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Archives - November 2017

Sheep Things

November 26, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

 

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Sheep Things
Matthew 25:31-46

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson for this day, specifically where Jesus says, When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 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. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It was written over 50 years ago, and even to mention it risks alienating anyone with a birthday any more recent than the 1970s. Still, there’s something timeless about Eleanor Rigby, so I’ll take my chances. Even if you’ve only ever heard it once, the song has the tendency for lodging in your thoughts, being a song that, I think, can be accurately described as “haunting.” People, understandably, assume that the song is about “loneliness,” as McCartney himself in the chorus wonders about “all the lonely people.” For me, though, I think the song is less about loneliness than it is about … futility. “Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been…” and what’s the point? Who cares about her thankless work? Who notices? What difference does it make? And Father MacKenzie darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, and writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear… and what difference does it make anyway? Why does he bother? Futility—empty words, meaningless gestures, inconsequential actions, pointless deeds, wasted lives. Futility.

It’s not a foreign thought, is it, futility? I know this is something I struggled with a bit in seminary, as I sat alone in my dorm room, pouring over books I knew that I would likely not be able to look at again until I retire from ministry, attempting to wrap my head around theological concepts that escape my understanding because of my mortality. Sometimes, I confess, my work felt as futile and as pointless as Eleanor Rigby picking up rice.

That spectre of futility hounded me as a student, and I can promise you that, while I’ve certainly been kept busy in my first year serving here, it’s an issue that hounds pastors all across our synod. It’s an issue, I’m sure, that has hounded you at one point or another in your life. Indeed, there’s a lot in our lives, as Christians living out our vocations, which can begin to feel futile. You work diligently on the paper, pouring yourself and all you think you’d learned into it, fulfilling the task to the best of your ability … only to get it back a few weeks later, marked up in red, and a C+ circled in the upper corner, so what’s the point? You offer wise spiritual counsel to someone who sorely needs it … just to find out later that your advice has been utterly disregarded. You shed blood, sweat, and tears as you prep for the class that you’re going to teach, and you pour yourself into the lecture … and your students stare out the window, or into the endless void of an LCD screen. You baptize, catechize, and confirm your kids … and watch them fall away from the faith the moment they hit high school or college. You spend the time and money putting in a new crop in spring, which does well through the first half of the season … and a freak deluge floods out half your fields, leaving you with no choice but to soldier on and reap from what you didn’t lose. You plan the outreach event, you advertise and publicize it , hoping that people will sense your enthusiasm and thus desire to sign on … but only the usual dozen show up. You try hard to be a good husband, or a good mother, or a good daughter … but does anyone notice? Does anyone appreciate your efforts?? The temptation to go through the motions without regard for the meaning behind the motions hounds us all. The fear of futility looms and grows, regardless of the capacity in which we serve. When all is said and done, what difference does it make? What’s the point? Why bother?

Well, that’s quite the heady question, one which we can find the answer to in our Gospel lesson for today, the parable of the sheep and the goats. A word of warning, though: this is not an easy parable. It’s a difficult text, but the difficulty is not that it is hard to understand; indeed, the meaning seems altogether clear … and that’s the problem! It rubs against the grain of our Lutheran ears because it sounds suspiciously like works righteousness. If this were the only Word that we had received from Jesus, then a religion of works and salvation by human efforts would be the logical conclusion. Sheep … do acts of kindness, and they receive heavenly praise and eternal rewards! Goats … do not, and they get hell. Thankfully, this is not the only red ink in our Bibles; Jesus did say more, and we have been given a complete Word of God that that makes it clear: of course we do not earn our way into God’s good graces. We don’t buy our way into eternal life, and yes, even this parable and its difficult words agree fully with the theology that we are justified before God solely by grace through faith in Christ alone!

Notice what Jesus first says to those sheep: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The sheep are sheep … because God has made them sheep! They are chosen … predestined … elect! They are not sheep because they made a choice to be a sheep. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness. They are NOT sheep because they worked hard to become a sheep! They are sheep for one reason: God has done it! God makes them sheep! God makes them righteous!

And then these sheep … live like His sheep. They go out into God’s creation, out into their ordinary lives, and they take care of those around them. They help the sick, they feed the hungry, they visit the imprisoned, they clothe the naked. They do sheep things! Sheep … act like sheep! And the goats? Well the goats choose what God never planned, never intended: they choose to ignore the call of God to repentance and life, they choose to ignore the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace, and they choose death. In return, our loving God gives them what they choose: they share in the unintended and unsought fate of Satan and his horde in the fires of perdition. … But not you. You are a sheep!

