Monday, November 21, 2016

You shall doze off [Trinity 27; St. Matthew 25:1-13]


On this final Sunday, we once again find ourselves faced with fear as Jesus returns and says to you today,

We hear of one other person resting in the 3rd Commandment. In it the Lord demands a remembrance of the Sabbath Day. The day He rested from His work of creating. Now you get to rest in the same way God does. Its not obedience and its not that God stops working, its that you get to put your feet up and hear that it is God taking care of all things, even you.

How do you know? You hear and learn God’s Word. For it is only in hearing that you receive Faith and it is only by faith alone that you hold it sacred and learn it. One of the holiest works God gives you to do is to gladly hear and learn preaching and His Word.

It is easy to say that the 10 virgins do a bad thing by falling asleep, but I say to you they are hearing that 3rd commandment and obeying. It is not the work you do in keeping your lamp, it is the Lord’s work in giving and maintaining your lamp of faith. In the same way it is your duty to rest everyday, meaning hear and learn God speaking to you.

But you can not do this on your own. In order to hear, someone has to preach. Even the world understands this. Education is best given through a teacher. However, even though everyone hears the Word, not everyone reacts the same way to it. When the Holy Spirit enters, you either believe Him or reject Him.

Remember Daniel and the lions! King Darius had just come into power over all of the empire of Babylon. Daniel had gained his favor, so the king had heard the Word from Daniel and so had all the princes and other rulers. And when they heard it, they rejected it and conspired to throw Daniel to the lions.

But who else heard the Word? The lions! They heard God and obeyed, setting aside their normal God-given task of eating meat. They heard the ultimate power that created the universe and couldn’t help but believe that it was their Creator telling them what to do.

So we also hear Isaiah speaking God’s own Word and prophesying about lions eating straw like the ox. The Word of God is performative; it’s creative; it does what it says. If God said let black be blue, then it would happen. If God said day is night, it would be so. If God said come unto me all who are weary and I will give you rest, then that is what happens.

When God says take your lamps, meet the Bridegroom, and watch all these things are done to you. You are given the lamp, you are given the Bridegroom, and watching is a passive activity. All these things are given to you in order to comfort you and make you realize that God is doing the work, but that you are in the right place.

There is no command from God to keep your lamp burning or filled with oil. There is no command to create or make sure there is a Groom. There IS the command to be at the right place with the right equipment. There is the command to greet the Bridegroom when He arrives and there is the command to go with Him.

Repent. What God gives to His Church, He offers freely and abundantly. Church is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We could have Service everyday. We could have Bible class everyday. You can come in for private Confession everyday.

Instead we have Service once, maybe twice a week. Bible class is twice a week. We are the 5 foolish virgins seeking God’s Word in a place other than where God has said it would be.

Jesus is the Light of the World, which is better than any old lamp to begin with. Jesus is the Groom who chases after His bride in all her faithless wanderings. Jesus neither slumbers nor sleeps in His constant regard for your faith and your salvation.

Baptized into His Light, you are not a child of darkness, groping about as if blind to the facts. You understand. You see clearly. You know the height, the depth, and the breadth. Your mirror may be dim and your vision of the future cloudy, but Christ on the cross is visible through those obstacles.

The Word of God has called you by His Gospel. That sound has made you a child of God, birthing faith within you. So perfect is this gift that you become a virgin; fresh and clean. Free form any spot or blemish. The invitation for the feast goes out and you are there. The announcement, “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” is given and you stand in front of the Bridegroom.

Nourished and strengthened by the Lord’s Supper, you constantly receive forgiveness, which is your lifeblood. This is the blood of the Spirit which surges through your veins, creating a spirit of constant watchfulness. You want to hear more of God’s Word in Bible Class. You want to receive more of God’s Word in Church and you want to cry out to everyone else, “The Bridegroom approaches!”

This is your life now, in these last days. It is not “I better or else”, but “I can’t believe I get to!” It is simply unthinkable and unbelievable that God has made you like God. What Adam and Eve attempted in sin, God succeeds at through the cross. Not in lowering Himself, but in elevating you.

