Monday, November 24, 2014

A new hope [Ultimate Sunday; St, Matthew 25:1-13]


In a vain attempt to justify his own life, and maybe save it, Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks a famous soliloquy that begins, “To be or not to be…”In it, he brings up the question of which is better; is it better to die suffering under outrageous bad fortune or to fight against it and probably die anyway?

In fact, he is so sure that he will die in either case, that he then questions what comes after death. Is it truly a sleeping, as Scripture promises or will there be torture? As if there is not torture enough in this life! Indeed, Hamlet thinks that no one could bear this terrible burden of suffering and unknown-afterwards, otherwise known as “living”, so why does he not just make his own end here?

In today’s Gospel, the Bridegroom is not coming, at least this is the 5 foolish virgins’ creed. The Bridegroom is not coming. Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. If the Bridegroom is not coming, then what is the point of our lamps, much less staying awake? There is no point. Why make a fuss? Better to enjoy life to the fullest and make my own end. To sleep, perchance to dream…

And sleep they do. Heck, all 10 virgins fall asleep. What does this mean? Why are there lamps that fail and flesh that falls asleep? Why must we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Is there someone who is going to pay for these atrocities? Is someone going to step forward and take responsibility?

The Bridegroom is delayed. Jesus isn’t coming. Your lamps are going out. You must hurry to find a better lamp with better oil. Maybe the merchants, the peddlers, or the charlatans have something better. They are always talking about “peace” and “love” and “unity”. That is much better than sitting around in the dark next to 5 “holier-than-thou’s” and their “perfect” lamps.

Repent. You perceive that Jesus is delayed in coming, especially when your own life is wracked by misfortune or tragedy. You think that the evils and injustices of this world are too much and that God is not dealing with it as He should. This lamp of faith you have been given is not enough for all that and will never be enough.

Repent. The lies of satan ring so true to you and you fall asleep to his lullabies. It is taking Jesus so long to fulfill His promise to return. He probably won’t come back in my lifetime, much less do anything about the mess He left behind.

Our sinful nature tells us this is so. Our hearts go out to the 5 foolish virgins and sympathize with them, taking their side. Jesus should know better. Jesus should act more lovingly.

Holy Scripture tells us something completely different. It gives us hope by talking about the Second Coming. It does not attempt to smooth any of our troubles over or give us an easy ride there. It simply says that Jesus will return visibly and with great glory. That He will return to judge, not set up a new Jesus-club, and that the time will be unknown.

Unknown is not the same as “not coming”. “Delay” is not “forgotten”. The Word of God does not depend on our hearts for interpretation. If it did, there would be no wise virgins to follow the Bridegroom in. As it turns out, all things depend on Jesus.

Jesus even gives us a picture of the end in His own coming. In His own increasing turmoil and distress, leading up to the cross, Jesus shows that the End is near, for not even God is welcome on earth anymore. So much so, that He is crucified.

In the suffering and death of Jesus, we see a picture of the world to come. We see brother against brother. Nation against nation and God against the sinful world. Yet, on the cross, Jesus puts all of it to rest. Sin and death go in the grave and creation gets His Eternal life.

God uses up His wrath on the Son. The entire punishment for all of mankind’s transgressions are dealt out to Jesus, on the cross. All the wild beasts in biblical visions; all the wars and rumors of wars; and all of the fire and brimstone are focused upon one point in time and one man: Jesus.

So, a look to the End is a look to the cross. You want to know what the end will be like, seek Christ crucified. You want to know how things will turn out or if God will keep His Promises, find the resurrected Christ. It is in the Son of God that all of the Promises are completed.

In Jesus, Noah’s flood, that wipes the wicked from the face of the earth now kills us in our sin and raises us to new life. In Jesus, the Angel of death that sweeps the earth looking for the first born, passes over us, seeing the Blood of the Lamb of God not just on our foreheads, but on our lips and on our tongues.

In Jesus, Armageddon, the Anti-Christ, the Dragon, the Whore of Babylon, and every other beast of vision are already defeated. The cross, with Jesus on it, is the place where all are judged. Either Jesus died for you, being judged with your sin, or He didn’t. Either you are wise or foolish.

