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Transfiguration 2022 - Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration 2022

Matthew 17:1-9

February 6, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Nowhere else in Gospels does Jesus appear in His divine glory as He does in His Transfiguration.  From His lowly birth, throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus’ humanity is revealed in His appearance. Even when He has been raised from the dead and ascends into heaven, He looks like a man. Now, of course, as we see every year during the Epiphany season, this man Jesus reveals His divinity by means of His miracles.  But in His transfiguration He reveals more of Himself than He does any other time.  His face shone like the sun, His clothes became white as light.  Until He returns in glory upon that Last Day, this is as glorious looking as Jesus gets, which is only a glimpse of what we will see in eternity. 

Peter, James, and John – Jesus’ inner circle of disciples if you will – witness this wonderous sight.  But they aren’t the only ones there, either.  Moses and Elijah are there, pillars of God’s promises throughout history.  The great lawgiver and the great troubler of Israel prophet represent all the Law and the Prophets, the OT Scriptures.  They aren’t just standing around, but they are talking with Jesus, and as St. Luke states, they were speaking of Jesus’ exodus, that is His journey to the cross.  If that weren’t enough, a bright cloud overshadows them, God the Father revealing His presence as He did on Mt. Sinai and throughout the Exodus as He led His people to the Promised Land.  Here He is, at it again, now echoing the words He spoke at Jesus’ baptism, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). 

The Transfiguration confirms to the disciples that Jesus really is the Messiah.  This shouldn’t have been news to them, for over and over again this very fact had been revealed to them.  A chapter earlier, Peter had made the great confession in answer to Jesus’ question about who they say that Jesus is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” True enough, yet he doesn’t understand what that really means.  When Jesus then foretells His death and resurrection, Peter rebukes the Son of the Living God Himself.  Peter fails to envision a Christ who must suffer and die, the very thing that Moses and Elijah are speaking to Jesus about. Jesus knows that He must take up the cross for our salvation.  This is the very purpose for which He became man, after all.  

Peter genuinely thinks that He is helping Jesus when he tries to talk Him out of going to the cross and then to set up tents to keep Jesus there on Peter’s terms and on how Peter thinks Jesus should act.  That takes quite the gall on Peter’s part, don’t you think?  How many of us would dare speak to God and tell Him that He is wrong, that His plan isn’t good enough?  And yet, we do, don’t we?  We can’t be too hard on poor Peter, for we act the same way. At times, we fail to understand God’s ways, His actions, His work, thinking we know better, and we feel the need to lecture God on how we think He should act and what He should do and how His view of the world ought to match up to ours.  But God doesn’t answer to you.  You have no place, no right, no authority, no power, to stand in judgment over the will or the plan or the actions or the Word of God in the flesh. 

“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). “Listen to Him,” the Father says.  When the disciples are flat on their faces with fear over the glory of God in Christ, they hear Jesus’ own words, “Rise, and have no fear.” If Jesus is beloved of the Father, do not be afraid, Peter.  You should already know of His power and you confessed that He was the Christ, though denying the need for the Christ to die and be raised again.  Take courage in the voice of the Father.  In the Lord’s plan to reveal His glory by means of Jesus’ death on your behalf.  That we see the glory of the cross, of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sin, of humility before glory, of suffering before glory, of death before resurrection!

“The Lord’s attitude in this is a challenge to the faith of believers, reminding us that although we should not doubt the promise of blessedness, we should understand that, amid the trials of this life we must pray for perseverance before glory; for the joys of heaven cannot come before the times of trial” (Leo I of Rome, Sermon 51). This is why Jesus speaks six days before His transfiguration, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” 

Christians are marked by possession of the cross.  We must endure hardships, all kinds of trials and temptations and evil from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh that attacks our very soul, that leads us to think it is not good to be here, to bring sadness and sorrow and depression and confusion. Yet the end is not the cross; the end is eternal life in God’s kingdom.

In baptism, the cross is traced upon the forehead and the heart to mark one as redeemed by Christ the crucified.  It is a recognition that in those blessed waters, in Jesus’ cross and resurrection being applied to you, that God the Father declares you to be His son.  God has only one natural Son, only one begotten.  All other are adopted, which takes place in your baptism. We pray for this in the Collect of the Day, “In the voice that came from the bright cloud You wonderfully foreshowed our adoption by grace. Mercifully make us co-heirs with the King in His glory and bring us to the fullness of our inheritance in heaven…” He has. He does. He will. 

The Transfiguration is a foretaste of the coming glory; the coming glory of Christ in all His divinity while retaining His humanity; the coming glory of those adopted as sons of God by grace, co-heirs with Christ; the coming glory of eternal life, the world without end.  For the sake of Christ, by faith in the only begotten Son of God, the Father declares the same to you, “You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased.”

