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Advent 3 2020 - Isaiah 40:1-11

Advent 3 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11

December 13, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

We’re in the thick of it now, for good or bad. The planning, the decorations, the stress, and the headaches of preparing for Christmas is in full swing.  While Christmas time is often portrayed as the happiest time of the year, for many people it is the worst.  And this year is different than most.   The loneliness from missed loved ones.  Uncertainty of the what the future holds.  The pain of conflict within families and friends.  To such people, to such a nation during Isaiah’s time, who was wrapped up in sin and its effects, God spoke comforting words to those oppressed and guilt ridden because of their sins.

“Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended…”  Do you see the passive verb? “is ended.”  Nothing the people have done, but something done for them has ended their warfare.  They could not pay their own debt. They could not free themselves from the burden of their slavery to sin. And neither can we.

Someone else had to do that.  Attempts to justify oneself only compound the guilt. Iniquity, the guiltiness of sin, can only be pardoned. And Isaiah leaves us with no doubt who this is: the Lord has done this thing, giving us double for all our sins. We have received the gifts of His undeserved favor: forgiveness, peace, and eternal life.  And this comes through the Suffering Servant, who will pay for the sins of all so that their iniquity is forgiven solely because of His atoning sacrifice.

This is what our Lord did Himself—which is why we’re in Advent. He became a baby boy to become a man to speak comfort —our God in soft human flesh who knows the taste, smell, and feel of a grape, of bread, of lamb, and of wine; the ache of tired muscles, the anguish of death taking a loved one, and the sting of tears.  And even more, taking upon Himself the inquity, the guiltiness, of the world’s sin.

Because of Christ, your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is forgiven. Drink deeply and firmly believe, for this is the heart of our Christian faith. The war is over. You need no longer fear that God will hold our sins against you. The warfare by which you tried and tried to make yourselves acceptable to God is over. You’re already acceptable, made so by grace through faith in the Savior of the world, in His advent to His people.

The coming of Christ offers a joyful homecoming to all who have been exiled from the Father because of their sin, and He levels the road into our lives.  He flattens the mountains of unbelief, the barriers that our sin puts up separating us from God. He fills up the deep valleys in our hearts of loneliness, of sorrow, of pain with His overflowing grace and mercy.

For many, especially at Christmas time, those mountains and valleys seem insurmountable. "The best answer to seasonal depression is the voice crying in the wilderness. Turn not to some quick fix or easy answer, but to the Church's joy, to the angels' joy, to Mary's and the shepherds' joy. That joy is joy in the midst of poverty and hardship. It is joy at the birth of Jesus Christ, of God becoming flesh, pleased to be a man and to go to hell for men, that men would not pay for their sins or die eternally. It is the answer to the curse, the end of our rebellion, and the pledge of the reunion to come." (an excerpt from God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen)

And He, your Jesus, sent men to speak His word and kingdom into your ears, hearts, and lives.  A voice crying from the wilderness, John the Baptist, making the way for Christ the Comforter.  And he doesn’t hold back. He isn’t out to get eth world to like him.  He’s not worried about his popularity. For it isn’t about him.  He cries out against sinners of all kinds that thy might repent and be ready for Christ to come.  He calls the self-righteous, the broken, and the distressed alike.  He cries “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40:6b, 8). John points to Jesus.

And it doesn’t stop there either.  Jesus says in John 20, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21-23).  Jesus continues to send His servants, stewards of the mysteries of God, to proclaim the eternal Word to the world, to condemn sin and comfort repentant sinners.  Salvation is not for Jerusalem so that they can just bask in God’s mercy.  Rather, it is for the sake of the world. This tasks begins as Zion, seeing the Lord’s approach, shouts the good news to all around them. We must boldly announce the good news: “Behold, your God!” Who else is to go up to the top of the mountain so that all may hear the good news but “Zion” and “Jerusalem”?  Who else but those who have tasted and seen the grace of God in Christ Jesus?

The message is not to behold just any god, but to gaze upon your God.  A god who is powerful but unloving would have little concern for us.  On the other hand, a god is loving but not powerful would not have the ability to help us. But our God, your God, is both sovereign and saving! He is now here for us in grace in the person of Christ, in the Word of Christ, in Baptism into Christ, and in the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood.

