Awake in the End
Second in a Series of Sermons
November 24 and 25, 2018
It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you, I say to all: Stay awake.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In last week’s sermon, Pastor Muther’s theme was “Enduring to the End.” We focused on two promises of Christ that would help us to remain strong and fruitful in our faith: 1) the Holy Spirit will be working inside of us and through us whether we know it or not, and 2) our salvation is for sure. Today’s sermon is based on that same 13th chapter of Mark, and our theme is “Awake in the End.” On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we think first of all about how important it is to be strong and growing in our faith, secondly about how the signs of the end times are easy to recognize, and third, about how to go about being built up in our faith.
“Don’t worry, it will be fine.” (Story about Debi and I noticing an unusual noise in our engine as we took off from Lewiston on a five hour trip to Milwaukee for her Aunt Ruth’s funeral. Debi, whose father could fix anything, including car engines, suggested that we should get it checked out. I suggested that she shouldn’t worry, it will be just fine. We took off and for about 30 miles we were just fine. No doubt I was rejoicing that I had been right again. Near West Salem, Wisconsin, our car sputtered and choked, and as I pulled off to the side of the road, it died. We ended up getting towed backwards for 40 miles, we missed Aunt Ruth’s funeral, a $150 repair of some silly little water pump turned into a purchase of a different car. Debi may have forgiven me, but she hasn’t forgotten.
Don’t worry, it will be fine. In 1 2014 CBS poll, 82% of Americans were of the opinion they were going to heaven, 2% said they were headed for hell, 9% said they were going to neither place, and 7% didn’t know one way or the other. Contrast that with the teaching of Jesus, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. In other words, there all kinds of folks near and far who are saying to themselves and to pollsters, with regard to their eternal destiny, “Don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.”
Three lessons we want to draw from our Gospel lesson today about what it will mean to be awake to the promises of Jesus Christ on the last day. And then three sets of questions for reflection, arising out of those three lessons.
Lesson #1 is that Staying awake is the difference between the angels gathering you in or (dying a second death). In Rev. 2:10,11, Jesus promises that if we are faithful unto death, he will give us the crown of life. He says that anyone who has an ear for the Gospel should hear what the Spirit is saying to the early churches. And then Jesus promises, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Jesus makes it clear that while everyone must die one time, as in the wages of sins is death, those who stay awake to the promises of the Gospel need not be afraid of the second death, which is eternal separation from God.
On this last Sunday in the church year, we give our attention to that last day when the archangel will be shouting, the trumpets will be blowing, and the Son of Man will be returning, not in humility, but in glory, in majesty, and with the authority to judge. On that day, the fourth day of creation will be reversed. All that holds the heavenly bodies in the orbits and enables sun, moon, and stars to light the earth, shall give way. The sun will no longer be ruling the day, the moon will no more be lighting the way at night, and the stars will come tumbling from their places.
The few who have been baptized into the Name of the Triune God and are holding onto those Baptismal promises will be resurrected, they will be gathered from the four corners of the earth, they will be assembled on the right hand of Jesus, they will be commended for feeding the hungry and giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, they will be invited into the kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the earth. Unbelievers who have been saying “I’ll be just fine, don’t worry” will be scolded for not giving evidence of their faith, they will be punished eternally for their lack of faith.”
The first set of questions for reflection is the same question Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper? Or to say it collectively, “What responsibility do we have in this congregation and in our circles of influence towards those who may be drifting away from the Christian faith, or worse?
Lesson #2 is that Staying awake isn’t (rocket science). To the early disciples, Jesus spoke the obvious, “When the fig tree branches become tender and the sap is swelling and the leaves are beginning to grow, it isn’t that hard to figure out that summer is near.” If he were talking to us Minnesotans today, He might be saying, “When you see the snow and ice melting, the robins are starting to chirp, and the daffodils and tulips are busting through the ground, well then it isn’t that hard to predict that spring time is near!” So also when you hear of earthquakes, famines, hurricanes, and forest fires, when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, when you hear of false preachers doing what they do and many being led astray and increasing persecution of Christians, well then it’s not hard to figure out that Jesus is coming back again, and He’s coming soon.
