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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! 

Trinity 26 2021 - 2 Peter 3:3-14

Trinity 26 2021

2 Peter 3:3-14

November 14, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

St. Peter wrote his letter about 30 years after our Lord’s ascension.   The first generation of Christians were dying out, and still the world did not come to an end. There were still some disciples alive who heard Jesus’ promise to return, yet there was no indication that the end was any nearer.  There was a concern among some that the delay would lead to complacency and apathy among the believers, or worse yet, to people falling away from the Christian faith because of their impatience.

So while we wait and wonder why Jesus is taking His sweet time in returning, He does not share our impatience, nor is He slow to fulfill His promises as some count slowness.  Scoffers are going to scoff, so they mock, “Why is Your God taking so long?” The answer is that, “He’s not.” But also that God has determined the exact moment in the history of His creation, and from His perspective there is no delay in the return of Jesus.  

To address this issue, St. Peter reminds us that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8).  Peter is not saying that 1000 years and a day are the same.  God doesn’t see time from one to the other, but He sees both the beginning and the end simultaneously.  He is not bound by the created element of time. He speaks from the viewpoint of eternity, where there is no time, no day, no year.  Since God is eternal, what seems to us to be a long time is not to Him.  As God’s Word created and preserves creation, as God’s Word declared judgment upon the world by means of the Flood, by that same Word, the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly will come, and the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promises.

And so as we ought to be patient for His coming, He is even more patient toward you.  His motives are His love and long suffering, so that, for He wishes that all would reach repentance.  God’s timing of that day is arraigned to give people time and opportunity to turn to him in faith. Why is He waiting? Why doesn’t He hurry up and fix all the pain and suffering and evil?  Because He wants you, your family member, your friend, your neighbor, to hear the Gospel, and by means of hearing the Word, come to repentance and faith in Christ crucified.  There are people who still must be saved, and this world remains for the one purpose of the salvation of all who would believe. While the scoffers say that the delay is slowness, or just made up altogether, you who believe count it as salvation.  

The day of the Lord will come as a surprise, without special warning, like a thief in the night, without a different announcement than what we already have in Scripture.  Everyone, believers and non-believers alike, will be surprised.  Upon the sudden return of Jesus, the heavens will pass away with a roar, the heavenly bodies burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. No secret rapture, no “Left Behind” heretical nonsense, no end of the world movie scene.  But the sudden return of Christ, the fire of God’s judgment of the living and the dead, which will refine and purify creation to the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, paradise regained, and the bodily resurrection of believers to enteral life and unbelievers to eternal damnation.

Many people today comment that the end must be near because of the unrest in our country and some other places in the world.  Christians have been saying ever since Jesus ascended.  We already know that the end is coming.  We have been living in the last days since Jesus’ ascension.  It should be of no surprise that creation falls apart because of sin, when our lives fall apart because of sin, but there is also no need for panic or fear.

For us, the bigger question isn’t “if” Jesus is returning, nor “when” Jesus is returning, but rather what do we do while we wait? What sort of persons ought we be?  Certainly not fearful of the end of all things, nor the end of our earthly life!  The believer has nothing to fear! But rather, you are called to be people in lives of holiness and godliness, eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus, the great and awesome day of the Lord.  Since you know that everything must pass away, both heaven and earth, consider how you must be prepared with a saintly and a godly life and conduct to meet this day (Luther, AE 30:197). 

By virtue of your baptism, you have been prepared for that great and mighty day, given what you need, set apart for God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Since Jesus is holy, God declares us holy through faith in Him.  Your function in this world flows from this identity as part of God’s holy people. Holiness is the separation from the service of sin and evil, from the godless world.  That means you are called to lives lives that reflect this reality, lives of godliness. Godliness is the service of God, the reflecting of Christ in our own lives. You’re not to live like the unbelievers. You’re not to buy into the contradictory information of the secular world and believe in that more than you believe in God’s Word, taking care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (2 Peter 3:17); you’re not to act as if God doesn’t matter or as if He isn’t involved in your life; you’re not to panic or fear in suffering or hardship, for the Christian life is one of bearing the cross; you’re not to lazily sit on your duff and let the world to go to hell when you have the only answer that eternally matters, the only comfort that lasts beyond this life, the only true hope for a future. You are to hasten the coming of the Day of God’s judgment and salvation by sharing the good news of Jesus. This life of suffering and sorrow, of struggle with temptation, of strife and heartache and conflict and unfairness, you live this life under the cross with the certainty that you shall meet our Savior in the new creation of righteousness and shall feast with him in His eternal kingdom!