Christ is where comfort comes for the troubled conscious, the only place in fact. H provides the only medicine for the disease of the soul, for the sin-sick, weary world. Comfort, comfort, you My people.  There is victory over sin! Victory over death! You are at peace with God, your sins no longer being held against you. Peace is yours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

What greater comfort can there be? Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned. You have received from the Lord’s hand double for all your sins. Yes, double! Double the comfort, that is. “Comfort, comfort My people.” A comfort so wonderful, a comfort so nice, God tells it to us twice. A comfort that comes only through Jesus. In His name.

Advent 2 2020 - Malachi 4:1-6

Advent 2 2020

Malachi 4:1-6

December 6, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

When I was in college, I spent a semester studying in Northern Spain in a town called Santander.  It was directly north from Madrid, right on the coast.  There was a place on the beach, in fact the only place for miles and miles, where you could sit on this outcrop into the ocean and watch the sun set over the ocean and rise over the ocean without ever having to move.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t see what the big deal is about sunsets.  They are pretty, sure, but when the sun rises, now that is real beauty.  When you start to see the darkness and coldness of night give way to the light and the heat of the sun.

During this time of the year, when the day grows shorter for us, and we eagerly anticipate our yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth, we focus on a different kind of sunrise. In the last book of the Old Testament, we hear from the Lord through the prophet Malachi (4:2)The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”  Light is coming, the darkness is about to go away. The world was the darkest on that day in which the very Son of God had all the darkness of sin put on Him as He hung dying on the cross on Mt. Calvary, an effect of literal darkness went over the earth.  But as the Son of God rose from the grave, so too the sun of righteousness is beginning its ascent.  It’s interesting how in the Old Testament, a 24 hour day is described as night and then day, whereas we normally think of it as day and then night.  The darkness of the fallen world is beginning to be driven away by the impending sunrise.  Dusk has passed, midnight has passed, and now the dawn is coming, once the impending day comes, never again will the sun set, for the Son of God will be the light of the world forever.

And when that time comes, Malachi describes it that God’s people will be leaping like calves from the stall.  I’m sure most of you have probably seen a calf that has been couped up and when it is finally let out, like all young animals, and people, jumps for joy at its freedom. This will be the reaction of those who fear the name of the LORD, those who have faith and trust in Him for their deliverance from the darkness of sin.  This is the day of the LORD. 

And yet while we wait for this Day to come,there does not seem to be a difference between righteousness and wickedness, because we are all stuck in this stall of the sinful world.  There seems to be no righteousness left in the world.  The wicked seem to proper and the good come in last.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “Nice guys finish last.” There’s even songs and songs about this. Malachi wrote about this a chapter earlier than our text, where people were complaining (Mal. 3:14-15), “It is futile to serve God.  What did we gain by carrying out his requirements…?  Certainly, the evil doers prosper and even those who challenge God escape!”  Malachi was looking around and tired of seeing these things, seeing the evil prosper and the good suffer. 

Behold, the day is coming, says the Lord.  Before that great and awesome day, God has sent His messenger, John the Baptist who came in the power and spirit of Elijah, to prepare the way of the Lord. He called people of his day to repentance and faith in the coming Savior. What a message for us to continue to hear.  As surely as the Son of God came on earth, He is coming again. The King’s return is immanent. The night of this fallen world is almost over, and the day is coming soon with its light and warmth, a day that will never again turn into the dark night of sin and suffering.  A day of healing our broken relationships with one another, which John the Baptist announced as he preached of another Day of the LORD, when God Himself would come down to His people to be Immanuel, God with us – a day of healing from disease, pain, suffering, loneliness, sadness.

This is what happens on the Day of the LORD.   The most significant meaning is not in reference to time, but to the quality of the Day.  Israel was not so bound to time consequences as we are today.  The Day of the LORD, hence, was a day in which God is clearly in charge, the defeat of evil and triumph of good.  The second coming of Christ, is the Day of the LORD, an event which God comes onto the scene and rules.  More important, then, than the specific date is its quality – above all else it is a day dominated by God Himself in which God bears His arms and brings victory.

Jesus says to watch yourself lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon your suddenly like a trap (Luke 21:34). When you feel living as a Christians is of no use and it’s all in vain, these words are spoken to you.  You will be vindicated for Jesus’ sake, and your defense of the Christian faith will be vindicated.  Malachi announces the words of the Lord, words of encouragement and a future hope, that there will be a distinction between those righteous through faith in Christ and the wicked.

