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Matthew 25:31-46 - The Division

Matthew 25:31-46

The Division

Proper 29A/Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 23, 2014

E pluribus unum is written on our coins, “Out of many, one.”  Many people coming together to create one nation, a nation not divided by race, gender, nor heritage.  Honorable ideal.  It’s not too different from the Christian reality as St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our current culture doesn’t like divisions.  Appealing to fairness, the sinful world takes things a different direction than the Word of God.  They promote tolerance and equality, fine in and of themselves with a Biblical moral compass, but they do so with a lack of objective truth and right or wrong.  This is one of the hallmarks of post-modernism, the denial of objective truth and morality, where differences don’t really matter, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes.  

We hear about division today in our Gospel reading, in a section that closes out our church year.  Jesus ends His discourse on the End Times by speaking about His coming in glory. He speaks of sheep and goats, of eternal life with the Good Shepherd or eternal torment in hell with the devil and his angels. This is not really a day of judgment, but a day of separation, a day of division.

This parable is about the revelation and public vindication of God’s people.  Here, separation and division are a good thing, because evil is finally being separated away from good, for good. Sitting upon His throne, the Son of God in all His glory gathers His angels with Him and all the nations to Him.  The wicked will be separated and sent into everlasting condemnation, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and the children of God will be gathered together and received into His eternal kingdom.

What a day that will be, a day we look to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.  A day when Christ Himself appears for the vindication of His people. When all the evil, all the bad, all the suffering and persecution against God’s people are finally and completely dealt with. A day when the Lord bestows His eternal inheritance and brings the righteous into eternal life.  A day of division, where the only difference that matters is laid bare by the Lord for all to see.

The difference is not one of works or lack thereof. Often times sheep and goats act much alike.  The difference rests not on the sheep and the goats, but on the Shepherd as the judge.  Notice, the sheep receive their blessing and inheritance before a single word about their works is mentioned.  Their works accompany them, in faith, because of the Work of their Shepherd. When calling upon the Lord in faith, He forgives, prepares, and completes the good works of those who are His. But those who do not believe, those who reject Christ, are separated away from the sheep and the Good Shepherd eternally.  Undone works are only a symptom of the real problem, which is lack of faith. Apart from faith in Christ, all our works remain offenses against God, for which He will hold us accountable.

What does all this mean for those who have faith in Christ, and for those who do not?  The difference, the divisions, between those who are in Christ and those who are not is stated very clearly here. It is the difference between heaven and hell.  While we wait for this public division, we recognize where they exist here and now. We don’t sugar coat our differences or pretend like they don’t matter. They do matter, now and eternally! 

But there is no need for fear for you who are in Christ! There is no need to panic, for Christ-crucified is for you.  No need to be driven by dread, for Christ-crucified and His gifts are free.  No need to compare with your neighbor, for Christ-crucified and His gifts are yours.  No need to wonder if you have enough faith or have done enough good works, for Christ crucified is faithful unto death and His Work is perfect and holy in the sight of God, for you!

By virtue of Your baptism, God has put His name upon You. By faith in the Good Shepherd, you are His sheep, and God’s sheep know the voice of their Shepherd, a voice that calls them to life of good works and service to their neighbor, and ultimately to an eternal inheritance.

The believer in Christ welcomes and longs for the advent of that Great Day precisely because the believer in Christ longs for the Savior to come, for the complete freedom from sin as He ushers His flock into eternal pastures. So yes, we eagerly await that Day of the Lord, where vindication for God’s flock will finally come, where the real divisions that already exist will be apparent for all to see in the separation of the sheep and the goats.  In preparation for that day of resurrection and judgment, we turn daily to God in repentance and faith, trusting in Him for the full forgiveness of our sins, which was purchased for us by Christ, and is given to us in His Word and Sacraments.  And all God’s people wait for that day, crying out in prayer, “Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.”

Matthew 25:1-13 - Ready or Not, Here Jesus Comes

Matthew 25:1-13

Ready or Not, Here Jesus Comes

Proper 27A

November 9, 2014

There’s a game most children play when they are younger, one that I used to love playing with my brothers. It’s fairly simple.  Some hide, and one seeks.  Hide and seek is the game.  The one who is it counts and whether it’s to 10 or 20 or whenever, he calls out “Ready or not, here I come.”  That’s what we hear Jesus saying today.  Ready or not, here I come!