Whenever you speak God’s Word, you speak with the creative force that birthed the universe. Whenever you hear the Word, you are hearing the very words that sustain all life today. This is the gift that Jesus packs into a neat little box of a church and a convenient book. This is the gift you are given this day.

Nevertheless, there is greater yet to come. Even though such a wonderful series of events is taking place here, at the Word of God, but even more is to take place when Christ returns. The lesser is on earth. The greater is in the new heavens and on the new earth, living forever in the true Temple, that is Jesus.

The End will come and when it does, to be sure you will be in the right place by grace alone, but all this will pass away. It will not matter how bright your lamp is, how clean your clothes are, or how well you stayed awake.

It will not matter how rich or poor you were or how well you did this or that task set before you. Nothing else will matter, even this day. For you will look back and there will only be the narrow, golden path that lead you to Christ’s side. All the chaff will be burned away.

You will make it through unscathed, though you were scarred. You will make it through perfectly healthy, though you were full of disease. You will make through strong as an ox, though you were feeble. You will make it through richer than Solomon, though you could not even buy bread. You will find rest, though you worked to death.

You will look back and see that the only thing that mattered was you setting aside the work you do so that God would work in you.
For, if it is true that the living Christ comes among His gathered people to teach them and feed them in public worship, and
if it is true that the life of the Church flows to her from Christ Himself, then

what is more important than weekly gathering together to receive His Gifts and responding to Him with our prayers and offerings?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Power [Trinity 26; St. Matthew 25:31-46]


So, Jesus speaks to us today in His Gospel and says,

We hear Jesus and see His life has led Him to a glorious throne and we ask, “when do I get one”? Many followers of Jesus, however, think this is just fine and have no problem submitting halfheartedly and blindly to a Jesus they have made up. A Jesus that is so powerful and so far removed that He only demands submission and blind obedience, or else.

This kind of power all men wish to obtain. The power over the masses. The power to impose will. The power to be popular and liked and to gain god-like status among followers, inducing religious zeal and tears. This sort of thing is not exclusive to religions. Any gathering of people for a certain cause gains this unfortunate obsession with power.

So, you must ask these 5 questions to any person who wishes to have power over you:
  1. What Power Have You Got?
  2. Where Did You Get It From?
  3. In Whose Interests Do You Exercise It?
  4. To Whom Are You Accountable?
  5. How Can We Get Rid Of You?
The answer to the first question varies. You may be the next president of the freest country in the world or you may be a husband or a father. Either way, power here usually only comes in the form of “who are you responsible for?” Power is given to someone by choice either by force or coercion.

Which immediately answers the second question: "where did you get power from". No matter the situation, you give others the permission to use power over you, even if you are too weak to defend yourself, there is still a choice. Again, power could be by election or by force.

The third question, "in whose interests do you exercise power", probably rounds back to question one and two. The same people that gave you power over them should be the ones you are using it for and (the 4th question) should also be the one you are accountable to.

The most telling question, and favorite, is the final one: how do we get rid of you. It’s the favorite because not a one of you with power would ever want to get rid of it, much less have someone take it from you and use it against you.

This is the lie of power. You work so hard to build it up and keep it up, but it seems to have a mind of its own and slip through your fingers on a whim to another wielder, possibly your enemy. You seek it nonetheless.

You want to be your own power, just like Adam and all the kings of Israel. You want it to come from inside of you; when you dig down deep. You want it all for yourself, to battle what you have to battle, to accomplish what you have to accomplish. Maybe you find yourself benefiting others, but your motive is pure autonomy and no one is going to take it from you.

Repent. When Jesus comes in power and glory, there will be none for you. You will have to sulk in His shadow and curse Him under your sinful breath, “Who does He think He is?”

How do you know this will be your reaction to Christ’s return? Look at how you treat others in power or those who have power over you. Do you fear and love God so that you do not despise or anger your parents and other authorities?

Jesus claims all power in heaven and on earth. He is the most high God and Creator. It is His by default; by right. It is a power that is inherent in Who He is. It comes from Himself. He wields it in His own interests and is accountable to no one but Himself.

Even unbelievers are with us up to this point, however, what Jesus does with this power is completely and utterly unbelievable. Everyone knows God demands perfection and is intolerant about it, but their understanding stops there. They refuse to see a self-sacrificing God.