In light of these words, we receive the Lord’s Supper today.  Through the worthiness of repentance and faith, this foretaste of the feast to come equips you in this life, strengthen you to stand firm in the true faith, and testifies to the return of the Son of God in glory In this holy meal, Christ comes to you, and as St. Paul explains in 1 Cor 11, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood is how you proclaim the Cross until Jesus makes Himself visible to the world at His coming.  Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is evangelistic, and as often as you receive this gift of God, you bear witness to Christ’s work in your life here and now and in confident faith of future at His coming. 

Be diligent to be found in Christ, counting the patience of God as your salvation, and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 

All Saints' 2021

All Saints’ Day 2021

Revelation 7; Matthew 5:10-11

November 7, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Today as we observe All Saints’ Day, we do so with an eye to the past, to the present, and to the future.  As we celebrate those faithful departed, we rejoice in the unity that we share with those who have gone before us.  We recognize today that even though the Church is still divided, part on earth and part in heaven, we united in Christ with the hope of the resurrection. We have a glimpse of departed believers in the reading from Revelation. These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, those who suffered in life, suffered injustice, pain, sin, divisions in family, ridicule for believing in Jesus.  They come from every nation and tribe. But what is the most striking about them isn’t their diversity; it’s their unity.  They are united in what they have received from the Lord: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Their sins are forgiven, and they hold the palm branch of victory that He has placed in their hands.  And they are united in their attention to the Lamb upon His throne, the Lord Jesus Christ to whom they look for their full salvation.

And this is what unites us to them as well.  Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord to make us blessed along with all the saints who have gone before us. He is the Christ, the elected, the anointed, the Righteous One of God to whom you have been joined as a member of His body the holy, the sanctified, Christian Church. Thus you have been joined by virtue of your baptism with the elect of every nation, and every generation, who are one with Christ. 

That is what the Divine Service of Word & Sacrament is all about--declaring and making you one of those who whitewashed in the red blood of the Lamb. And thus, making you who believe a saint, one of the blessed with Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who is His Blessed One.  We realized that while the Church Triumphant rest from their labors, the church on earth struggles on, the Church Militant still fighting against sin, the world, and the devil, still living in this earthly tribulation. 

“Blessed are you” for this is what it means to be a saint. That you are blessed, righteous, set apart by and for God.  God is proclaiming to you in our Gospel reading, in the Beatitudes, that you are among those who are blessed by virtue of faith in Christ. This is a sacred paradox of the kingdom of heaven. The power of the Beatitudes which Jesus preaches lie in the reversal of human values. They see the present in light of the future.  “Blessedness” moves beyond emotion to a state of being, beyond a temporal world, one that is not swayed by what happens to someone in the moment, but is instead characteristic of a person’s identity in Christ. This blessedness refers to the condition of someone who has been favorably accepted by God through faith and received His divine approval.  Blessedness comes from the One who is blesses, through Jesus Himself.  

The human spirit does not like the fact that who we are is deficient, that blessedness comes not from within and isn’t something you can just create yourself.   Unrest in realizing that we are flawed, that we are not what we could and should be.  Our bodies fail.  Our minds forget.  Our lives are marked by our sin and the sin of others, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Who we are in this present reality fall short because we have no righteousness of our own.

But you do have Jesus.  And by faith, and faith alone, the righteous of God in Christ is yours.  For Jesus is the Righteous One, and it is exactly because of this righteousness that He is persecuted and eventually put to death.  And so it is no wonder that the 8th beatitude speaks of this, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  The mark of the true disciple is that like Jesus, he becomes a target of the world’s hatred for the same reason – Jesus’ righteousness.  

This is an important distinction.  The world’s antagonism against those made righteous through faith in Christ is against Christ Himself.  Consider the conversion of St. Paul, as we did this morning in our adult Bible study.  Here was Saul, the zealous Pharisee, who was ravaging the Church, even going house by house, dragging off men and women to prison because they believed in Jesus. In Acts 9, on the road to Damascus, Jesus calls, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…’” (Acts 9:4-5). To those who face persecution, hardship, who are reviled and spoken evil of because of Jesus, because of His righteousness given to you.  

