Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon - Reformation Day (Observed) - Revelation 14:6-7

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 27th, 2013
Revelation 14:6-7

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke about the man who goes to heaven, and sees all the different doors, with each denomination of Christian worshipping in their own way.  But the door marked, “Lutheran” also bears a sign, “quiet please”.  And when the man asks why, St. Peter explains, “Shh.  They think they’re the only ones here!”

I can take a joke as well as anyone, but it’s just not true.  We recognize the universal church far transcends those of us who call ourselves “Lutheran”.  I fully expect to see Baptists and Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Methodists in Heaven.  All who call on the name of Jesus Christ, have true faith in him, will be saved.  We Lutherans are not the only Christians.  And we are certainly not the only ones who will go to heaven.  Lutherans have never taught this.

However, that’s not to say that the differences don’t matter.  It’s not to say that we should sweep disagreements aside, and act as if we are all united.  We live in a fallen world, where knowingly or unknowingly, God’s holy Word is twisted and worked over, even by those who profess to be Christians.  The Old Evil Foe has been doing it from the beginning, when he led men astray with his question, “did God really say...?”  And he continues to cast doubt wherever he can today.  It is a grievous situation that the church on earth is not united in the truth, as Jesus prayed in John 17.  Sin corrupts.  It even corrupts doctrine.

And yet despite all of this, the word of the Lord stands forever.  There is a universal and timeless truth to it.  Or as John puts it in our reading from Revelation, an “eternal gospel”.  

And this eternal gospel is a gospel to be proclaimed, “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”  Friends, we are all living proof of this, even today.  

The Gospel is timeless and eternal, but it is also concrete and time-bound.  It is universal - that is, it is for people of all places and tribes and nationalities.  But it is also particular, that is, it is for you.  You have come to faith by the proclamation of the eternal Gospel.  You are baptized into the eternal, triune name of God.  And you continue to live by that same eternal gospel which you hear again and again, and which continues to give life.

Just what is this eternal gospel?

It is the whole and sum of God’s word to you, the sinner.  It is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  

It is the incarnation, the perfect law-keeping, the suffering, the death and the resurrection of Christ, for you.  

It is the fact of his promise that your sins are forgiven, that you belong to him, for you were bought with a price.  

It is the seal and certainty of our baptism, it is the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood for our forgiveness.  

It is justification, by grace, through faith, in Christ alone.  

It is the confession of Christ before the church and the world, before governors and kings.  The confession of the old and the young, even from the mouths of babes.

It is the work of Christ, and Christ alone - for you, on you, in you and given to you.  

The eternal gospel is Jesus, and all that is wrapped up in him; Christ, crucified for sinners, alive for sinners, who will come again to judge the living and the dead and make all things new.

To say we are “Lutheran”, is to say that we confess the eternal Gospel.  To say we are Lutheran means that we believe what God’s word teaches, and has always taught.  That sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  That when God makes a promise, he keeps it, even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  That the heart and soul of our faith is not about what we do or don’t do, or should or shouldn’t do, but about what our Lord Jesus Christ objectively has done, and continues to do for us.

I believe, and I confess that the Evangelical Lutheran Church - the church which confesses the writings of the Book of Concord - confesses the eternal gospel with truth and purity.  And I hope you can say the same.

There was nothing special about the reformers, really.  There was nothing exceptional about Martin Luther.  What makes this confession worthy of our attention, is its crystal clear presentation of the eternal gospel.  No cooperation with God, no act of human will or reason.  No experience or heartfelt yearning is necessary, or even relevant.  Jesus Christ comes to save sinners, to heal the broken, and raise the dead.  Which we all were in our sins, completely beyond hope.  Lost eternally.

But the eternal gospel gives hope to the hopeless, righteousness to sinners, and breathes life into the walking dead.

In a way, all those who confess this gospel confess the same.  And all those who believe and teach it, could in a sense be called, “Lutheran”.  I’ll often make a joke of my own, about how Lutheran Abraham was, who believed in God and was credited as righteous.  Or how Lutheran David was, who when confronted by Nathan about his adultery and murder confessed, “I have sinned”.  Or how Lutheran were the prophets and patriarchs, and all the believers of old - who Hebrews says looked forward by faith to the salvation God would accomplish in Christ alone.  They were believers in the eternal Gospel.  They were Lutherans.  They just didn’t know it.

And that is why, also, there will only be Lutherans in heaven.  For when the dust settles, and we see all things clearly, and all falsehood and misunderstanding melts away - we will see Christ and his word clearly.  His eternal gospel will stand.  And we will all of us, together, believe and know that salvation is by Christ alone, for us, forever.

Being Lutheran, you see, isn’t about Luther at all.  It’s about Christ.  It’s not about me or you, and what we can bring to the table.  We have only wretched sin.  Instead, it’s about Christ, and what he brought to the cross - himself, and gave his body and blood there, for you.  Receive that same body and blood today, for the forgiveness of your sins, according to the promise of his eternal gospel.

And have a blessed Reformation day.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 20 - Habbakuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Text:  Habbakuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Theme:  “Waiting... in Faith”
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
LWML Sunday; St. John’s Lutheran Church, Racine, WI
October 6th, 2013

One of our common “first world problems” is having to wait.  Waiting for the green light at the intersection.  Waiting for the slow computer to load the web page.  Waiting for your toddler to get dressed so you can get to church on time.  And if you’re a naturally impatient person, the DMV can seem like your own special little purgatory.  Or maybe you are a missionary family waiting to get your visas and to move overseas...  Yes, I’ve been thinking about waiting a lot lately.  And our reading today reminds us there is a spiritual struggle for us when it comes to waiting... waiting on the promises of God.