Jesus does not need to create man in order to be a loving God. Jesus does not need to stay with the Israelites for thousands of years, in order to prove that He is the Lord. Jesus does not need to be born of a virgin, in order to prove His compassion. Jesus does not need to suffer and die on a cross, in order to prove His salvation.

But He does. “Empty”, is the word St. Paul uses to describe Jesus - all powerful, all knowing, all mighty Jesus. “Servant” is the word Jesus uses to describe Himself - Lord of all, fully perfect; need nothing Jesus. “Love” is the word used synonymously with “death on a cross” in Holy Scripture.

Jesus doesn’t need to do things this way at all, but He does. He does to show the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. That it is in losing power that you gain power. Its in giving all of your power away that true power arises. But this does not work for us in the real world, only in Faith.

Faith that clings to the words and promises of Jesus in times of trial and in the groanings of these Last Days. It is Faith that submits to the power of Christ, not out of duty, obligation, or fear, but in belief and trust that all promises come true for those in Christ Jesus. It is Faith that believes that a man is marked for separation to the right and not to the left.

On this earth, rulers and princes change with the rising and setting of the sun. In the USA, we elect our own authorities every two years or so. In serving, loving, and honoring your parents and other authorities, you are loving Christ. Jesus has so intertwined Himself with humanity that it is impossible to hate your brother and love the Lord.

Even if your parents, brothers, or rulers are wicked, Jesus hides Himself behind them and tells you loving them is loving me. Serving them is serving me. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Now that humanity has been assumed into the Godhead, there is no distinction to be made. Power is not had when you have the ability to oppress or kill on a whim. Power is to be had in utter service and submission to your neighbor and even that is really Jesus’ power and not your own.

Your own power only produces sin and strife. Christ’s power produces peace and life in exchange for His own. Jesus may appear unjust in His assumption of power, but the cross tells us otherwise.

Because, once there was a time where we could have gotten rid of God, or at least it seemed like it. There was a time where Jesus allowed Himself to be available, so to speak, for the airing of grievances. There was a time when you could hold onto the Almighty with two hands, falsely accuse Him, and nail Him to a cross.

We have tried ignoring Him, like Adam. We have tried consciously turning away from Him, like Israel. We have even tried killing Him, but He always comes back in mercy, compassion, and love. From the beginning, Jesus has exercised His power in long-suffering even while being ignored, even while being disregarded, and even while being murdered.

Jesus does not seek power the way you seek power. He seeks power in a way that is impossible for you to attain, not only because you would misuse it in sin, but because there would always be someone behind you waiting to take it from you. This can not be.

Therefore, Jesus is always the target, not you. Jesus is always the one making rules, promises, and retaining power. Jesus will be the powerful Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world and, by His Body and Blood, will create many sheep to be beside Him.

Today’s Gospel is not a treatise on power nor is it a primer on how to tell the difference between sheep and goats. It shows you that the power Christ has over the sheep and the goats is His because He has died for both, in order that through His sacrifice they would both have the forgiveness of sins, regardless of what they do with it. In the same way, the free forgiveness of sins is handed out by Jesus to you, each day in His Church, regardless of what you think you do or don’t deserve.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jesus finds you [Trinity 25; St. Matthew 24:15-28]

On this 3rd last Sunday of the Church year, we hear our Lord speak directly to us saying,
“So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”

Last week, we talked about what it meant to be a man: getting married, having kids, and especially teaching. Today continues that same train of thought by begging the question: where is Jesus??!

As a man, it is your duty to teach and to lead your family to Jesus, but according to the Gospel heard today Jesus is not anywhere. You are not to believe certain fellows if they say He is in great signs and wonders, in the wilderness, in the inner rooms, here, there, or anywhere.

You must also not believe when men work out these miracles in front of you to prove their affinity to Jesus or Christ’s presence. If someone miraculously heals the sick or even raises the dead, you are to call that demonic. If someone starts multiplying loaves and fish or does anything Jesus used to do, you are to run away, for satan and your persecution is near.