For those of us who are awake to the promises of the Gospel, the fact that Jesus is coming soon is a matter of anticipation, it’s a matter of increasing joy, it has a way of calming us down and we find our worries fading away into a confidence that God will be working everything out in our lives for our eternal good.
Speaking of this ongoing battle between sinful worrying and trusting the promises of God, many of you know that about a year ago, our daughter Michelle and Brandon saw a troubled pregnancy end with little Gabriel being born, living and breathing for about an hour, and then as his earthly mom held him in his arms, he passed away into the presence of Jesus. Fast forward 12 months, and this past Thursday we are thinking about the next morning when Michelle is scheduled to deliver one more little child, this time with a less major complication. When I mentioned to Debi that I was very worried and was feeling a bit sick to my stomach, she replied that she wasn’t worried and she wondered if I knew why not? I said, “I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’re trusting in God and that he’s got this.” Which is exactly what she was thinking and is precisely what it means to be staying awake to the promises of God. To use Isaiah’s language, the promises of God are that the salvation our God has provided at the cross is forever and the righteousness Christ has imputed to us will never be dismayed. Or to use Jude’s language, while we do battle with the enemies of our faith knowing that Christ is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless and unblemished to himself on the last day. Or to use our Savior’s own language, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Second question for reflection – it comes from a Face book post I saw this week, “If you can trust a puzzle company to make sure every piece is in the box to complete the puzzle, then why can’t you trust God that every piece of your life is there for a reason?
Lesson #1 today is that staying awake to the promises of the Gospel is the difference between spending eternity in heaven or hell, and lesson #2 was that staying awake spiritually is a simple matter of paying attention to the signs of the end times.
Lesson #3 is that Staying awake is a matter of getting your proper (rest). Daily we are tempted towards indifferent and lazy discipleship, but daily and richly God forgives us our sins and chooses to be patient with us. Daily we are tempted to rush right into our hectic schedules and have little time to pray and even less for being in God’s Word. Jesus would remind us this morning that he is that master who has left home and left us in charge. He would remind us that we each have important work to do, which is really a call for us to be vigilant and energetic in our discipleship.
Isaiah cries out for us to give attention to God’s Word, to give our ears to His prophecy, and to keep on lifting our eyes to the heavens. Jude writes about building ourselves up in the most holy faith and to be praying in the Holy Spirit as we wait for Jesus to come back again. Scriptures are full of references to finding rest in knowing that God never slumbers nor sleeps, to us hiding in the shadow of God’s wings, and to being still day after day and knowing that God is God.
A couple of weeks ago, we sang one of my favorite hymns, which used to be “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” but in LSB it’s “Guide me o thou Great Redeemer.” The first verse ends with , “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more; Feed me till I want no more.”
“That’s enough” Which reminds me of my dear mother, who passed away over 5 years ago now. Many of you have heard me talk about her being as prayerful as a person can be. Without exception, she and in later years my dad would spend an hour or more every day reading the Bible, listening to the Bible on tape, putting themselves in a position to be fed and nourished and comforted by God’s Word.
In her last days, she was surrounded by loved ones, including my dear sisters who would read Scripture, sing songs, and pray with her. There was a hospice chaplain who would visit often and read Scripture, sing songs, and pray with her. And one particular day I was there along with her home church pastor, and for hours, we were, you guessed it, reading Scripture, singing hymns, and praying with her. At a certain point, I noticed how tired she seemed to be, and I interrupted Pastor Daenzer and asked, “Mom, would you like us to keep on reading Scripture and praying with you, or is that enough for now.” With heavy eyelids and a little smile, she whispered, “That’s enough for now.” In fact we had fed her till she wanted no more. She just wanted to sleep.
Lesson #3 is that staying awake to the promises of God means resting often in the attributes of our God, attributes like omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, it means listening regularly to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, it means eating and drinking often at the Feast of Victory for our Lord.
Question #3 – How different would my days look if I often prayed with the hymn writer, Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of folks approach the Advent and Christmas seasons a bit differently this year. They spend less time on things that matter very little and more time wondering what it means to be their brother’s keeper. Less time worry about that which they cannot control and more time reminding each other about the victory they are already realizing. Less time just sort of aimlessly wandering through life and more time wondering what it means to live life as one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.