In the deluge of Holy Baptism, at the font, God made His claim, and gave you His Name! YHWH is YOUR Shepherd! You are His sheep! You belong to Him! So you, His sheep, live like His sheep! You go out into His world and you do what you have been given to do: you meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for your help. That’s what sheep do! And when sheep do what God has given them to do … futility … is gone. It’s wiped out completely! That’s the point of the parable!

This is not an exhortation to be a sheep and not a goat! Sheep have no choice anyway; remember, God does the choosing! No, the point is that what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost! There’s no futility! This means that your daily work is transformed! What you do - whatever you do for the sake of those around you who need your help, whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocations, whatever you do that God has given you to do is exactly the work that you should be doing, and is never wasted, and is never lost! That’s the criteria! It’s not about what makes a big splash or attracts large numbers of people. It’s not about makes others applaud. It’s not about what earns financial perks or accolades or “A’s.” It’s not what makes you feel good. None of these things determine the validity, the value, or the direction of the work that you do. The only thing that matters, in this regard, is that you are doing what you have been given to do in service to those who need it.

So you study for that incredibly difficult test, and you sit through another class that doesn’t exactly fire your imagination, and you do so with all the commitment and energy you can because it is holy work! And you prep for another class on an old topic, and you work well into the night grading papers through bleary eyes, and you do it all with all the zeal you can muster because it is holy work! You rub your wife’s ankles after her long day of work, and you massage your husband’s back when he’s under stress, you lift each other up in spite of your own difficulties, not because it is easy, but because it is holy work! You wait for the checks to clear the bank, and you pour over the budgets until your eyes strain from staring at the chart, and you do it because your work is needed, because God has called you to serve in that way and thus it is holy work! You change the day’s 8th diaper, you prepare the day’s 4th bottle, and you wipe the white trickle from your shoulder and back with a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing for the one who needs your service.

You don’t need work that is “more meaningful.” You don’t need a vocation that packs more prestige! You don’t need to do things that will impress those who watch or grade or evaluate. No, you just need to do … what you have been given to do, to care for those around you who need your service, and when you do that, you are doing incredible holy work just the way that God intended it to be done! That is work that is ALWAYS worthwhile!

See, that’s the way it is with sheep, and you are sheep! Elect, chosen by God, doused in forgiveness at the font … righteous! Righteous before God! You are a sheep! You see the need of those around you, and you step up to meet that need! Parishioners, pastors, professors, students, parents, children, employers, neighbors, strangers—you give them what they need from you, and you fulfill your vocation, and you are righteous! Sheep are righteous twice: righteous before God in your election, entirely passive, and righteous before creation in your vocation, entirely active! You are sheep, my friends—you live without fear of futility because you know … you know that your labor is never in vain! No deed is insignificant, and no act is forgotten! God saves you and your labor; neither is ever lost!

Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie may have lived empty, futile lives and died in meaninglessness … but not you! NOT you! You are sheep, and that changes everything. Everything about you, and everything about what you do forever.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Eternal Thanks

November 22, 2017
By Pastor David French

Eternal Thanks
Luke 17:11-19

Since tomorrow is a national holiday and that in only seven countries in the world and not all on the same day and certainly not the commemoration of a specific event or teaching of the Bible, there’s a wide range of readings to choose for this day. Over the years however, the account of the Ten Lepers has become one of the traditional readings for our national day of Thanksgiving.

The facts of the miracle are clear enough. Jesus was still in Galilee, but heading to Jerusalem with His disciples. As they traveled, they encountered ten lepers. Jesus instructed the lepers to present themselves to the priests in Jerusalem according to the Law of Moses. While they were on the way they noticed that the leprosy was gone. One of the lepers returned to worship Jesus in thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to emphasize the fact that the leper who returned was a Samaritan and that Jesus asked about what happened to the other nine who were also healed.

Luke tells us that Jesus and His disciples were traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria. Although there was a much more direct route straight south through Samaria, Passover Pilgrims would never go that way because well the Samaritans and the Jews hated one another, and the Samaritans simply refused passage to anyone who was headed to Jerusalem. If it weren’t for the Roman occupation, Samaria and Judea would probably be at war, but because of the Romans, the Samaritans had to be satisfied with this token gesture of their hatred.