We know that the fool says in his heart, “There is no god” and thus, get a clearer picture of who these 5 foolish virgins are. The wise virgins are those that have been told ahead of time and believe. They believe that, towards the end, there will be increasing turmoil and distress for the Church and the world, but that is simply an indicator that the Promised return is near.

And that is just it. The End is not just near, but it will happen. It is a source of joy for the Christian, because it means that there will be an end to all of this. It means that there will be a time when lamps will not have to be filled or trimmed; when sleep will not overcome those who watch; when sin, disease, cancer, strife, war, and death will cease to be.

The importance of the Return of Christ, for the Christian, is that rest is coming. Not just then, but also Jesus, both God and man, gives us a taste of those things, today. He sets before us physical instruments of peace, forgiveness and salvation that we may sense His promise, not just in the ears, but also every other sense as well. These mark you for redemption.

For, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ either to an open door or a locked door. These are the only two judgments God will give and it all depends on the person, work, and Word of Jesus.

As you are one who is in Christ, HE has already pronounced what His judgment of you will be. You are redeemed. You are “bought-back”. You are living in His Light that is never extinguished. You are baptized into His death and Resurrection, in His Name.

Indeed, the Book of Life probably only contains one Name: Jesus. But that one Name contains the entirety of His Church. So we do not despair. We hope in our Lord who has risen from the dead and who will lead us all to the Wedding Hall, to eat the Supper at His call.

“Behold, I am coming soon.”

 Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Simple and clean [Trinity 26; St. Matthew 25:31-46]

Our Lord says,
“There is a time for everything…a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecc.3)
The Trinity portion of the Church Year, of which we are concluding, is about exactly that. It is teaching about the state of conflict the Church finds Herself in as She does battle with sin, the world around Her, and the devil.

And in focusing on our lives and that struggle so much, it also seems to be a season of confusion and uncertainty, for “the mind set on the flesh is hostile towards God”(Rom.8:7).
Though the gospel readings tell us that Jesus is there, in the midst of those things, His healings, His miracles, and His words just don’t cut it.

In these Last Days, we find even more confusion and uncertainty as we are told that we will face things we have never faced before; meaning: the End. Jesus speaks of abominations, of tribulations, and of corpses, yet He still does no healing or miracle in front of me.

So, Jesus speaks to us today and says,
                         “Before him will be gathered all the nations,
                            and he will separate people one from
                           another as a shepherd separates the sheep
                           from the goats.”
A simple phrase in light of a very dark and chaotic situation and one that begs we ask of ourselves if we are prepared. We ask, at the End of this Church Year, “what have we done” and “has it been enough”.

Having heard the rest of the gospel, have you done all those things? There were hungry people in your lives. There were thirsty people in your lives. There were strangers, people needing clothes, the sick, and the imprisoned. Did you take care of those things? You don’t even have to answer the question, because I can look outside right now and see that there are still those people around, so, you haven’t.

On top of physical needs, you are a part of a community that is not whole. The spiritual needs of your hometown are monstrous. Maybe 50% of this place does not attend Church, despite the more than 27 churches within the metro area. You have over 5500 people that live here, and we have, what, maybe 1% of that here, this morning?

In facing the very real End of all things, we find ourselves ill-prepared for such an event. There is still so much more to do and, if you only had a little more time, you could feed, give drink, welcome, clothe, and visit all who need it, maybe.

Repent. You major in the minors and minor in the majors, all the while losing sight of Jesus. You get caught up in Jesus revealing the chaotic future, that you fail to recognize the simplicity of Christ, as our gospel reading shows. For, despite the fact of all this happening, it will end with Jesus judging between two different kinds of people. Plain and simple.

Indeed, all visions in the Bible end abruptly. From Genesis to Revelation, any man having a vision of heavenly and eternal things, does not give a full explanation. Especially in Ezekiel, Daniel, and the book of Revelation; we hear of many beasts. Some have ten heads, some have ten horns. Some have 4 faces and some have four wings. And the strangeness goes on.