Given and Forgiven
Luke 17:11-19 // Deuteronomy 8:1-10 // Philippians 4:6-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Luke 17:11-19, and our theme is Given and Forgiven.
Dear friends in Christ,
There is a man not too far away from here having a really bad day, the kind of day where everything is going just about as wrong as it ever could. His wife left him without a word. The job that he loves has still left him lonely. He’s getting sick and has no one to take care of him. The laundry still needs to be done. The groceries need to be gotten, the house needs to be cleaned. The Word of God doesn’t seem to be speaking to him today, and even if it did, he knows it would be hard for him to hear. So, how do you suppose that he could say “Thanks be to God?”
Not too far away from him is a woman whose first inclination is to let the few bad things in her life color all of the good. She is well-paid for her work; she has a husband that loves her; she has friends and coworkers that care for her, but it always seems like she finds something wrong with the way the world is. She knows she’s blessed, but why can’t the thing that she wants just be the way that she wants it? She finds herself often upset about things that she knows do not matter much. So, how do you suppose she could say, “Thanks be to God?”
Not too far away from her is a family that gets knocked down again and again. It seems that every time they get back up again, something lands another blow. Problems always seem to be coming and coming, and yet, you would never know that if you went to their home. Though everything that they are going through would be overwhelming, there is a peace about their home. You might know a family or two like this. Though every problem threatens to bowl them over, there is a stillness in the way they are. How do you suppose they are able to say, “Thanks be to God?”
Today’s text before us is Luke 17, a traditional text for Thanksgiving Day. Jesus heals 10 lepers, and one comes back to return thanks. Now, before we get to the text, let me say the same thing that I said on Sunday morning: remember as we read that we get the benefit of a narrator. We get the benefit of knowing where this story is going and how it’s going to end, but to really understand what these lepers were going through, we have to imagine what it would be like to be them.
They were living out their fate. They were kicked out of the city for their own good and the good of those who loved them. You see if they stayed in the city, there was the chance that they could infect all kinds of others and that a whole city could be wiped out.
And so, they are sent out.
Sent away from loved ones, from those that they care for and who care for them. Sent away, one can imagine with no hope of return. Have you ever been in a place like that?
I think of myself, in Seminary school, coming to grips with the fact that I may never find the Laura Anna Elizabeth Smith of my heart, and coming to grips with the thought that I might be single for the rest of my days. I think of Marcia Schultz, grappling for a few days with the idea that she may never walk or talk again, even though now we know that she is walking and talking and making unbelievable strides. I think of cancer patient that knows he will always be prone to recurrence. I think of the diabetic that knows she can never go back to the way life was. I think of the widow and the widower, staring into the grave of their loved one knowing life will never be the same.
These lepers have been confronted with this disease for life. That’s a bad day.
Now resist the urge just to think at this point “Well, my bad days aren’t that bad so I can slog it through.” No, that’s not the message of the text.
The lepers cry out to Jesus. Jesus hears their request. He gives them what they are asking. They all value what they are given. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have set out for the temple.
And then you get to the point of the text. The Samaritan, the one who had no business knowing better.... he’s the one who did know better, and returned to Jesus. He fell at Jesus’s feet and worshipped – that’s the word “to prostrate, to put your face on the ground” – he worshipped Jesus as God.
He thanked Jesus for temporal gifts, for the gift he was given, but then he did something more: he thanked Jesus for doing what only God can do, for being the giver of eternal gifts, for the gift of being forgiven.
You see, because those lepers would have to deal with their own mortality once again someday. They would grow sick and old and die, even though Jesus healed them of their disease. The temporal blessings, as good as they can be, are temporal. But eternal blessings are eternal. They are the blessings of forgiveness and salvation, of peace and grace come through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So, we return to our original question. How are you supposed to say, “Thanks be to God?” I don’t have a succinct little answer for you, but I do have a story. I have a pastor friend, a guy that I played basketball with and went to Seminary School with. He was born with a hole in his heart, had emergency surgery in the first days of his life. He would get winded pretty easily and take breaks. He had thyroid cancer right when he graduated and started his ministry. He posted this on FB the other day:
Garen Pay: “For four years I got the joy of celebrating being cancer free. Unfortunately I can’t do that this year. It seems that it’s back. While not definitive, I’d appreciate any prayers and support while we do more tests and work to beat “just” thyroid cancer.”
