Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sermon - Last Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 13:24-37

Last Sunday After Pentecost, November 25th 2012
Christ Lutheran, St. Paul, NE and St. John's Lutheran, Palmer, NE
Mark 13:24-37
“Temporary and Forever”
Introductions, etc...

These few weeks of the church calendar we're focusing especially on the end times. The last couple of Sundays in the church year seem a fitting time to do so. And the Season of Advent, just around the corner, is a time not only to remember Christ's first coming, but also to anticipate his second coming.

There are many things we can say about the end times. That the Lord will return suddenly, like a thief in the night. That he will judge the living and the dead. That God's people, forgiven and righteous, sealed in our baptism – should look forward to, and not dread that day. It is our day of final victory in Christ, in which all his promises of eternity come to fruition.

Today, let's focus on an emphasis we see in both our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, and in our Gospel reading from Mark. See if you can catch the common idea. Isaiah says:

“the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”

And Jesus says in our Gospel reading:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

There is a contrast, we see, between the temporal and the eternal. Between the earthly and the heavenly. Between the “here and now” and the “then and there”.

We are most familiar with the here and now. The world of our everyday life is the world corrupted by sin, in which things go wrong and chaos eventually wins. The temporal world is dying, just like our flesh is dying. Nothing in this world seems to last forever. It's why we value things like gold that DO seem to last forever, but even these will one day pass away.

But in our experience, what good lasts for very long? The youth and beauty you once enjoyed have now faded. The fresh flowers you buy your wife soon wither and smell. The brand new car you buy gets dinged in the parking lot. Moth and rust are the standard for this world of decay. Corruption. Chaos. Decay.

Who doesn't long for the good old days? Whenever they were, days long ago when things seemed better, simpler, more wholesome? With all these wars and rumors of wars, the world seems more and more dangerous. There's saber rattling in the middle east, threats to our safety from within and without, rising crime rates, news stories that shock more and more. And how many million unborn children are killed by their own mother's “free choice”?

And then there's your own record. Though all of us are conceived and born in sin, we can look back over our lifetime and the sins we've accumulated, too many to count. And the older you are, the longer you've had to go around sinning. Imagine the length of the rap sheet if every wrong you ever committed was read aloud. And it doesn't get better, only worse. For eventually the wages of sin come due, and the grave collects its debt.

Such is life in this world, where things wear out like a garment, and those who dwell here die in like manner. Such is life in this temporal, fading, corrupted world, where heaven and earth will pass away, and sinners like you and me will pass away. But....

Then there is the salvation of God which lasts forever. Then there is the righteousness of God which will never be dismayed. Then there are the words of Christ which will never pass away.

And what a thought – that words, of all things, could last forever. This is outside of our experience, where a word is spoken and quickly forgotten. Where promises are made to be broken. But not with Jesus Christ. His words matter, they have power, and they last forever. His promises endure.

His words stand in contrast to the world of temporal chaos in which we live. For all the death we see, he speaks words of life. For all the decay and decline, he speaks renewal and righteousness. When we look at our own works, our own merit, our own record before God and man, we can only say, “I am finished”. But the Christ who dies on the cross in our place declares once for all time, “It is finished”.

In Christ, your salvation is accomplished. In Christ, your righteousness will never be dismayed. His promises stand forever.

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved”

“I am with you always even to the end of the age”

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

“In my Father's house are many rooms...And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
And all of these words which will never pass away, are not only for some other sinner, who's list of sins is shorter than yours. These words are for you. These promises are for you. For you, dear Christian, are one of his. You who have been baptized have had the name of God, the promise of God, placed upon you by water and the word – and you are sealed for eternity with a blessing that will also never pass away. He will not forsake his own, and you, in baptism are his own. You belong to God, in Christ, forever.

That long list of sins from this temporal age, they are gone forever, dealt with at the cross, forgiven at the font, and at the rail, and in the word which stands forever.

