Monday, December 11, 2023

Forgiveness: God's Power through means [Advent 2]

  • Malachi 4:1-6

  • Romans 15:4-13

  • St. Luke 21:25-36


Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Who speaks to us on this second Sunday of the new Church Year, saying,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
As we continue to ponder heroes this Advent season, I made mention last time that heroes are those who have stood up and have not renounced the faith. Though they were ordered, they did not say I renounce Christ.
Now I almost thought of daring all of you to say that, but I won’t trouble your consciences. The only reason I would dare you to say it is because I want you, trusting your baptism more than you trust even the words that come out of your mouth. Instead, we are to trust in the Words that will not pass away.
This is because sin is much greater and much more horrific than we have been led to realize these days. We think sin is just a surface thing something like saying, “I renounce Christ”. Indeed those are heavy words, however, does someone saying them mean that they’re automatically going to hell?
I would put this on par with statues in the house, and eating food offered to idols. No matter how many times you wear a head covering, no matter how many times you don’t get a tattoo, no matter how many times you forgive your brother. 
God is not mocked God cannot be tricked. He knows a true faith from a fake faith. Fake faith, wears Christ and his church like a hat, putting it on and off at convenience, and only being skin deep.
True faith is faith that has the hat, but who depends on God and can resist such things as words if they are forced upon you, signs of the beast forcibly engraved, or possibly even voluntarily! The power of God is the power of God after all, and not the power of men.
One example, you may think of, is the difference between King Saul and King David. Now, you would think, for as evil as King Saul became, even trying to kill David most of his life, that his sin that caused God’s rejection would be equally as horrid.
Our answer comes in chapters 10 and 13 of 1 Samuel. chapter 13 is where Saul is rejected by God, through Samuel (God works through means) as he said, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you…But now your kingdom shall not continue” (v.13-14).
But what did Saul do foolishly? He was told to “go down before me to Gilgal and behold I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I shall come to you and show you what you shall do" (1 Samuel 10:8)
and apparently, he didn’t wait long enough, maybe an hour? Who knows. But he gets impatient, burns the offerings before Samuel gets there, and gets in trouble when Samuel arrives. Now, did he offer the sacrifice wrong? Was the ritual backwards? Did he not call on the Name of the Lord? No. All of that was there. All of the outward, and churchly, works were there. The problem was, Samuel was supposed to do it.
Seems pretty petty, on God’s part so far, to rejects Saul just because of something so tiny, right? On top of that, compare him to king David. Now David was a man after God’s own heart, right? Yet, his sins are more numerous than Saul’s and still retains the Lord’s favor. With murders, adulteries, thievery, and infidelity, How does David get out and not Saul?
Why do people go to hell? Why do bad things happen to good people? 
Repent. You have no answer. this is because you believe with all your heart, that as long as a person is “good” and “goes to church”, that person is saved. You don’t sweat the details, because God is love and love covers a multitude of sins. We don’t have to do everything exactly correctly, God just likes to make us sweat every now and then.
Tell that to Cain, who was rejected because of his offering. Tell that to Ham, Noah’s son, who was cursed for trying to help his father with his drunken nakedness. Tell that any one person who believes that he is receiving wrong from God, because he thinks he did it all right.
Though we have to depend on people to reveal to us who they are by their words, and have no other choice, God can see into the heart. Renouncing Christ is more than just being a punk and saying whatever is the opposite of what your dad wants. Renouncing Christ is to give up on Him.
That is the crucifixion. One of the reasons the world forsakes Christ to suffer and die alone is because He is a disappointment. We thought He would be the one to restore Israel. We thought He would be the one to free us from oppressive government. We thought He would be different, but when He starts bleeding and growing faint, then we see that His insides are just like ours.
On the cross, the inside (sin, death, and the power of the devil) looks like the outside. of Jesus, we weren’t too sure for a while there. He was forgiving sins, performing miracles, silencing religious oppression. He had to be different on the inside. I mean, the Transfiguration! We mistakenly see our sin in Jesus and attribute it to Him.
And this is part of our Lord’s work. That we see the sea being uncooperative, the celestial bodies not doing as we wish, and the trees withering away and think, “Does that seem right to you?” We look at the turmoil in the world and find that turmoil in us. Our Lord’s work convicts us of our sin.
And we hate it, because we don’t want our outside to look like our inside. However, it is only godly sincerity that wants the inside to look like the outside. We try so hard to put on a good show for everyone; to make them aware that we are likeable, trustworthy, and brave. But we know its just a show.
There is a thought that, if you act out how you want to be, then it will become habit and it will be you. But how many habits must we change or develop to complete a picture of ourselves that is not sinful?
So the forgiveness of sins comes without cost to you and is the power of God. Stronger than those tattoos, stronger than those slips of the tongue, and stronger than your rebellious spirit is the word of grace that covers you in Christ Jesus.
Another part of our Lord’s work is salvation. And if He is going to offer salvation to all, don’t you think it should be a little stronger than our weaknesses? Don’t you think it should be able to outshine music preferences and frivolous speech? 
It should and it does. In fact, whether you live or you die you are the Lord’s. As long as we treat every sin as if that sin will be the sin to knock us off the path, then that is conviction from the Holy Ghost and faith in Christ.
This is not an excuse to continue in sin. Eventually, sin will kill off faith, such that we believe that it doesn’t matter in the end and will see no problem with it. This is the path to hell and judgment, for God will see that love and trust in sin and say, “Thy will be done”.
One part of staying awake is to realize our sin and lack of faith and turn to the only Man Who can do something about it: Jesus. To fear and reverence His Work. To love His Bride, and to Trust His plan.
Here we may return to Saul’s sin. The size of the sin is not judged by our standards, but God’s. And God’s standard was not just that Saul wait 7 days and then sacrifice, but to let Samuel do it, because Samuel is the Called and Ordained man of God, sent to the people by God Himself. Saul lacked faith in Jesus’ work of giving gifts to men.
To Cain and Ham, they simply loved themselves more than God. That since God had already chosen them, there was no wrong they could do. Without faith, they displeased God by hating the order of His Church.
To us, we find all those things inside us and more. We could spend days in the confessional. that is all to say, without faith. But with Faith, our insides become like our outsides. With Faith, we receive life from God and in this life, hope. For, in the forgiveness of sins, there is hope for the worst of sinners.
Godliness is a gift from God and part of it is humility. The humility to accept that God’s salvation is being worked out in the world through His Church. If we want faith, we must turn to the Word, not the words of others. If we want clean insides, we must turn to the Sacraments. If we want forgiveness stronger than ourselves on our worst days of doubt, we must turn to Him Who comes to us saying, “do not disbelieve, but believe” and it happens.
Thus, we find in God’s treasure not just masks and hats for Church, but clean hearts and right spirits. We do not have to pretend we are saved, we are, at God’s Word. We don’t have to fear our rebellious years or any “welp I’m going to hell for that one”, because Christ is raised from the dead.
So that we can act on the outside what we believe on the inside so that our outsides can actually become conformed to our insides that, with Communion, now is conformed to Christ.

