Archives - November 2019

More Than Counting Blessings

November 27, 2019
By Rev. David French

From ancient times cultures around the world have observed some kind of annual harvest festival. Whether civic or religious, these thanksgiving festivals marked the completion of the annual cycle of seedtime and harvest.

Today we still put out a cornucopia, but as a culture, the focus is more often on enjoying a long weekend, overeating, football, and, for many, shopping. It’s also true that we’re not deaf to reports of famine, civil war, and natural disasters around the world, so, to some degree, we do realize how much we have to be thankful for.

To be sure, there are those who have lost their job, who struggle to raise a family on a minimal income, who have experienced a serious illness or loss of a loved one. The human race is a fallen race, and we all bear the scars of sin.

But how do our individual fortunes, good or bad, fit in with Thanksgiving? The truth is, good years as well as bad ones should have the same effect on us. Both should help us realize our complete dependence on God as the source of all that’s good and as the only protection against all that’s evil. That is, Thanksgiving is about more than counting blessings.

Jesus began His parable, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully” (v 16b). That’s a good thing, right? Is there anything wrong with a nice house or a comfortable pension? Certainly not, in and of themselves. I mean yes, we refer to this lesson as the parable of “the rich fool,” but it’s not for being rich that he’s called a fool. The man was a fool because of the wrong conclusions he drew from his riches.

What really reveals the man’s foolishness is that with all his foresight and planning, he never once considered the most important truth of all. That reality was made clear when God said to him, “… This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v 20).

Clearly, he doesn’t seem to believe these things were never really his. Listen again, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? … I will do this: I will tear down my barns, I will store all my grain and my goods. And (the clencher), I will say to my soul ….” You get the point.

It’s so easy and natural for people like us who sit here this evening to talk and think that way. My job, my house, my car, my money, my life ... even though we all know the answer to the question, “But are they really ours?” Yes, we know the best farmer can’t cause seed to germinate, rain to fall, or the sun to shine. We know these and other blessings are ours only in the sense that God has entrusted them to us to use and to manage for a time. Be on your guard against the temptation the rich man was trapped by, that is, forgetting that we will all give an account for our use or misuse of the blessings God has entrusted to our care.

The reason God’s judgment sounds so harsh to us is there’s an opportunity for a bit of self-reflection in the irony of God’s judgement. If you listen, you can hear God say, “You want to talk about yourself. Okay, let’s talk about you. You’re a fool! Not because you’ve had a good crop or plan to build bigger barns. You’re a fool because your plans are all about you and your focus on the here and now.”

When King Solomon looked back on a long and distinguished reign, he asked, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccl 1:3). His point is that all earthly gains are temporary. But remember that’s not only true of the blessings we experience, it’s also true of the burdens and sorrows that come our way. They’re all temporary conditions that affect only the life we’re given to live here on earth. In Christ there is a greater reality that finds its fulfillment when our soul returns to God.

Jesus told this parable because someone asked him to settle a dispute over an inheritance. Jesus knew that this was not just a matter of the equitable distribution of wealth. This was a request triggered by greed.

Disputes about an inheritance or any other kind of wealth arise because people set their hearts on the wrong kind of riches. In our baptisms we are born of water and spirit into a new life, a life that is not dependent on earthly wealth or pleasures for success or happiness, a life that lasts, a life that brings a joy that cannot be found in the things of this world.

That new life is a gift of our gracious God, who offers both eternal riches and unending joy purchased with the blood of His Son, our Savior, Jesus, the very Christ of God. He came into this world as King of kings and Lord of lords, yet he had no home, no fancy clothes, no place to lay His head. Still, on the Last Day, every knee will bow before Him. Why? Because he was poor? No, it is because He faithfully carried out the will of the Father to pay for the sin of all humanity.

Again, why? Simply put, we were created in the image God to be His treasured possession. Our heavenly Father’s love for us knows no limits. We are the crown of His creation. Our first parents, however, chose not to follow God’s way but their own way, and that was the beginning of the sorry story that is the history of the human race. And that, because their way, the way we inherited and eagerly put into practice, leads to death. God would have been fully justified if He had just let us walk that path to our own eternal destruction.

But, that was not His will nor His plan for us. And so, Jesus, true God and true man born of the virgin, paid the price to bring us back to the Father. He offered His perfect life on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. And on Easter morning with His resurrection, He reclaimed us as God’s own sons and daughters.