In practical terms that hatred meant that Passover Pilgrims like Jesus and His disciples had to go around Samaria to get south to Jerusalem. Jesus had traveled south in Galilee until He reached the border with Samaria. Then He would have traveled along the border with Samaria until He arrived at the Jordan River and the eastern border of Samaria. There He would travel south until He arrived at the border of Judea where He would turn back toward the west and head for Jerusalem.

And yet Jesus healed this Samaritan. We see this as a lesson about salvation in Christ being not just for Jews, but for all people. And that show of grace through Christ for all is indeed a wonderful Gospel truth found in this lesson but there is more.

As we listen to Jesus’s response about the other nine who did not return, it’s true He seemed disappointed but He didn’t take back their healing. They were unthankful but Jesus doesn’t take back His gifts just because we’re not as thankful as we should be. This too is a great comfort for Christians because I know I’m not always as thankful as I should be and I’m sure you aren’t either.

The Scriptures don’t tell us what happened to those nine healed lepers. I imagine they went and showed themselves to the priests just like Jesus told them to. We just don’t know … but we do know about the Samaritan.

The Samaritan returned and fell at Jesus feet with his face to the ground. That is, he came and worshipped Him. By returning to glorify God, and thank Jesus we see what he believed that is he confessed that Jesus was the Lord. He confessed that, as he looked at Jesus, he was looking at the Son of God. The one who had been dying not only in his leprosy but more so his sin was by grace made alive in Jesus. The Holy Spirit had worked in him the gift of faith, and as Jesus said … your faith has made you well. (Luke 17:19)

Now there are some scholars who wonder if the Holy Spirit led this Samaritan to go his way by remaining with Jesus and His disciples. And it certainly is possible that the Holy Spirit led this man to join the other Passover Pilgrims walking with the Eternal High Priest. The Scriptures just don’t say. If he did walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, he would have seen a very different high priest than the other nine who were healed.

I mean Jesus is the High Priest who not only offered up the sacrifice, but offered Himself as the sacrifice. The priests in Jerusalem offered lambs, goats, and other animals for the forgiveness of sins as they were commanded. But these were all but shadows that pointed forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that is His Only Begotten Son. If this Samaritan did walk with Jesus, he would have been a witness to his great high priest being lifted up from the earth on a cross and left there to die.

And there, whether the Samaritan understood it or not Jesus performed a miracle far greater than the healing of his leprosy. For on that cross Jesus offered Himself as the cup to be filled with the full measure of God’s wrath against sin. And with the giving up of His Spirit Jesus satisfied God’s justice so that this Samaritan could also be cleansed of his sin.

And not him alone, as we read in 1 John: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) which of course includes you and me.

And you and I do need this cleansing not from leprosy of course, truth is we suffer from a much worse condition, that is we are full of sin. Our bodies may be clean and we all smell nice but still we all do need daily to be cleansed of our sin. One look in the mirror of the law confirms it, we all need the gifts that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death on the cross.

And with His resurrection Jesus in His mercy has promised us a much greater cleansing than the healing of leprosy. He who has conquered death has promised that there will come a day when He will raise all the dead. Some of those who sleep in death will awaken to shame and everlasting condemnation, but you and I and all who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin will awaken to everlasting life.

We are gathered here this evening because the leaders of our nation have declared tomorrow to be a national day of thanksgiving. But the truth is only we, who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can truly be thankful. We can give thanks to God for the physical blessings He has generously poured out upon us who live in this blessed nation, but even more for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that we receive by faith in Jesus Christ.

It’s true, Christians are the only ones who can truly give thanks because only Christians give thanks to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks for life today with all its blessing, and thanks for life eternal from Him who exceeds all our expectations.