This is the sort of thing we hear about today in our Gospel reading, yet this is no game.  The parable of the ten virgins falls in the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the End Times, delivered during Holy Week in the Temple in Jerusalem.  This entire discourse teaches the suddenness and the unknowability of the Day of the Lord.  The point of this parable is the some of the virgins were ready for the groom when he came, and some were not.  The groom did not come when the would be attendees to the marriage feast expected him.  The point is not where the foolish virgins went or what they were doing. The point is that they were not present when the groom came. They were simply not ready for his coming.  By the time the groom arrives, it is too late to prepare, once the door is shut there is no possibility of entry into the heavenly wedding feast.

Repeatedly in Jesus’ discourse on the End Times, He warns that many invited to share in the eternal joy of His kingdom will miss out by failing to be ready for Him. Though some will be condemned because of their serious crimes and gross sin, unrepentance, many more will fail to enter because they neglected their faith. 

Like the virgins, when an apparent delay comes, when God doesn’t act as fast as we want Him too, we are prone to become drowsy and sleep.  We think, “it’s ok to take a little nap, I won’t miss anything.” “It’s alright to run out for a bit, I won’t miss anything important and will back soon enough.” Throughout the ages, people have lost sight of the coming of the Lord.  Some have despaired of His ever coming, and others have simply figured that it would be no time soon, and so they lost their focus and got busy living in this world as though this world was all there would ever be.  Either way, the result is that when the call comes - or in many cases already came - they were not ready.

Do you treat faith in Jesus this way?  Are you watchful and ready when gossiping about others? Are you watchful and ready when you are having that extra drink when you’ve already had too many?  Are you watchful and ready when you are doing that thing in the dark, by yourself, when no one else will ever find out? Are you awake, or are you asleep and lazily prepared with an attitude that you can take time off of church and come back later, whether you attend every week or only once a year.

The younger children from Zion Christian School sang in our Service today, “This Little Light of Mine.”  In order to have the light of the Gospel shine, they need the oil.  In order to have the light of the Gospel shine, you have to be ready.

The foolish virgins in the Gospel lesson were foolish because they did not prepare for the possibility of the wait being longer than they expected.  They failed to prepare for the wait, and when the Bridegroom came, the found themselves caught short.  The oil for their lamps was their preparation - ours is not oil.  Ours is focus on the Word and the Sacraments.  Our is the stubborn insistence that doctrine be pure and our practices reflect our belief, not undermine it or cheapen it and treat it like some silly party or nostalgia or meaningless rote.

Being ready focuses on thing, and one thing alone – Jesus, the bridegroom who has been crucified and the One who lives and reigns, the One who cries out “Be ready, for here I come!” Being ready is not about faith per se, it is about the object of that faith – Jesus. It is not something we can hoard or create or sustain by our own powers.  It is gift that is given, something that is bestowed upon God’s people by the power of His Holy Spirit working through the tangible means of the Word of God, of the waters of Holy Baptism, of the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Faith in Christ alone not only receives the Word and promises of God, but it also preserves it.  It is what makes one ready, providing light in the darkness of this present age.  No matter how depleted your faith, Jesus’ grace delivered through His Word and Sacraments can fill you with overflowing means to be ready for Christ is coming quickly.

Because in these means, God forgives your sins.  That is what is truly means to be ready for Christ – to live a life of repentance over sin and faith in Christ alone. For Christ died for you, to forgive you of your sins and to open up eternal life for all who believe in Him.  By His sacrificial death, your sins are forgiven. 

