Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Harrison on LCMS: "It's Time"

Rev. Matt Harrison, whose name is being mentioned by many as a candidate for LCMS president in 2010, has written a paper which describes what is ailing our synod but also suggests a plan of how to fix it. It's all the buzz of the Lutheran blogosphere right now, and you should read it too:

Monday, November 10, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Pentecost 26
November 9, 2008
“Encouraging Words about the End”

History has an end. There will be a last day, this is very clear in Holy Scripture. The universe will not go on, at least not like this, forever. There is a day, somewhere in the future, that God has planned, in which Christ will come again to earth, and bring all things to fulfillment. It is now, in November, near the end of the church calendar year, that we especially think about the end times.

Like many people today, the ancient Christians in the city of Thessalonica had questions and worries about that day. They had some misconceptions too. So St. Paul writes to them, to clear up the picture, to explain why that day is a good day for us Christians – to give them hope. “Encourage each other with these words” he says. And so Christians have encouraged each other with those words throughout the ages, and so today shall we.

Perhaps it's worth reviewing some basic teachings about the end, the last day. It will come suddenly, when we least expect it. Passages like our Gospel reading from Matthew encourage us to be watchful as we look for it to arrive at any time. Jesus says he will come “like a thief in the night”, that is, suddenly, and not when you think he might.

Many passages, like our Old Testament reading from Amos, paint the day of the Lord as something great and terrible – a fearful day in which God's judgment is poured out. But Amos was speaking to people who had forsaken God for pagan worship. Surely for the unbeliever, the judgment day will be fearful and terrible.

But for the believer, it's quite the opposite. 1 Thessalonians tells us that it will be a good day – a great day – that should give us hope.
So put aside your fears, and hear what God promises about Christ's appearing – and what it will mean for us, his people.

“we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep”

The Thessalonians full well expected Christ to return within their earthly lifetime. And they became concerned when faithful Christians began to die – wondering if there would be a difference between the living and the dead – that somehow their dead loved ones would miss out on the glory of Christ's return. This became a source of grief for them. But Paul says not to grieve like others who have no hope. Christ gives them hope.

In Corinthians, Paul explains, “we will not all sleep”, that is, not every Christian will die before that day. Some will live to see it. But those of us that do will be in the same boat as those of us who have already died. The dead will be raised. And we will all be changed, glorified, and we will all meet Christ together.

The dead will rise. Here's an important promise that gets short shrift these days. We're so accustomed of thinking that we Christians die and go to heaven (and yes, we do), that we forget the final fulfillment of God's plan is that we would rise from the dead. Just like Jesus, whose physical, earthly, human body rose from the dead – so too will our bodies be brought back to life – to live forever with God. Those who die in the faith – while their body “sleeps”, their soul is surely with the Lord and at peace. But at the resurrection soul and body reunite to live in eternal glory.

We will be changed – made “incorruptible”, Paul says. Glorified. We will be like Christ, in his glorified body. We don't know exactly what that means – it hasn't been fully revealed yet. But it sounds good, doesn't it? A physical body that is free of the corruption of sin? No more aches and pains. No more disease or handicap. A body free forever from the effects of the sin which has corrupted us. A body and soul as God intended them to be – perfect and holy.

Together, we will rise not only from death but into the air to meet him. Reminds me of the way Christ ascended into the clouds, after his resurrection, in his own glorified body.

And the promises continue. For there, we will meet Christ and each other, and we will be always with the Lord. What a blessing it will be to see with our own eyes, in our own flesh, what we have known by faith already. As we said last week, being in the presence of the Lord is what makes heaven so heavenly, and we will enjoy it forever, body and soul, with our Lord.

What about all the fire and brimstone? What about the judgment day? What about the locusts and horsemen? What about the lake of fire and answering for all your sins? What about the picture Amos paints of a great and terrible day?