So now, stay awake and watchful for his coming – not in fear, but in hope. See the signs of the times not in despair, but in anticipation, that the one whose word stands forever will bring salvation that lasts just as long. Whenever he comes, today, tomorrow, or in a thousand years – our salvation is sure, and our righteousness secure. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sermon - Mark 13:1-13 - Pentecost 25

Pentecost 25, November 18th, 2012
St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Waterford, WI
Mark 13-1-13
“It Gets Better...”
Introductions, etc...

Tell me if you've had this experience. Someone tells you a story – maybe a funny story – about what happened to them. They describe in detail how it all unfolds, and how a series of unfortunate events just keep on coming, one thing after another. And just when you think the story is over, they say, “wait... it gets better”. Usually that means, wait, it gets worse. And that may happen several times in the story... “Wait... it gets better”

Today's Gospel reading is kind of like that. Jesus is with his disciples in Jerusalem, and they gawk like tourists at the impressive architecture of the Temple. And surely it was one of the most massive and imposing human achievements they would have encountered. I think of my family's recent trip to the top of the Empire State Building in New York. My children looked down with glee to all the people who looked like little ants down there. It was really worth the trip. These disciples of Jesus are similarly impressed with Herod's renovations of this second temple which were in full swing. But Jesus wasn't so taken in.

“You see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another here, they'll all be thrown down”. What a killjoy Jesus seems to be. But our Lord knew what was coming. For in 70 AD, just a generation or so away, the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Roman armies, who finally had enough of Jewish rebellions. They would destroy the city and bring down that massive temple. And it would never be built again. To this day, it's been everything from a pile of rubble, to a garbage heap, to now – a shrine to a false god. But no temple. And Jesus saw it coming. But it gets better....

His disciples take him aside, wanting to know more – dates and times and when and how all this will happen. Morbid curiosity? Self preservation? Who knows their motivations, but Jesus tells them what they needed to hear, even if it wasn't what they wanted to hear:

It gets better. Not only will the temple go down, but there will be all these false teachers pretending to be the Christ. Watch out! Don't listen to them! Don't fall for it! Thanks for the warning, Jesus. But wait. It gets better....

Then you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. You think there's a time of peace, but no. Fighting will continue, both far and near. But it gets better... earthquakes... famines... but this isn't the end, either. It gets better. It's like a woman going into labor, which, I am told, is quite painful. But each contraction, each step in the process, gets worse and worse...

Be on guard! Watch out... for it gets better.... these things I tell you about aren't just for some other people out there. These things will happen to you, too! They'll drag you before councils, beat you in synagogues, and you'll stand before governors and kings and have to testify. You'll be delivered over to judgment, even to death, he basically tells them. And was it ever true. We know from the church fathers and early Christian history that the apostles were all to meet a martyr's death, with one exception, John. And John was exiled to a prison island. Even families will be torn apart in these troubled times, giving each other over to death. Jesus doesn't sugar coat the future for his disciples. Nor would he for you, either.

You, Christian, will not have an easy row to hoe, either. Jesus promises that followers of his will have crosses to bear. He calls us to repentance. He doesn't preach a prosperity Gospel of wealth and riches to the true believers, but instead says blessed are the meek, the lowly, the poor in spirit. He doesn't promise a rose garden, an easy street, a plush and comfy life free of hassle. The world hates us, because it hated him. Christians, even we, the children of God in Christ, will suffer, get sick, be persecuted, and eventually die. We are sinners, after all, and we've earned our wages of death. And we live in a world that is broken, troubled, laboring. But there is an end. And in the end, it gets better. And now, I mean better, not worse.

Jesus says to his disciples in John 16, “In this world, you will have troubles. But fear not, for I have overcome the world.” And in our reading, he concludes with this promise: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” Elsewhere Jesus promises mansions in heaven. That God will wipe every tear from our eyes. We read old testament promises that the righteous will shine like stars forever. We have hope for that day, that glorious day when he returns. Scripture tells us precious little about the glories our heaven and eternity. But what it tells us is precious. And yet... it gets better.

The comfort of God in Jesus Christ is not only for that future day, it is present, even now.