And even when an explanation for these creatures and events is asked about, no clarity is given by the answer. You can not go to the Bible and say that this beast represents Rome, this one Hitler, or even this one Obama. That is not what they are for.

They are there to point you to Jesus. They are there to warn you that strange and horrible things will come to pass, but you want no part of them. You don’t want to know if your persecutor has two eyes or ten, you just want to flee. You don’t want to know which government will subdue the entire earth, you simply want to know that you have a Savior.

A savior that has traversed suffering and death and come out alive. A Savior that implements a plan of salvation to include even yourself. A Savior, that will stand as Judge, on that Last Day, point to you and say,
                 “Come, you who are blessed by my Father,
                  inherit the kingdom prepared for you from
                  the foundation of the world.”

You have not been made to handle sin, much less endure a long battle with it. You have not been sent to fight. Jesus has. When we hear of the beasts and the wars and the abominations, these are not our enemies to fight, these are Jesus’ enemies. And fight them He does. He leads them to the cross, buries them in the grave, and returns alone and alive.

All this, Jesus does for you, freely. For this is what we hear Him saying to us today. There will be a final gathering of all nations; alive and dead. There will be a separation of the blessed and the cursed. Jesus will be glorified on that day, as the Savior.

For this reason, you have been baptized, not to escape trouble and trial, but to be brought through it victorious. For this reason, you are given Faith to hear and believe the Gospel, not that you will always listen to the right person or never get tricked, but so that you always recognize the Gospel as Christ dying for you.

For this reason, you are, here, offered the most Holy Lord’s Supper, for the forgiveness of your sins. In these ways, Christ declares to you that, yes judgment will happen, but His Word is True: This Baptism DOES save you. This Gospel DOES give eternal life. This Holy Meal DOES give the forgiveness of sins.

All this to say that you are, and will be, the sheep of Christ. All this so that you know you are justified before God and when the great and terrible Day of the Lord arrives, Jesus, the Judge, will address us as Blessed Inheritors.

Thus the Christians will not, at the end of the Year, do any introspection; finding only war, strife, and despair, but instead will perform “extro-spection”. Faith relies on and believes in the Person, work, and Word of Jesus which is all performed and accomplished outside of the self.

Jesus did not become wrapped in swaddling clothes, die on the cross, and preach His Gospel in your heart. He did it outside of you; objectively for all to see and hear. So the Christian’s focus is on the cross and the salvation accomplished there.

The works of the goats did not save them. The wars and rumors of wars help no one. The inner turmoil and struggle of our own sin only condemn us.

The works of Jesus do save us. Our Captain, victorious, in the well-fought-fight, helps us free from every need. Jesus, suffering, dying, and three days later rising again, is simply all that we need to understand and believe for the complexities of the Last Days to end well for us.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Where the action is [Trinity 25; St. Matthew 24:15-28]

On this 3rd last Sunday of the Church year, we hear our Lord speak to us saying,
“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

This seems to come out of the blue, but maybe it fits. Jesus is talking about the End Times and running from this so-called Abomination of Desolation”. We have no idea what that is or what that looks like. At best, we can let our imagination run wild as Jesus tells us to run from it, no matter what.

Don’t turn back, He says, as was said to Lot’s wife. Don’t return for your things. Don’t be pregnant and don’t let it be winter or the Sabbath. Simply, hie thee hence, and get to those mountains, for whatever is coming, you want no part of it. It will be an affliction for the ages.

So, maybe we can infer that the corpse symbolizes the many people who will be caught up in this Great Tribulation. They will be the ones not having heeded our Lord’s instructions and be left for the vultures, as gruesome as that is.

I put to you, today, a possible real reason for this statement of Jesus. Our first clues come in verses 23-27 in which we are looking for Christ, but we are not to believe those men or women who say that He is here or there, when Jesus has not said He would be there, Himself.

So, we are looking, as always, for Jesus. He is the only hope and source of redemption; it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that we are also looking for an Abomination and a corpse. Maybe even vultures or eagles, as that words suggests.