And so we sang, “O Savior, rend the heaven’s wide; Come down, come down with mighty stride; Unlock the gates, the doors break down; unbar the way to heaven’s crown.” It is not just a day of light, a day where God Himself drives back the darkness of sin; but a day of righteousness, the righteousness of a crucified and risen Savior which is bestowed upon His people by His mercy and grace, bringing holy judgment, where the wicked will finally have no more power and will be trampled under the feet of those made righteous by Christ, the Son of God – the final and complete victory at the coming of the Lord over the darkness of sin, death, and the devil.

You want to wake up early and be ready to see this Sonrise, when the Son of God rises over the horizon of all creation in all His glory and majesty.  This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen.

 

Advent 1 2020 - Matt 21:1-9

Advent 1 2020

Matthew 21:1-9

November 29, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

As the time for Jesus’ passion grew ever closer, He wanted to draw closer to the place of His suffering.  So a week before His resurrection, He left Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and went toward Jerusalem, a trip of only about 2 miles.  However, when He came to Bethphage He did something unusual.  He didn’t take the usual route over the brook of Kidron that He normally did.  This time, instead, He went toward the door of the temple.  When He arrived at the mount of Olives, He had two of His disciples make preparations, telling them to go to the village up ahead and bring back a donkey and its colt, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah.  From this we learn a few things.

First, that Christ is our king, for Matthew highlights the fulfillment of this Messianic prophecy.  In the first chapter of 1 Kings, we hear of the installation and royal entry of King Solomon.  At the direction of David, he was set on the king’s mule, anointed with the sacred oil by the priest Zaddok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah, the captain of David’s bodyguard went with him.  As he entered the city of Jerusalem, trumpet blasts greeted him along with the cheer, “Long live King Solomon.”  He entered the city to sit upon the throne of Israel and Judah, for the Lord would make his throne greater than the throne of King David. And people went up after him, stirring up the anger of those who wanted a different kind of king and a different kind of kingdom.

Here, Solomon foreshadows Jesus. Solomon’s name means “prince of peace,” however, Christ is the true Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  As Solomon was anointed to sit on the throne, so too Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism.  As Solomon entered Jerusalem with humility riding upon a mule, so too would Jesus come into Jerusalem. As Solomon the son of David was greeted by the crowds as their king, so too was Jesus son of David greeted by the crowds as the King with the Messianic words of Psalm 118, a Psalm of celebration used as thanksgiving for national deliverance, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” As the crowds were stirred up and went after Solomon angering his adversaries, so too after Jesus, aggravating the Pharisees, who wanted a different King and Messiah and kingdom. As Solomon offered up a sacrifice and then sat upon the throne of Israel, so too Jesus offered up a sacrifice upon the cross and at His ascension sat down at the heavenly throne at the right hand of God the Father almighty. 

If Christ is the King, then He will also have a kingdom.  So this kingdom of the Lord Christ is that He rules all things in heaven and on earth. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). In the Kingdom of His grace, He gathers to Himself citizens through His Word and Spirit, protects them against all enemies and finally leads them to His eternal kingdom.  As such, His kingdom is not bound to a certain place, but is an inward spiritual kingdom which is to be found where the Spirit uses His Word to guide and direct the lives of His people. 

At the same time, this kingdom of grace is not as complete as it will be someday, for in this life the sinful flesh still remains within resisting the Spirt and the reign of Christ (Galatians 5:17). This is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  If we pray for His kingdom to come, then we immediately add to it that His will be done to us, by us, through us.  While the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and so it must be daily be subjected to the reign of Christ.  The Christian life lived in this kingdom is a life of daily submitting ourselves to the will of God, a daily struggle against the sinful flesh, of repentance and faith. The king is humble and gentle, meek and lowly, one who was rich yet made Himself poor so that He could make us rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).  He bears our weaknesses and does not quickly shove us away but daily improves us. 

Because Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, we do not primarily hope for earthly goods and prosperity from the King. This is portrayed clearly in this Jesus’ triumphal entry.  For He doesn’t come into Jerusalem how worldly kings would. He takes the detour through the temple gate to indicated that He is not coming to conquer or to establish a worldly kingdom like David and Solomon, but that His entry has to do with the temple.  This is why His first stop after entering the city is the temple itself, to cleanse it for His Divine sacrifice upon the altar of the cross.  After a few days, no longer carried by a beast of burden, He placed the burden of the sinful world upon His shoulders, bearing the cross that He might pay for our sin and win for us an eternal kingdom, as Isaiah 9 speaks “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder…  Of the increase of His government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). 