On top of this, even if we go to the Bible for words, we only hear that God will dwell in the Temple and with David’s throne forever and both of those are destroyed and muslim mosques sit in their places.

So how will you teach something you can not see? How will you find something that can not be found? You have tried searching the way of living an upright life, but that only gave you a feeling or idea of Jesus and He can be very judgmental.

And herein lies the problem. Imagine if someone actually had miraculous healing powers, what would we do to them? We would hound them and never let them rest. The government would want to dissect them and study them. We would get angry because they are not helping everyone and being selfish with their gift. We would tear them to pieces.

If we were able to find Jesus as He was, we would make Him do whatever we wanted. We would force Him to be a moralist, a bread king, or a Santa Claus. We would push Him into elected positions and charities so He could fix things. We’d press Him onto pictures, flags, and slogans and make Him make things right or crucify Him for failing to do so.

This is the type of Jesus you find. A Jesus made in your image and likeness to whom you give lip service, but make sure He stays in those boxes. So that even when you claim to have found Him, you have really just found another idea to be placed at the buffet of competing ideas and not Jesus at all.

Jesus hides Himself so that this doesn’t happen, even though lots of people attempt to do all of this to Jesus without Him appearing, you are not to believe them. Jesus is not going to do any of the things He has preciously done in the way He has preciously done them. Jesus will not be back as He once was.

Jesus will not return meek and mild as at Christmas. Jesus will not return in secret. Jesus will not return in any way that He needs to be born again, grow up again, or is at the mercy of man again. Never again will only one corner of the world witness God in the flesh. You will not find Jesus doing anything that He has done in the Bible, when He returns.

Do not follow those who say so! Follow the Word of God. Yes the Word says that Jesus has done all those things, but that is not the point of those miracles and wonders. Jesus has already accomplished the purpose of His miracles and that was to go to the cross and until Jesus returns again, in glory and in a sight to be seen from the east and the west, He will still be on that cross, for you.

Follow Jesus to the cross. You will find Him there. Not that He is forever crucified, but He is forever known as the God-man Who was crucified for the whole world. Jesus is known in heaven by that act. He is known by His enemies by that act and He is known in hell by that act.

Thus, you will know Him by that act, revealed to you by the holy Scriptures. You will not have to search for Jesus nor will you have to pick out which person is telling the truth about where He is. This is because Jesus is already found. He found Himself and He found you to tell you about it in Faith.

Christmas was not accomplished in a corner. The heavens were opened and angels were flying around singing, for crying out loud. That’s a pretty big corner. Epiphany was accomplished in the Temple, in the wilderness, and on a mountaintop in front of crowds. Lent was a tour of practically the entire eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Good Friday was a billboard and no one has yet disproved Easter.

You will remember Jesus by what He has done for you by hearing and teaching the Word of God. You will know Jesus by what He has done for you and you will recognize Jesus on the last day by what He has promised you and told you beforehand.

Do not be afraid. Not only have you been marked and set aside for the Return of Jesus, but He has promised to not leave you behind. The cross of Christ has declared just this thing. Those in Judea have already fled to the mountains and beyond. The one on the housetop and the one in the field have already left their posts.

You are already amid the tumult of the great tribulation and false christs abound, for the sign of the times has already been placed. The red flag of the end of all things has already come up. The cross, whereon God sat, has already been gathering many and will continue to do so.

Finding Jesus for your family is not a great mystery, neither is the Last Day. Jesus has given all the secrets to you. You already know what’s going to happen and how it will happen and you already possess the power and salvation of God at your fingertips.

You don’t go to find Christ, He comes to find you. He comes with His Word and His Sacraments bearing the good news of the forgiveness of sins. He brings His own holy water, His own holy words, and His own holy meal so that you know its Him. You will not have to decipher Him, decode Him, or attempt to remember Him like some long lost friend.

You will not miss Him if you don’t do things in just the right way and He will not pass you by if you are caught red-handed. And even if He hides Himself and things get worse and worse, they have an end. They will come to an end and the world to come will have no end.

The devil will have his 7 years and the Lord will have His thousand. For a little while you, the heavens, and the earth will be shaken, but for eternity you will stand in the presence of the Lord blessed, innocent, and righteous, for the sake of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.