Advent 4 2021 - Isaiah 35:1-4

Advent 4 2021 Rorate Coeli

Isaiah 35:1-4

December 19, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.  The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.  Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of Go.  He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:1-4

This morning, our children recounted part of the Christmas story.  Herald out the news as surely as the angels, as John the Baptist, as the shepherds, and magi.  A symbol in the sense that the confession of the lips are a sign that points to Jesus, that Christmas is about the Mass of Christ, that is to say, the Divine Service focusing on the incarnation of Jesus Christ who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was made man. 

Throughout our midweek services this year we focused on many of the symbols for the coming Christ found in the Old Testament, many of the images and foreshadowing of God’s promises to His people: the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, Gideon as the mighty man of valor.  This morning we consider another one of these symbols, both in prophetic promises of Isaiah and in current tradition. 

Consider the prophet Isaiah as he poetically describes the Messiah’s coming from Isaiah 35 in this way:“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.”  Most of the Holy Land was arid desert wasteland: dry, dusty, desolate.  Very few animals, very little vegetation, and virtually no trees. The prophets often use this image of desert wasteland to symbolize our sin and its consequences: dreadful, doom, death, damnation. But, opposite of this, the coming of the Messiah is often pictured by the Old Testament prophets like a miracle in the desert, symbolic of spiritual renewal and rebirth in the desert of our hearts. 

Like streams in the desert, God sent his Son into our world, and He works faith in your heart to trust in Christ as your Savior.  Where there was once dread and death because of sin, He give you hope, for your sins are all forgiven, and everlasting life with Christ in heaven. The coming of the Messiah into our world, into our hearts and lives, of faith blossoming abundantly leading to rejoicing and singing over everlasting life, is like the desert bursting forth in bloom. 

Probably one of the most popular and common symbols of this in our culture is the Christmas tree.  According to tradition, it was Martin Luther himself who invented the Christmas tree. One evening in the winter, the leader of the Protestant Reformation took a walk in the woods to compose a sermon, saw the stars through some pine trees, and rushed home. This reminded him of how the “glory of the Lord shone round about” the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth.  To capture this beauty, he cut a tree down, set it up indoors, and decorated it with candles, fruits, and nuts.

No one knows for sure if this traditional story is factual, but it sounds like something Luther would do.  Whether or not Martin Luther himself actually invented the Christmas tree, it was first used among German Lutherans, both in Europe and here in America as a symbol during the Christmas season.  Decorating homes with evergreen is a practice that goes back at least as far as the Romans and the Druids, but German Lutherans are credited with bringing the tradition of candle-lit Christmas trees to settlements in Pennsylvania as early as the 1747. At that time, New England Puritans viewed Christmas celebrations outside of church—namely Christmas trees—to be a form of "pagan mockery.” Indeed, pagans were into the evergreen thing, too, just like they still are today. And though today almost all American churches of every denomination have a Christmas tree, it is a fact of American history that the very first Christmas tree in a church anywhere in North America was in a Missouri Synod congregation.  In downtown Cleveland, Ohio is a historical marker with this inscription:

On this site stood the first Christmas tree in America publicly lighted and displayed in a church…  On this site stood the original Zion Lutheran Church where in 1851, on Christmas Eve, Pastor Henry Schwan lighted the first Christmas tree in Cleveland.  The tradition he brought from Germany soon became widely accepted throughout America...

That first year the Christmas tree was such a new and controversial thing that there were scathing editorials in the Cleveland newspapers about those awful Germans worshipping a tree.  This prompted Pastor Schwan to launch a life-long campaign promoting and gaining widespread acceptance of the Christmas tree as an appropriate symbol of the Biblical account of Christmas.  It would be decorated at the beginning of the Christmas season, on Christmas Eve, and left up throughout the 12 days of Christmas until Epiphany, January 6. As a result of his campaign, within five years Christmas trees were being erected in homes and churches all across the country.  There had been previous Christmas trees in America, especially among Germans immigrants.  But, because of his efforts to popularize this German custom in the new world, Pastor Schwan is known as “father of the Christmas tree” in America.  Not only that, but Pastor Schwan later served as the LCMS Synodical President from 1878-1899.  He also was the author of several of the questions, explanations, and Bible proof texts appended in the back of Luther’s Small Catechism, which we still use today. 

So, the Christmas tree is a uniquely German invention; a uniquely Lutheran contribution to the Christmas season; and, to a large extent, a uniquely Missouri Synod contribution to American culture.  But, the Christmas tree is more than just a beautiful decoration to brighten up our homes and make our church festive at Christmastime.  

The evergreen itself, which stays green, full of life, throughout the long, dark, cold winter, is a symbol of life and of faithfulness: God’s faithfulness in keeping his ancient promise to send the Savior; and the faithfulness of the prophets and people of old, who proclaimed and believed the promise, and looked forward in faith, waiting for the coming Messiah who was to come.  The evergreen is also a symbol of our faithfulness, trusting in Messiah who has come, and the eternal life we have in the wilderness of this fallen world.