This fails to serve the purpose of the Jews. They hoped for the kind of King that would have earthly power and make them into a great nation.  So many were hoping for either societal reform or to gain earthly freedom from the Roman Empire. And so when Jesus continued to teach and preach that the freedom He brought was not this, but one from sin and the brokenness of the world, many were disappointed or angered.  

Jesus entry into Jerusalem humbly and riding upon a donkey also fails to serve the purpose of our own worldly desires. So often we seek prominence in this life and world, to establish the kingdom of God by our own efforts to serve our own purposes.  We cannot treat God’s kingdom the "best of" the kingdoms of this world. Our vocation is therefore not to attempt to create or control Christ’s kingdom. This is idolatry. This is the sin of Babel.  Rather, our vocation as Christians is to receive the King as He comes ushering His kingdom to us.  As we do this, the spiritual geography of the Kingdom of Christ is more and more revealed in the physical geography of this world and in your lives. So as we begin the season of Advent this year, let us make preparations in humble repentance and faith to receive Christ the King as He comes by means of His Word and Sacraments unto His coming again on the Last Day. 

Last Sunday of the Church Year 2020 - Matt 25:1-13

Trinity 27 2020

Matthew 25:1-13

November 22, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church – Nampa, ID

 

Today, in the Gospel reading we hear Jesus speaking the parable of the 10 virgins, or the 10 bridesmaids.  All of them took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five were foolish for they went unprepared for the long wait.  Five were wise and packed oil.  For some reason, and we aren’t told why, the bridegroom was delayed.  And then all 10 of the virgins fell asleep.  Abruptly woken up by the midnight cry, the foolish five realized they didn’t have enough oil.  Sharing wasn’t an option, for the wise women wisely observed that if they shared no one would have enough and to go get their own.  Obviously, this would be a challenge so late at night and with so little time to spare. By the time the foolish five return it was too late. The door was shut. The time to enter had passed. Why weren’t they ready for this? 

Why weren’t we ready for this? People have been asking that question a lot this year. Back in April, National Public Radio aired a podcast in which they tried to answer this question. Why weren’t we ready for this? “Again and again,” the host said, “the world was warned that it was not ready for a pandemic. Warned by the World Health Organization and the World Bank in a big study last year. Warned by research scholars and in long magazine articles. Warned even by Bill Gates in a famous TED Talk in 2015.” Whatever you think of the pandemic, the world was warned that something like this was going to happen. Why weren’t we ready for this?

The podcast explored some of the reasons. One is economic efficiency. People have a hard time spending money on the potential for a disaster. Especially a disaster we haven’t experienced personally. Another reason is what’s known as optimism bias. Some of you don’t suffer from this because you are so pessimistic. But most of us, even if we know there’s a disaster on the way, don’t really think it will hurt us. Then there’s the herd mentality. When only a few people are worried, then we don’t tend to get too worked up. If everyone starts to worry, then we’ll probably join in the frenzy. Case in point, the toilet paper shortage from 6 months ago.

There are all sorts of reasons why we weren’t ready for this pandemic. But they all come down to one. We weren’t ready because we can’t see into the future. We plan, and we calculate, and we prepare. But if there’s one thing we’re learning right now, in real time, it’s that we don’t know what’s coming next. Or do we? 

The 10 virgins certainly did.  They were there to meet the bridegroom after all. They knew that he was coming.  Their problem wasn’t that they didn’t know, it was that the foolish five didn’t expect the delay in his coming.  And when he did come suddenly, they were out of time, unaware, but with no excuse.

So why aren’t people ready?  Some may not have heard about Jesus.  Some may be in a position in this life where they think they have it all together, well off, good job, good family, health and wealth and don’t really feel the immediate need.  Optimistic for this life, the end – the end of the world, the end of one’s life – often seems far away and not a real pressing issue.  Even now, just statistics and numbers, impersonal. 