We have our baptism! We have the sign and seal of God's grace upon us in a washing of rebirth and renewal. We belong to him. Our life as his child has already begun, at the font, and it will last forever. When guilt and shame burden you, remember your baptism. When it feels like God has abandoned you, remember your baptism. When you wonder and doubt if you, such a sinner, can even be saved, remember your baptism. But it gets better...

We have his body and blood! Yes, he does not leave us to starve in this wilderness as we wander, but sustains us with his real presence, continually nourishing us with what we need the most – himself – and the forgiveness, life and salvation he delivers. Here we confess our unity with God and one another. Here we are strengthened in body and soul for days of our journey. But it gets better....

We have his word. A precious gospel, which encourages and equips us in this labored world. A hope and promise which points us forward to better days, because it always brings us back to that dark Friday where our sins were crucified with Christ. The cross, the open tomb of the resurrected Christ, and the promise of his return to judge the living and the dead and bring us to his kingdom which will not end.

This Gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth. It began with the disciples. It continued throughout the ages. Before kings and rulers, in the face of persecution and martyrdom. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, giving men words to speak, words that point to Christ crucified for sinners, words that create faith and bring hope. The same Gospel preached by those apostles is the Gospel that rings out from this pulpit, here in Waterford. It's the same Gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached around the world, and even in Singapore. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom all things truly get better, for he makes all things new. In him, there is an end... an end to all labors and troubles. In him, there is a hope and promise, even when the foundations of your world are shaken, when the walls come crumbling down. For he is with us now, even to the end of the age, with us through all the troubles, holding out our only hope. And we will be with him forever, for he will come again on that great and glorious day. Remember that day, when your days seem dark. Remember his promise always, and know that in Jesus Christ, it gets better. Amen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sermon - Pentecost 24 - Mark 12:38-44

Pentecost 24, November 11th, 2012
St. John's Lutheran Church, North Prairie, WI
Mark 12:38-44
“What's With this Widow?”

Introductions, etc...

What's with this widow? Jesus watches the scene unfold, with the various people making their offerings in the temple. Clang, clang, clang, go the coins – no paper money – and when the rich put theirs in the box it probably sounds like a slot machine dumping out a jackpot. Quite a show, perhaps. Really, very impressive. But not to Jesus. He is far more impressed with one poor widow who contributes two small coins – an extremely small sum – but out of her poverty, she gave all she had.

So is the lesson here simply one of proportional giving? That Jesus wants us to give everything we have, too? That the takeaway from today is go home, empty your bank account and put it in next sunday's envelope for St. John's, or better yet, mark it for support of a missionary to Singapore? What's Jesus getting at here?

Take the scribes, about whom Jesus warned his disciples. Oh they're very impressive, those people – they walk around in long robes, with all the pomp and pageantry. They always have the best seat in the house. But there's a dirty secret. Part of their wealth is ill-gotten gain. Maybe technically legal, but at great cost to the poor, the helpless, the widow. And all the while pretending to be faithful and pure, saying long prayers, and donating large sums into the temple treasury. Beware of them. Don't be like them. Don't think they're the example.

There are some warnings for us here, too. Against greed. Against pretense. Against taking advantage of others, and against making a show of our giving. We should not think highly of ourselves for giving 5 or 7 or 10% or more... Nor should we necessarily think more of the big givers in the congregation. Jesus isn't impressed by all that.

For over there is a poor widow, who puts us all to shame. Not with the amount of her offering, or even with its proportion, but that her offering is made in faith. And here is the key.

Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say something similar to a rich young man who thought he had it all together, well mostly. But Jesus said you lack one thing. Go sell all your stuff, and give it to the poor. And the man went away sad because he had great wealth. He went away, it seems, because his real God was his money, and he wasn't willing to repent and believe. It isn't that Jesus is against people having stuff. But when that stuff gets in the way of them having him – of recognizing sin, of trusting in him for forgiveness, life, and salvation – if it's either stuff or Jesus, then the stuff has to go.