St. Nicholas, hero [Wednesday in Advent 1]

{ { { TEXT ONLY } } }

  • St Luke 14:26-33

  • Hebrews 13:7-17

Grace to you all and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus, the Christ.
Who speaks to us from our Epistle heard this evening saying,
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Here, Jesus is talking about leaders as ones who have been called and ordained to speak the Word of God in Truth, not just any joe who stands up and says, “God spoke to me.” Do we think that, just because God uses people to do His work, that that work is going to be sloppy and sporadic? The Lord has never shown us such a side to Himself. He works through means, not just your emotional currents.
Many people choose their heroes when they are young and impressionable. And that is not a bad thing. At that age we have yet to judge others for their faults and baggage they have accrued over the years.
One of the means God chooses to work through are the teachers He gives to us in His Church. As we said Sunday, we will be appreciating a few of those “heroes of the faith” as wonderful gifts from God. This evening, the Church celebrates and remembers St. Nicholas. And though he has been shamefully demoted to “jolly ole St. Nick” these days, he lived his life as a bishop and confessor of the faith.
According to Church legend, St. Nicholas died December 6, 350AD. The saints’ days in Church are usually celebrated death days, FYI. This means that, historically, he lived long enough to see Constantine become emperor and make Christianity the official religion of the empire. Part of his legend, however, comes from before that time of peace.
Nicholas was born at Patara in Asia Minor to parents who, having long been childless, had petitioned God with many prayers. Already as a youth Nicholas became noted for his zeal in helping the unfortunate and oppressed. In his native city, there lived a poor nobleman who had three marriageable daughters; he could not obtain a suitor for them because he could offer no dowry. The contemptible idea struck him to sacrifice the innocence of his daughters to gain the needed money. 
When Nicholas became aware of this, he went by night and threw a bag containing as much gold as was needed for a dowry through the window. This he repeated the second and third nights, saving the girls and defending their purity before God and men.
This is the legend that gives us the gift-giving idea during Christmas, as some of that gold allegedly fell into their stockings which were drying at the end of their beds. “Joyful giving” is the main lesson we take from St. Nicholas. Giving that puts others needs ahead of our own. Where that gold came from, who knows, but I’m sure it came at great cost to our hero, St. Nick.
On a certain occasion he was imprisoned for the faith. In a wonderful way, he later became bishop of Myra, in Turkey. His presence is noted at the Council of Nicaea, where my favorite story of his takes place. One of the opposing bishops was trying to normalize the teaching that Christ was only a man and not also God. St. Nicholas had finally had enough, threw hands, and slapped that man in the face hoping his senses would return him from his folly.
He died a quiet death in his episcopal city, uttering the words: "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." For, first and foremost, he was a leader, a preacher of the word of God, and spokesman of the Father. Hopefully, as you see, there is a goodly bit of genuine Christianity in joyous, loving gift-giving. 
(The Church’s Year of Grace, Parsch, 157-158)
The chief and primary of which, is faith in Christ. So it is the chief duty of the Called and Ordained to preach the word of the cross of Christ, which is the power of salvation. St. Nicholas is another image of our great, high Priest Who intercedes for us and offers us the Sacrifice of Redemption in the Body and Blood of Christ.
Following St. Nicholas through time, we carry our own crosses, because in faith we now want to be faithful. We want to have nothing rule our hearts except Christ. And when the Lord returns to hold all to account, we want to be found hungry and poor that He would fill us with good things.
In the Divine Service, St. Nicholas communes next to us, with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This hero, kneels before the Hero of heroes Who comes to bring joy on earth and everlasting joys in the Resurrection. As heroic as St. Nicholas is, our memory of him is only in admiration. Our example from him, is to be faithful to the Lord’s Church.
And that is a cross to bear in and of itself. Not only did our gospel reading tell us about hating family and self, but also renouncing everything we have. This our Savior does on our behalf. God of all, He suffered and died, renouncing it all to seek and save sinners. This, our St. Nicholas also did, to a lesser degree, renouncing his treasures to become a pastor and to elevate those three daughters in need.
Even though we may not agree with God’s methods in using means, that is only sin rebelling against His Will. Since Christ has laid things out in order for us, we should take up that cross and joyfully let God be God, that is suffering, dying, rising again, and building His Church for us. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Our hero [Advent 1]