The lights on the tree stand for Christ, the light of the world, and the light of faith which the Holy Spirit works in hearts through the Word and Sacraments.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “[He] made his light shine in our hearts.”  The lights on the tree also stand for the good works that we do, prompted by our faith in Christ.  As he said, “You are the light of the world…  let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”

The beautiful ornaments on the tree are not just any ornaments, but are chrismons, or Christ monograms - decorations that represent Jesus.  Various forms of crosses, chi rho, a manger, alpha and omega, baptism, communion, the Word, and all topped by a star.  Just as God used the star to light the way of the Gentile magi to Jesus, so He continues to light our way and gather to Himself a holy and a righteous people.  Sometimes an angel is used for the same effect, announcing as they did so long ago to the shepherds the good news of great joy that Christ has been born.

And lastly, the Christmas tree also symbolizes the tree of life – both that tree that Adam and Eve were banned from in the Garden of Eden, but even more importantly, the cross upon which Jesus died for the salvation of the world.  As Peter also writes, “Surely he bore our sins in his body on the tree.” And as Peter says in the book of Acts, “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead.”  It’s common when real Christmas trees are used in the church that after they are taken down, branches are cut off and trunk is fashioned into the shape of a cross to be used in the procession on Good Friday.

As you give thanks to God for adorning the lives of our children with the ornaments of faith they confess, as you admire the beautiful Christmas trees in our church, in your home, and elsewhere, remember that these things are more than just a beautiful decoration to brighten up our homes and make our church festive at Christmastime.  The Christmas tree, decorated with lights and ornaments, topped with an angel or star is truly a Christian symbol to draw our attention to the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. 

 

Portions of this sermon were adapted from a sermon by Pastor Kevin Vogts, Trinity Lutheran Church, Paola, Kansas, First Sunday after Christmas—December 29, 2013

 

Advent 3 2021 - 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Advent 3 2021 Gaudete

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

December 12, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Pastor John, the Baptist, was a faithful minister of God, indeed no one more so than he has ever been born.  In expectation for the first coming of Christ, John the Baptist was the preacher of preparation.  The great forerunner of Christ, the new Elijah, the voice crying out from the wilderness to make ready the way of the Lord’s coming had come without worry or concern over being sensitive, politically correct, culturally woke or accommodating. His faithfulness to God alone caused him to end up in prison and it finally ended in his death.  But you see, here’s the thing about death.  Death doesn’t have the last word, it doesn’t silence the preaching of John for he spoke not his own words, but the word of the Lord.  And the Word of the Lord endures forever.  

To ensure that the word of the Lord continues to be preached unto the whole world, to continue the ministry of preparing God’s people for His Advent and “so that we may obtain [saving] faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given.  He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who heard the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.” (AC V1-3a).  The King who is coming again still has His preachers of preparation, the ministers of Christ, the stewards of His mysteries according to St. Paul in our Epistle reading for this morning (1 Corinthians 4:1).  The Lord still has His messengers who are able to prepare the faithful for a blessed commemoration of the First Advent, for the constant coming in Word and Sacrament, and for His coming again in power and glory.  

In a similar way as Pastor John, pastors today are not their own master, but servants of the King.  They are sent to do God’s business in the world, not their own.  The treasure of Word and Sacrament that a pastor is called to disperse are not his own, his words are not to be his opinion, his service not his preference.  Likewise, pastors are not ministers of the congregation, but ministers of Christ and for Christ’s sake to the congregation.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” As a servant of Christ the pardon announced in the absolution and the preaching of the Gospel, the Law proclaimed curbing and condemning sin and to guide the Christian in faithful living; the preaching, the prayers, the visitations, the study of God’s Word are all conducted in service to Christ for the benefit of His Church.

But Paul also says that Pastors are to be stewards of the mysteries of God.  A steward only manages what belongs to His master and in accordance with his master’s will. So pastors are under orders to speak God’s Word and hand out God’s gifts according to God’s command, and it is only effective by Christ’s commission and authority.  This word that Paul uses for “mysteries“ translated in Latin is sacramentum, from which we get the English word “Sacrament.” So Paul is telling us here it is those who have been placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry by Christ, through His Church, whom Christ has made managers or stewards of the Word and Sacraments. So we confess in the Augsburg Confession XIV, on ecclesiastical order that “no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments without a rightly ordered call.” So, pastors then have a great responsibility in stewarding the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administering the Sacraments according to God’s intent and purpose and dare not go against the will of God.