What about you?  Are you ready?  Death comes to us all.  And Jesus could return at any time.  Are you ready to greet Him?  What does that readiness mean?  Readiness doesn’t mean knowing the time when Jesus returns, for no one knows the day or hour. It does mean having the oil needed to keep the light of faith going. Such readiness is an individual matter, “No one can be aided by the works and merits of another, because it is necessary for everyone to buy oil for his own lamp” (AC XXI 30).  A real and present danger of the pandemic tide is people running out of oil as the time of Christ’s coming draws near, of being removed by tyrannical mandate or God forbid, willful separation from the source of faith Himself, and time running out. The sad reality is that many will fail to enter heaven because they neglect their faith.  Faith is the oil continually sustained by the means of grace, which enables God’s people to patiently endure until Christ’s return.

And Christ is coming.  This is certain, as certain as He is risen is from the dead. And He is coming back in judgment. But you have already been judged. Because of God’s grace received through faith, you have already been declared “not guilty” and welcomed into the kingdom of heaven for the sake of Christ. For God has not destined you for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you, so that whether you are awake or asleep you might live with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).

The lesson of the parable is simple and summed up in the last verse, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Be ready.  There is no excuse. You know what is coming next.  It has been said that the church is “a people ahead of time” (Richard John Neuhaus).  We are a people who live in the present knowing the future. We know how it will end. Not how the pandemic will end—whenever that might come. No, we know how all things will end. And that knowledge, that certain hope, that word and promise from the Lord flows out into our lives. It flows out into the way we interact with one another.

The end will be sudden, in the middle of the night the cry happens, and those who are ready go to meet the bridegroom.  Until that time comes, stay awake. Keep the fire of faith burning and the oil filled by the word of God living in the confidence that while Jesus’ return is delayed, we are ready to greet Him at His coming and join Him in the marriage feast of His eternal kingdom. 

 

Trinity 23 2020 - Matthew 22:15-22

Trinity 23 2020

Matthew 22:15-22

November 15, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

For centuries, Jesus statement, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s” has been used to define and explain things like separation of church and state.  Even Luther used it in that sense, developing what we refer to as “the theology of the two kingdoms.” He called God working in time through civil government the “Left hand kingdom,” and God’s working into eternity through the church the “Right hand kingdom.” He also argued that the Roman Empire should keep its nose out of the Church while at the same time affirming God gives the gift of government for the purpose of establishing good order so the church can function in society.

But this is not the intent of Jesus’ words against the Pharisees and Herodians. This phrase is not really about the government. It’s not about giving ten percent to the Lord and fifteen percent to Uncle Sam. It’s not about separation of church and state.  Often when this verse is quoted, it is done so in the context that we ought to pay the right honor to the government. Jesus’ focus isn’t on Caesar; the focus is on God and paying to God that which is His.

The funny thing about this passage is that Jesus never actually answers the question about taxes.  Because that isn’t really the issue here. The Pharisees aren’t interested in tax laws, but in trapping Jesus into saying something that will give them justification for getting rid of Him.  They don’t want Him to be their Lord and they don’t want the kind of kingdom that He is ushering in.  Jesus is not placing Caesar on one side of the spectrum and God on the other, then asking people to decide whether your dollar goes to one place or the other. To put Caesar on the same plane as God is a ridiculous impossibility. Caesar does not own anything that does not first and foremost belong to and come from God. But Rome certainly tried. If you were to look at a denarius, the coin of the realm at the time of Jesus, it would have been struck with Caesar’s profile and an inscription that read, “Caesar Augustus, Son of a god, Father of the Country.” 

Jesus is throwing their idolatry back into their faces, showing that this is really an issue of the First Commandment. The Christian faith is centered around the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is Lord. It is in His incarnation, death, and resurrection that the freedom and true life are found and applied as His name and likeness are inscribed through baptism.  To pay to God what belongs to God is to behold Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to redeem the world. To pay to God what is God’s is to follow Christ. To pay to God what is God’s is to follow His Son in obedient, faithful discipleship. In a word, “pay to God” means repentance and faith in Christ. God who gives all of Himself for you, to present you to the Father without spot or wrinkle of any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). 

The Jewish leaders and the Herodians missed it. They confuse the earthly kingdom in which they live with the heavenly kingdom to which Christ brings, – they were too busy trying to trap Jesus, too caught up in the things of this world, to receive Him as Messiah. 