We have been assured of an eternal home with Christ in heaven. We are heirs of a priceless inheritance, but that inheritance is not measured in dollars and cents. As Jesus says a few verses after our lesson ends, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

So, enjoy your earthly blessings today and every day, be they: physical, financial, or emotional, but always take to heart the truth that it is God who has blessed you with them, and be thankful. Ya know, I used to thank God for all His blessings, both great and small, until I realized there is no such thing as a small blessing when it comes to you from the hand of your Creator.

But still, the gift of His Son is different. For while the gift of His Son was given for all, in your baptism His promise was spoken to you by name. So, you and all who believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sins can live in this sorry world knowing, even now, we are heirs of eternal riches this world will never understand.

                                                                                           In His name, Amen.

A Round Trip

November 24, 2019
By Rev. David French

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” These words from Luke 9 begin what’s known as the journey narrative the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include in his gospel. For nearly fourteen chapters, we have walked with Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem. There have been miracles, great teachings, and interesting parables, but always in the background there was the journey and His appointment with a cross. In today’s reading we find Jesus keeping that appointment.

Jesus regularly took His disciples aside and said to them, for example in Luke 18, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” There’s no doubt that Jesus knew exactly what waited for Him in Jerusalem. And yet, “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”

The Holy Spirit in His infinite wisdom divided the narrative of the crucifixion up between the four gospel writers with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each adding their own unique perspective to our understanding of the events of that day. This morning we heard Luke’s focus on the words of forgiveness that Jesus spoke from the cross.

Now, it’s not hard to imagine that the members of the crucifixion squad heard all kinds of words coming out the mouths of their victims … cursing, begging, cries of anguish …. But I would guess that none of them had ever heard someone pray for their forgiveness as they were being crucified. How strange it must have been to hear the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

These words of Jesus, however, bring incredible comfort to the soul who understands that he or she sins more often than he or she knows. If you’ve ever wondered, “Can I really have forgiveness for a sin I don’t even know about?” Well, Jesus is praying for the forgiveness of executioners who do not know what they are doing.

In his explanation of confession in his Small Catechism, Luther asked, “What sins should we confess?” His answer was, “Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer ….” We also read in Psalm 19, “Who can discern his errors?” So yes, Jesus still forgives us even for the sins we don’t know about, just like He forgave the sins of those soldiers who crucified Him. That also means that if or when you feel the need to speak with a pastor for private confession, you don’t have to worry about sharing every little detail of your sin. Honestly, I don’t want to know every little detail, only the beast, if you will, that you’re wrestling with, that you might be forgiven. But understand, forgiveness removes the sin and its spiritual consequences, but not necessarily the earthly consequences of the sin. That is, if you rob a bank, you can be forgiven, but you will still go to jail.

The other word of forgiveness that Luke recorded in today’s gospel went to the criminal who occupied the cross next to Jesus. This was a man who knew about his sin. He confessed for himself and the other criminal when he said, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” That is, he confesses that he had earned his place on his cross with his crimes. Jesus looks at him and says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” That is, you are forgiven.

The words of Jesus to the criminal are a comfort for those who wonder if they are too far gone, to evil to receive forgiveness, or if it’s just too late? The criminal who confessed that he deserved to die had to have done some really bad things. I mean, Rome didn’t crucify people for having overdue library books or unpaid parking tickets. Only the worst criminals died on the cross. No, this guy did something big, like murder or something along those lines.

Let me ask you, have you ever heard someone say something like, “I think the roof would cave in if I ever walked into a church”? I’ve heard that a lot, especially at wedding rehearsals. If you have, you can gently or even light-heartedly remind them that, like the thief on the cross, even they are offered forgiveness by Jesus.

Remember, the primary purpose for this service today and every week is for God to serve you the forgiveness of your sins. In the divine service, where two or more are gathered in His Name, God comes to His children, to us. And with His Word and Sacraments, He serves us the forgiveness His Son earned for us all. As Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve.”

So, with these few words spoken by Jesus as He hung on the cross, we’re given a very broad definition of what “forgiveness of sins is for everyone” means. Paul said it this way in our epistle lesson, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Clearly, it is the blood of Christ shed on the cross that reconciled, or made peace between, God and all things. And, all things certainly includes all of humanity. It includes the criminal on the cross next to Jesus, and it includes you … no matter what sin attacks your conscience with its guilt, in Christ you and all who trust in Him are forgiven.