So this is why St. Paul also says (1 Corinthians 4:1b), “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”  Trustworthiness, faithfulness, to the Lord Christ, to the pure teaching of the Gospel and the correct administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, are the main duties of stewards even if they are to end up like Pastor John.

Your responsibility is to hear their voice crying out with God’s Word, to receive the gifts being delivered from the hands of Christ’s steward, to assist him in trustworthiness to God.  Don’t neglect God’s gifts.  Don’t reject His forgiveness and comfort.  And be careful. For there are false pastors, those who speak what itching ears want to hear. Judge what you hear in Church, what you are taught in Bible study, what your kids learn in Sunday School, or at our school or daycare by the Word of God and not by the personality of the pastor. We all have our quirks, strengths and weaknesses. And please, when the Word is faithfully spoken in alignment with the Scriptures and you don’t like it, or it hits close to home, or wounds your sinful pride, don’t shoot the messenger. Your problem isn’t with me, it’s with God.  And frankly, while I love you all and value your opinions, I fear and trust God’s judgment much more than yours.

Ultimately, the point is this: Christ is coming.  To prepare you for His coming, He sends His messengers, His called and ordained pastors, to speak His Word and deliver His mysteries. Give thanks and praise to God that for more than 100 years God has sent His pastors to Zion Lutheran Church, and by His grace, may He continue to do so.  In doing this, in sending you faithful pastors, God is telling you how valuable you are to Him. Just as He has commanded angelic messengers to guard you in all your ways because you are His beloved child, so He has commanded His pastoral messengers to serve you by Christ’s command and with His authority as a continuation of the apostolic ministry.

But this is not just to take place here in a church building once a week.  The word “apostle” means one who is sent, and the apostolic ministry is the ministry, the service, of those called and sent by God, His pastors, His undershepherds, instituted by and flowing out from Christ’s command as He delivers His comfort, His peace and the end of warfare through reconciliation in Christ, and His divine blessing by means of His messengers.  In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the Twelve disciples, and then in Luke 10, He sends out the 72 to proclaim the kingdom of God which has arrived with the presence of the King, Jesus.  And these are sent to the homes of God’s people.  And the house they enter, they are to say, “Peace be to this house!  And if a son of peace is there, then your peace will rest upon him.  But if not, it will return to you.” Upon the return of the 72, they joyfully say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!”  Jesus reaffirms, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” 

Next month, during the season of Epiphany, I will start conducting house blessings for this very purpose.  To deliver Christ and His blessing, His Good Word, to you and your family so that you are prepared for His Coming, that your homes are sanctified and set apart as a godly place to live out your vocations. That’s God’s Word and prayer are applied for your divine protection, guidance, preservation, and blessing.  That the good word of the good news is for you, behold your God, the Lord God comes with might, His arm rules by the pierced hands of Christ (Isaiah 40:9b-10), who stirs up His might and comes to save (Psalm 80:1). 

Advent 2 2021 - Romans 15:4-13

Advent 2 2021

Romans 15:4-13

December 5, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

What is it that you are hoping for this year as we approach Christmas?  Maybe you hope you get the present you wanted for Christmas. You hope you family is happy with what you got them. You hope the meal goes ok. You hope your family member is able to come home, or that you’re able to go see your loved ones. You hope to have a new addition to the family. You hope everyone gets along. Wishful thinking in a good way.

We have lots of hopes for this time of the year.  When we think about these hopes and what we are saying, though, there’s often a certain level of doubt, or worry, or fear that our hopes will come to nothing.  And so we try to reassure ourselves, think the best of the situation, do what we are able, and leave the rest up to God.  

Today, though, we hear of a different kind of hope than what we normally talk about.  This is the hope of Advent, the hope of Jesus’ coming.  This is not wishful thinking. The Greek word here for hope carries a meaning of certainty and expectation that doesn’t allow for doubt. When St. Paul speaks of hope in our Epistle reading today, he means the unquestioning confidence and certain conviction that never disappoints – that as surely as Christ is risen, Christ comes. 

The classic Christmas hymn, “O little town of Bethlehem” holds the answer at the end of the first stanza, “The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in Thee tonight.” In the coming of Jesus all our hopes are met and fears addressed. This hope in Jesus has a certainty because it is based on the only thing that is absolutely certain.  This hope is based on the Lord Himself, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnated by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man, and was crucified also fur us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and buried, and the third He day rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven and sists at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge the both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”  And we know this, as we so often confess, according to the Scriptures.  

And so St. Paul reminds us today, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  All of Scripture, Old and New Testament, was written to instill and maintain hope in the hearts of the waiting believers, Jews and Gentiles alike.  It is God’s Word of hope to you. These things are written that through endurance and encouragement you might learn to hope aright.  A hope that is based on the revealed will of God in His Word that points us to Jesus.  