Your suffering is not in vain.  “Troubles are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are God’s works, intended for our benefit, and that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness” (Ap XIIB 63). “Those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, those who are reviled and have all kinds of evil spoken against them falsely because of Christ” are blessed in the knowledge that they follow a great line of prophets and apostles who understood their identity in the One who was martyred for them.  Disciples of Jesus will be like Jesus by being a target of Satan Himself. 

Rejoice and be glad, as you struggle on this earthly life, for Jesus says your reward is great in heaven.  In the midst of trouble and tribulation, slander and fear, attacks of the devil, keep your eye on the prize, the goal, the eternal destination, the surpassing greatness of the crown of eternal that Jesus will bestow upon who remain true, those who are declared blessed by the One from whom all blessings flow. It is only through the blessedness of Jesus given to you that you are to stand firm in the truth faith to live everlasting. Because you too are declared by God to be a saint, made pure and righteous by the One who is holy and purifies, cleansed in your Baptism, and there united to both His death and to His resurrection.

And that is the source of our true joy, of our rejoicing!  Consider again those heavenly saints.  While they have been delivered from the tribulations, they are not yet in their glorified state as they will be after Jesus’ second coming when their bodies will live again.  They still look to the resurrected Christ in the sure and certain hope of their bodily resurrection.  And so do we!  And so we hear in 1 John, we hear, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when we appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 1:2). There is a better version of yourselves coming, but not here yet. Until that day, may we gather before the throne and before the Lamb in praise and adoration, in unity with the Church Triumphant, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, blessed to be saints of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Reformation Sunday 2021 - Matthew 11:12-19

Reformation 2021

Matthew 11:12-19

October 31, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  With those words, Martin Luther began his 95 Thesis, which sparked the Reformation, 504 years ago today.  With the strike of the hammer upon the church door, we are taken back not to Luther, but to the greatest days of the history of the world, when the Kingdom of Heaven invading this world in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Our Gospel text today speaks of this. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist is in prison and has sent messengers asking if Jesus is the one to come or if they should look for another.  Jesus answers with the signs prophesied in Isaiah 61 that speak about Him.   He speaks these things so that John might have hope in the midst of his suffering and trials.  Here is the man who Jesus says is the greatest ever born of women, suffering injustice, pain, sorrow, isolation, and certain death.  And if that wasn’t enough, John’s life would not get any easier because of Jesus’ words. His suffering will continue until he is beheaded, put to death for calling out sin and calling a sinner to repentance and faith.

Jesus says, “From the days of John until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). John experienced violence as the forerunner of Christ, one who stood at the on the threshold through faith in the promise of God. Jesus told His disciples to expect violent opposition at the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven by means of preaching the Gospel; that God’s people would be hated and persecuted for His name’s sake (Matthew 10).  And so the truth is under violent attack, pretending that morality and reality are relative and fluid. God’s Word is under violent attacked, no longer treated as the living Word of the living God, without error, applicable to life, and THE authority over body and soul.  Christian values are under violent attack as Christians are called judgmental, bigots, mean, unloving, evil, and worse for insisting upon Biblical morality. Your homes are under violent attack by the devil and the sinful world sneaking in through television, the internet, conflict among the family. Your very soul is under violent attack.  The devil, the world, and the sinful flesh are enemies of the Gospel of Jesus and seek to destroy you. 

This is nothing new, for this is simply the Christian life.  Your life will not be any easier by following Jesus.  By virtue of your baptism, you have a target painted on your back. Because of faith in Jesus, the gates of hell seek your eternal death in hell.  There is no choice but to fight, for evil rages against you whether you want it to or not.  The fact that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from the days of John the Baptist and is seized by violent men is a fruit of the Word of God (Luther AE 67.129). 