Well Jesus faced that day himself, already. On that dark Friday in Jerusalem, when he hung on a cross for our sins. There Jesus endured the wrath of God's judgment so that our last day would be a day of peace. He took the punishment so we would stand before God free of guilt. He died for us to live – not just spiritually, but also physically – just as he rose, firstborn of the dead triumphant over the grave.

And because of that day of sacrifice, and that day of resurrection, we have a resurrection of our own – a promise yet unpaid but not forgotten. A day of final victory. This is why his resurrection is such a lynch-pin for our faith. Because only in his resurrection do we have the promise of resurrection.

So watch and be ready for his coming. Hear his word, frequently and faithfully. Remember your baptism, where he first raised you from death to new spiritual life. And receive his body and blood – often – for the forgiveness that sustains us each day, keeping us strong and vibrant in a faith that is always ready for its fulfillment.

Live your life in the faith that he has given you, trusting in his mercy and grace. And die your death in a peace that knows the promise of victory, and rest in peace, for the trumpet will sound, the archangel will shout, and Christ will return for his people. And we will be with him forever. This is our hope. This is his promise.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Best Election Comment Yet

Here's the best comment I've read yet on the election, from Pastor Petersen at Cyberstones:

Tuesday's Winner Prophesied
Here is what will happen . . .

the Church will win. The Lord will provide. All things will work together for good. The Lord's man will win the election tomorrow. It will be for the good of those who love God.

That is not to say that the winner will be good. I don't think that is an option in our system. But what will be good is the will of the Lord that He will work for His Church.

Think on the good the Lord did through Caesar, through Leo X, through Napolean and Hitler and Sadaam Hussein. Sure, I'd prefer restful days of peace. But the reality is that restful days of peace are dangerous. They lull us into complacency. The Church militant does not have the option of resting or suing for peace or finding a compromise. She fights until she is relieved of her burden. And when she is too weak to fight, when she gives in to temptation, when she tries to make her own way, then the Lord in His mercy brings the fight to her in the form of persecution - from within and without.

No matter who wins tomorrow, I expect persecution, intolerance, hatred of the Truth, and hard times are coming. The division in our country and the razor's edge of violence we rest upon is not only in the secular realm. It is the character of today's LC-MS and Lutheranism the world over. I don't see any easy days ahead. But I do see good days. I see days when men confess the Truth and learn to love not their lives to death, days when priorities become clear and the Word of God is cherished.

Trust not in princes. Empires fail. The Word of the Lord endures forever. He will provide. One way or another, there is always a Ram in the thicket, Our Lord in the wrath of His Father that we be spared and inherit the Kingdom for free. That Kingdom will not be overcome or cease. So cast you ballot tomorrow and then cast your cares away. It does not matter if you candidate wins or loses. The Lord will provide.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sermon - All Saints Day - Revelation 7:2-17

Revelation 7:2-17
All Saints Day (observed)
November 2, 2008
“An Image of All the Saints”

What does heaven look like? Take a moment and picture it. Maybe you have clouds and angels playing harps in your head. Maybe rainbows and green valleys, or something like a golf course. Maybe you just thought of Lambeau Field.

St. John was exiled to the prison island of Patmos for being a Christian. There, as an old man, he had a marvelous vision – and he wrote down what he say. We call that writing, “The Book of Revelation”. And while Revelation is filled will all sorts of the images John saw, some of them even quite scary, we also see here some of the clearest pictures of heaven in all of scripture.

One striking thing about heaven, pictured in Revelation, is that it's not so much a place as a people. Or, should we say, a situation – between God and his people. John doesn't so much describe the surrounding environment – that's not what's important. But what is important is who is there, and why.

God is there. That's what makes it so heavenly. That's what makes it a good place – a place we want to be. Heaven means a blessed reunion of God and man – a relationship restored to full and perfect harmony, after it was lost in the ancient paradise of Eden. To be cast away from God forever is Hell. But to be in his presence forever, singing his praises, is heavenly. John certainly pictures God throughout his vision – both as a mighty king on his throne, but also also as the Lamb who once was slain – Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead.