We have to be careful of the same.  There is a danger of confusing patriotism with fidelity to Christ and His Word and putting the state on the same level as God. Both are good, and God rules both, but they are not same thing, and confusing the two is the dangerous trap. The United States of America is not God, and it is not the modern equivalent of ancient Israel.  Modern Israel is not the equivalent of ancient Israel. It is the Church of God, elect and glorious, holy nation and chosen race, who are called as God’s own special people.  Through faith in Christ, sinners are made into royal priests and heirs of grace (LSB 646:1 “Church of God, Elect and Glorious).

Note where St. Paul directs our hope in Christ in our Epistle today. Our true citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope is not in the things of this world, or in this life here and now, but it is directed to the resurrection, to the transformation of our lowly bodies to be like Christ’s glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.

Entrusted with the truth of God’s Word, marked with Jesus’ likeness and inscription as the cross is traced over us and His name applied when we are baptized, we are to boldly confess that Jesus is Lord of all to a world that is vying for ideological dominance.  Do not apologize for faithfulness to God’s Word nor in giving God the things that are God’s.  We are to exhibit the objective goodness and supremacy of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that we are indifferent to Caesar. On the contrary, it's precisely because we do not trust in princes that we engage in the world. We fully recognize that princes are mortal, that political leaders come and go, but their policies have a profound impact on our lives here and now. 

God’s Word teaches that His Church holds an important role in holding princes to their responsibilities in the civil kingdom, or the Kingdom of the Left. Caesar oversteps his bounds when he demands devotion, allegiance, or action that only belongs to God, or puts Himself in the place of God.  In those times, peace may not be had, but resistance and faithfulness to God’s Word. We fight when fighting is called for, we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and we are courageous, knowing that we must fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It is our job as citizens to do as much as we can to see to the preservation of good government, most specifically so that we can lead quiet and peaceful lives in a national context where the Gospel can be freely preached and taught for the sake of the salvation of the world (1 Timothy 2:1-6). When we shrug our shoulders or do nothing while piously saying all things are in God's hands, we forfeit this very important part of our identity, we neglect our Christian duty and hold back what God has already given us. 

I don’t know about you, but I get tired sometimes.  This is hard work, and it is part of the cross that Christians are to bear.  But also don’t Caesar too much credit, nor too much blame.  The brokenness of the world, the brokenness that exists in our hearts.  But there is an answer.  The answer isn’t in a yes or no the trick questions that the world throws at Christians trying to trap us in our words in order to have an excuse to silence.  The answer lies in the cross and the empty tomb, in Jesus giving all of Himself so that you may live.

But the Gospel always invigorates, always renews, for Jesus takes our burdens upon Himself and gives us His rest. The Gospel will not be heard in the world, and you should not expect it there, though you should fight and promote its place in this fallen world.  But you will find the Gospel here, always and every time.  This is why it is more important than ever in most of our lives to come to church, to hear the Word of God’s forgiveness for you, to receive His the strength and comfort and healing that comes through the body and blood of Christ, and to pray for the whole church of God in Christ Jesus, for Caesar, and all people according to their needs. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portions of this sermon are adapted from writing by Dr. Peter Scaer and the Rev. Jonathan Meyer, https://crossesandwoodshavings.blogspot.com/2020/10/render-to-god-that-which-is-gods.html?m=1&fbclid=IwAR3xqoGZX2hgvEnvqLiXHu8WVC930eTRhuQVr88i8s9-cdX7vqiBLmU9nn0

Trinity 22 2020 - Psalm 130

Trinity 22 2020

Psalm 130

November 8, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

As we approach the end of the church year, the Scripture readings we hear in church turn our thoughts more and more to the end of all things, the end of human life, the end of the world. We are constantly urged to watch and be ready for the return of Christ.  We are also led to consider the grace of God needed for the end of the Christian life.  Today, we consider the prayer of the Christian from Psalm 130 in light of patience and mercy of the King who comes to settle accounts with his servants.

The Psalmist begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord.”   We speak of depression nowadays or of “being down in the dumps.”  The Hebrew word in this psalm is even more graphic.  It refers to deep waters, of being utterly surrounded and swallowed up, completely isolated and overwhelmed and sinking into the depths of the sea.

It’s possible that this Psalm was written by David when he was being persecuted by Saul.  Others think it may have been written by him after the account with Bathsheba, and therefore, part of why it is numbered among the penitential psalms.  We know that by the time of the Babylonian captivity, God’s people were praying it. There they were, exiles in a foreign country. They were serving those who had killed or done worse to they friends and family at home.  They had been part of the losing side and now they suffered for it. They were living under a pagan ruler, in a country that did not operate with biblical values nor make accommodations for God’s people in any way.  The Psalmist cries out from terrible pain, out of the depths, but not from bitterness or hatred or being a sore loser.  This Psalmist doesn’t cry for vengeance against those who had wronged. He cried for redemption in repentance and faith. He cried for a Savior, for the Messiah, an eternal king and just ruler.