  • Jeremiah 23:5-8

  • Romans 13:11-14

  • St. Matthew 21:1-9

Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Who speaks to us on this first Sunday of the Church Year, through His Gospel parallel from St. Luke (19:38) saying,
“Blessed is He who is coming; The King in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.”
Though St. Matthew also calls Jesus “king” here, St. Luke brought it out more clearly. St. Luke, and the other Gospel authors, wanted to be sure that we hear Jesus clearly, that He is proclaiming Himself King, worthy of sitting on David’s Throne forever, and that He is coming to claim that right.
Jesus does this in every gospel book and God includes this here to show us our king, Jesus Christ, our Hero, Who has defeated His enemies, ensuring prosperity for His people. This points us towards the necessity of heroes of the faith. That there are evils in the world, but they can be defeated. Primarily by our Lord and secondarily by us, by faith in Him.
As we begin to look forward to the Advent season, to the coming of Christ in the flesh, the Church has put heroes in our path to getting there. For before we get to the manger, we must celebrate those who have stood in faith in front of governors, princes, and execution squads. All because they would not say “I renounce Christ.”
We will look at a few of those heroes on our Wednesdays during Advent, but today, as we hear of Jesus, the king riding triumphantly into Jerusalem, we see the most excellent hero, the hero of heroes: Jesus Christ, as the crowds sing: “Blessed is the King”.
Now what makes a hero? Is someone with superpowers who can get anything done at amazing speed and get it all done, a hero? Is a hero someone who gets paid for doing their job, their regular job, that anyone of us could go to school and learn how to do?
Or is a hero someone who does all the right things, says all the right things, and never goes off script? No, all those are false heroes, fake heroes, and they degrade the meaning and definition of the word. Not only that, but they also degrade the very fabric of society, because when a society no longer has heroes, its values die.
One of those values that go to die is Courage. Courage to do duty, courage to stand up, courage to tell the truth from a lie. And when that dies so also our psyche. We can no longer raise up our boys into men. We can no longer raise up our girls into women. We have lost the courage to do so. We lose that culture war.
Another thing that gets buried under the rubble of destroying our heroes is a sense of the truth, especially when God comes to reveal and speak to us Himself of His own Truth, The Truth. In sin, we reject and crucify God’s Truth. In mercy, the heroes of the faith who were given such a measure of grace and mercy as to stand up against the world and proclaim that truth, were not heroes at first. They were saints. And Saints must be made.
Repent. Advent is given to us to prepare us for just such a happening. More than that, Advent is given to us to prepare to undo all those lies that the world has made us believe, for if we are to prepare for the coming of our Savior, of our King, our hero, then we must understand what a hero is.
Throughout the Old Testament, Jesus has proven Himself to be a hero. That, we can understand at least. That hero, who comes down and fights for His people. Who literally defeats enemies and ensures prosperity for those who believe in Him.
Jeremiah and the other prophets are told to paint a different picture of our King. Though He remains Almighty, the picture is of righteousness, of humility, of accomplishing those things that human nature fails at, time and time again.
Those things include righteousness, as our Old Testament reading has told us. They include wisdom, they include justice, they include security, they include private property. All of these things we dig for, in this world, and maybe find them. But like grass to the lawnmower, they are quickly chopped down there, quickly raked up there, quickly thrown away.
This just means that our great hero, and king Jesus, has not come to bring us these things in this life only. He has come for you. He has come to secure faith in him, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life, for you.
This is what our superhero Jesus accomplishes, for it could only be God himself Who produces such things that have permanence among humans, who have impermanence. But a superhero only goes so far. They’re called superheroes because they are super-humanity. Meaning, they are over humanity beyond humanity, and do not and can not relate.
But our superhero does not stop at just being a mighty God. He steps down into our image and likeness. He takes on our sinful flesh. He becomes like us in every way and in the dust of our flesh accomplishes His super human feats.