Jesus isn’t referring just to the violence of enemies who persecute and kill to destroy the Kingdom.  Even though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from the devil and the world, the violent, that is those who trust in God’s promise and refuse to let go of Jesus despite all the pain and the doubts and the fear, take it by force. Violence is the victories of the advancing of the kingdom of God. It’s a holy violence which makes men heirs of God.  The force is spiritual, not physical, the violence done to the corrupt heart and soul.  It’s a violence in which God delights!   There are those who hear the Word in such a way that they cannot be dragged away from it by any violence.  They die rather than deny it.  These are the ones who beat on the door of the kingdom of God and desire to be saved above all, even to the consequence of hatred by the world, even by their very own families.   

The Reformation began with Luther struggling with how God could be just and holy and righteous and gracious at the same time.  He stormed the gates of heaven by the power of faith, storming again and again by prayer, forcefully believing that anyone may be allowed in the Kingdom despite their sin, through the free forgiveness of sins only by God’s grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone. Only sinners dwell in hell; sinners who cling to their sin and do not want to let it go.  And only sinners dwell in the kingdom of heaven; sinners justified/declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law. This declaration of justification by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone is at the very heart of the Gospel and the Christian life.

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Repentance is sorrow over sin and faith that God is good and gracious and able to forgive. The Christian life, then, is one of repentance as we rightly use our baptism as we examine our daily responsibilities and wrongdoings in the light of the Word of God.  This life of repentance is the daily drowning of the Old Adam with all sins and evil desires, and a daily rising of the new man in Christ to live before God in righteous and purity forever.  This struggle is one of violence against sinful desires, doubts, fears, uncertainties, self-righteousness, misbelief. This earthly life in the kingdom of heaven is marked with pain, sweat, tears, and blood. The old sinful self is not put to death without the violence of repentance over sin. The violent are those Christians who have been forgiven by God, who live a life of repentance, who suffer in the flesh against temptation, depression, loneliness, isolation, despair. Whose conscience drives them to the daily forgiveness of all sins. God forbid and keep you from impenitence, of quitting the good fight of faith, of rejected Jesus’ forgiveness because you deny your sin or love it more than you love your Lord.  Continue to fight the devil and temptation with the sure and certain hope of Christ, that “take they our life, good, fames, child, and wife, those these all be gone, our victory has been worn. The kingdom ours remaineth.”

Christ is invading this fallen world through the preaching of the Gospel.  Christ has come and brings His kingdom to your home and your lives.  This is the life of repentance and hope. So count yourselves blessed even in the midst of earthly trials. You stand in a long line of heavenly saints, those justified by faith apart from works of the law (Roman 3:28). The kingdom of heaven suffers violence but your struggles in this world are not hopeless or in vain. They have been fulfilled and completed in Jesus.

Trinity 21 2021 - Ephesians 6:10-17

Trinity 21 2021

Ephesians 6:10-17 – The Battle

October 24, 2021 

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID 83686

The war had been going on for years.  Countless battles fought. Lives lost. Lives saved. There he was. The soldier. He wasn’t anyone special.  Just a grunt. Following orders the best he could under the circumstances.  At one time, he was on the front lines, but the fighting had been seemingly slow. Despite some incredible battles, against all odds, he’s only been wounded, and is still able to fight. 

As you can imagine, war wears on people.  Maybe the waiting for the battle to come is the hardest. He sits at his post, with only random gunfire to be heard far off in the distance.  He’s been assigned to this duty with special emphasis, yet it seems the most boring of them all. It is simply guard duty.  His dreams alternate. He wants to be back home with his family and friends, the way it used to be when he was younger and ignorant of the horrors of war.  At the same, he also dreams of the glory that could be his. Oh, the battles he could fight and the hero he could be if he just had the chance. 

His chance came.  A battle began.  The enemy forces tried to break through the front lines, but this was only a diversion. The real attack was to come from behind.  Long hours of anticipating an attack which never seemed to come had dulled his attention.  Weariness, lack of good rest, boredom, and hours of staring into an endless darkness on a moonless night.  The enemy was using these against this soldier, as he snuck around to attack from behind.  The enemy wanted to be silent, so none of the other guards would be alerted that the perimeter was breached.  His gun was put away. He would use more silent and inconspicuous weapons.  He prowled, like a lion stalking prey. He got closer.  He knew the guard was distracted.  And he waited. 

While all this was going on, what the soldier on guard duty didn’t know is that while battles were being fought the war has been won already.  The enemy didn’t seem to know this either though, or at least care. He still fought, even though his side has already been defeated.  In that sense, this one battle wouldn’t determine anything in the grand scheme of the war.  But it meant everything for this soldier and the enemy stalking him.

The soldier was enticed by the battle going on in the distance, and had no clue the danger lurking behind him.  He wanted to help his fellow soldiers.  He didn’t see anyone around him, and it wouldn’t do any harm to leave his post since he didn’t feel he was guarding much anyway. He could help, and he wanted to help. So he grabbed his weapon, and as he was about to hastily make his way to where he thought he could do some good, it was at that moment that the enemy pounced…

What happens next, I don’t know.  Because that battle is being fought as we speak, right here, right now, in your lives.  You are that soldier of God, enlisted into His army by virtue of your baptism.  St. Paul speaks of this in our Epistle lesson. The Christian life is one of diligence, of guard duty, to stand firm in the Christian faith dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:13).  Knowingly or not, as a Christian you are constantly tempted by impatience to seek out dramatic encounters and glorious victories.  So you are tempted leave your post and go out in search of the enemy and seemingly glory in spiritual warfare… 

That’s just what Satan wants us to do.  The devil’s frontal attack is to get us to sin, then accuse and condemn us because of that sin, rather than letting us rest in the forgiveness of Jesus. His back door attack is to get others to sin against us and then for us to quit serving in love.  He wants us to abandon our post, our station in life, so that he can lead us on a wild, spiritual goose chase.  In doing so, rather than being the war hero, we become the one that needs to be rescued.  We cannot win the war ourselves.  We cannot be the war hero, for there is only one true hero of this war.  The son of the General of the army, the Lord of hosts, Jesus Himself joins the battle, rushing headlong into the waves of enemy healing those wounded by sin, caring for the victims of evil, sacrificing His life for His men so that all who believe in Him might live. 

Which means we do not need to chase after the enemy all over the world, but only at our post. St. Paul writes, “Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  We are not required to defeat evil, but only to stand firm and faithful against it. That is enough, the outcome remains with God.  It is His war after all.  Our post is our given location in our family, the world, and the Church.  Christ puts us there and appoints us to guard duty together with Him.  There we stand on guard duty for the saints, the holy people of God, those whom God has placed in our care.  There we guard holy ground, the territory Christ has conquered, and the people that belong to Him.

The place for battle is our station in life, the place where God has put us.  If we remain there, we do not need to look for the enemy; Satan will come out of hiding and engage in battle with us right where we are.  We need to use the right power in fighting the enemy.  In spiritual combat, our knowledge and expertise, our guile and courage, count for nothing.  We rely totally on Christ; He is our champion, the victor in battle. We depend on His strength and power, for He is our armor.  Being ready to fight the good fight of faith means being dressed in the righteousness of Christ.  He empowers us by giving us His Word and His Spirit.  These were the weapons Jesus used when tempted by Satan at His baptism. And these are what Jesus gives to His soldiers.

Spiritual struggles in life call for persistent resistance, withstanding the attack, standing our ground, refusing to retreat from our post or surrender to the enemy.  We fight by our faithful attendance of the Divine Service, for here is where Christ fights for us and equips us for the battle.  It is here that our sins are forgiven again and again, and spiritual strength delivered in the body and blood of Christ. We fight through our daily devotions as the Word of God comes to us.  We fight by raising up our children in faith in Christ, so that they may be equipped with the whole armor of God.  We fight by having a faithful school, a faithful daycare, by having a Sunday School, wherein the Word of God is central and sinners are declared righteous for the sake of Jesus. We fight through trusting in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and living daily under that grace by His protection freed from all adversities and devoutly given to serve God in good works (Collect of the Day). 

When attacked by the great enemy, and drawn into the battle of your eternal soul, simply say, “Yes, I have sinned, but Christ has died for me and my sins. He stands in for me against the devil and before God the Father. I am baptized, and He covers me with His righteousness and holiness. His blood I receive in Holy Communion cleanses me from all sin.  The Gospel is the ground on which I take my stand against the attacks of the devil.  Christ fights for me. Christ protects me.  Christ has already won for me.  And in His victory, I am victorious over sin, death, and the devil! For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”