But on this All Saints Day, it's worth noting who else is there – his people.

In Revelation 7 we see two pictures of God's people. First, we have the 144,000. Contrary to the teachings of some, this does not mean there's a limited number who can be saved. It's not as if heaven has a big flashing “no vacancy” sign, and the rest of us are out of luck. Here is a symbolic number – 12, the number of God's people throughout scripture – is squared and multiplied by 1000. It really stands for the totality of all God's people, the church, the chosen ones of God.
Then there is the great multitude no one could count. And these are really the same people – God's people. Some say the first is a view of us on earth, and the second a view of us in glory. Others suggest the 144,000 are from God's point of view, and the multitude is from man's point of view. But this much is clear. The number of those saved and standing, ultimately, before God in heaven is great.

John sees this great crowd, and one of the elders asks, “who are they?” We might wonder the same, but the answer is obvious. One wonders, too, if John didn't even recognize some of them. Perhaps as he looked on the crowd he saw Christian friends – apostles and martyrs who had gone before him. “Oh there's Peter, there's Matthew. There's my brother James”

Who are they? Its obvious. “Sir, you know” he says. But this moment is worth comment. Of all the visions in Revelation, few are explained to this extent. The elder makes it plain, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” These are believers in the glory of God's eternal presence.

These are, in fact, all the saints. Can you see their faces? There's .... Arlene and John, John, Gilbert and Betty, Margaret, Lucille, Thelma, Irene, LaVerne, Ruth, Alice and Mildred.

And there, by the grace of God, you and I will be too. For in Holy Baptism, our robes are washed clean in the blood of the lamb. There you were first clothed with Christ. And his righteousness covers you even now, and even forever.

And all the trouble of this world, or as Revelation calls it, “the great tribulation” - none of it compares to the glory revealed there. There, in the presence of God, there is no more pain, hunger, thirst, suffering or sorrow.

What a beautiful picture it is, that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Like a loving father whose kiss makes the boo boo all better, but even more perfect and full. His tender, loving, mercy will take away all cares and troubles, not just for a moment, but forever. It's almost impossible to comprehend.

By rights, heaven is already yours. You already stand in the merciful presence of God, by grace through faith. One day we will see it in all its fullness, but we possess it even now.

Yes even now, God gives us a taste of it. We have the forgiveness of our sins, and the peace with God that brings. We have the promises of blessings now and future, and in those words we trust. We have the hope of the resurrection, the certainty of things unseen. And we have his gracious presence even now - “Lo, I am with you always” and “where two or three gather in my name, there am I”.

Even now, before the great marriage feast, we have a foretaste, a sample, if you will, of that blessed banquet. When we gather at the rail and kneel to receive his body and blood, we participate in the great communion – the community – of heavenly host, together with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. It's as if the saints themselves are here with us, praising and thanking the God who has brought us salvation.

That's why we sing the same songs. Power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and blessing and glory to God and to the Lamb, forever and ever, amen. We, like the saints, are blood-bought and victorious in Christ. We, like the saints, will live forever. And that eternal life with God has already begun.

All Saints Day – not a day to mourn or bemoan those who have departed this world, but a day to rejoice in triumph with those who have joined the everlasting company, the great multitude in the eternal presence of God. All saints – all holy people – who continuously praise the Holy One, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Today we see images, visions, with St. John of the glories of heaven – not a place, as much as a state of being – God, in mercy, dwelling with his people forever.

For the promise of glories to come, and for the present blessings he so richly reveals – we thank you, O Lord. For all the saints who from their labors rest, we thank you, O Lord. And for the grace to remain in that great company here in life and there for eternity we pray, keep us always, O Lord, in Jesus Christ. In his name. Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Issues Etc. Interview

I participated in an Issues Etc... pastor's roundtable, or, triangle-table, or really, L-shaped table....

The topic was the 7th Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal". You can download and listen to the podcast here for free.