In His Name, Amen

Safety (Not) Guaranteed

November 19, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Safety (Not) Guaranteed
Matthew 25:14-30

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, the parable of the three servants, but especially the third servant and his sheepish reply to his Master, … ‘I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“Safety first!” I’m sure we’ve all heard this old adage before – from sweet grandmothers and mothers looking out for the children under their care, to the driver’s ed classes and the reminders of what happens when you’re NOT a safe driver (I’m sure some people here were forced to watch “Red Asphalt” at some point), to the mandatory meetings and videos I’m sure people are required to attend and watch to fulfill the requirements of the human resources department where they work. Perhaps, though, the maxim of “Safety first” is seen in no place better than on playgrounds. I’m sure people my age and older remember playing on equipment that, by today’s standards, would have been condemned as horrific “safety hazards.” The jungle gyms and forts at my elementary school were made of wood and metal, with tire swings and a giant stride (if you even know what that is), and do you know what? It was AMAZING; not surprisingly, all that equipment has been gone for at least a decade now. The classic wood chips that we had to empty from our shoes has been replaced with cushioned mats, the metal slides that baked our backsides on sunny days have been replaced with plastic ones, and the tire swings and giant stride are just … gone. Gone in the name of safety. Safety first.

That seems to have been the attitude of one of the servants mentioned in our Gospel reading. The story goes like this: a Master had three servants and, before leaving on a journey, He entrusted to them His wealth. To one, He gives a small fortune – five talents, equivalent to 5-years’ salary. To the next, He gives two talents, and to the final servant, He gives one talent, and lest you think He’s being unkind in not distributing His wealth equally, this Master is being smart – Jesus says that He gives to them each according to his ability, so that the one who has more financial know-how has more to do with as he sees fit.

The Master goes on His journey, and in His absence, the servants carry on being stewards of what the Master had given them. The first servant is apparently quite savvy, even though he is, undoubtedly, a risk-taker, investing the Master’s five talents and in the process, doubling what he had been given. The one who’s given two talents has a similar idea, with similar results – doubling what he had been given. But that third servant … the one entrusted with only one talent … leans upon the axiom of “Safety first!” and does nothing. Granted, he doesn’t do anything bad – he doesn’t take that one talent, that one year’s salary, and blow it on pleasurable company or gambling. However, neither does he do anything good with it. He doesn’t even place it in a bank, where it could have accrued interest! He plays it safe, burying it in the ground, and as sometimes is the case, “playing it safe” comes back to bite him in the tuchus. The Master returns from His journey, and is delighted to see that the first two servants have done exceedingly well with the riches He entrusted to them. They made Him richer, and for this, He gives them highest praise – Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master!

Then … He comes to the third servant. You can imagine the sheepish look on that servant’s face as he fesses up, Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours. He thought he’d taken the safe route; neither did he make anything additional, but at least he didn’t lose it, either! Safety first, right? That should count for something, right?

You can imagine the surprise and, really, the horror that must have fell upon that servant as the Master spoke. You wicked … and slothful … servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? You know that, do you? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest! So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away! And cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Wow. Harsh. Perhaps it sounds uncharacteristically harsh for a parable coming from the lips of our Lord, but here’s the thing: the Master is fully justified in carrying out this sentence on the wicked servant. That guy had one job to do … and because he feared for his safety, because he feared the retribution of what would happen if he failed … he ended up failing. His fear paralyzed him, preventing him from doing what he had been given to do. Safety first? It’s a nice sentiment, but safety is not guaranteed in this parable. Perhaps a better take away here is another well-known adage: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” or perhaps a similar one, “No sacrifice, no victory.”

So that’s our parable for today, and obviously, as a parable, it’s not meant to be taken literally; again, the different things, different characters represent something else in order to convey an eternal truth. We should not read this as Jesus giving us financial advice, or Jesus saying that CPA’s and investors are the crème de la crème in the kingdom of God. No, we need to look at who Jesus is speaking with in order to get the full gravity of this parable.

Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of a discourse that began in Matthew 24, where the Gospel-writer records, As [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In our parable, Jesus is speaking with – and to – His disciples, those soon-to-be apostles, soon-to-be “sent ones,” who would be going out into the world to proclaim the resurrection of Christ from the dead and the coming of the kingdom of God, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and condemnation for the unrepentant! This parable is meant for them, for all those who are tasked with spreading this Gospel message. Thus, Jesus is also speaking to all who follow in His train, to all Christians throughout time and space. Yes, my friends. He’s speaking to us, and the “talents” that Jesus has entrusted us with is the same good news that was entrusted to the apostles those centuries ago. So, of course, the question becomes, which of the adages have you followed? “No sacrifice, no victory”? Or, “Safety first”? If we’re honest, I think we can all say that we’ve erred on the side of “Safety first” more than we’d care to admit. I know I have.