And in doing so, He includes us in the plan. He unites Himself to us, such that His super human feats become our human feats. He joins us in our weakness, in order that His strength becomes our strength.
In the incarnation of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ has secured a place for all humanity. He has raided the heavenly treasury and poured out His gifts among men, which He has secured for them, that is the forgiveness of sins, faith in him, and eternal life. These are the gifts given by our Hero of heroes and thus these are the gifts that we trust in.
Trust in when there is no hope. Trust in when there is no light. Trust in when there is seemingly no sign of God around us. Trust in, because the Lord keeps His promises, no matter what.
And so in that faith, in that belief, we retain our heroes, and in retaining our heroes, we retain the faith and belief necessary in Christ, because now there is a possibility of salvation. Now there is possibility of redemption and the forgiveness of a hero, coming to save us.
But He does more than just come and save us. He gives us strength and courage to face the evils of our day, and although we will not be given all the right answers, all the right decisions, or magic to take it all away, we will not be left without hope.
And so we can look to others who have bettered themselves, who have done better, and have been the better person we always wanted to be, and hope. We can look up to those people and not expect them to be perfect, but expect them to offer us glimpses of the heavenly way that our Savior has trod before us.
Such that when we find heroes to believe in, we do not believe in them, we do not trust in princes or in this world, but we believe in the good that has been produced in them that our Savior has purchased and won in His Body and Blood for us. We believe in the faith taught to us and are rewarded with courage, in the glimpses of Heaven along our way.
So let us learn about heroes, if only for the sake of our boys. And let us teach them about our Church Heroes, the Saints as well so that they don’t only know how to fight imaginary dragons, but that they also know how to fight the real dragon and their chief enemy the devil. Let us tell them of the Saints, who have stood up, and have offered their lives as a sacrifice of Thanksgiving.
For our children are also part of this heroic bloodline. Not only have they been baptized into the faith by the blood of their hero Jesus Christ, but they now share the same Sainthood that has been granted to the heroes of old through the same gifts of the Holy Spirit in His Church.
For the Saints, as we popularly understand them, are deserving of a threefold honor in the Church. That of Thanksgiving, for those examples of mercy that God has shown to us through them; that He wishes to save men, and that He has given teachers and other gifts to the Church.
That we see those men who have faithfully used these gifts and by that example strengthen our faith. Such as, when we see the denial forgiven Saint Peter, we are also encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly superabounds over sin.
And finally, they give us a life to imitate. And we need the lives of men to imitate because we cannot imitate the life of God. Everybody likes to imagine themselves wanting to be like Daniel, but nobody wants to be like Jesus, because Jesus had to suffer and die for the sake of the whole world.
But that is his work. Our work is the work of the Saints on earth, that is believing that Christ has saved us and it being so, just as we believe. For another definition of Saint that is not popularly understood is simply that: believing that Christ has died for your sins and rose to new life justifying you by grace, for His sake, through faith. That makes a saint.
Your sins washed away in baptism, makes you a saint. Communing with the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, makes you a saint.
Dear saints, you are all heroes of the faith. You’ve been baptized into the noble line of king David. You’ve been grafted into the branch of Jesse. You have been adopted as a son of Abraham, and therefore an inheritor of eternal life with His true Israel: Jesus Christ.
What can this world do to you that it hasn’t already done to its Lord and Creator?
What can your life take from you that has not already been taken from Jesus?
In faith, you have won the race. In faith, you have trampled Satan under your feet. In faith you have swept in, just in the nick of time, to be who you are in Christ, to live under the fullness of His grace and mercy, and to be brought into the perfect union of God and man in Jesus.
Congratulations hero. You are baptized into Christ