Scripture’s promises all point the One who made and keeps them, it’s prophecies to a better future.  To illustrate this, Paul tells us Jesus became a servant to the circumcised, to the Jews, to show God’s truthfulness and that He keeps His promises. Christ trusted His Father even when human reason would say that all was hopeless.  He endured all and suffered all.  In doing so, He fulfilled the promises God had made ever since the fall into sin, throughout the history of Him guiding His chosen people and reassuring them over and over again of His coming.

So Scripture is also a record of people who trusted God’s promises and were not disappointed or put to shame.  Faithful Israel patiently waited for Messiah to come.  Although many lost hope and fell away, those who watched for the redemption of Israel did not lose patience but received the Lord’s coming with faith and joy!

And not just them. Paul quotes four Old Testament passages which highlight how these promises of God given to the patriarchs were also given in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, “Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.” Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the people extol Him.” “The root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope.” (Romans 15:9b-12).  The OT looked ahead to the day when Jews and Gentiles would worship God together.  This day has come in Christ when people from all over the world are united through faith in Christ to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2) with a hope that does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).  

Again, this hope is of certainty, not of doubt. In fact, doubt and despair are enemies of this Christian hope, enemies that are fought only by exposure to the Scriptures, the very Word of God again and again.  This is part of reason why we hold extra midweek services and devotionals during this season of hope.  This is part of the reason why, during this Epiphany Season, I will be conducting house blessings, sanctifying the Christian home with the Word of God and prayer for those who desire this reassurance of hope.  It’s so that you may hear the promises of God again and again, to be reassured that you do not hope in vain, nor place your hope in the wrong things.

Let’s be honest, sometimes, especially during this time of the year, our sinful flesh steers us to put our hope in the things of this temporary world.  We think our life is complete if we have them, and if we do not, then our life is empty and sad.  We are taught to avoid pain and suffering almost at all costs, and that we can do that if we just have enough money, the best insurance or healthcare, the most friends, the newest toys.  These are probably good gifts from God, yet we elevate them in our minds to a level that they should not occupy. Because earthly hopes eventually disappoint.  They are false hopes after all.  Toys will break.  People will disappoint you. If you live long enough either your body or your mind will fail, or even both.  False hopes in these earthly things eventually only leads to fear and despair, since even heaven and earth will pass away.  

The God of hope fills us with the joy and peace in believing.  There are indeed troubles that afflict us.  There are needs that He allows to go unanswered for a time.  There are wounds that heal slowly, or not at all in this life. He reminds us that the sheer magnitude of His love has been proven beyond a doubt upon Calvary.  He reminds us that His grace is sufficient for us in the weakness we must endure.  He speaks to us again and again, causing His majestic voice to be heard that you may have gladness of heart (Isaiah 30:29, antiphon of the Introit).  

So let us not look around at this world to find our hope.  Let us fix our eyes on the God of hope by fixing our attention on Christ and His Word, who is the hope of the Jew and Gentile alike, and the fulfillment of God’s promises. For Christ is risen and Christ is coming. This is most certainly true. 

Advent 1 2021 - Romans 13:8-14

Advent 1 2021

Romans 13:8-14

November 28, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

In our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 23, we hear the word of God, “Behold, the days are coming…”  Over the course of the last few weeks, we have heard about the coming of the Day of the Lord, the Messiah, the King of all creation. We heard about the Last Day, the day of judgment of the sheep and goats, when all the heavens and the earth will be burned up, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, for the righteous branch of David, the One called the Lord is our righteousness, Jesus Himself will reign. We heard that we must stay awake while we wait for Him and not fall asleep, but above all to be prepared like the five wise virgins supplied with the oil of the Word and Sacraments for their lamp with is faith.  As the Church Year ended, we were reminded, vividly, that the clock is winding down. That the earth, as we know it, has an expiration date, as do we.

If we are prepared now for our Lord’s Coming in His Word and Sacraments, we are fully prepared also for His second coming when He brings the fullness of salvation.  So as we start a new Church again, with the dominant theme of the Lord’s Coming, for His Advents are connected.  Our preparations to celebrate Christ’s coming at Christmas are meant to be preparations for His coming at the end of the world.  When we hear that Jesus is coming, this message is the call to prepare our hearts and lives for His grace, to be ready for His coming. That means that when you decorate your homes with Advent wreaths and calendars, Christmas trees and lights, these things ought to point to Jesus and ought to prepare you to celebrate His birth but also His coming again.  The season of Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, but not to prepare us from God’s birth as a true man, but to commemorate, remember and honor and prayerfully consider this historic event and its meaning in our lives here and now and in His second coming.  