If you’re like me, there have been moments which were perfect opportunities for witness … and you kept silent, for fear of rejection, or anger. When you had the opportunity to reach out to help someone in body and soul … you stayed put and lifted not even a finger. When you had the opportunity to comfort a nonbelieving neighbor … you played it safe and said nothing. Even the most fervent missionaries among us, I’m sure, have had moments like this where we follow the path of least resistance. And for this, we should be ashamed. We ought well to be ashamed and contrite for our lack of compassion, choosing complacency and comfort over the necessary awkwardness that comes with addressing sin. We should be ashamed of our love of comfort, our reviling of things that make us work harder in service of God and neighbor. “God forbid that we have to actually sacrifice something in our lives for our faith! God forbid we actually have to make time for devotions and prayer! God forbid we give something up, like a pew or parking space, for visitors!” Friends, for this, we should be ashamed. We, like the third servant, have failed. We should be ashamed that we choose safety over mission. Make no mistake, we will not hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” because we stay silent and unmoving! Safety is not guaranteed if we play it safe!

We are, instead, called to be bold, daring even. We are called to be risk-takers with the gift our Lord has given us, to follow the adage, “No sacrifice, no victory!” After all, Christ Himself did not play it safe. He is one Servant, a suffering Servant, who did not take the path of least resistance, but rather walked the Via Dolorosa. He endured the worst suffering imaginable, forgoing any comfort that could have been His. Far from pursuing safety, He died the cruelest death ever conceived, and He did all this … for a people who, by their very nature, hate Him. That is a the more difficult path, to be sure. Safety was not guaranteed by any means for Christ our Lord, but “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “No sacrifice, no victory.”

I say this, not to exhort you to be more like Jesus, as if He’s a mere example to follow. No, I say this to encourage you with the reminder that, because of His risk-taking, because of His boldness in the face of suffering and death, your safety, in one sense, is guaranteed! Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you can rest in security and safety, knowing that you rest safely in His hands, and that nothing in this world can separate you from your Savior! You can rest in the knowledge that, in spite of your flesh which aspires to nothing but complacency, comfort, and safety … in the waters of holy Baptism, you were given the Spirit of the living God who, by no virtue of your own, enables you both to will and to do what you are called to do! We have our moments of weakness, of putting safety first instead of the daring investment we know is required of us, but thanks be to God that the suffering Servant did so in our stead, and for His sake, on the Last Day, we will hear the Master declare to us, Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Urgency and Comfort

November 12, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Urgency and Comfort
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, especially where he wrote, But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. … Therefore encourage one another with these words. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Sutherland Springs - 26. Las Vegas - 59. Hurricane Maria – 66. Hurricane Irma – 134. Hurricane Harvey – 77. It seems as though death has been running roughshod lately. Obviously, death is literally an everyday occurrence the world over regardless of how it happens, but lately, it seems to be exceedingly prominent in our country, and this is to say nothing of the tragedies experienced on the individual level. A revered grandfather who was supposed to leave the hospital that day … suddenly taking a turn for the worse. A father who had been doing quite well and improving … suddenly being called to rest. A lovely cousin, the last of her family, being called quite unexpectedly to her Savior. A beloved mother whose steady decline finally culminated in her falling asleep in Christ.

With this in mind, to be perfectly frank, these past few weeks and months have been rather odious. They’ve been terrible, gnarly, seeing the wages of sin paraded before our very eyes as people speak their last words, breathe their last breaths, make last final confessions, and close their eyes before soul and body are torn asunder in a way that was never meant to be. Death is the reminder that we are, all of us, sinners, equally worthy of the temporal and eternal judgment of God. We never know when death will come a-knocking; if you’re familiar with the first Thor movie, you’ll remember the god of thunder’s line, “I have no plans to die today,” to which the guardian Heimdall replies, “None do.” There are few things as intrusive, as abrupt, as seemingly final, as death.

After all, there is no reincarnation (thank God!). There are no second chances after death, especially in terms of salvation. One life, one chance, one death, then the judgment, as the writer of Hebrews essentially once wrote. Never knowing when death may take us, never knowing when death may take a loved one, indeed, never knowing at what point in time Christ will return for the final judgment, rightly makes us uneasy, never mind the grief that those of us who are left here are left to deal with. We mourn, rightly so, not only from the physical absence of that loved one, those family members who have gone before us, but it also causes us to mourn because their deaths also tend to give us all pause, to contemplate our own temporal existence, and how fast that time is fleeting.