Monday, November 27, 2023

One Bridegroom [Trinity 27]


  • Isaiah 65:17-25

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

  • St. Matthew 25:1-13

Grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come; from Jesus Christ the faithful Witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
Who speaks to you this Ultimate Sunday saying,
“Five of them were foolish and five were wise”
As we are presented the Gospel today, Jesus appears to set up a dichotomy between wise and foolish, almost as if He is showing you this in order to get you to pick a side. However, He includes it in His Word not to get you to pick sides, but to show you your sin in all matters that it may drive you to Confession and Absolution from your pastor, as God has given. 
Given that Jesus wants our worldview to be that of “sin in all matters”, you now see other human beings around you and you still see their weaknesses, but now you feel such compassion and forgiveness for their failings, as if they were small children and you yourself feel like a child, worthy of the Master. We are all in the same boat of “lost and condemned”.
The fallible parable goes this way: Inside you are two wolves. One fights to bring about evil; anger, envy, sorrow, regret, war with your neighbor. The other fights for “good” allegedly; joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, kindness, etc. The wolf who wins out, as the false parable goes, is the one you feed.
Do not read too much into that. It fails on many levels and just wants you to feel guilty, which is what the Law is good for. The point is, to start to bring to your mind the idea of good and evil in the world, not just being “out there” or “at the gate”, but in your house, inside you already. 
So we find similarities in our Lord’s parable. There are two groups, in today’s Gospel reading: 5 wise and 5 foolish. Some teach that the implication is that you must choose which side you are on. Will you have your lamps prepped and be ready to shun anyone in need in order to keep your spot at the party? Or will you be negligent and frivolous in order to prove that you can do it on your own?
Back to the wolves: you could just let the wolves fight it out and pick the winner, if you were a neutral party in the whole matter. But you’re not neutral. 
Back to the virgins: if you were a neutral observer, then you could just let them act it out and be the 11th virgin that goes where the winners are supposed to go. But you’re not neutral.
Back to the world: when you see conflicts, even world conflicts, and have a hard time understanding them, this is why. You cannot blame it on fake news, you cannot blame it on “evil existing”. Although those are both true, you cannot comprehend the world because you are a part of the problem. First and foremost: when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, they are simply reflections of what goes on inside you.
Repent. Inside you are two wolves and both are evil and sinful. Outside you is the world you have made and, surprise surprise, it is also evil and sinful. So much so, that you cannot help but be confronted by it everyday. Are you feeling guilty about being a terrible father? Then there is a news story about how someone was a terrible father. Are you feeling guilty about being a poor patriot? Then someone is tearing down monuments on the news. Are you in a fight with family or friends? Then there is a war going on, just for you.
You do not get to decide which group of virgins you will side with, neither do you get to decide which side in the world you pick. This is because both sides reside in you. You are both foolish and wise, enemy and friend. You are both at fault and the victim and you just can’t help yourself. This is exactly St. Paul’s lament in Romans 7:
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (v21-23)
Dear Christians. Neither group of virgins gets it right. No not one. Look at your gospel reading again for the condemning verse (5): “they all became drowsy and slept.” They all fell asleep at their post. They all are guilty of dereliction of duty. Make no mistake, it was not the oil that vindicated, or the lamp, or anything else. It was the Bridegroom.
How you ask? Well, what was the reason that the virgins were sitting in that place, in the first place? What was most important to them? Why did they wake from their folly? What place was there for them, afterwards?
From Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
And I’ll add: unless the Lord sleeps first, he who falls alseep, sleeps in vain. As in, death has no meaning and you are simply erased afterwards. Unless the Lord sleeps, there is no firstborn from the dead. Unless the Lord becomes drowsy from suffering, there is no end to suffering. Unless the Lord conquers the dark, there will be no light, even from a lamp.
It is Jesus Christ Who is right and Who must invade His own creation to bring right. And He does so in the darkness. He is covered by it and moves in it. It is not His, but it is the reason we can only see as through a mirror darkly (1 Cor 13:12). It is the reason for Isaiah 5:4, “What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? [Saith the Lord] Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth sour grapes?” Oh my people?
It matters not. In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He even accepts sour grapes, because He intends to change them. 
From John 19, “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 29-30).
Though Jesus had received the sour grapes of all humanity’s iniquities, ineptitudes, and insurrections against God, He still chose to suffer and die to purchase and win the Light of Faith for you. Though Jesus had to invade His own Creation, arriving as a stranger, and was kicked out for His trouble, He continued His work of dying and rising again, for you.
In His crucifixion, Jesus sleeps the sleep of death to remove death’s grip from foolish virgins. All of them. From you. He is lifted up on His cross in order to take the field as captain of the fight. He does not choose sides, He takes His own side, fights His own fight, and defeats His enemies in the process, changing death into a sleep that can be ended.
The process of building His House, of watching over His City, and of making sour grapes sweet. Meaning, in the crucifixion of Jesus, God pays for those things in His blood. In the Resurrection of Jesus, He builds His Church,  completes His Eternal City, and serves His Wine of Forgiveness which will never sour, in Him.
In Christ, the process is completed. So that when we return to our virgins, in the Gospel, and the Bridegroom calls out, they all wake up immediately. They are already under the grace that God had promised them, which automatically placed them on the Guest List for the Wedding, all 10 of them. Yet, even knowing this, they still fought against such grace and mercy.
Returning to ourselves, Jesus has knit us from inside our mother’s womb. He has already built for Himself the Temple He wishes to reside in and bestow His saving Faith upon: you. He has already placed you in His City, His Body, and never ceases to watch over you. All of this is only out of Fatherly goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. 
Even in your divided, sinful nature, Jesus chooses to create salvation for you, from outside of you. It doesn’t matter if you’re plagued with 2 wolves or with 3. It doesn’t matter if you struggle with 3 lives or with 4, 4 worlds or 5. When the Mighty Captain, the Bridegroom, approaches the true Light of the World shines and casts away the darkness.
In that Light, we see Jesus alone. All trials shall be like a dream that is past. Forgotten. Lamps, wolves, virgin IQ statuses. There is nothing but the Savior; wounded, yet not dying; defeated, yet the Victor; as slain, yet sitting on the eternal throne of God forever, never to die again. 
In this revelation, we are already at the End Times, feeling the pressure of judgement for our daily sins. No matter which side we choose or which way we run, the Lord of Forgiveness goes with, so that we realize our sinful nature, give thanks for God’s revelation, and run to absolution, which you have already heard proclaimed over you today.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanks, body and soul [Day of Thanks]