Thus, where the Abomination is, there the eagles are. Where the eagles are, there the corpse is. Where the corpse is, there is where Jesus is. Huh. Let’s keep that on the front burner for now.

Activity and motion, in the outdoors, can usually be marked by the reaction of birds to it. If someone is approaching, birds become silent. If someone does something sudden, the birds will fly away. If there is food to be had, the birds will gather for the feast.

Thus, in war, they tell you to never become food for the carrion. In other words, don’t die. Because where the action of war has stopped, or where the corpses are, there the birds gather. They are not there when the battle is beginning and they are not there when the battle is engaged. They wait until it is safe and time to eat.

Repent. You have no idea what I’m talking about. You have no idea what Jesus is talking about. Your minds are elsewhere and probably left when Jesus said the hard phrase, “Abomination of desolation”. It is so beyond your sinful nature that you just bottle it up and set it aside.

In your struggle against your sinful self, you take the Lord’s Name in vain. You doubt and curse, all while trying to be a better Christian. You keep these all secret though, because, if they got out, what would everybody think?

It’s too late to think about that. They are already out. God already knows them and the vultures have gathered and the corpse is yours, lying on the battlefield, blind and deaf towards God, and dead in sin and rebellion.

Dear Christians, for your sake, Christ has set up a new corpse and this is where all the action is. Jesus was and still is walking through the fields of our battles with sin, death, and the devil. As He goes on His way, He draws them all to Himself, handing out life through His Gospel, and sacrificing His own, upon the cross.

Jesus knows all things and He knows that unless He set up the Abomination of desolation, we will never be able to find it nor be saved. Unless Jesus comes down, as a man, to suffer and die, no one will be saved.

Unwittingly, all the forces of earth are gathered around Jesus. For we see His people and the legions of Rome. Both of those groups have been gathered and have gathered themselves under one symbol: the Eagle of Rome. In their attempts at false peace, the people of God have cast aside His Word in favor of a new king: Caesar.

In sin, they have made the Temple a palace of murder; the House of God a den of thieves. So, by your own guilt, you must suffer these abominations in holy places. Not just the Roman eagles in God’s Holy Temple, but your own politics and ideals at odds with God.

The Father has sent His only begotten Son in order to be handed over, suffer, and die, and three days later rise again. This is only accomplished by His Word. This is only brought to pass by His hand and we do well to mark how Jesus uses His time on earth: dying on the cross.

Thus, in the Father’s zeal for justice, He quenches the blood-thirsty carrion birds with His own blood. Jesus stands on the cross, crushed for our sin and guilt and yet the condemnation also rests upon Jesus. We are awaken from our deathly slumber of sin and transgression and look to see Jesus, alone, as our protector and victor, still.

Those who desire death and strife, all sinners, gather at the place where God has promised to be in order to watch Him die. Jesus is lifted up on Roman eagles’ wings and put to death on a Roman cross. Betrayed by His people and left to die, Jesus fulfills the Father’s will and plan He has for your life: salvation.

Do not be deceived! The great Abomination of God hanging lifeless on the cross is not defeat, but victory. Jesus, both God and man, did not get off that cross, but stayed on it even after His dying breath. Do not listen to those who say “Here is the Christ”, because you know that He will always be found as the Crucified one.

Jesus stayed on the cross. He gathered those carrion eagles and demons as He gathers all people: to the cross. Jesus, on the cross, is the Victory banner raised on the field. Here we find that all the world must come and face judgment. All of space and time must appear before this Abomination and face the Judge.

And with all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus judges. He preaches the Gospel of His person, words, and works from the cross. He creates true repentance in you, that you may see your sins and find forgiveness in your Savior hanging on that tree.

Yes, the times are dark and will only get darker. All our struggles and defeats find their annihilation upon the cross of Christ. We take comfort in the fact that God reveals these things to us so that we may repent of our deeds and trust in Jesus alone. We should also expect these things to plague us, until we die.

For where Jesus is, there the action is, meaning, the fight against sin is strongest where the Lord is closest. If eagles and vultures gather as the enemies of Jesus, then we should expect war, disease, sin, and manner of temptations to befall us as we too gather around the cross.