And in response to the prayers and comments he received: “Thanks, everyone, for all your support and prayers - it means a lot. It's never fun to hear bad news, but that doesn't mean there isn't good news - Jesus still lives, so we will be just fine. Thanks again.”
Now resist the urge just to think at this point “Well, that guy’s having a really bad day. My days aren’t that bad so I can slog it through.” No, that’s not the message of the text.
The message is that the good news is as good as it’s ever been. Jesus who died for you is Jesus who is raised for you. The Samaritan leper knew it; my friend knows it; you know it. And the point of our coming together is to say it and know it and rehearse it again and again and again, so that it deepens and widens with every time, with every joy, with every tear, with every ache, with every circumstance. Jesus still lives, so we will be just fine. Thanks be to God.
Amen and amen.
Heaven on Earth: Benediction
Numbers 6:22-27 / Acts 8:1-8 / Mark 16:14-20
November 10 and 11, 2018
Sixth in a Series of Sermons
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my Name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them.
Dear Christian Friends,
Going back 8 weeks into warm September, we have offered two stages of our Annual theme, HEROES, HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint. In stage 1 we walked through parts of the book of Daniel to see how Heaven has been reaching out through Daniel and his friends, in their exile, in a time and a place when their faith looks very different from the culture around them.
And today, we are finishing Stage 2, a six- part sermon series where we have been asking, “How does heaven reach out to us? How does heaven break in tour lives? And the answer has been that it breaks into our lives in the Divine Service, in this pattern and order of liturgy that we do week after week, year after year. The words we say and the actions we take here are important; they are to be a pattern that orders our actions on every other day. I direct your attention to the sanctuary screen as we focus on the final words of our Divine Service, the Benediction.
One question today – how does the Benediction shape us to go back into the world as the “loved and sent” people of God? Two answers we glean from selected lessons for today. Our first reading is the Aaronic benediction itself, recorded by Moses in the Book of Numbers, the second is a little snapshot of the first century and much loved people of God being scattered out of Jerusalem, suffering great persecution, and the third reading is Jesus giving final instructions to his much loved first disciples who were to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation.
If it is true that there are no atheists in foxholes, then 4 million American solders were sent away from the comforts of home into the military with God’s peace. We don’t really know how many soldiers enjoyed the peace of God that only Jesus Christ can give, but we do know that over 116,000 of our soldiers died in WWI due to all causes, mainly combat and much illness including a deadly influenza outbreak.
Today we think about what it looks like when God’s people are gathered into His sanctuary to receive this peace of God which surpasses all human understanding and then are sent scattered out into the world to give away what they have again and again received. The benediction isn’t just a pray for good times, it’s not just a wish that life goes well, it is the very word of the Triune God conveying what they say.
First of all, the peace that only Jesus can give is A wholeness that rejoices in the sign of the (holy cross) In today’s first lesson, God commanded Moses to speak in no uncertain terms to his brother Aaron and sons. They were to put the name of the one true God on their hearts and minds and souls. These people were to know again and again that God was watching over and keeping them safe, they were to know again and again that God’s face was shining upon them and their sins were forgiven, they were to live their lives knowing again and again that as a grandpa’s face lights up whenever a grandchild says I’m sorry, so does God’s face light up every time his children repent of their sins. The peace of God isn’t just an absence of war, it’s not just an armistice signed in ink, it’s a prophecy fulfilled signed with the very blood of Jesus Christ. The peace of God is first of all a wholeness that rejoices in the simple fact that the sign of the cross has been placed both on our forehead and on our hearts in Baptism.
Second, the peace that only Jesus can give is A fulness that endures (days of trouble). In the first century early Christians saw on the one hand Jesus getting crucified and Stephen getting stoned to death, but on the other hand they believed in the resurrection of the dead, and so they could endure. On the one hand they heard reports of Saul and the other Pharisees dragging church members into prison, but on the other hand they believed the truths that set them free, and so they could endure. On the one hand, they saw fierce and increasing persecution, but on the other hand they saw Philip driving out demons and healing the paralyzed, the preachers were preaching and the Spirit of God was moving and so they were doing more than surviving, Luke records there was much joy in that city.