Readings from Scripture
  • 1 Timothy 2:1-8
  • St Matthew 6:25-33

Grace to you all and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus, the Christ.
Who speaks to us from our Epistle heard this evening saying,
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
In our rush to be thankful people, we have thrown out the word “thankful”. The only reason why Thanksgiving has not been cancelled yet, is because we can define “thanks” however we want, thereby redefining it into oblivion. We can even be thankful for “evil” and say that God gave it to us, that He made me this way, essentially calling evil good, and good evil.
It may surprise some of you to learn that when St. Paul or any of the Apostles preach, they are speaking God’s own words. That is how the New Testament gets its authority, as St Peter declares, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). These words carry God’s own weight behind them.
We make this statement, not just to reassert our belief in the inerrancy of holy Scripture, but also to call attention to the Holy Spirit’s work of “carrying”. As in, He has to be the person to carry you to God, to admit you into God’s presence, in order that you be able to pray and ask God as dear children ask their dear father and offer thanksgiving.
Lest we forget, doing that is humanly impossible. Ritual purity is the prerequisite for admission into God’s presence and receiving blessings from Him at His sanctuary. It was necessary in the Old Testament Temple and it still is today. Even moreso now that Christ has torn the veil in two and the Holy of Holiest places is wide open to everyone today. 
As Psalm 24 says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (v.3-4)
In the Old Testament, the Lord instituted a Thank Offering, which is why we’re talking about this today: God did it first, not the pilgrims or FDR. The Thank Offering was a part of the Peace Offering, which just means that on top of sacrificing a bull or lamb or goat for peace with God, a man would have to include leavened bread in the offering, not to be burned, but to be eaten. 
A second uniqueness to the Thank Offering was that it was to be eaten on the same day that it was presented, thereby connecting the ritual with the presentation of the offering, and the performance of the song of Thanksgiving in the sanctuary. Meaning, the Thank Offering, and really any offering to God, was both spiritual and physical. You had to make the offering, but then participate in the Service also, or it was invalid.
In Jeremiah 33:10-11, the prophet had announced that when God restored his people, they would bring thank offerings to him. This is a prophecy of the messianic age. The age when all sacrifices would cease, except the offering of thanksgiving. 
So, after Christ's great sacrifice of atonement, the church has no sacrifice to bring to God the Father except the sacrifice of praise. Melanchthon makes a similar affirmation in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (XXIV 9-77). There, in his discussion on whether the Mass is a sacrifice or not, he distinguishes the eucharistic sacrifices from the propitiatory sacrifices. He argues that since Christ has offered himself to atone for all our sins, we can only offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and nothing else.
The whole of the Divine Service is therefore an offering of thanksgiving and praise to God the Father as we receive Christ's body and blood. The heart of that service is our reception of the Lord's Supper; it is in itself an act of thanksgiving and praise, for as often as we eat that meal we rejoice in God's grace and proclaim Christ's death for our redemption until He comes (1 Cor 11:26; Ap XXIV 35-36).
Thus, it is our Mediator, Jesus Christ, Who makes what is evil, good. That is, He covers it with His Blood. Ourselves and our thanks are filled with sin, filled with evil, and only in Christ is our evil exchanged for His Good. 
Those outside of the thankfulness of God, lead miserable lives. For them, there is always the next manufactured tragedy, just around the corner. For them, it is always a lack of resources, a lack of funding, and a lack of conformity. They realize that they are on their own to produce thankfulness artificially.
Thanksgiving in front of God is never cancelled, because Jesus is always giving thanks and all you have to do is pray for that thanksgiving to be among you also. We give thanks that we have been brought to faith in Christ. We give thanks that Faith that leads us to families, meals with them, and meals with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So yes, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), but let God be thankful for you and let Him offer His sacrifice of thanksgiving, Jesus, in His Divine Service, for you.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Made Mindful [Trinity 26]