Though we should be horrified by our sins, the Body and Blood of Jesus are here for us. They are on display on the cross to be a Light in the darkness. Thus, we are thankful for our struggles. We are thankful for our pangs of guilt and contrition, for it is in those times that we know the Lord is near.

The Holy Ghost is sent to reveal our sin to us. Thus, as we hear of our warfare against the Lord in our thefts, murders, adulteries, and despising of His Word, we do not despair. Though our sins be great we cherish the image of Jesus on Calvary. We rejoice in the suffering and death of Jesus and we pray that we may be hid in His wounded side.

That is that we be covered by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. That in our baptism and our eating and drinking, we find that we are the true believers with our names written in the Book of Life.

 For on the cross, the Book of War is closed forever. The sin and guilt found there is no more. It is the fodder now tossed to the unbelieving carrion birds to be judged. Death has been left in the grave and Christ has led us into new life in Him as He flees with us to the mountain of His holiness in confessing our sins, receiving His absolution, and eating and drinking true Body and true Blood for our salvation.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Betrayal [Trinity 24; St. Matt. 9:18-26]

In celebrating the Reformation, this past Friday, we remember the Small Catechism as we have all learned by heart. And because of that, we all remember the first article of the Creed and its meaning.

The first article reads as such:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

What does this mean? “I believe that God has made me and all creatures. That He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses and still takes care of them.”

You may mark that on page 322 in your hymnal.

But what I want us to note is this phrase, “…and still takes care of them.” While you hold your place there, I want all of you wearing glasses and contacts to take them out, hold them up, and recite that phrase once again.

Now stay with me! We have Jesus speaking to us today saying that a Ruler of the Synagogues has just knelt before Him and declares his own daughter to be dead. Then we also have a woman with a 12 year flow of blood. The week before, there was a man who could not walk. Or it’s an invading army, or it’s a sick person, or it’s another dead or hungry or possessed.

Whatever the problem is, there is a problem. There is always someone that is sick, or hurt, or dying, or dead and that’s not right.

In war, one of the most detrimental things to happen is betrayal. When there is a traitor in your midst, nothing can go right. Strategy is out the window, meetings are pointless, and continuing to fight is futile. That is because a traitor deals in this information. All of your weaknesses, all of your secrets, and all of your flaws are made known to your enemy and full advantage is taken of that.

Most of the time, the penalty for such a crime is death. The traitor is too destructive to allow him to continue. Not only do his acts threaten his brothers in arms, but the entire military force. In fact, his actions may reach all the way to his fellow citizens at home, for if that country’s military loses here, then the next stop for the enemy is the homeland.

On top of all this, you can’t help but feel hated. You don’t know why he would do such a thing or what kind of motivation would move him to betray you. Thus, even if you are not a part of the tribunal that condemns him, you are certainly not going to stand in the way of capitol punishment.

God has graciously given to His people. He has created them and given them commands to live by and a lifestyle to adhere to. He promises mercy to those who follow and condemnation to those who don’t. He rescues them from their enemies and gives good advice on how to keep your body in order that it not become unclean.

He has also created this daughter and this suffering woman and to them and their families, it appears as if God has created them to sit in anguish. Whether the daughter suffered or not is irrelevant; she has undergone capitol punishment and for what? The woman has suffered and will most surely die under her punishment and for what?

Has not the Almighty and All-powerful promised blessing? Has He not sworn to protect His people and keep them whole? Has He not promised to create them and still take care of them?

Repent. It seems as if God has betrayed you. He knows your every weakness, secret and flaw and does nothing to take them away. He leaves them exposed to any and everything. This invites all sorts of catastrophe: temptation, sickness, even death. The daughter He has promised to watch over has died. The woman He has promised comfort to, is in agony.

The eyes and the body God has promised to care for you, has failed (glasses) and will continue to fail, if experience serves. He has promised these things and He has not delivered. No wonder the Jews saw these sick people as accursed. You would too, if you took the promises of God seriously.