Death is atrocious; it was not meant to be in creation. It is the natural consequence of sin, both on the individual level, and on the corporate level. We die – we are, even now, dying – because we are sinners. We are dying because of the sins we commit, but more than that, because of our inherited sinful nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. We know this, we confess it, and we mourn when our loved ones pass – but that is not where we stop.

We have a hope. That hope is found in Paul’s words again to the Christians in Thessalonica. Hear those words again: [W]e do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Yes, our loved ones are gone, and rightly so, their physical presence in our lives will be sorely missed, but we know it is not the end. The souls of those who have gone before us in the faith live on in the presence of Christ the King. They rest now – rest from their earthly labors and vocations, rest from pain and rest from wrong. Rest from sin and all of sin’s effects, never again to be tormented by things left unsaid or undone. Never again to be hounded, as Paul was, by the good that we ought to do and do not, and the evil that we ought not to do, and yet persist in doing. There is rest from sorrow, rest from tears. Rest from heresy and wrong teaching – since they are in the very presence of their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, they see Him rightly in a way we cannot imagine but nevertheless greatly anticipate!

Sounds good, right? Sounds blissful and wonderful beyond all compare, right? Well, certainly to those of us who dwell here in this broken world, absolutely. It is little wonder that Paul wrote to the Philippians, I am hard pressed between the two [options]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Some days, rest from … well, all of this, certainly sounds preferable. To be with Christ is preferable; that is why we treasure the Lord’s Supper so highly, since it is literally Jesus coming to us, to give us Himself in bread and wine, body and blood. But eternity is not the ethereal, spiritual floating in bliss and joy. Eternity is not life-after-death, but rather life after life-after-death.

Therein lies our hope, dear friends! We are whole persons, body and soul, and we are not meant to remain simply soul after death. No, our hope lies in the fast-approaching time that Paul goes on to describe in our Epistle lesson: For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

It is worth briefly mentioning here that the return of Christ will not be as it is popularly portrayed by dispensational premillennialists, like those who wrote the Left Behind series, with the “secret returns of Jesus” and people being suddenly snatched out of thin air, leaving unbelievers behind to make their decision for Christ. No, the text here actually says, a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. Doesn’t sound very secret or quiet to me! Further, the ones who will be left behind, as told in the text, are Christians who wait their turn, since they’re still alive, for the faithful dead to be raised and caught up into the air to join Christ. Only thereafter will those who are still alive likewise receive the glory and be joined with Jesus, where they will remain eternally!

At times of death, when our loved ones who confessed the faith in life depart to rest with Christ the King, these are the things with which we encourage those who are left behind to grieve! Christ IS coming back! And when He does – whether we are still alive or are at rest with the rest of the Church invisible – life will be made right again! Death, the adversary, will be done away with, swallowed up forever in life! No one knows the hour – not the hour in which the Lord would call us to rest, or the hour in which Christ will return. But we have nothing to fear, my friends! Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again, Christ departed, and Christ is returning soon! I’ll leave you, as a lover of poetry, with the words of John Donne in his holy sonnet, Death, Be Not Proud:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
 
And it is Jesus Who will swing the axe.

+ In His holy and powerful Name. + Amen.

Blessed in Him

November 05, 2017
By Pastor David French

See the Weekly Bulletin

Blessed in Him
Matthew 5:1-12

Have you ever noticed how when things in life are out of focus if you will, problems seem to multiply. Today is one of those days that if a pastor and his hearers aren’t careful, things can get out of focus and go off the theological track pretty quick. I say that because it’s not unusual for the true meaning and joy of All Saints Day to be swallowed up and lost in a flurry of good intentions but bad theology.

For instance, with the very best intentions we can find ourselves focusing on our deceased loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord, which means we’re taking our focus off of Jesus. While I’m sure it’s not meant this way and it’s almost always after the funeral, but I often hear “So-and-so has gone to be with grandma and grandpa or their husband or wife missing the source of true comfort. Sadly, we often end up focusing on our own sentimental wonderings instead of on Jesus who comforts us in all of our sorrows.

Consider the words of our Lord from the Beatitudes and you tell me who these Beatitudes are about? Who they focused on? The popular response is to say, “us”! But…should that be our first response? And notice: I didn’t say it was wrong to see the Beatitudes as speaking to us and our reality in Christ. They are about us! But…are we the primary focus? Think about it: By a show of hands who here has fulfilled even one of these Beatitudes as God intended? Look around, do you see any hands … did you expect to?