We may not be in such dire straits, but we certainly know sorrow, loss, helplessness, of being overwhelmed.  You are reminded daily that you continue to live in a sin-sick world, full of evil and pain, suffering and sadness. You still have battles raging in your lives. The battle against a deadly illness, the battle against the guilt and shame of a sin or addiction that continues to haunt you and beat you down, the battle of sadness over a broken relationship in your marriage or with your children, financial challenges. You are struggling with life, and you feel hopeless and helpless.   Uncertainty, concern, over the future of our country, our families, our church, our lives. Sometimes it even feels like we are living in a foreign land, different way of talking about things, a different view of the world, a different faith and God. 

This is not unique to your situation, nor in the history of the world.  The deep that we find ourselves in is the foreign land of this mortal life, overwhelmed by the sin and the brokenness of this world as well as of ourselves.  For this very reason, and for its eloquent and faithful expression of sorrow and hope, Psalm 130 has been one of the most frequently prayed psalms throughout Christian history, a cry borne out of the depths of pain and sin.  A cry for redemption in repentance. A prayer for the Messiah, a Savior. 

You can turn to “princes,” to the son of man, but you’ll quickly find there is no salvation there. You find only more pain, suffering, guilt, and hopelessness. You realize that those humans you put your trust in don’t have salvation, and when their breath departs, to dust they shall return.  It is all too clear that you shouldn’t put your trust in princes, yet it happens repeatedly. We continue to look to ourselves for answers to self-medicate; we just want the pain to end. Or we use others to get happiness. The psalmist calls us to repent of that idolatry, to turn to the Lord in faith and hope.

So we started out the Service this morning in our opening verses“If you O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.  But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.”  Most of us are aware at the various ways in which, during the course of the day, we have failed and fallen into sin, maybe permitting the root of bitterness to rise up and cause trouble, of panic, of feeling isolated in the depths of our sin. We humbly confess that if the Lord should mark iniquities, we could not stand, but we also confess that there is forgiveness with GodIf there wasn’t, we could not stand. We could not endure the Lord’s wrath nor face our shame. We couldn’t walk through this would with any kind of lasting comfort or hope or peace.  We would have no excuse or escape. We would be condemned. But there is forgiveness with the Lord. And so it is that we fear Him, that is, we revere, honor, love, and worship Him alone.

 The Psalmist then turns to his fellow believers. He turns to you. He says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.” St. Paul reflects this in his letter to the Ephesians, 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.” 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been redeemed by the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who sent His one and only Son into the world, who is the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Balm of Gilead.  Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness for you. Jesus comes to conquer sin and death for you. Jesus comes to die for you. Jesus was raised again on the third day for you. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, lived, suffered, died and rose again — for you. 

For some reason, I’m not sure why, the Introit does not include the following verse, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchman for the morning, more than watchman for the morning.” We are more eager than watchmen for the morning, more excited and expectant that children on Christmas Eve. The coming of Christ is the great day of accounting.  God is plentiful in His forgiveness.  “Those who wait for the Lord ask… for mercy; but they leave it to God’s gracious will when, how, where, and by what means He helps them.” (Luther, AE 14:192).  Be patient until that time, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise and God (Philippians 1:11).

All Saints' Day 2020

All Saints’ Day 2020

Matthew 5:5 

Blessed are the meek

November 1, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Each year on All Saints, we read the Beatitudes in church.  This is the first part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus’ sermon is perfect in all the principles by which the Christian life of molded. (Augustine).   Nine times Jesus declares His disciples to be blessed because of what God has in store for them.  He doesn’t make ethical demands of His followers but describes the blessings they would fully enjoy in the new heaven and new earth.  This morning, we are going to consider the 3rd beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

To begin with, we should be reminded of what it means to be blessed.  Sometimes people think that this word means “happiness, or good fortune, or pleasure.”  But blessedness is far more than that.  The word is derived from the Greek word that means “great.”  It was usually applied to the person who was wealthy, powerful, honored, not because they were good, perfect, or happy.  But Jesus uses this word and gives it a higher and more noble meaning.  When Jesus says “blessed are…” He is referring to the condition or state of a person who has been favorably accepted by God and has received His approval.  So it this sense, it’s more in line with “saved” or “redeemed.” 

