Monday, November 28, 2016

Sermon - Matthew 21:1-11 - Advent 1

Matthew 21:1-11
Advent 1
November 27th, 2016
“The Manifold Coming of Christ”

If you just came to church today and heard our Gospel reading, you might think that someone had messed up the scheduled readings for the day. After all, Matthew 21 is the Palm Sunday reading – we usually hear that the week before Easter. Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Holy Week begins, and soon his suffering and death are at hand. The crowds welcome him as the Son of David, but then turn on him and shout, “Crucify!”.

So what are we doing now, at the beginning of Advent, reading about Palm Sunday? Is this like “Christmas in July” only, backwards? What is our lectionary thinking today – beginning the Church Year with Jesus' donkey ride into Zion?

Perhaps it's best to review what Advent means – in a word, it means, “coming”. Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming as a little baby in Bethlehem. That's Christmas. He's also coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That's his second coming – and that's been a theme for us the past few weeks. Jesus is coming, and he's coming to Jerusalem in our reading today. He's coming to do what he came to do – to suffer and die, and save.

So it makes sense, really, that Advent begins with a very important beginning – the triumphal arrival of Christ to his people, to his city – marks the triumphal arrival of the Church Year anew. And so Advent begins in this way.

One theme of the Palm Sunday account is that it all took place in fulfillment of prophecy. Zechariah proclaims that the king would come humble on the foal of a donkey. And Jesus own words to his disciples – telling them where to find his ride – they also are fulfilled. But really, this is the fulfillment of God's longstanding promise of a Messiah – a king from the royal line of David. This is God's own appointed Savior – the Christ – coming to do what God promised he would.

He would suffer and die. That's not what many expected, or wanted. When Jesus comes, it's not always how we hope or the way we expect. God is full of surprises. But his word is always fulfilled, sooner or later – according to his will.

So what does it mean for us, today, 21st Century Lutherans standing at the turn of another Church Year – with Thanksgiving Day behind us and Christmas around the corner? What does Jesus coming to Jerusalem, or to Bethlehem, or in Glory on the Last Day... what does it have to do with your problems today?

Everything. For your problems come from sin. And Jesus comes to deal with sin. Your struggles and hardships, your sorrows and pains – all result from being a sinner in a sinful world. It's not that God isn't good, it's that we are evil – and evil is all around us. We should first blame ourselves. We have a hand in our troubles – our own sins of thought, word, and deed tell the story. From the garden of Eden to the place where you live – we humans sin, sin daily, and sin much. Sure we try to cover our sins like Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves. But God knows what you do, he's not so easily fooled. So let's not fool ourselves.

An honest look at our own lives would show a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Like when holiday guests are coming and the house is a disaster – you do what you can to pick up, vacuum, make things look nice for company. But imagine someone just dumped a truckload of garbage in your living room and you have only minutes to clean the place. And the guest that's coming isn't just some family or friends – but the king! How will you hope to be ready? How will you be prepared for his coming?

You can't be. But the good news is that he prepares you. He prepares your heart and mind and spirit. He comes to you for that very reason. He comes to make you ready for his coming. He comes, to you, today.

Jesus comes to his people – not only as a baby, as a donkey-riding Son of David, and as a glorious omnipotent king – but he also comes to you today. He comes in his word of forgiveness. For when you hear his word proclaimed and preached – he is present, working his salvation. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

He also comes in bread and wine that are his body and blood. Jesus is truly present here, in this place, in this simple meal, in accord with his word of promise. And with that promise, you who receive him receive his forgiveness, and life, and salvation.

The same Jesus who came as the Babe of Bethlehem and the Son of David riding a donkey, is the same Jesus who comes to you today in these humble forms. He promised, after all, to be with his disciples always.

And it is in these humble ways of word and sacrament - that he comes to prepare you for his glorious and final coming.

One of our advent hymns strikes many of these notes:
“Once he came in blessing, all our sins redressing:
came in likeness lowly, son of God most holy.
Bore the cross to save us, hope and freedom gave us”

but the hymn goes on – how does Jesus come today?
“Now he gently leads us, with himself he feeds us.
Precious food from heaven, pledge of peace here given.
Manna that will nourish souls that they may flourish.”

and then his final coming gets a verse:
“Soon will come that hour, when with mighty power,
Christ will come in splendor and will judgment render.
With the faithful sharing joy beyond comparing”.

As he comes to us sinners, let us repent of our wicked ways, and receive him with thanksgiving, who came and lived and died for us, who comes to us and forgives us, and will come again...

Yes, Jesus came – to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem.
Yes, Jesus comes – in the Word, in the Sacrament.
Yes, Jesus will come – in Glory, to fulfill all things.

Yes, he will come again in glory.... Advent reminds us that Jesus will come in glory to bring this fallen world to its conclusion. He will come, all eyes will see him. He will come in the clouds with great glory, with al the angels and the trumpet call of God. He will come to judge the living and the dead. He will come to make all things new.

Scripture tells us precious little about that day, but we know it will be our day of victorious, triumphant joy. The dead in Christ will rise and be gathered to him forever. Those of us that remain alive and in Christ will be changed into glorious bodies like his. The wicked will be sent away to the fires prepared for the Devil and his angels. But we will inherit eternal life, paradise will be restored. and the unending praises of the Lamb who was slain will echo around his throne in a new song that will never get old. Jesus is coming again. And what a great day it will be.

Until then we wait. We fulfill our callings in life. We watch and pray. We live the repentant life of a child of God. And we continue to receive him who came, him who comes, and him who will one day come again.

Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Monday, November 07, 2016

Sermon - All Saints' Day (Observed) - Revelation 7:9-17

“A Vision of All the Saints”
Rev. 7:9-17

In a well-known movie, “Dead Poets Society”, Robin Williams played a poetry teacher at an elite boarding school for teenage boys. His unorthodox teaching style engaged the students in high contrast to the otherwise stuffy and straight-laced expectations of their parents and teachers. In a well-known scene early in the movie, he takes his whole class downstairs to the exhibit hall where he shows them old pictures of boys who attended the school in generations past. As the camera zooms in on these ghostly figures of a bygone era, the teacher tells the students to listen to their predecessors – listen closely – and you will hear them whispering, “Carpe Diem”, which of course means “Seize the day”. The teacher challenges his students “make your lives extraordinary”. It's all very poetic, and maybe even inspiring on some level.

And in a way, it reminds me of the picture we see today in our reading from Revelation. There, John sees in his heavenly vision, a picture of the church in glory. The eternal reality of the innumerable multitude of those who are saved – they who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They are from every tribe, nation, people and language. The span the whole of Christianity throughout space and time. They are, as it were, all the saints. It's a fitting text for this All Saints Sunday.

But if you listen to them, they don't whisper “Carpe Diem”. They aren't going to tell you to make your lives extraordinary. In fact they won't point you to yourself at all. Instead, they cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
They point you not to yourself, but to Jesus, the Lamb who once was slain.

It's his blood that proved the only detergent that could lift the stain of sin. It's his life laid down, and taken up again, that paved the way for their life and yours. It's his salvation, that belongs to him, that he gives to us, freely of his grace.

And so they are not a society of dead poets. Rather, they are a communion of saints, very much alive in Christ! Even the dead who have gone on before us live with him. For he who believes in Christ, even though he dies shall live. And he who lives and believes in Jesus Christ will never die.

Such is the picture of the church in her glory. It's a picture of all the faithful, Old Testament and New Testament. Jew and Gentile. Male and Female. Long gone, and not even born yet. And it's a picture of you, too, Christian.

For somewhere in that multitude from every nation, there's a face very familiar to you – a face you see in the mirror every day. If this is all the saints, then that includes you. For you, too, are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You, too, were buried with Christ, and raised with Christ in Holy Baptism. You, too, gather at the altar of Christ with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and you share in the blessed sweet communion not only with Christ, but with all those that are in him. Even those who are already asleep.

All Saints Day is a reminder to Christians that we are saints – even while we are sinners. That we live in the strange paradox of this dual reality. Though I sin every day, though I sin much, though I sin by my own most grievous fault, God sees me as righteous through Christ. He sees me as, declares me to be holy and blameless. When God looks at you, he doesn't see or regard all the embarrassing realities of your fallen, corrupt and naked shame. He looks past the filth. Rather, he sees you clothed with a white robe of righteousness. It's as if he's looking at Jesus himself, and so he says of you, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”.

The Elder who interprets this vision for John, and for us, then tells in poetic verse that describes them further:

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Ah but it was not always so. There was a time when we were not before the throne of God, but were cast out into the exile of separation over sin. Not fit to stand in his presence, or enter his holy temple. Even when they were, only the priests, and only at prescribed times could so enter. But now, all are holy, all are in his temple, all serve him day and night, that is, forever. There is no more wall of separation between man and his creator. This is what heaven is all about. Sheltered in the presence of God. Does it get any better?

Oh in this world, we suffer. In this world we are hungry and thirsty, scorched in the flames of sun and heat. But this is more than just a typical August in Texas. These bodily sufferings are emblematic of the suffering all of us face as consequences of our sin, and as part of the brokenness of the world we have inherited. It doesn't stop at hunger and thirst and heat. We see all manner of infirmities, persecution, heartbreak, loneliness, conflict, war, addictions, injustice, abuse, disaster, poverty, betrayals, lies, mockery, depression and even death itself. What a world! What a vale of tears! What a wilderness wasteland!

How far we've fallen from the green groves of paradise God made for Adam and Eve. But Adam's sin touched all of creation, and as the head of it – so the body would follow. Adam's sons were brought forth in his, now broken, image, and they died. And Adam's world, entrusted to his care, would now spit thorns at him, and that was just the beginning.

But paradise lost is restored in Christ. What sin had shattered, Christ makes new. Through one man came death to the whole world, but through another man came life for all.

And so, with the Lamb as our Shepherd, everything is right and good again. No more hunger, thirst, or scorching heat. No more suffering and pain. And in his tender mercy, not only does he take away sin and suffering, but the picture is so up close and personal – he wipes every tear from our eyes.

Dear saints of God at Messiah. Christ knows your suffering. He suffered all – even the very wrath of God – to procure your salvation. He is not unable to sympathize with us in our weakness. In fact, he knows it better than we ourselves. The man of sorrows wept bitter tears for you on the cross, to take away all tears from you forever. And though in this world, while we are in the body, we still suffer for a time – those sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is to come. For behold, he makes all things new.

No, I won't march you out into the narthex and show you pictures of the saints of old today, and whisper in your ear, “Carpe Diem”. But we will gather in a few short moments at the communion rail. And there we will join that great throng, the communion of saints. There we will receive that body and blood of the Lamb that makes our filthy robes white again. There we will join all tribes and peoples and languages gathered around his throne. There, we will have a foretaste of the great feast to come. And then we will add our voices of thanks and praise for the Salvation that belongs to the Lamb, the salvation that he works for us.

Thanks be to God for all the saints that have gone before us. Thanks be to God for incorporating us into that blessed communion. Thanks be to Christ the Lamb for his salvation. Praise be to the Father and to the Spirit enthroned with him.

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”