My friends the Beatitudes are simply not goals for us to strive after in our quest to be a saint. They are not descriptions of what we need to do or attitudes we need to have. That would put the focus of this text on you and me and what we do, and we all know that just isn’t how God’s plan of salvation works. In God’s plan, all the focus is on Jesus and what He’s done for us with His life, by His death, and through His resurrection.

The Beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. These blessed realities can only be understood with a Christ centered faith, that is a faith that holds to Christ alone. I mean, who is the One who was truly poor in spirit; that is, who brought nothing to the table except His trust in God above all things? Who is the One who truly mourns over sins; not just the sins that make life rough for us, but all sin; even the sins we’re not sorry for and will do again if we get the chance? Our sin touched Christ so deeply in His heart that He was willing to offer His blood as payment for each and every one of them. Christ’s desire is that no one would suffer for their sin. Can you honestly say that?

Who is it that has unconditional mercy on others, who truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness? Is it you because I know it’s not me. Isn’t it Christ whose being described with these words? Don’t the Scriptures, at the end of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, say He was hungry? And wasn’t this hunger and the thirst He speaks of from the cross endured for you and your eternal salvation?

You see the Beatitudes are first about what Christ has earned with His life and then about the reality of our sainthood, our holiness and our blessedness in Him. And so we get credit for what Jesus did at the time we are united to or graphed into or what we more commonly call baptized into Christ. This is why Jesus says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for My sake.

That is people aren’t attacked by satan, the world and their own flesh for “being good.” Satan isn’t trying to make sure no good deed goes unpunished. That’s man’s idea. God’s children, His holy ones are attacked by satan for one reason … they have a righteousness that is not their own. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5: God made him who had no sin to be sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This, what’s called, “alien righteousness” possessed by His saints is why God calls His saints “blessed,” and it’s why satan continues to fight the way he does.

But please understand there is a difference between being attacked by satan and being reproved, or corrected by God, even though they may feel the same. Certainly, there times that God uses our suffering or allows crosses into our lives to get our attention but that’s only so that by His grace He might lead you back from your selfish, sinful ways to the way of repentance a way made possible by faith in Him alone.

This fallen, sinful world and its evil prince can’t stand those who truly trust in Christ alone. The truth is: If you’re in Christ, the world will hate you. Satan will target you, and your sinful flesh will try to deceive you relentlessly. My friends it’s not a matter of if. It’s not a probability or a possibility or a maybe. It’s a fact. It’s reality.

Being faithful to God while living in this fallen world will mean crosses and tears and heartaches and sorrows. That’s why God invites and we come to Him in the Divine Service; to hear His Word, to receive His absolution for your sins, to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for life and forgiveness, and to be strengthened that you might strive to live fearlessly and faithfully in your Baptismal reality.

And that’s the point that needs to be made. It’s only in Christ, by grace through faith that we are able to live out these Beatitudes in our daily lives and vocations, not trying to somehow earn God’s blessings, but simply living the life He’s already blessed us with. That is; blessed us with His grace, His mercy, His peace. Being in Christ we are by grace able to faithfully bear our crosses trusting His forgiveness and standing firm as the world crumbles around us.

In Christ and because of Christ we can be poor in spirit, that is trusting that God is in charge and working all things for our good. In Christ and because of Christ we can dare to call sin “sin” and publicly mourn over it, letting the world know the truth of its sick and deadly condition before its Maker and Redeemer.

We can dare to be meek and lowly, not seeking vengeance or payback or selfish glory or our own ways. We can dare to bite our tongues, turn our cheeks, and quietly suffer persecution, knowing full-well that God is in charge and we are already blessed by Him because we are in Him. We have already been claimed by Him. We and all who by grace trust His promises are His and nothing or no one can snatch this truth away from us.

So, what are we to do? By the faith He gives, trust God’s word both written and incarnate. That’s what all the faithful saints, of all times and in all places, have always done. No matter what’s happening in the world, the saints of Christ flee to His House where He has promised to be to receive from Him a foretaste of the feast to come; a feast that all the faithful who have gone before us are enjoying right now at the heavenly half of the Lord’s Table, a Table we too will one day sit at. A Table full of the splendor and glory of Him who on this day is also serving His love and forgiveness to you, His precious child.

In His Name, Amen.

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