So… blessed are the meek. What does it mean to be meek?  It means to be humble, to be lowly.  Meekness doesn’t refer to an attitude, but to a condition of the soul.  We see this particularly in light of Jesus,  St. Paul describes this well in Philippians 2:6-7, when he says that Jesus “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  And Jesus Himself later describes Himself in this way in Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly/meek in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  This third beatitude then refers to an internal condition of a person before God and known only to Him.  The invitation to come to Him is offered by Jesus in His humility, and is shared with those who place themselves under that yoke. 

On this day, on All Saints’ Day, we thank the Lord for His mercies shown to those saints who have entered into Jesus’ rest.  They are in glory and see God face to face.  Their happiness is very great, since they are removed from all troubles of this life.  Their joy is not yet completed, as they await the Resurrection of their bodies.  But there is no hint of sadness in them, only the joyous expectation of even greater glory to come.

But you are not yet there. But you are as Christ describes you in these beatitudes.  The Beatitudes name a present condition and point to a future hope.  The present condition, such as meekness, is the result of living in a world broken by sin. And is our world ever broken! You see the signs of brokenness all around you. The political scene has enough of it. So do our personal lives.

While meekness indicates a passiveness before God and the reception of His greatness, there is meekness toward others that has a more active sense of exercising a quality or virtue in this life.  This is a virtue that doesn’t come naturally, but the Holy Spirit must work within us.  He leads us to the cross to see the meekness of Christ in the face of evil and injustice. And then He leads us to a willingness to take wrong patiently.  To a gentleness in dealing with others, of treating others with humility and love, respect and reverence, even when we are treated no better than the world treated Jesus. 

“Blessed are they, for they shall inherit the earth.” The world certainly doesn’t believe this.  The general concept of meekness is weakness and cowardice.  Not the meek but the violent, the sneaky, the ruthless who win over the world.  The world will not learn that by the time the violent have done their work, there is little of the earth to inherit.  But the Lord says that the meek will inherit the earth.  Because the meek, who are followers of Christ, are heirs together with the Son of God, heirs of the eternal kingdom of God.  Therefore they shall inherit the earth who do not claim their own sinful works but Christ’s work as their glory.  The Psalmist declares the same in Psalm 37:10-11, “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”

This is the fulfillment of the promises going all the back to Abraham, of inheriting the promised land, of being brought and kept there by God Himself.  This isn’t talking about a little plot of land somewhere in the middle east, nor America or any other earthly kingdom.  Jesus promises a future inheritance of the new creation.  For a time, you must be one of the downtrodden saints in this world, since you do not set your heart upon this life.  True, you may take comfort and pleasure here and there from the blessings God gives in this world.  Yet your heart is set upon things above, and a treasure that does not fade or rust.  Your inheritance is in heaven and the life to come.

Because of His death to pay for our sins and His resurrection to give us new life, we have reason for hope! Even when the world seems like it’s spinning out of control, we have reason for hope!  Our hope is not in this world. Ultimately, a Christian’s hope is in eternal life. The nature of hope is that you don’t have the fulfillment yet. But the promise is enough to strengthen you and help you carry on. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25).

 The Beatitudes direct our attention to the future – the kingdom of heaven, to the eternal promised land, to Christ’s return and the resurrection of the body, to a new heaven and new earth. A hopeful eternal future makes for a joyful present, no matter current conditions.  Are you worried about what is to come this Tuesday for the election? God isn’t.  Are you worried about what it is to come with the coronavirus? God isn’t.  Are you worried about what is to come with your family, with your friends?  God isn’t. The Lord is in charge! He sees a much bigger picture. He’s working out His plan for this world, a plan that centers around Jesus and the new creation.

See the awesome wonder of God who suffers, God who bleeds, God who dies.  Then you will also see the future in a cold, still tomb that stands open and empty.  The Cross is yours now.  Resurrection is your future, the new heavens and the new earth belong to the meek, who humbly receive blessedness from Christ.  So be patient in your trials.  Do not despair at the burdens you must carry.  The momentary troubles of this life are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come.  Continue to pray with all the Church of God: Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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