Third, God’s peace is A calmness that keeps on going even when (frightened). After all these disciples had been through with Jesus, imagine them giving them final instructions before he ascends into heaven. Imagine Jesus looking them in the eyes and inviting, “Believe in me, dear friends and salvation is yours. Believe in me, and your sins are forgiven. Believe in me, and you’ll be able to cast out demons and speak in tongues. Believe in me, and you’ll be able to pick up serpents with your hands and drink deadly poison and not be harmed (at which point I would have been thinking “no thanks, I’m out of here!” Believe in me and as you go out and about, near and far proclaiming the Good News, be still, stay calm, and know that God is God, I am with you and will never be far away.
Which brings us to our final reminder of what it means to be loved and sent, loved and sent. First, we are sent with God’s peace, a peace that surpasses human circumstances, and Second, we are sent with (God’s purposes) It seems as though there two basic approaches to life, we can live for ourselves or we can live for a cause greater than ourselves.
President Obama spoke about service to country in this way, “It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role that yo7u’ll play in writing the next great chapter in the American story.” John McCain, who knew something about war and sacrifice as a prisoner of war, “Sacrifice for a cause greater than self interest, and you will be investing your life with the eminence of that cause. Of course John F Kennedy urged Americans to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
Jesus would look us in the eyes today and say don’t just be contented to be receiving grace and mercy and peace into your souls, be asking yourself how you can hitch your wagon to a cause so much bigger than yourself, be asking yourself how you can be going into the world and proclaiming the Gospel to the whole creation, be asking yourself how you can get more and more of this forgiveness of sins and more of the peace only God can give and then how can this grace and mercy and peace be bubbling over into the lives of others?
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where more and more of God’s people have desire, they have joy, and they have confidence. And not just a little bit of desire, joy, and confidence. No, they have great desire, they have contagious joy, and they have life changing confidence.
First, they have great desire to forgive as they were first (forgiven). The kingdom of God is like married couple who is gathered into God’s house Sunday after Sunday, and just before they leave, the Benediction is like music to their souls. They go home determined to let bygones be bygones, they are passionate about apologizing, they enjoy one new beginning after another.
Second, they have a contagious joy that looks towards the (future). The kingdom of God is like a young mom again and again is gathered into God’s house, and just before she leaves, the Benediction is like music to her ears. Every night she tucks her kids into bed with a prayer that God’s angels would be watching over her children, even though her days are hectic and her duties are draining and her challenges are many, she always seems to have a quiet kind of happiness, has figured out what it means to live a day at a time, what it means to do what she can and then trust that God will be working things out all the way into paradise.
Third, they have A life changing confidence in a cause much bigger than (ourselves). The kingdom of God is like church leaders who again and again are gathered into the sanctuary, and just before they leave, the Benediction is like music to their souls. They realize that money spent on Christian education of children is money well spent. They know that every time the waters of Baptism splash, every time God’s Word is preached and taught and listened to, every time Holy Communion is received, the Spirit of God is moving and He is active and they believe with all of their hearts that as often as the Spirit of God is moving and active, that often a cause much bigger than themselves is advancing.
Heaven on Earth: Service of the Sacrament
Fifth sermon in a series of six
Revelation 7:9-17 // 1 John 3:1-3
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You’ll notice that I’m not in the pulpit today, and that’s because today we meditate on the Service of the Sacrament, the second high point in the Divine Service. Our sermon pursues the first two texts read, especially these words from 1 John 3, “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.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We are five sermons into a series on the liturgy, asking why we do what we do, what it means to worship the way that we do, how the liturgy is supposed to form not just this hour but every hour, every day, every year of our lives. And to that end, we study the Service of the Sacrament. I would invite you to turn your eyes to the screen.
Two questions that we would ask of our texts today: First, how does the Sacrament form us? Second, how are we formed by the way our congregation does this Sacrament?
Our first question is “How does the Sacrament form us?” and the answer is that it forms us by drawing us into the great tapestry of the biblical narrative.
Let me explain. About two years ago, there was a woman Bridget McCarthy, who knocked on the door of my office, way down the hall. The reason she knocked on my door was that Pastor Griffin was out that day. She went to the multipurpose office and no one was there either. And so, she made it all the way down to me in my little cave of solitude down here, and she stood darkening the doorframe of my office to say, “Are you a pastor?” “Yes” “I’ve got one thing to say to you.” “What’s that?” “Thank you. Your church didn’t know it, but you helped me when I needed it.”