Once again Jesus turns the usual expectations upside down and inside out. You think that when it comes to giving, more is better. But Jesus is about quality, not quantity. You think that wealth is a sign of God's favor, but Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. You think that lowly widows, poor and sad, are forgettable, but he remembers them, and commends their faith. You think that Jesus wants some, or maybe all of your money – but what he really wants is all of you, your heart, mind, soul.

But who can do it? Who can live up to this high standard of reliance on God? Who can give with pure motives, and not give thought to selfish gain? How many people today give because it feels good to help others – not simply out of love? What good work, of any kind can we do, that is not tainted or sullied by our sin, tinged with pride, or polluted by ulterior motives?

Only Jesus can give perfectly. Only Jesus can give completely. And does he ever. He gives what the world considered worth very little – his life. Our world cheapens life, too, both at beginning and end. But Jesus gives more than just a human life, however precious. He is the Holy One of God. He is without sin. And he is the only-begotten Son of God, by whom all things were made. His blood is worth more, is more precious than all the gold and silver in the world. And yet he gives up all, becomes a worm, dies a pariah, all... for you.

It is this good news that we have heard, this Gospel which calls us to faith. It is knowing him not just as God and Lord but as savior and friend – the one who loved us with the greatest love of all – it is this love that he first showed us, it is the giving he first gave for us, that moves us to love and serve and forgive and to give.

This widow – she wasn't at the Walmart answering the clang of the bell and filling the kettle to assuage her guilt. She wasn't in her comfy chair watching poor starving children on TV, and trying to do her part. She was in the temple – the house of God. And that means she heard God's word. She was where the sacrifices happened. Her faith trusted in God's promises, and her generous giving of all she had was a confession of her faith in the one who sustained her, and sustains you. She came to the temple to receive the true treasures that money can't buy. She came in faith and hope. Little did she know the fulfillment of all sacrifices and all her hopes had also come to the temple that day, that he took notice of her faithful giving, and commended her example to his disciples, and to us.

One wonders whether the poor widow came to know and believe in this Jesus of Nazareth who would soon be crucified, and rise from the dead. One wonders whether she came to see the fulfillment of all she hoped for, and trusted in.

But how blessed are we to have heard, and believed. How blessed are we when the Spirit of God works through his word, to call us to repentance and faith. And as that same Spirit moves us, cheers us on, to love and serve and give for the benefit of our neighbor and toward the expansion of Christ's kingdom. Whatever your gift, large or small, mighty or mite. Give it in faith and joy, knowing and trusting in the one who gave his all for you, and still gives for your blessing. In the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

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

Sermon- All Saints Day (observed), November 4th, 2012
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Carson City, NV
Revelation 7:2-17
“All Saints: Eschatology and Ecclesiology”

Introductions, etc...

All Saints Day – a favorite of mine – a day rich in theology. Here we find ecclesiology – that is, matters concerning God's church. We find Sacramentality – the oneness we share at the rail and font with all of God's people of all times. We find Christology, of course, Christ in all our doctrines. And we find Eschatology – the matters concerning the end of days. The judgment. The kingdom to come.

Watch and see, Christians, how once again many people will get all fouled up by a false eschatology. Wait for December 21st of this year and the conclusion of the infamous Mayan calendar – to see how our media and culture will bombard us with end times speculation and fear. Why is it, that even those who don't read the Bible, go to church, or even call themselves Christians, seem to know and fear an imminent end? Perhaps it's the hard-wiring of God's law in our hearts, and a sense, however dulled, that all of us have sinned and deserve God's judgment. That when our day comes, or when the end of the world comes for all, either way we will stand before the throne and answer for our sins. Dull it, ignore it, harden your heart – but the law will stand forever and accuse the sinners who break it.

Thanks be to God for the grace and mercy he shows to us in Christ! We, the people of God, the children of God, the saints of God – will stand in the judgment. We will not stand on our own, but only in and through Christ – who has paid our price and forgiven our sins, and promised us mansions in heaven. We need not fear the end, rather, we pray with the saints of all ages, “come quickly, Lord Jesus”. For that final day is our day of victory, our day of triumph, our final hope.