Advent reminds us that now is a good time to become reacquainted with the voice in the wilderness, John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord, in his call for repentance and faith; that babe in the manger, with the man who walked the seas and calmed the storms, the man who made the blind to see and the deaf to hear, the man who is God's eternal Son, the man who hung upon the tree and died, and then rose again. The man who is God in the flesh who will come one day soon. While no one knows the hour or day of Jesus’ return, you know that the time has come for you to wake from sleep of misbelief, of apathy and indifference (modified from a post by Dr. Peter Scaer).  

It is interesting how St. Paul talks about this in Romans 13.  He says, “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” More accurately, he uses an idiom and the passive voice to say that it is the right time to be raised from spiritual slumber; to be raised by the God who raises Jesus our Lord from the dead.  Paul uses similar language in Ephesians 5:14, when he possibly quotes a baptismal hymn and says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 

What Paul is getting at here is connecting the resurrection from unbelief to belief and death to life, from His coming now to His coming then. So not even when we doze off in this life, when we hit the snooze button on the wakeup call of the Word of Christ, or even sleep in death, prevents Jesus from raising up His people from unbelief to faith, then from death to life. 

This life is night and eternity is the morning.  This season of Advent is your alarm clock. It’s time to wake up Zion from the night and the slumber of sleep and complacency in your faith to be raised up in baptismal living,  Salvation is nearer now than when you first believed! The night is far spent, and the dawn of the rising Son of God is growing near. St. Paul encourages us, then, that now is the time to cast off the works of darkness. How do you fight against these sins, to make no provision for the flesh to gratify your sinful desires? First, St. Paul says, “Put on the armor of light,” and then a little later, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is baptismal language. So in other words, you live out your baptism every day, walk properly in faith and recognition that your manner of living matches up with the reality of who God has declared you to be through those blessed waters – an adopted child of God, holy and set apart from the works of darkness to love the Lord and love your neighbor, and an heir along with Christ of the gift of eternal life.  Wrap yourselves in your baptismal identity, for this covers all your sin, is your protection against attacks, and the comfort of the Gospel. Clothed in Christ, Satan cannot hurt you and the King will recognize you as His own when He comes in His Word and Sacraments but also with His mighty deliverance at His second coming in glory. 

Don’t wait lest it be too late and Jesus catches you with your hand in the cookie jar of sin. Make no provision for the sinful flesh. Guard your soul. Let me ask you this.  In your life, would you be comfortable in whatever you are doing, to have Jesus sitting right next to you while you do it?  Watching TV, looking at the internet, outside in the yard or garage, what you do apart from the prying eyes of other people. Would you be comfortable having Jesus sitting right next to you?  We are reminded today as we hear about Palm Sunday and Jesus being welcomed as the King and the Messiah who has come to save, that He comes not just into the world, but it comes in our very lives.  Whatever sins you are struggling with, whatever forgiveness you refuse to give, whatever grudge you are holding, whatever bad habit you have formed, whatever idol you have erected in your life, whatever misbelief you have insisted upon that goes against God’s Word, now is the time to wake up, cast off those works, repent, and act like and believe that Jesus is your King.  This is what it means to walk properly as in the daytime.

Wake up! Wait, hope, trust, be ready. Join your voices to the crowds on Palm Sunday, opening proclaiming that Jesus is the coming Messiah, the King of all, “Hosanna! Save us now!” Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Sinners exiled from God, beset by powerful enemies, threatened by sin, lift up your hearts and voices in the great prayer of the Advent season that the Son of God would stir up His power and come! 

 

Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

November 25, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

In Greek, the word for “thanksgiving” is εὐχαριστία.  This is more than polite “thank you” that we teach to our children, but is a response, a quality of being grateful with implications of appropriate attitude and gratitude. 

And so it is often used as a name for the observance of the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.  It is no wonder that this became a shorthand term for this holy meal as when Jesus took the bread and the wine, He gave thanks.  Jesus follows the traditional Jewish pattern during the Passover of blessing, thanksgiving, breaking, and distributing, but used these elements of bread and wine in a new way to bring to completion that which the Passover meal foreshadowed and brings forgiveness and deliverance to His people from the slavery of sin.

As Christianity started to spread, much of the liturgy developed and was based off the OT pattern of worship, and centered God’s service through His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar.  There’s an ancient prayer and liturgical formula going back to at least Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, a document written around the year AD 250, that is the basis for what is called the Preface and the Proper Preface, those portions that begin the liturgy of the Service of the Sacrament. The word “preface” here doesn’t mean that this is something preliminary but rather that there is a proclamation and a preparation to be made. 

It all starts with a blessing: “The Lord be with you.” And the response: “and with thy spirit, or and also with you,” which is a recognition that the pastor stands in the stead of Christ and is about to offer Christ’s sacrifice to His people.  There’s the call and invitation to “Lift up your hearts,” and “We lift them up unto the Lord.” We lift up our hearts, our attitudes, our lives, our faith to our Lord Jesus who is about to come to us in His body and blood.  And then the encouragement to thanksgiving, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God” “It is meet/ it is good and right so to do.” 