We also learn of the alternative to the terrors of God’s wrath against our sin. When Jesus went to the cross, He took our punishment. That is, He endured God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus has satisfied God’s justice for us.

Why? So that we might be adopted by grace and restored into His family through the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus made it possible for you and me to stand before God not seeing – a terrifying judge – but a loving Father. In Christ we receive – not the eternal punishment we deserve – but life forever in the indescribable joy of living in the fullness of His presence. That, my friends, is truly good news.

Today’s the last Sunday of the church year. During this church year we’ve focused primarily on the Gospel according to Luke. Yes, we’ve heard from Matthew, Mark, and John from time to time, but for the most part, we’ve heard from Luke. And, the good doctor Luke has given us an account of Christ that includes a great journey. That journey, however, is a round trip. It began as the Son of God descended from His throne to take on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It ended as that same Son of God, in human flesh, ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father.

During this journey, Jesus paid for the sins, or redeemed, all of mankind from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He cleared the way for all to stand before Almighty God without fear. Christ’s journey, by grace thorough faith, is also our journey, a journey we travel knowing that for all who hold to His promise of forgiveness, the day of His coming leads – not to a day of terror – but to a day we pray for, an eternity day of heavenly joy and peace.

In His name, Amen

The Time Is Drawing Near

November 17, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ 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 text, where Luke records Jesus’s words, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once. … Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Here ends our text, dear Christian friends…

Several years ago, I was driving home from seminary for Christmas break when I received an unexpected phone call from an old friend. This friend … was not religious. At all. Still isn’t, I don’t think, but she was very worried at the time. See, back then, there had been a hoopla raised about the Mayan calendar, pointing to December 21, 2012 being the end of the world as we know it, and while she was not religious, she wondered if there might be some legitimacy to the claim. Hurricane Sandy had just hit about a month prior, there had been some pretty strong earthquakes throughout the world, civil unrest here and abroad, and she was just worried. Since she’s not religious, I was pretty surprised that she reached out to me, but was nevertheless happy that she did. I explained to her, from the Christian perspective, no one knows the hour when this world, this cosmos, will end, and I found it highly dubious that the ancient Mayans would have been privy to such information. I think I ended the conversation by telling her that the Father is the One Who says when the world ends, when Jesus returns, and while He could certainly decide to call it quits on that December 21st, I was highly skeptical, if for no other reason than to say that God is not mocked, and when He says “No one knows the hour,” He means it.

Lo and behold, that December 21st came … and went. The Mayans were wrong. Harold Camping was wrong. The Y2Kers were wrong. John Hagee was wrong. We’re still here. And barring Jesus’s return, I know there will be some politicians who will be surprised when we are still here 13 years from now. There’s nothing new about this; go back about a thousand years, and people worried that 1033 – the supposed 1000-year anniversary of Jesus’s crucifixion – would mean the end of the world as we know it. Why? Why has there been so much concern and intrigue and attempts to figure out when the end will finally and at long last come? I think primarily, that it’s fear – of the unknown, of death, of pain and suffering. At least, that’s the picture that Jesus paints of what the end will be like.

Our text starts with the disciples marveling at the newly-finished temple, in all its splendor and glory. They were adoring the noble stones and offerings, but Jesus cuts all that short by saying, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Jarring in light of their wonder, the disciples then proceed to press Jesus about this event that He’s just described: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” The disciples think they’re asking these two questions about a singular event, equating the destruction of the temple with the end of the world, but they are not. There are two events here: one that happens in time, and one that happens at the end of time. In any case, Jesus does not answer the question of when, but He does point to the signs of what to expect, for both events. Since the temple has already been destroyed back in AD 70, for today, let’s focus on the signs Jesus points to regarding the end.

“Nation will rise against nation,” Jesus tells His disciples, “and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. … And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

It’s easy to see why people have been freaking out as of late. It seems like everything has been happening! Wars and tumults! Nation against nation! Earthquakes, famine, pestilence! Persecution! False prophets! The heavenly bodies doing weird things! Asteroids skimming the earth’s atmosphere! Blood moons! Solar flares! It all seems like, the end is here!

