness. But all we feel for the most part is a crushing sense of shame. Our sins are real. And sin kills. All sin is deadly. Let us not be like those Pharisees who are suspicious about Jesus preaching. Because he is preaching and riding into Jerusalem for the likes of us. He is the Savior that we so desperately need.      

Jesus rides in on a donkey because donkeys are good for one thing. They are beast of burden – they carry baggage – a heavy load is thrown upon their back – and they schlep it all away. That is why the crowds singing Hosanna and greeting him are throwing their clothes at his feet. Because it is their prayer that Jesus will carry their garments of shame all the way to the cross. They need a Savior who comes down from heaven to do something truly wonderful - to be a beast of burden – to carry a heavy load that no one could ever lift. To carry all our anger, all our mistrust, all of our rebellion, adultery, gossip, and deceit. To be weighed down with it all, pummeled and stuffed with our sins, dressed up in our shame – roasted for the sins of the world.  

Behold your God. He rides into Jerusalem this morning to be your Savior. To carry every weight that bears you down. To tread down death itself under his feet. When he walks out of the dusty tomb on Easter morning he gives proof to the whole world that your sins were no match for the power of his love. So this morning give it all over to him. The best thing you can actually give Jesus is your sins. Be like the crowds greeting Jesus this morning. Sing Hosanna, which means “Lord, save us now” and lay everything you’ve got at Jesus feet.  Lay down all your sins and let him carry them to the cross. There is nothing he can’t handle.

He marched through hell itself to bring you to where He is in heaven. And it is done. It is finished. The funeral procession has ended and the parade to heaven has commenced. So hold your head high and follow cheerfully in his train.     

Zechariah in our first reading had it right. The Lord is your righteousness. Though your sins were as scarlet they are now whiter than snow. You are forgiven and loved by God. You are pleasing to your Father in heaven because you are washed in his atoning sacrifice.     

So come, dearly beloved. The Lord sets a table before you this morning much better than any Thanksgiving meal. All of God’s family is here. His very body and blood given and shed for the life of the world. He gives you everything that belongs to him - His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Like a donkey, he comes in humble ways. In ways you might not expect. He rides in under a preachers voice. A taste of bread and a sip of wine. Body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

This is a meal, ultimately, to give thanks for. Because he is a king like no other. You are more than guests. You are his royal family. Belonging to the kingdom of God which endures forever. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Sunday of the Sheep and the Goats

Trinity 26 2014
Matthew 25:31-46

Every Sunday we confess the Creed after the reading of the Gospel text. Without fail, we say “He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

Yes, Jesus will judge the living and the dead. He will sit on his glorious throne. Before him everyone will be gathered, you and me, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” This is what Jesus teaches us this morning. And it’s not a parable. It’s not a story or even an illustration. It’s simply a factual account of what’s going to actually happen. Jesus speaks of going through with a winnowing fork and separating the wheat from the chaff. The wheat is set aside for the harvest. The chaff is thrown into the fire.

To the sheep He will say “Come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To the goats he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

But let’s be honest now. In our culture and perhaps even in our own churches this is a message which has rather fallen out of fashion. That fire and brimstone stuff – let’s not get too carried away here! Sure we’re Christians – but we don’t want to be lumped in with those crazy people holding up signs on the side of the road – who take their Christianity a bit too far – we think.

These days we are all rather intoxicated with the hallmark channel’s version of Christianity – rather than what the Bible itself actually says. The number one movie this year was “heaven is for real,” but who at all would be interested if a movie came out called “hell is for real.”
500 years ago during the Lutheran Reformation, the question that was front and center in everyone’s mind was, how can I be saved? How can I have my sins forgiven? How can I escape God’s judgment of death and damnation? How can I find a gracious and loving God? Now that we live in a more consumeristic culture, we assume the church should meet our 'felt needs' rather than what God Himself has said we need.

Therefore the assumption is that church exists primarily to make us feel good, to help with our self-esteem maybe. God is there to fix our problems when we get in a jam, kind of like an insurance agent, but overall, God exists primarily to make us feel good. In our consumeristic culture this all makes sense because we are the customer and the Lord and His church are the business and the customer is most certainly always right.

We should repent. The goats are cursed and thrown into the eternal fire because they thought of themselves too highly. We are bit timid to confess out loud that we actually need to be saved at all. Like goats, we too have a tendency to be too stubborn, to insist on our own way, refusing to be led and guided by Christ’s Word. When the Word of God conflicts with our selfish desires, we too have a tendency to butt heads and charge head on.

Sheep are altogether different. Sure they need some coaxing, but they hear the Shepherds voice and they follow him. They learn not to trust in themselves. They don’t even protect themselves because they know that they are no match for the wolves who come around at night. And yet they trust in their Shepherd. They feed on the pasture of His Word, and there they stand on the Last Day.

The goats on the other hand trust in themselves. They say to the Lord, “When did we not do all these things.” Didn’t we do enough? Didn’t you see my good works, my accomplishments, and accolades? Didn’t you notice that I was on the trustees, the village board, the lwml, or the lions club? Sure maybe I’m not perfect, but I’d say I did fairly well – God you have to at least give me that!

This sort of self-confidence in ourselves is faithlessness, which leaves no room for the love of Christ. When He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, it’s not time to bring our resumes to say “look what I’d done” but rather “look what you have done for me.” For ironically was it not Jesus Himself who needed to be clothed but what stripped naked? Was it not Christ who was thrown in prison with no visitors. Was it not Christ Himself who was hungry and thirsty. Naked on the cross and not helped by anyone? Left for dead? Behold the love of God. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And this of course is where our Lord wants to be found. Right here in our own community, even in your own home, wherever the most weak and most vulnerable may be found. Whatever you do unto the least of these you do unto me. And so we worship by loving one another as Christ has loved us.

For He rose from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father. He is returning as judge. The heavens and earth with be destroyed, everything will be dissolved, and a new heavens and earth will be ushered forth. What a terrifying and awful day for those who have spurned his love! But what a glorious day for those who trust in him and put their hope in his unfailing love. Through his blood he judges you to be innocent. Through his bitter passion and atoning death you are found blameless before all the angels in heaven. By His glorious resurrection from the dead you are raised up to stand on the Last Day with all the elect.