And then the Pastor goes on with the Proper Preface, that is a portion and prayer of the preface that is proper to the specific season or day: “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You...”  What follows next changes depending upon the season of the church year and gives reason for that thanksgiving and is connected to the particular themes of Advent or Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and other special holidays. While there are various reasons, endless reasons, they all center around the gift of justification, that is, that “we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.” (AC IV).

It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God because He has redeemed us, justified us, saved us.  If we weren’t justified, and if that justification wasn’t delivered to us by His means of grace, there’d be nothing worth thanking God for. All of the many things we can and should thank God are in recognition that He gives us all things out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  For all of this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  

So we receive the body and blood of Jesus After the distribution, the pastor speaks another blessing that actually enables us to thank and praise, serve and obey.  “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.”  These are not just words, but a divine blessing that imparts what it says: strength and preservation in your body and soul that comes from His body and blood; not just for here and now, but into eternity.  And as we rise from kneeling here, it is as if we hear the same words Jesus’ speaks to the healed Samaritan leper, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well/your faith has healed you.” And then we join our “Amen” to what Jesus has done, “yes, yes, let it be so.”  

So it’s no surprise then that afterward, the pastor says or chants: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good” and we respond by saying or chanting “And His mercy endures forever.” Then the pastor prays a thanksgiving prayer on our behalf. The most typical prayer is this: “We give thanks to You, Almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” The salutary or healthy gift is the true body and blood of Christ. We thank God for refreshing us through this. Then we pray that of His mercy He would strengthen us through the same, that is through the same salutary gift that refreshed us, the Holy Eucharist, that He would strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another, which is to say that His refreshing mercy, which He bestows in the Sacrament, would cause us to love Him with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.  That is all in the form of thanksgiving.

And so maybe I don’t have to state the obvious, but I will.  The most natural way for Christians to give thanks to God is to receive the Eucharist, to take eat the body of Christ, to take drink the blood of Christ. To receive the gifts that Christ desires to give which enables and equips forgiven sinners for a life of thanksgiving. These ceremonies of the liturgy, based on the Word of God, demonstrate that in the Gospel Christ really speaks to us, really offers what He says, really gives thanks on our behalf.  The Service of the Sacrament is the finest prayer of thanksgiving we have as we receive from the Lord’s hand and from His eucharist,, as we return to the Lord again and again after our cleansing from the leprosy of sin to give praise and thanks to God by falling at the feet of Jesus.

It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God because He has given us His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. Our God has become a Man to buy and win us and He gives Himself as food, drink, and clothing. So we give thanks as we receive the forgiveness of sins in the Holy Eucharist. And giving thanks there He enables us to rise and go our way and give thanks in all other times and places, knowing that whatever the world may throw at us we have the bread of life, the cup of salvation, the medicine of immortality.  May the Holy Spirit inspire us to celebrate the Eucharist with thanks and praise. 

Trinity 27 2021 - Matthew 25:1-13

Trinity 27 2021

Matthew 25:1-13

November 21, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Imagine that you’re traveling, that you’re one of those crazy enough to travel during Thanksgiving holiday.  You have to get to the airport.  So you have to drive there.  Then you have to park, go get your ticket, work your way through security, get randomly searched, find your gate, find out it’s been changed, find the new gate, go to the bathroom, and sit down to hurry up and wait for a late plane. The only message available is “delayed, arrival pending.”  By this time, you’re exhausted, so you close your eyes for just a minute.  Now all that work is at risk.

Careless, sleepy travelers risk missing a flight or an exit, or the “road closed” sign up ahead.  Alert travelers demand attention to maps, weather, road, luggage, other travelers and the destination, all at once. It can be exhausting, especially when things are running later than expected.

And so you start to think, maybe it isn’t going to happen after all.  There’s no discernable no status change on the arrival time. In fact, when asking how much longer this will all take the only answer you get is that no one knows “only God knows the time of arrival.”

And out of frustration, you think, “What’s the problem?! What’s taking so long?” As we considered last week, St. Paul reminds us that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is waiting for your repentance, your return, your anxious, striving heart to become quiet enough to see the futility of your struggle to deliver yourself and your tendency to fall asleep on the job!  Live lives of holiness and godliness, in eager anticipation, waiting for and hastening the day of His coming, and to be diligent for that day. 

And so today we are reminded of this diligence in Jesus’ parable about the 10 virgins.  In this parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Notice first of that these are all virgins, that they are holy and pure.  These are ones already made holy by virtue of their baptism and part of the wedding party. In other words, Jesus is talking about believers here.  He’s talking to His Church. He’s talking to you.