Now He invites you to share in the cross.  He isn't likely to ask most of you to hang on one, nailed through hands and feet.  The cross appointed for each of you is the one that fits you. Our trials and troubles and the losses that we must endure should not shake us.  The fact that we must endure such things should not surprise us - the Bible tells us that it will be so. Some die in persecutions, and some die in bed of old age.  But when death comes, the cry, "Come out to meet Him," has come for that individual.  But you are not uninformed about such things.  St. Paul remarks that we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.  We have hope, a sure and certain hope, of the bridegrooms return, of the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting. While we know not the day or hour, we pray for God to preserve us the face of temptations to think that the Last Day is far off.  Christ’s return is immanent, it is soon.  He calls out to you today, “Ready or not here I come!”  Be ready, by abiding in His Word and Sacraments.  May we welcome Him when He comes, and until that day, live in repentant faith in Christ who has died for us, who has been raised for us, and to whom we pray, “Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Matthew 5:8 "Blessed Sight" All Saints' Day

Matthew 5:8

Blessed Sight

All Saints’ Day (Observed)

November 2, 2014

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

Who are these that are pure?  Well, that’s also the question that we hear in our reading from Revelation 7.  “Who are these clothed in white robes and from where have they come… 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” (Rev 7:13, 14).  That’s who they are.  Notice here that the answer is singularly focused on what God has done for them—those who are pure are marked by His grace, washed in the blood of the Lamb. Though their sins may have been like scarlet, they are now white as new snow. This is what Christ does for His saints who die the blessed death.

We celebrate All Saints Sunday today, remembering the purity that those who gone before us had because of their hope in Christ.  We remember what how for many of us, our parents or grandparents brought us up in the faith.  We remember former pastors who taught and preached the Word of God.  We remember what God has done for them in Christ Jesus, and that is encouragement for us.

Since God keeps His promises to them, and uses them regardless of their shortcomings, He keeps His promises to us and gives us the hope of the relationship we have through our adoption as children of God.  Christ uses sinners, for Christ is for sinners.  He purifies sin by His blood, and purifies your works to be holy and blameless before His eyes. He gives us hope in Him because He has made us pure, washed us white in the crimson blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is the eternal Gospel, the Good News of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins that we focused on last week as we celebrated Reformation Sunday. And it is the same message that we hear again today.

The Reformation is known for the warnings against a theology too enamored with Christian works. Nothing is wrong with works per se. Do them. Admire them, if you will. But in the end only the works of God will last. The saints around the throne do not cry out, “Faithful were we! Great sacrifices did we bear! Admirable virtues did we cultivate!” No! It’s “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! . . . Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” When all is said and done it is only the Word and work of God that is worthy of celebration. The saints know this. They now stand before God and His lamb, face to face. 

Such is life under the cross. It is all faith, all the time. We have nothing but claim all things in Christ. Bereft of goods, fame or spouse, the Kingdom ours remaineth.  When we recognize our own spiritual poverty, when the Lord leads us to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, when He makes us pure in heart so that we seek to worship on the true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – then we are blessed, now and forever, with the blessed sight of the Lord.

1 John 3:2 “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” To you, pure in heart by the blood of the lamb, this is your future, this is what awaits your eyes. Blessed sight indeed!  We shall see the Lord as He is! Is there anything more wonderful than that?  Being able to see God, face to face, purified of sin because of the blood of the Lamb who was slain!

In the meantime, while we await Jesus’ return, eyes of faith still behold Christ.  We don’t just wander around in the dark. We don’t have a blind faith that cannot see the Savior. We see God in Christ, who is the image of God, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4b–6 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We see Him in humble and lowly forms.  I’m not talking about the sunset, or nature, or the birth of a baby or something like that. No, that’s paganism. No, we see Him where He has promised to locate Himself, where our God promises to be for us – in His Word and Sacraments.

Do you want to see God? He is here, right now, in our midst. Not in some fuzzy spiritual way.  But Christ is really here, in a sacramental and tangible way.  You hear His voice in the Words of Scripture.  You see Him acting in the waters of baptism. You partake of His body and His blood at the altar. This isn’t some subjective experience. It isn’t based on your emotions or how well you pay attention or how sincere you are.  This is based upon the very Son of God and His promise.

Jesus speaks the Good News to you who know what it means to seek the true and living God, to hear the Word of the Lord, and who have hearts purified by the blood of Jesus, and eyes of faith to see the God of Israel in Immanuel, God with us. He blesses in the present time and for the Last Day, those to whom God has revealed Himself. So that one day, you too will stand alongside all the saints of God, all those made pure through faith in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, praising forever the Lamb who was slain. Amen.

Revelation 14:6-7 "The Eternal Gospel"

Matthew 22:15-22 "Rendering What is Owed"

Ephesians 5:2 - Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings

Ephesians 5:2

Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings

LWML Sunday

October 12, 2014

 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  (Ephesians 5:2) This is our text.