  • Daniel 7:9-14

  • 2 Peter 3:3-14

  • St. Matthew 25:31-46

Grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come; from Jesus Christ the faithful Witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
Who speaks to you this Penultimate Sunday saying,
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”
Along with these Gospel words, the Lord also speaks through St. Peter in the Epistle reading saying, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” This Word of God directly connects to today’s Collect of the day where we prayed for mindfulness and holiness of living, from the Lord.
This is as it should be. This is God’s Will for Holy Scripture in our lives. That it is connected and connective. The whole of the Bible is all connected in the story of salvation through Jesus Christ and it connects you to it by Word and Sacrament. Therefore, for today we are pointed to how we await the Final Day of Judgment, that is “without spot or blemish and at peace”, in His Divine Service and in His Nunc Dimittis, where He tells us to depart in peace.
One of the things we are confronted with today, by God, is mindfulness. 
When you eventually turn to God in prayer in your life, what is it that you usually ask for? “What do you want me to do, Lord?”, right? Well, dear Christians, the Lord has answered your prayers today, for you have been given a glimpse, a first-showing preview of what God will be looking for on the Last Day of Judgment.
That is, feeding the hungry, un-thirsting the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and being present for the prisoners. There you have it. The laundry list you have all been praying for in order to be doing God’s will and gaining your proper position as a blessed one on the Last Day, is in your hands.
So, what more is there? Go. Do likewise, Jesus said, right (Lk 10:37)? Go and show mercy to your family, to your neighbor, to your enemies. Maybe you might have a little left-over mercy for Jesus, too, and allow Him an hour or so of your precious time, each week. 
Is there something else? Oh. You are afraid because of the goats? You are afraid because they also performed acts of mercy, the same acts of mercy you are commanded to do, and yet they received punishment, instead of blessing, and you want to know why and what’s the difference?
Maybe that list of holy works isn’t what you thought it was.
Maybe there is something else that glorious and righteous Judge is looking for.
Maybe you need to be mindful, that is to remember what it is that brought you before God in the first place.
Repent. Yes, be mindful of your acts. Your words, thoughts, and deeds all need to be taken captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) in order that, having been made a new creation in Christ, you begin to see it as well. But being captive to Christ means more than just you working hard. It means being a servant of Christ, that is doing what He wants to do, not just what you want, and as we have hopefully proven, works are not enough.
Jesus commanded at the Last Supper, “But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember” (Jn 16:4). And what was the Resurrection proclamation? “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb…two men stood by them in dazzling apparel…said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you’…And they remembered his words” (St. Luke 24:1-8).  
Immediately, they remembered His words about His Resurrection. That though this Temple be destroyed, in three days, the Son of Man shall rise again (Jn 2:19). Once the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead had begun to cement into their sin-filled brains, they began to remember other things.
They remembered the Palm Sunday crowd, which had witnessed Lazarus come out of the tomb, crying out for salvation (Jn 12:16). They remembered the hillsides where Jesus had fed multiple multitudes (Mk 8:18-19). They remembered how He walked on water, healed the sick, gave peace, and sat on the throne of the Ancient of Days.
They remembered that He remembers.
Even the thief on the cross knew that God remembers. He had faith in God’s remembrance and his faith saved him. He had heard the Lord’s Word say, “God has remembered his covenant forever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations” (Psalm 105:8).
And the most wonderful thing they remembered? That God is a God Who forgets. This is the most important, because this is what the Apostles trusted in; this is what the thief trusted in, and this is what we trust in. From Jeremiah 31, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (v.34).
The sheep had no faith in their works, or even their own ability to remember. Instead they trusted in the memory of Jesus and in the forgetfulness of Jesus. The memory of Jesus to step down from heaven, in the flesh, and save His people from their sins with His Body and Blood. And the forgetfulness of Jesus to cast those sins as far as the east is from the west, such that only holiness, righteousness, and blessedness remain (Ps 103:12).
You prayed that God grant you mindfulness of the Last Day. This mindfulness, you have now seen, will not only remind you that the Last Day is coming, but will also urge you to commune more often with the great and glorious Judge, Jesus Christ. You will be made mindful that the Church is His very Body, so being with that Body, you are already prepared for the Last Day.
And finally, in this rescued and forgiven Church, the Holy Ghost stirs you up to Holy Living. To loving God, loving your neighbor, and continuing to immerse yourself in the holy things Jesus presents to you in Word and Sacrament. Communing with these gifts, you find that faith has you waiting, without spot or blemish in Christ, and at peace in His Divine Service.
Thus is our proof of the Holy Spirit being among us today. First, that we are remembering Christ as He said, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn 14:26).
Second, we believe and confess with Daniel, that the Son of Man is seated in Communion, preaching the separation of saint and sins, the blessedness of being baptized into the Father’s kingdom, and the entrance into the righteousness and eternal life of the Lamb of God through His Body and Blood.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Golden Son [Trinity 25]