Now, five of these were foolish and five were wise. Those who are foolish are the ones who took their lamps, but not oil. The wise are the ones who took oil along with the lamps.  And now here they are, and the Groom is delayed. There’s been a change to their plans and now they have to wait longer than they expected. And just like that a weary traveler on the holidays, all 10 of them become drowsy and fell asleep.  

How easy it is to fall asleep!  The pilgrimage and travel of this life can be exhausting!  We get bombarded with the negative over and over again like bad airport continuous news reports.  It’s almost just bad, bad, and more bad.  It’s depressing, and it’s wearing. School isn’t always filled with the joy of learning. Work isn’t always as fulfilling as one would hope. Conflicts arise in the home. Little by little our energy is drained and our hopes and dreams seem so far off.  And through it all there’s Jesus saying, “Stay awake! Watch and pray.”  The Bridegroom is on His way.

It’s almost ironic that Jesus speaks this parable on Tuesday of Holy Week.  A couple days later, He takes Peter, James, and John to the Garden of Gethsemane right after His last supper. Filled bellies in the disciples, a dark evening, uneasiness over Jesus’ words about an upcoming betrayal and denial, arrest and death.  And Jesus tells them, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And when Jesus comes back after about an hour, He finds His disciples asleep!  “So, could you not watch with Me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. Indeed, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Three times that happened, and then Jesus is arrested, and the disciples scatter.  

Stay awake, watch and pray. Louder than an airport intercom announcing the plane has arrived and it is time to board, the call will come, “Here is the bridegroom, come out to meet him!” Jostled awake, the difference between the foolish and the wise becomes readily apparent. If the lamp itself is faith, given in baptism, that makes one pure and holy as a virgin.  The oil is the Means of Grace to fill the faith.  In the parable, the foolish have no oil, they have stayed away from the means of grace, even while looking for something to fill them at the end, which by that point is simply too late.

And so they try to take the oil from the wise five.  The foolish say the wise, “give us some of your oil.”  Our translation says, “Since there will not be enough for us and you, go rather to dealers and buy for yourselves.”  This translation is unfortunate though.  What it literally says is “Never!” They don’t say no, but never! There is no time, there is no chance.  The point is simple, you can’t believe for someone else and you can’t depend on someone else’s faith or preparations to be allowed into the eternal wedding feast. Each needs their own.  There is never a case when we can take a person who is in hell and believe for him, as with the rich man and Lazarus, the chasm is too great between here and there and cannot be crossed.  

Some don’t make use of their baptism. Some don’t nurture the faith they already had and neglected their position as one of the virgins and didn’t prepare the right way, they took it for granted, or thought there might be time to buy it later. They didn’t believe that Christ the Bridegroom was really coming, or that He was coming anytime soon, and so they were unprepared when it actually matters and run off to try to find some oil.  

Where is the oil to be found? Where are the foolish pointed? To the market.  To the Church, where oil isn’t bought and sold, but given away for free. Jesus, the Bridegroom, has already paid for it all. Paid by His death, He’s giving it away for free! The problem is by the time the call comes, it’s too late. The market is closed. The foolish can’t buy any oil, they can’t get it any other way except through the means of Word and Sacrament.  They can’t go to Church anymore to hear and believe and be forgiven because the end has come. They were giving the oil away, and the foolish wouldn’t take it. And coming back, the door has been shut, no more passengers allowed on board, no late admission, no second chance, only Jesus words, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12).

The sad reality is that many who are invited to share in the eternal joy of the Kingdom of heaven who will miss out by failing to have a living faith at the end.  They have been given faith, but they neglect meeting together around Christ, they don’t come to church, and think that there is plenty of time to deal with it all later. The point, the warning, in the text is simply: don’t be those foolish virgins.  Be diligent, use the faith God has given to you, get the oil of the Word and Sacraments, stay awake. Sleeping through the sermon and/or stumbling through the liturgy in unthinking stupor may be common enough, and sinful enough, but what of the sin of sleeping through life itself?  Complacency, lackadaisical Christians are the very antithesis, the exact opposite of the alert disciples Jesus calls for.  This is why you’re here, this is how you fight sleepiness, this is how you stay prepared and awake in the faith, so stay in this – in the Word, in the Sacraments, in the declaration that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Don’t play with sin and think you can get away with it.  That is destructive to faith and lures you sleep.  You can’t keep your sin secret from God. There may not be a later for you to repentant then, so you better do it now. While you are travelers on this journey of your lives, we are reminded of the need to stay awake and be aware of what is going on so you don’t sleep your lives away and get caught unaware at the midnight hour. 

And in this certainty, stay awake!  Watch and Pray.  Be ready for Christ’s return. He could come today, tomorrow, 10 years from now.  Your waiting is not in vain.  Your waiting has already been fulfilled on Calvary, is being fulfilled again at the altar, and will be fulfilled again on the Last Day.  What are you waiting for? Stay awake! For today is the day of salvation! 

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