Johann Sebastian Bach, a world famous Lutheran composer, wrote a piece for the occasion of the 24th Sunday after Trinity and captures this thought thusly:

“If I die in the Lord, is blessedness really my share and inheritance?
My body will be food for worms!
Yes, my limbs will become dust and earth once more.
Since I am called a child of death,
It seems that I shall rot in the grave.” BWV 60

So when Jesus comes and declares that He is God, you can guess what you will do to Him. When you hear Jesus’ confession and think of all the things that have gone wrong and all the times you were left to your own devices in tragedy and trial, your very next thought is: “Crucify Him.”

Jesus claims He is God and God has committed all these wrongs against us, not keeping His promises, so, by His own Law, Jesus deserves death. To pay for the crimes of betrayal in letting His people suffer and die, God deserves death.

Repent. You judge Jesus in a position of ignorance. You claim to have faith and yet the strong faith of the ruler and woman from the Gospel, eludes you. You’ve seen God let you down too many times and you hear too many “convincing” arguments against Him to truly believe.

So, Jesus, both God and man, is here. What do you do with Him? Crucify Him. What does God allow to happen? That very thing!

Now we come to the crux of the issue. How is God’s own Son cared for? How is Jesus’ body and soul, eyes, ears, and all His members, His reason and all His senses still cared for?

Jesus is crucified. He accepts the will of His creation in humility and judgment. He does not accept the charges, but He takes the guilt, the sin, and the death. The corruption that takes our eyesight from us, is charged to Jesus and nailed to the cross. The cross is man’s judgment upon God.

The cross is also Jesus’ judgment upon man. Here we see all the trial, all the temptation, all the suffering, and all the death we undergo, and it is placed upon one man. Meaning: Jesus has not betrayed you. Jesus has taken this corruption of your sin and done away with it.

Now, the promise of the cross is everlasting life, instead of the misperceived temporal life. Jesus is betrayed in some cosmic twist of judgment, in order to pay, not for God’s betrayal of us, but our betrayal of Him. In our sin, we doubted that Jesus could even bless us in this life, let alone any other life, but let that not be the case anymore.

Now the blessings flow in spite of temptations, sufferings, and death. These things are no longer indicators of God’s wrath, but symbols of His presence. Now the dead that die in the Lord are blessed and where there is suffering, injustice, or death, Jesus is there.

Jesus is there to comfort in suffering, to stand up, and to die a death that kills death. Jesus passes by to undo all of that and Baptize us into a new Body with a right Spirit: His own. Jesus comes to be crucified in order that His body, and we as members of it, would be healed.

Are you sick, suffering, or dying? Jesus came into this world specifically targeting those things. So where they are working their evil, Christ is all the more working His salvation. Maybe you are healed in this life, maybe not. Maybe you are not tempted beyond your strength, are healthy, and live a peaceful life, and maybe not.

Because Jesus is on the cross, dying for us, all things work out for our good. Not just the stuff that feels good, but the bad stuff as well. In fact, it doesn’t matter what kind of life you have to live. Christ is overly capable of working out your salvation in the midst of it and nothing can prevent that.

For, in Jesus allowing Himself to be handed over, falsely accused of betrayal, and paying for it with His life, we now hear that Gospel. The Gospel that Jesus suffers with us. That Jesus works in and among those who are sick and dying in their sin, not accusing or punishing, but saving. Not throwing up penance or requirements, but freely giving.

So we ponder All Saint’s Day, which was yesterday, and hear that God does keep His promises in the life to come. There we will be perfectly healed, perfectly comforted, and perfectly alive. Indeed, He gives us a foretaste by sending His Son among us today as a pledge.

It is as if He is saying, “You have my Son, therefore you have whatever is His.” For us, on that Last Day, it is a robe of innocence, blessedness and purity forever. Today, it is the promise of Jesus in-between our fingers and on our tongues declaring us forgiven, elected, and saved.

Now, if your finger is still on page 322, you may remove it as Christ removes any doubt that God is for us. In Jesus, we are cared for as a true Son of God. Oh, and put your glasses back on.