You see, ten years before that, while I was either finishing up high school or starting college, Bridget’s life was falling apart. She had become addicted to meth and was keeping her life together until the lies, the chemicals all got to be too much for her family and her life.
Her life blew apart. Her secret got uncovered; her kids were taken away. And that’s when our story came together with hers. She would come to the Foodshelf. We would help her with utilities, all helping her to limp along until it got to be too much for her; she moved away; we lost track of her.
And for ten years, that’s all we know. And for most of our stories, that’s all we’ll ever know. It can feel like the time we spent was wasted, like the money we gave just went down the rabbit hole.
Except that this time, we know the end of the story. This time, we can see the threads of the biblical narrative coming together in her life. I got to hear about how our efforts had been compounded by so much more, how the God who had helped her through our hands had been following her around with goodness and mercy for all the length of her days through churches and Christians in many places. Though our part in her story was small, God had woven her story and ours into a story much larger than we get to see.
And that’s what we see in 1 John 3. Beloved, what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. Can you hear the echoes of Genesis chapter 1? God creates Adam and Eve to be like him – to be his image, to bear his likeness and protect and guard all the earth as God would protect and guard. And then we hear chapter three... do you remember the lie of the devil? “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Not like God in the way that God has created you to be but like God in another way. And then we get to 1 John 3, that the promise of salvation can be characterized like this: When Jesus who is God comes down as the Immanuel, to be God with us, then we become like him, when we see him as he is.
This great biblical narrative is all drawn into the body and blood of the God with us, too eat and to drink so that we might be swept up into the story of God saving his people.
Question number two: How are we formed by the way our congregation does this Sacrament?
Our altar was built in 1923 at the same time when our church was constructed. It’s communion rails are worn smooth by tens of thousands of people kneeling hundreds of thousands of times before their God to ask forgiveness. Four, five, six generations of church-goers all pouring out the same sins, the same inadequacies, realizing that the same faults have always and inevitably kept them from a God who loves them.
Now, look to your right and to your left. You will notice that the rail extends both ways until it reaches the back of the altar. This is intentional, to show that the rail extends out around the world and more than that, to remind us that we are eating and drinking with all the saints that have gone on before us, that I eat with my Grandma Utech, that I am celebrating with my Grandpa Muther, all those loved ones who died in the faith. They are feasting with you, under the Lamb.
Here is the picture of Revelation 7, where all nations and tribes and languages and peoples are gathered underneath of the throne, singing praises to our God, among the angels and archangels, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.
And you can’t help but let your eyes look up from the communion rail to draw your eyes heavenward. You see next the carved statue of Jesus, with angels on the right and on the left. With his outstretched arms, he sends out his angels to guard and protect his people. His angels are with you. He sends them, for your sake, to stand at your side, so that you are never alone.
If you can, take a closer look at the statue. You can see in Christ’s outstretched hands the nail-marks of the cross. Christ could have healed himself of these things. It is his glorious body that we see depicted. And yet. And yet on his hands we see the wounds by which we are healed. And yet we see that he will bear his sacrifice for us through eternity.
And your eyes are drawn up even further. Above Christ’s head, among the three gothic spires, you can see a crown, reminding us that Christ who descended into hell, who rose from the grave, who ascended into heaven, is the same Christ that will one day come again, to deliver his people once and for all. It reminds us of our sure and certain hope that Christ has not abandoned his people but will come back in order to make all things right.
And above that on the topmost spire, coming through the crown we find another cross. Because even in his glorified body, Christ still bears the wounds that heal us. In his crown, we find the cross glorified even more.
Our altar raises our gaze until the ceiling, where you can find the marks of the Trinity. First, the sacrificial lamb, representing Jesus, who carries a slender cross that has been made into a banner of victory. The tool of his defeat has now become the symbol of victory. The weakness of death has been swallowed up by God’s strength. Let the cross be our glory.
And to the left, you can see the hand that represents the Father. It is the hand that formed man from the dust of the ground, the hand that sent his son on the earth, and the hand that will one day recreate all things to heal a broken creation.