In a sermon on the Epistle for today proclaimed on the Third Sunday in Lent by Dr. Martin Luther these words were spoken, “This expression Paul takes from the Old Testament. There the temporal sacrifices are described as being ‘a sweet-smelling savor’ unto God: that is, they were acceptable and well-pleasing to him; but not, as the Jews imagined, because of the value of the work or of the sacrifices in themselves. For such thoughts they were chastised by the prophets often enough. They were acceptable on the ground of the true sacrifice which they foreshadowed and encircled.”

Dr. Luther well understands that none of our works reach God as fragrant sacrifices and offerings. Luther, following the footsteps of St. Paul had come to the realization what all the faithful in Christ have come to understand under the power of the Holy Spirit. We understand that none of our labor is acceptable to God. We understand that none of our carnal, fleshly work is acceptable in His sight. All our works are as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6) although some men may be very pleased and impressed with our achievements. None of our works rise to the Lord Jesus as fragrant offerings or are acceptable to our Father in heaven as pleasing sacrifices.

Dr. Luther continues in saying, “They [Israel’s sacrifices] were acceptable on the ground of the true sacrifice which they foreshadowed and encircled. Paul’s thought is this: The sacrifices of the Old Testament have passed. Now all sacrifices are powerless but that of Christ himself; he is the sweet-smelling savor. This sacrifice is pleasing to God. He gladly accepts it and would have us be confident it is an acceptable offering in our stead.”

Once again we are faced with the reality of our fallen condition. We are at once sinners and saints. We have the terrible stain of sin upon us and at the same time have the wonderful promise of resurrection glory upon us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This wonderful sacrifice on our behalf is the one that God receives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice. This is the ultimate sacrificial offering but there are many others worked by our Lord Jesus in obedience to our Father.

In the beginning the Holy Spirit comes to a virgin named Mary and a Son is born to her and Joseph who is named Jesus. Prophecy proclaims the birth of this Child and angels sing the birth of this Child. The shepherds and wise men rejoice at the birth of this Child and our Father receives this miraculous birth as a fragrant sacrifice and offering. This Jesus at eight days old is dedicated back to His Father in the rite of circumcision, a fragrant offering to the Lord. There is a wedding that is running a bit short on wine. Jesus turns water into the best wine and the Father catches that scent as a fragrant offering. And there’s more!

Blind people see, deaf people hear, lame people have their limbs restored, sick people are healed, lepers are cleansed, seas are calmed, demons are cast out, mute people speak, the hungry are fed, demon possessed are delivered, captives are set free, severed ears restored, and if that were not enough, resurrection and life become the new normal. The perfect offering of Christ is so sweet and fragrant of a sacrifice to the Father that it has the power to cover and remove the sin of all humankind for all time.

That is the plan and design of God. That Jesus Christ, the perfect fragrant sacrifice and offering, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world in whose book the names of all who live and die and rise by faith in Christ Jesus have been written (Rev 13:8). And not only are their names written in the book of the Lamb and in the heart of the Father but their works of faith, good works prepared beforehand in which they walk, rise to the throne of our Father as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.

Our baptismal faith rises up to our Father as a fragrant sacrifice. St Luke delivers Jesus’ words to us today, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Blessed are you, Lutheran Women in Mission. Blessed are you Zion Lutheran Church. For you have heard the Word of God, and faith in Christ crucified, purifies and sanctifies your keeping of it.

Blessed are you daughters of Zion in the LWML, when you give your pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars in the interest of missions, our Father receives every single sacrificial mite as a fragrant sacrifice and offering. When we all in faithful obedience, study the Word of God to show ourselves approved, when we dwell together in unity, when we faithfully hold the confession of the church in this perverse generation, when we speak faith, when we love one another, fragrant sacrifices and offerings rise up to the nostrils of our merciful, holy, and gracious God and Father.