Habbakuk knew something about this.  He was a sort of a missionary - not to Singapore, but to his own people, the people of Judah.  A prophet charged with calling out their sin, calling for their repentance, a mending of their ways.  He spoke, not his own word, but God’s holy Word.  And yet, he was frustrated.  He wasn’t seeing the results he wanted.  The people weren’t listening, and it seemed as if God was just letting them get away with it.  Wouldn’t he act?  Wouldn’t his judgment come?  How much longer do I have to wait, oh Lord?  The poor are victimized and the rich get richer by taking advantage.  It’s not fair.  When will God make things right?

Likewise, my own expectations for Singapore must be tempered.  A preacher bringing the Word of God to any place must know that not all have ears to hear.  That some will reject, even hate the message and the messenger.  And that success and growth and full pews and overflowing offering plates and shiny happy parishioners might not come so soon, or ever.  But God’s word never returns void.  It always accomplishes its purpose.  Though sometimes that purpose is so that those who reject it will be without excuse.  Nevertheless, we pray that God will bring good fruit from this message, and seeds sown will be watered, grow, and a harvest will multiply for Christ’s kingdom.  May God grant us the patience to see it.

And here at St. John’s, there is a new prophetic voice among you.  Pastor Gilbert is called to preach and proclaim the word to you, the people in his own (new) backyard.  And there may be times he will be frustrated, as will you, with the lack of outward results.  Or maybe it’s still the honeymoon period, and everyone’s still in awe of his vibrant preaching and poignant messages.  I don’t know.  I haven’t heard him preach.  But sooner or later, a time will come, when pastor or people, or both - will grow frustrated, and maybe a bit jaded.  Things might seem to stagnate.  It will become business as usual.  Patience in the promises of God, Pastor Gilbert.  Be faithful in your proclamation of law and gospel, and of Christ crucified for sinners.  And don’t force it, wait for the Lord to bring the results in his good time.  You may never even see the results.  No matter.  Be faithful.  Wait for the Lord.

And the people who hear such messages must also be patient.  Patient that God will bring good things to them in his good time.  The fervent prayers of the faithful are never ignored, but answered by our loving and gracious God.  But his ways are not our ways, his answer is not our answer, and his timing is not our timing.

Sometimes it seems like he never delivers.  That he’s forgotten us entirely.  Then faith steps in and points us back to the promises.  

The Lord who promised Adam and Eve and offspring that would crush the serpent’s head... remembered his promise and delivered, at the cross.  The Lord who promised old Abraham many descendants and even more blessings, is still fulfilling that promise when new Christians are born at the font.  And the Christ who promises forgiveness of sins in this bread and wine that is his body and blood - remembers his promise and delivers the goods, even as we do this in remembrance of him.

The same patient Lord who never forgets a promise answers the prophet Habbakuk:

“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay."

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith."

Friends, this is faith.  That we cling to the promises.  That we trust that the promise-maker is a promise-keeper even when our eyes and ears say otherwise.  

When life dumps troubles and worries and problems galore, and it seems that if there is a God, he has forsaken you... have faith.  Wait for the Lord.  

When your sins seem so great and burdensome that you can almost feel their weight on your shoulders, have faith in the one who carried them all to the cross.  Wait for the Lord.  

When it seems like your prayers are falling on deaf ears, and you want to scream “is anyone listening?” then you are in the good company of Habbakuk, and the apostles and saints, and all we of little faith.  The sinful nature of man is impatient.  But the Lord is patient, merciful, and kind.  And he who knows and sees and hears all things certainly hears you, and he does not despise the cries of his own people.  Like a father that knows best, as indeed he is, he will bring his justice and mercy at the proper time.  Have faith.  Wait for the Lord.

Where better do we see God’s justice AND mercy, than at the cross?  Where better do we see God’s answer to prayer?  Where can you look and know for certain that God will go to any lengths, ANY lengths for you... even to the death of his own Son... And Christ, even to the shedding of his own blood.  For you.  It is done, and it is finished.  God keeps his promises.  His justice is satisfied.  Sin is paid for.  And you, the sinner, go free.

There is another appointed time, my friends, for which we wait.  Another hour in which God will act, once and for all.  Call it the last day, the judgment day, the consummation of all things.  Christ will come with all his angels, judge the living and the dead.  And all his enemies and ours will be no more.  Even death itself will be done for, and we will rise and live forever.  No more suffering, no more pain, God himself wiping every tear from our eyes.  It is this final promised land in which we hope.  It is Christ’s promise that he is preparing a place for us, and will come to take us there.  It is this sure and certain hope that gives us courage even in the face of our own death.  We can rest in peace, because we wait for the Lord.

And even in death, the righteous lives... by faith.  What a wonderful promise, “the righteous shall live by faith”.  It doesn’t say the righteous will live by our impressive resume of good deeds.  The righteous don’t live by making a commitment to Jesus, or by asking him into our hearts.  The righteous don’t live by lily white reputations and a spotless record of church attendance.  The righteous don’t live by anything other than faith - faith in Christ, faith in his promises, faith in his plan and purpose to prosper you now and always.  Even when it looks otherwise, faith sees it.  And faith knows it’s worth waiting for.