And to the right, you can see the pure white dove, the symbol of the Spirit who comes down at the behest of the father and the son to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth. Because God does not only send his angels to guard and keep us; God himself is by your side, leading, guarding, and keeping his people.
I want to conclude with a story, about a woman from our congregation who was facing some surgery. At least from what she told me it was a major surgery, the kind where they had to make an incision from the front, scoop out all of her organs and fuse her spine before putting everything back and closing her up. She said that she only had a 50% chance of surviving the surgery and the recovery, so she called and asked if she could have communion, and I went over there as quick as I could.
We celebrated the forgiveness of sins by eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus in with and under the bread and the wine. And then there was a little pause – there’s always a little pause after you do that – until she broke the silence with something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. She said, “Pastor, don’t get me wrong, your sermons are fine.... but there is something unspeakably good about the Sacrament. It means more to me every time I take it.”
There is something unspeakably good about the peace that surpasses your understanding as it surpasses your understanding. There is something unspeakably good about being drawn into the divine narrative of God restoring all creation. There is something mysterious and enormous about eating and drinking for the forgiveness of sins, for a godly strength, for an unearthly grace.
There is something unspeakably good about the Sacrament, because our God is unspeakably good.
Amen and amen.
Heaven on Earth: Offering
October 27 and 28, 2018
Romans 12:1-8 / Mark 10: 17-27
Micah 6:6-8 – With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Dear Christian Friends,
We are four sermons into a series of six on our liturgy. We’re asking why we do what we do, what it means to worship the way that we do, how the liturgy is supposed to form not just this hour but every hour, every day, every year of our lives. And to that end, we study the portion of our liturgy known as the Offertory, that time of the service where we receive the offering and say our prayers. I direct your eyes to the sanctuary screen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgX9UAaYB80&feature=youtu.be
(Story of a friend of mine, I’ll call him Karl.) He finds himself in all kinds of trouble these days – financial trouble, relationship trouble, legal trouble. Much of his trouble is self- inflicted, he’s made all kinds of mistakes, fallen into all kinds of foolish habits, he would not deny it. In a recent conversation, I learned that his mother died holding him at age 7 in her arms, his dad really hasn’t been a part of his life, one of his grandmas stepped up as best she could, he was pretty much on his own at age 16. I came away from this conversation with my heart breaking for the road Micah has had to travel and my mind racing through all of the blessings and advantages I have enjoyed in days gone by and in these days.
One of the most important differences between Karl and me is that my parents took me to church every Sunday morning and his parents didn’t. Divine Services page 5 and 15 out of the Lutheran Hymnal, 1941 edition formed me, not so with Karl. My parents made sure I learned how to confess my sins instead of explaining, they insisted that I sit still and listen to the appointed readings and the sermon every Sunday, I watched as they put in a church envelope week after week, I endured the long prayers of my faithful Pastor Dierks again and again, not so with Karl.
You may remember that in last weekend’s study of the Service of the Word, the question was “how does the Service of the Word form us?” Answer #1 was that Christ is our down arrow. In other words, it is Christ who is pursuing us in the Service of the Word, it is His Word that is making us clean again and again, it is His Spirit who is grabbing ahold of us in a regular way and correcting and instructing us.
Answer number two was that our response ought to be “thanks be to God.” Usually when preachers start talking about the Christian response to all of the grace and the mercy and the peace that God has poured into our hearts and souls, we imagine that here it comes, hold on to my checkbook, he’s going to be asking for my hard earned money. In our video, we made the point that our response to Christ suffering, dying, and rising again on our behalf is about so much more than giving money.
In Divine Service, it’s first of all about confessing the nature of God in the Creeds. Second it’s about thanking Him with songs of praise and words of adoration. Third, it’s about praying for all kinds of people with all kinds of petitions. Fourth it’s about serving Him with our gifts of treasure, time, and talents. Confessing, thanking, praying, and serving.
These are today’s answer’s to last week’s question – what does it look like when we spend our days saying “Thanks be to God!”
Paul answers that question in our Epistle lesson for today by inviting us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus answered by telling the rich young man to keep the commandments. When the rich young knucklehead said he had already done that, Jesus said, then go sell all that you have and give to the poor.