  • Exodus 32:1-20

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

  • St. Matthew 24:15-28

...grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come; from Jesus Christ the faithful Witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
On this antepenultimate Sunday, our Lord speaks directly to us saying,
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
After today, there are only two more Sundays until the end. Antepenultimate. Jesus comes quickly.
This day we face The Judgement, as Scripture teaches in our Gospel reading, as God intends we do, and why He included it in His Word. Not to be repetitive, but this points us to the fact of a real, actual judgement. If Jesus was not spared, you will not be spared. We apply this to life by realizing this and receive our lives, whatever they may look like, with thanksgiving.
So let us attempt to explain the Old Testament reading through the eyes of the New.
Again, these seemingly cryptic words from God, in the Gospel, bounce off our noggins and land anywhere but in our understanding. “Abomination of desolation”? “Holy Place”? What do these words mean? There are no specifics given such as time, date, or name. Jesus says that Daniel spoke of it, but he didn’t explain it at all.
As best as we can come up with is that maybe the Holy Place is the Temple in Jerusalem and the abomination is false idols for worship? 
That’s nice and all, but that sticks this event all the way in the past, having nothing to do with us today. The temple is gone and so there are no holy places for these idols to be set up. This is not what God intends with His Word, ever, so there must be something we are missing.
Of course, the first interpretation is that of the Last Day. That when we see things go belly up, we should not stick around and gawk. Get your things and get out. But what are those things, especially in light of us constantly believing we are in the last days?
The Golden Calf will guide us, here! Ha. 
But make no mistake, the drinking of the Golden Calf was part judgement, but all teaching from God, so we must heed the lesson as well. Our difficulty starts when we turn to commentaries to explain the situation to us, because all the commentaries stop at “the people had to drink to bear with and atone for their own sin”. No mercy in those words.
Certainly, there is that lesson to learn. That God’s Law is holy and righteous and He threatens to punish all who hate Him and break His commandments. However, the Lord is merciful, not only giving us the Promised Land, a place to flee, but also never leaving our side. So, Moses and Israel were all thankful that the judgement was not the end of the story.
First, the Golden Calf was an idol, a false idol. The Lord has told us that false idols “have no real existence” (1 Cor 8:4), meaning that there is only one God here. False idols are created in and live in the heart. This is why Jesus can say, “all who make them become like them, so is everyone who has faith in them” (Ps 115:8).
Now what’s with the drinking? Is it some sort of petty, add-on curse that God enacts because He’s pouting over His people choosing other gods over Him? It seems a step too far, but there was the warning in Numbers 5:24, “And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain.”
The point here is that eating and drinking are religious acts. Eating food sacrificed to idols is communing with them, agreeing with them, following them (1 Cor 8:10). Jesus said that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out. If you are eating with idols, you confess their greatness, because their food does not change you; you change you.
It is your sinful insides that not only create idols, but sing their praises. The Golden Calf is just one, visible example of the sin inside. Idols can be invisible, for they are simply those things which you fear, love, and trust. The Israelites couldn’t trust in the God Who works through His own means, they needed more.
But more was just what they thought they needed. It was a lie. The Golden-Calf-water did not increase the curse, but revealed it. What was already evil on the inside, was shone on the outside. If you are going to play with false gods, you are going to end up like them. And in the final judgement, that will be mouths, that do not speak; eyes, that do not see; ears, that do not hear; noses, that do not smell; hands, that do not feel; feet, that do not walk, and they do not make a sound in their throat (Ps 115:5-7).
Sound familiar? Jesus would always cry out, “he who has ears to hear let him hear”, right? This means you were not made for sin and death. You were not created to receive things that are not from God or God Himself. Since you have received eyes, ears and all your members, your reason and all your senses from Him, if you commune with something “not Him”, you undo all of it.
Repent. So if by faith you have been made a temple of the Holy Ghost, then you in your sin have stood the abomination in that holy place, inside you. And if the abomination is inside, then to where are you going to flee? Sin is a cancer, a stage 5 cancer. It has spread into every corner and crevasse. You are not only dead in your sin, even as you sit there, but it would be impossible to separate you from your sin without killing you.
The Temple is gone. There is no more “holy place” not just to find comfort, but even to meet God. This is because our sin kicked Him out. Sin crucifies the Lord of Creation. That is the true Abomination. 
Dear Christians, the crucifix is also the Primary symbol of the Church. And it is for the same reason, too. Just like the bronze serpent on the pole, we need to look at what sin has conceived in our hearts and in the world and repent. “…mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain” (LSB 449) as we sing. Yet it is in that pain, in those wounds, that Christ brings us healing and righteousness.
Jesus takes on your cancer. He absorbs it. It becomes His as He continues to heal and forgive you. Yes forgive, because with the sickness comes a spirit of darkness that lies and says “God’s not worth it”; “The crucifixion is not worth it”. So your forgiveness also corrupts the Savior, also causes a price to be paid in blood.
And the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus is His surgery that removes the root. Jesus, being the Root of Jesse, uproots Original Sin, and replants Himself. He plants His cross on top of sin, death, and the devil, ridding His world of these things forever. His Body and Blood nourishes that Tree of Life, that we may approach it and find that heavenly medicine ourselves.
Because, how do you take care of your insides? How do you fight cancer that you cannot see? You ingest. If meals eaten with your idols cause your death, then a meal eaten with God causes life, as He said, “they ate and drank and they saw God” (Ex 24:11).
Jesus is your chemo-therapy. He is a poison to your sin. It is not a pleasant procedure to go through, when you must divorce yourself from your sins. It is painful. It is the way of the cross. However, where the gold of the Golden Calf condemned, the Gold of the Son of God (Job 22:25) gives life. That is, in His Body and Blood there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Jesus is ground into the dust of the tomb for you. He offers more than just a powdered drink of bitterness and cursing. Though you look at His crucifix and see your sins, the Crucified Savior does not condemn, but places Himself in a body in order that His Body become your body; in order that His Blood become your blood. 
But you are not replaced. In the mystery that is Communion with God, you retain “who you are” yet are conformed to His Image, just as the elements of Communion retain their properties, bread and wine, body and blood, at the same time. You are not replaced. You are saved.
In our daily lives, sin does the grinding, not us (Ps 18:42). Ground into the dust. But Jesus, “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people” (Ps 113:7-8). He looks for those in need of a physician and applies the Balm of Gilead (Jer 8:22), His Word and Sacrament.
This cleanses you of your false idols. Ingesting the Body and Blood of Jesus leaves no room for false worship. Flee to this. The Last Day has come upon you and the Abomination is inside you. Where shall you flee? To the Mountain of God; Christ: to the cross of God at this Altar. And there find a pure and holy Lamb, free from all impurities, offering His comfort, peace, and purity to you.
There is no refuge in this world, nowhere to run. But the Holy Place has never left earth. He dwells among us forever. He tells us to draw near, eat and drink, and thus see the Mountain that is Christ our Lord, then to have our lowly bodies changed into His glorious Body (Phil 3:21).