Still, some Christians avoid the book of Revelation like the plague – or one of the plagues therein. Some find it hard, confusing or troubling. Scary images of demons and monsters, natural and supernatural disasters. And great suffering. Some are put off by its seemingly cryptic use of numbers, or strange imagery. And some, on the other hand, are overly fascinated with this last book of Scripture – and find ways to misread it, and misuse it.

But The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John is worthy of our study, or attention, and our hearing – in that in brings us some of the most powerful words of comfort – eternal comfort – in all of Holy Scripture. These words at the end of the book give us assurance that God already knows how it all ends – and that he is victorious – and that his people triumph with him. Not through great power and glory, but by the blood of the lamb.

And our reading this All Saints day fits the bill. It is a picture of a great multitude dressed in white robes. who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. This is a picture of the church in final glory. This is a picture of our future. This is the destiny of the church.

Who are these people? That's the question John is asked by the elder. And we can expand on the answer a little.

Who are these people? They are people from every nation and tribe, people and language. They are white and hispanic, they are african and european and asian. They are from all times and places where the Holy Spirit has called sinners to faith by the Gospel. By missionaries and pastors, parents and teachers, friends who confess and witness and bring others to the throne of the Lamb.

Who are these people? They are wearing white robes – robes which have been washed. And boy did they need to be washed. Formerly, those robes were stained and soiled with sin. Robes needed to cover the nakedness and shame that began when their parents first sinned and hid in the garden. But no longer. Now, it's a robe of righteousness. Now it's the robe of baptism, of faith, a very putting on of Christ. They have washed their robes, not with bleach or detergent, but with the holy precious blood of Christ. Yes, Christ's blood is the only basis for our salvation. Though your sins were as scarlet, in Christ, they are white as snow.

Who are these people waving palm branches? They are evoking that first triumphal entry of the Messiah – on Palm Sunday. There the crowds waved their branches and sang, “Hosanna”, that is, “Save us now.” But on that day, the day of his final coming, the day of his ultimate triumphal entry, the Hosannas will come to fruition. He will come with his angels in glory to bring salvation full circle. To bring his people a resurrection like his, to make us like him, risen, glorified, reigning with him forever.

Who are these people singing? They sing in joy – like the saints of all ages. They sing to the Lamb who brings them salvation. They are all the company of heaven, in chorus of praise to our God. They are all the saints, and we join their song even today as we gather around God's word and receive Christ's body and blood.

  • They are people of promises fulfilled, and just look at these promises:
  • They are before the throne of God. They are not cast away from God's presence, but stand in his very throne room. They are not sent away in punishment, but enjoy the honor of his Holy presence.
  • The serve day and night in his temple - They, all of them, serve as priests, for they have been made holy.
  • God shelters them with his presence - nothing can harm them under his watchful care.
  • They neither hunger nor thirst – the want for nothing, they lack nothing.
  • The sun doesn't scorch them with heat – for here there is only comfort.
  • The Lamb is their shepherd. The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want. He guides them, he guides us, to springs of living water – the same water of grace and mercy that quenches the parched soul. The water that flows from his throne, from him...
  • And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, yes, from our eyes. What an image. That God himself would wipe the tears from your eyes. Even today, he does so, then and there, he will do so fully.

One final thought for this all saints day – in a few moments we will observe a tradition that many others do on All Saints day – the tolling of bells or chimes for the departed Christians from our midst during the past year. As each name is read, we give thanks for the life of this child of God, this saint, lived among us. And as each name is read, we might picture them, decked in the white robe of righteousness, waving a palm branch of their own, and joining the great multitude of saints. For those loved ones of ours, who die in the faith, and for us, there is precious promise in Christ. Their future – our future is sure.

On this All Saints Day, rejoice that in Christ there is forgiveness, life, salvation. In Christ we live, and will live, forever, will all the saints. And that God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and from yours.