The prophet Micah first tells us what it doesn’t mean. He says it doesn’t mean that you try to earn God’s favor by coming before him with burnt offerings, it doesn’t mean you try to deserve God’s mercy by sacrificing thousands of rams or giving ten thousand rivers of oil, it doesn’t mean, as some pagans thought, that you sacrifice your firstborn child to the gods. No, spending our days saying thanks be to God, according to Micah, means that we do justice, it means that we love kindness, it means that we walk humbly.
First, it means to do (justice) To do justice means to act according to God’s standards of justice. Which is another way of saying to live according to God’s commands. If you love me, Jesus, says, keep my commands. If you love me, make sure the widows and the orphans in your midst are provided for and protected. If you love me, don’t be using my name in vain. If you love me, bring an offering and come into my sanctuary and worship my name with a sincere heart. We would keep God’s commandments not as a way of earning the love of Jesus, but because He loved us first. Christianity 101, right?
The kingdom of God is like a woman who keeps on confessing her belief that Jesus loves her, even though her world is crumbling all around her. It’s like an elderly woman who is grateful for her family even though they have disappointed her in so many ways. It’s like a citizen who prays for his president even though he strongly dislikes him. It’s like a volunteer who keeps on giving and serving at the church even though he wonders if anybody appreciates him.
Again we ask, well how do we spend our days saying “thanks be to God? First it means to do justice, and
Second, it means to love (kindness). In this school year, our faculty is studying a book with the title “You Are What You Love.” The author’s premise is that the most important question of life is this one, “What do you love?” Keep that in mind as we think about what Micah meant when he urges us to love kindness.
Another translation would be to love mercy. From beginning to end of Scripture, this is God’s great desire – to have mercy on sinners. Beginning with the first promise of the Savior to Adam and Eve to the mysterious visions of Revelation, it’s all about Jesus, every single prescribed sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus, and every properly written and delivered sermon in the New Testament Church directs the hearer back to Jesus.
Listen carefully dear people of God, when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, he was fixing his eyes on us. His mission in life was to suffer all that we should have suffered, his dream was to grow up and to be crucified until he was dead and buried on our behalf. His joy was, is, and ever shall be that our sins would be washed away, that the wrath of His Father would be satisfied once and for all, that our debt would be cancelled, that we would in face inherit eternal life.
To love kindness is to spend our days being patient with each other as our Father in heaven has been patient with us, it is to go looking for people to forgive, as we have been first forgiven, it is to find good reason every day to be cheerful instead of walking around with a chip on our shoulders. Christianity 101, right?
The kingdom of God is like a man who keeps on confessing God’s goodness, even though bad people in his workplace seem to be prospering. It’s like a teenager who is grateful for her home life even though school these days is a disaster, it’s like parents who keep on praying for their adult children to come back to church, it’s like a young mother who keeps on serving and cleaning up after her family, even though their attitudes leave much to be desired.
What does it mean to spend our days being formed by Divine Service on Sunday morning and saying thanks be to God all week long? First, it means to do justice, second it means to love mercy, and
Third, it means to walk (humbly). God pleasing humility is found only in the presence of a holy and just God. When we see ourselves as God sees us, we notice that we are sinners deserving temporal death and eternal punishment, we know that we came from dust and will return to dust, we know that apart from Christ, we are as a mist here today and gone tomorrow, we daily sin much and are delighted that God isn’t giving us what we have coming.
On this Reformation Sunday, churches all over the world are focused on the simple truth that we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The older he got, the more Luther was certain that we can do absolutely nothing to merit God’s favor. At one point he summarized the Christian life as “mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” In his last moments, Luther was asked by his friend Justus Jonas, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” He answered emphatically, “Yes!” Luther’s last words were: “We are beggars. This is true.” Christianity 101, right?
The kingdom of God is like a man who wakes up in the morning, he slowly makes his way to the mirror, he makes the sign of the cross, he confesses the simple truth that he has been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, he is ever so grateful to remember that he is a precious, redeemed, forgiven son of his father in heaven, he prays that God would show him that very day how to do justice, he prays that God’s Spirit would work him in the kind of faith that loves mercy, he prays that God would help him, as his father used to say, not to get too big for his britches.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther