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Isaiah 40:1-11 "Comfort for God's People"

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort for God’s People

Advent 2B

December 7, 2014

We’re in the thick of it now. The planning, the decorations, the stress, and the headaches of preparing for Christmas is in full swing.  While Christmas time is often portrayed as the happiest time of the year, for many people it is the worst.  The loneliness from missed loved ones. The sorrow of seeing everyone else appear happy and not feeling the same way. The pain of conflict within families and friends.  To such people, to such a nation during Isaiah’s time, who was wrapped up in sin and its effects, God spoke comforting words to those oppressed and guilt ridden because of their sins.

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

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

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

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

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

How easy to receive, but also how easy to forget to share. How else will the glory of the Lord be made visible to those who are not yet receivers? In only one way, through the witness of God’s people. Salvation is not for Jerusalem so that they can just bask in God’s mercy.  Rather, it is for the sake of the world. This tasks begins as Zion, seeing the Lord’s approach, shouts the good news to all around them. We must boldly announce the good news: “Behold, your God!” Who else is to go up to the top of the mountain so that all may hear the good news but “Zion” and “Jerusalem”?  Who else but those who have tasted and seen the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

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

This is where comfort comes for the troubled conscious, the only place in fact. The Lord has bestowed His comfort upon you.  There is victory over sin! Victory over death! We are at peace with God, our sins no longer being held against us. Comfort is ours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death wins our forgiveness. His resurrection assures our rising from the dead. His life assures our life, eternally.

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


Commemoration of St. Nicholas

Commemoration of St. Nicholas

Advent Midweek 1

December 3, 2014


One of the complaints that Christians often voice at this time of year is that Christmas has become too commercialized. Far too many people observe the Feast of Christ’s Mass without any acknowledgment of Christ at all. Everything’s about parties and presents and television specials and favorite Christmas songs, all the while overlooking the incarnation of our Lord, His taking on of our flesh to save us. The guy in the red suit with the big white beard – Santa Claus – gets more attention than Jesus.

Perhaps, however, this problem can begin to be corrected by understanding where the legend of Santa Claus comes from and the actual historical basis of who he is. Most of us have heard of Santa Claus referred to as St. Nick or St. Nicholas. And, in fact, that’s where the name comes from—Santa is a word for Saint, and Claus is a shortened form in Dutch of the word Nicholas. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.

Today’s Santa Claus has become the stuff of fairy tales and has been influenced in many ways by pagan notions. But St. Nicholas was a real person who lived roughly 300 years after Jesus. December 6 is the day when St. Nicholas is commemorated because it is the day of his death in the year 342, his heavenly birthday if you will. He died of natural causes, not martyred for his faith, nor did not leave any theological writings. So who was this man, and how did he get to be so well known?

Well, very little is known historically of St. Nicholas. He was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, in modern day Turkey.  He chose not to pursue a life of riches, but instead he devoted himself to the Church. He eventually became bishop of a city called Myra, which was a pretty corrupt and evil city.  Through his tireless work and preaching Christ crucified, he became known for standing up against corruption and for his love for those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children. 

For example, there is a story that there was a man in the city of Myra who had three daughters. He didn’t have enough money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for them to be married, and possibly even leading them to life of prostitution on the streets.  Nicholas was deeply troubled about this, and he decided to help.

On three successive nights, St. Nicholas went to this man’s house and threw a bag of gold into an open window, one for each daughter. Some variations, mostly told in colder climates, have it that he threw these down the chimney and they landed in socks hung by the fireplace to dry.  It’s not a far stretch to see how this has been morphed into our modern day fairy tale of Santa Claus.

His generosity doesn’t end there.  Later on, the Roman governor of the area was bribed to falsely convict three men of a crime, condemning them to death.  Just before the sentence was carried out, Nicholas goes to the executioner and grabs his hands refusing him to execute these men. He then preaches such a powerful sermon that the Roman governor repents and he lets them all go.

These stories are what helped make St. Nicholas so popular, but there was much more to the man than this.  He was supposedly one of the bishops who attended the great Church Council of Nicaea, from which the Nicene Creed was produced. This Council was called to discuss the heresy of Arianism, named after a priest, Arius, that claimed Jesus was not God, but a created being. Arius taught that Jesus was a creature, a high and exalted creature and the first that God ever made, but not equal to God the Father. It is much the same way that Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons believes.

As the story goes, Nicholas gets so frustrated at the debate with Arius’ denial of Jesus’ divinity, that he either slaps or punches Arius in the face.  He gets suspended for a bit and other bishops take him aside, he repents and is forgiven, and continues with the council.

Now, this probably didn’t really happen. But what did happen was that not only did the Council of Nicaea roundly rejected Arius and the heresy that he taught, but they reaffirmed the scriptural position that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human.  “God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man…”

Whether or not Nicholas was actually present at that council, he most certainly was a defender of that faith, faith in Christ the Son of God as the only Savior from sin and death and the devil. Nicholas preached Christ and Him crucified. He baptized people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He absolved people of their sins in Jesus’ name. He fed them with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus. In a word, he was a good pastor. He spoke the word of God, exposed the sins of the wicked, was charitable to those in need, and he battled injustice where he found it with compassion and the love of the Lord.

This is the real St. Nicholas. He wasn’t a Santa Claus taking attention away from Jesus. He was a preacher drawing everyone’s attention to Jesus. He wasn’t one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and who was nice. For he knew that all people were both sinners and saints at the same time and that all desperately need Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.

Nicholas sacrificed and gave of his own wealth to save the three daughters. Is that not what Jesus did for us? He sacrificed and gave himself for us to rescue us from being eternally violated by death and the devil. He redeemed us not with bags of gold tossed through a window, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.

Nicholas courageously stood firm to defend those facing death, risking his own name and reputation. Is that not what Jesus did and still does for us? He stood between us and eternal death on the cross and thereby kept us from having to suffer that most capital of all punishments.

Nicholas stood up for and proclaimed the Christian faith, fighting against heresy and smacking down false beliefs when he encountered them.  Is that not Jesus did and still does for us?  He speaks the Truth against a world who denies Him, and then He smacks death upon the cross and by the empty tomb.

That same Christ is at work in you. In Baptism, in the Word, in His body and blood.  In the most precious gift, the Son of God who became man for you, who died for you, who rose for you, who lives for you.

 So is there a real Santa Claus? Of course, there is. You’re not going to find the real St. Nicholas sliding down your chimney. But, like all saints, like all believers who have gone before us, he is celebrating with us whenever we gather to worship in God’s house. For in Christ’s presence dwell angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all partaking of the same feast of which we now enjoy a foretaste. Thank God that St. Nicholas lives. He lives forever because, just like you, he was baptized and he believed in Jesus, who was born, who died and rose for us all. 


*This sermon is an adaptation of an adaptation from the series "The Saints of Advent," published by Concordia Pulpit Resources. 

Isaiah 64:1-9 "Rending the Heavens"

Isaiah 64:1-9

Rending the Heavens

Advent 1B

November 30, 2014

“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down…” The first half of the first verse of our Old Testament reading summarizes the entire Advent season just like that. This is the cry of God’s people during the Advent season.

This is not first of a hope that God might do something in the future, it is a wish that He had done something already long ago.  This is often the prayer of people who have suffered and find themselves in a bad situation.  Why hasn’t God done something already? Why hasn’t He answered my prayers?

Isaiah makes it clear that the problem isn’t with God, it is with the persistent sinning of God’s people and our inability to do anything about it.  Isaiah 64:6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”  No matter our good works, no matter our intentions, we cannot save ourselves. We cannot rend the heavens open and ascend to God.

But we are not left hopeless, only hopeless in ourselves. For our calls to the Lord have been heard.  Our prayers to God have been answered.  This is the believer’s heart, one that does not deny the grief and pain and even the anger, yet waits the Lord to rend the heavens and come down to do something about it. And He has. And He does. And He will again.  . 

For He did awesome things that the world did not look for. He has throughout history. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He called Abraham to be the father of many nations.  He spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He guided the children of Israel through the Exodus by a cloud and a pillar of fire.  He continued to speak to His people through the prophets of old.

Then in the fullness of time, God rent the heavens and came down for our salvation in the person of Jesus.  He did once at Christmas, not with earth shaking effect, but in a lowly way.  He did again at the Baptism of Jesus, as the heavens were opened and God proclaimed Jesus to be His beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased. He did again at the Transfiguration, as the glory of Christ shown through in just a glimpse to three of His disciples.  He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, shortly before going to the cross and being raised from the dead.  At His ascension He rent the heavens opened, ascending to the right hand of the Father.  Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, God the Father is acting on our behalf, not counting our sins against us.

He rends the heaven wide in the Divine Service, speaking to His people through His Word declaring them justified for the sake of Christ, sins forgiven, and life bestowed; snatching people out of the snares of the devil and into His kingdom through the waters of Baptism; becoming present with us through His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. 

And we wait for His return on the Last Day, rending the heavens wide to descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. For behold, your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation.

Advent serves as a season of preparation. Preparation for our Lord to come into the world, to rend the heavens wide.  It serves as preparation for the Christmas season, but more than that. It is a time of preparation for Christ coming to His people, in the past, in the present through His Word and Sacrament, and in His future advent.

This preparation looks like repentance. It is a time to reflect upon ourselves and our need for Christ.  That’s why the original color for Advent was purple, just like Lent.  For two generations now it has been blue, symbolizing the hope and anticipation that we have for Christ to come. All good, right, and salutary.  We wait for the one who works righteousness, who remembers not our iniquity forever, who looks at His people for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And so we call out with the crowds on Palm Sunday, Hosanna! O Lord, save us! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus, the Lord. Amen. 

Luke 17:11-19 "Lord, Have Mercy"

Luke 17:11-19

Lord, Have Mercy

Thanksgiving Day

November 27, 2014

225 years ago this year (2014) President George Washington proclaimed a national Day of Thanksgiving in the United States for the year 1789, the year in which provisional independent government ended and a permanent federal government took effect under a document, called a Frame of Government at the time but now known as the Constitution, ratified by all the states.  74 years later, in 1863, as the country was in a civil war, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Day of Thanksgiving.

If you were to go back and look at what Washington or Lincoln said in their proclamations in a national day of thanksgiving, you would see a great many references to God of the Bible, and to our duty as recipients of His good graces. What you wouldn’t see is a single thing about Pilgrims or turkeys in either of those proclamations.  Or watching sports or Black Friday sales.  Things have changed a little in our culture.  But not for us.

For a Christian, Thanksgiving isn’t about us giving something to God, as in our thanks.  No, it is about God giving us something in Christ, namely healing from our sinful condition. Not just this, but everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body and this life.  All this He does only out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  For all this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is why each Thanksgiving we hear the story in the Gospel according to Luke about Jesus healing the 10 lepers.  While Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, He was passing through the lands of Samaria and Galilee. This could sometimes be a dangerous area since Jews and Samaritans did not always get along with each other very well.  According to the laws of both Jews and Samaritans, lepers had to be separated from the rest of the community, and so they would hang out at the outskirts of town. After Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests, they are healed. We know how the story goes, with only one, a Samaritan, turning back to Jesus. Jesus commends the faith of a Samaritan leper who alone gives thanks for his healing.

One of the key parts of this Scripture reading is right at the beginning, on what the lepers cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” This has become part of our cry, part of our liturgy, the Kyrie.  Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. We call out to Jesus with the same cry. Have mercy on us.  The Kyrie confesses misery and a world of hurt.  It is a confession of need. But the cry for mercy also confesses the One from whom mercy comes: Jesus who is Lord. 

In the New Testament, when people called upon Jesus to have mercy, He did. He healed, He cast out demons, He forgave sins. People called upon the Lord to have mercy because He was present, right there, to be merciful.

Most of us probably don’t have leprosy of the skin, but we do have it of the soul. We have a sickness that makes us unclean. That sickness is our sin.  We cry out to the Lord, Have mercy upon us!  When we do so, we are holding God to His promise to be gracious and merciful to us for Jesus’ sake.  

When we call upon Jesus to have mercy, we know that He will keep His promise and have mercy upon us, too. When we call upon the Lord in the Divine Service, it is a confession that the Lord is present in that place to have mercy. It is a confession of faith that the Lord is present in His means of grace to grant forgiveness, life and salvation. The Kyrie is not abstract: it is not, “Lord, wherever You are, have mercy on us.” It is, “Lord, because You have promised to be here with us by Your Word and Sacraments, have mercy upon us through these means.”

How can we not be thankful for such mercy that the Lord gives to we who are unworthy?  When we go home today to get ready for a big meal, with family and friends, or even if it’s just a day like every other, our thanks overflows in our words and actions.  We return to our lives in recognition that Christ has had mercy on us today.  We pray over our food giving thanks to God for His bountiful goodness of body and soul.  We show our thanks in the ways that we treat one another, and the way in which treat Jesus on this day.  For as we leave here, mercifully fed and nourished by His Word, by His body and His blood,  we do so with Jesus words, “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.” Amen.

Matthew 25:31-46 - The Division

Matthew 25:31-46

The Division

Proper 29A/Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 25:1-13

Ready or Not, Here Jesus Comes

Proper 27A

November 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:8

Blessed Sight

All Saints’ Day (Observed)

November 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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