So that every act of obedience, every work of the saints of God, every act of faith, every word spoken in faith rises up to the Father as a sweet-smelling savor and sacrificial offering. This is not simply following Christ’s example of love, but enabled to love because of what He has done, and still does, for you. You may stink, but through faith, Christ sanctifies you to be a fragrant and sacrificial offering. You have the awesome privilege of bringing joy to the heart of our Father by our works and deeds made sweet and good by the blood of the Lamb.  So, dear saints of God, let’s strive with all our Holy Ghost-inspired and Spirit-filled faith to infuse the heavens with fragrant sacrifices and offerings by being those sacrifices and offerings to our loving God and Father. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

 

* This semon is adapted from the LWML Sunday sermon provided through lwml.org. 

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 - The Fairness of God

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The Fairness of God

Proper 21A

September 28, 2014

Last week we heard about Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard.  Jesus answers the complaint that God isn’t fair. He does so by using the parable of the laborers in the field, explaining how the first will be last and the last first, highlighting the generosity and grace of God.

This week we hear a similar issue, one where God’s people still complain that He isn’t fair to them.  Last week we focused on how from our point of view, God is not fair, but He is gracious.  This week we hear God’s answer that He is fair, He is more fair and just than you or I could be, repaying evil with evil and good with good.

When it comes down to it, that is what we really want.  We want God to be fair, we want justice in the world and in life. We want consistency so we know where we stand before other people and before God. This is what we want, yet this is also the very fact that scares us.  God is just and fair, but we are not.  We are unfair. We sin in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have no loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.

God makes it clear in Ezekiel that sinful man must stand before a holy God at the judgment.  God is holy and cannot condone sin.  He is righteous and has promised to punish sin.  This is the kind of Judge we need, one who is fair and just, who punishes evil and rewards good.  But this is also the kind of Judge that we fear, who makes us squirm in our seats, uncomfortable with who we are as sinners against God’s holy and righteous Law.

It’s not that God isn’t fair, the problem is that He is fair.  If a man is righteous, he shall live. If a man is wicked, he shall die.  It is that simple, that fair.  Our problem comes in the reality that we are not righteous by our own merits.  As Isaiah says, All our righteous acts are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6). When faced with God’s judgment, with His standard of perfect holiness and righteousness, we don’t like where that leaves us – deserving the consequences for your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  

Yet God is also merciful. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance and believe in the Lord Jesus (Romans 11:32; 2 Peter 3:9). He is merciful in not giving you what you deserve, but instead giving you what Jesus deserves.  God solves this with the cross.  For on the cross, God’s justice and His wrath against sin are satisfied. On the cross, Jesus takes the punishment that you deserve. On the cross, the judgment is “guilty!” for Jesus, so that for you who believe in Him may hear from the judgment seat of Christ, “justified! Innocent! Free!” In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins.  To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.

Where does the authority come from that God can do this?  That is the same question that is asked of Jesus in our Gospel reading today.  What gives God the right to be my judge, to decide what is good and what is bad.  His right, His authority comes from being God, from being your creator.  The authority comes from the fact that since God created all, He guides and directs His creation.  You see, “God isn’t like you.  He doesn’t think like the way you think.  His ways are not your ways.  And He doesn’t owe you, or anyone, anything.”

When we begin to think that the Lord somehow owes us a special status and owes us grace for what we have done and what we have not done.  We too sin when we think that we can somehow manage, manipulate, control, and domesticate the Lord’s grace, as if His grace must respond to who we are and what we do.  As sinners, we deserve only punishment. As Christians, we get only Jesus.

The Lord pleads with His people, He pleads with you today, to repent of your sins, to turn away from all the transgressions you have committed, to live in Christ and to not die! This is not just turning around in circles, but it’s a turning to Jesus.  It’s a turning to the One who takes all your punishment, all your guilt, all the death and the hell that you deserve, so that eternal life may be yours.  For His righteousness is perfect and holy and He gives it to you freely through the Gospel of His Word and Sacraments.

Soon, we will sing our offertory song, “Create in me.” Psalm 51, a song composed by King David after the prophet Nathan had shown him his sins and guilt and unfairness with Bathsheba. These words do not just belong to David, these words are the Lord’s.  These are the Lord’s words that He gives to you today, to hear with the ears of faith, to sing with repentant joy in the sacrifice of Jesus for you. “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” This is our prayer of faith, our response to God’s gift in Christ, and our witness to the world about the fairness of God. Amen.

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