And Jesus's response is … “So what?” Our response should be, “So what?” True, we are sinners, and sinners hate to think of their mortality, they hate to think about the unknown. They hate it … we hate it … because we fear it. We fear death and what lies beyond. Perhaps, we even are worried that we will be counted among the arrogant and all evildoers whom Malachi describes as being consumed like a fire burning up stubble. We know we’re sinners, and we fear that we’re not good enough to be spared that consuming fire when the end comes.

Here’s the truth: you’re not good enough. And neither am I. None of us are good enough, and we should all rightly be condemned to the unquenchable fires of perdition. But thanks be to God that we don’t need to be good enough … because Jesus was good enough for us. He did what we never could: keeping the Law of God perfectly and paying the price for all our sins when He died on the cross. By His atoning sacrifice, you are forgiven all your sins, and God has proclaimed you to be good enough – not by what you’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done for you!

This is why we need fear neither death nor the end! You can rest assured, knowing Jesus has promised that all your sins are forgiven and that you will be with Him in the life of the world to come! Do you believe that? Let it be to you as you believe! That’s partially the reason why Jesus ends this whole discourse by saying, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” You and I need not fear what awaits us on the other side of the grave: we know what’s there for us! Life everlasting with the crucified and resurrected King of kings and Lord of lords in the perfectly restored creation!

I don’t know if the end will come before I even finish this sermon – it’d be awesome if it did! The signs are all there, just as they always have been; indeed, Christ’s return has always been just a second away. But that news needn’t be a source of fear and dread; it should rightly be news of great and exceeding joy! Our world, in all its sin and brokenness, is ending! The new heavens and the new earth is just a heartbeat away, and will be until the Father decides that the time has come! It’s true that the end is near, my friends; therefore, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

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

Tags: Luke 21:5-28

By His Word

November 10, 2019
By Rev. David French

One of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to Christians is the ability to understand the Scriptures.  Unbelievers do not have this gift … as the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3, “[Moses] would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” The Holy Spirit also inspired Luke to describe that teaching of Jesus with these words, [Luke 24:45] “Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is, believers have minds that have been opened by Christ to understand the Scriptures, and unbelievers have minds that remain veiled and are unable to understand the Scriptures. 

Today’s Gospel reading is an encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were very different from the Pharisees. Instead of trying to work their way into heaven, the Sadducees simply denied the existence of heaven. The Sadducees denied the existence of heaven, hell, angels, and just about everything else that is in the spiritual realm. I’m oversimplifying, but they pretty much believed that this life is all there is.

Under normal circumstances, the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t get along. The Pharisees were busy earning their way into heaven, and the Sadducees were always trying to prove there is no heaven. Both were wrong and both, in their own way, demonstrate the veiled thinking of those who reject the teachings of Christ.

In our lesson we find Jesus at the temple just a few days before He’ll be nailed to the cross. The temple authorities had already decided that He must die. But still, not wanting to upset the Romans, they were concerned about how to arrest Jesus without causing a riot among the Passover Pilgrims. For now, they were occasionally sending small groups of “spies,” if you will, to see if they could get Jesus to say or do anything that would lower His standing among the people. If they could put Him in a no-win situation in front of the people, then maybe, they could arrest Him without incident. 

The Sadducees tried to show that eternity makes no sense based on a teaching from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 called a “Levirate marriage” which was a part of the social and economic safety net to preserve their culture. Specifically, if a husband died without a son, the nearest male relative was to take the widow as his wife. The first son born to them would become the legal heir of the dead husband so that the name and property of the family would be preserved into the next generation.

So, the Sadducees come up with a hypothetical situation about seven brothers who in turn marry the same woman in accordance with the statute of levirate marriage. Then they ask Jesus which brother will be the woman’s husband in eternity. The question reveals the veil that covered their minds. They assumed that life in eternity will be the same as life here in time. They just couldn’t seem to wrap their minds around the idea that life in heaven might be totally different than life on this earth.

A lot of people today have that same problem, that is, they make up their own truth based on their own ideas and feelings about something they heard sometime somewhere. The problem is, they also are trying to understand eternity based on their experiences in this temporary world. They’re unable to see the truth because their minds are covered by the same veil that coved the Sadducees in our lesson. This is simply the blind leading the blind.

Now, we all begin our earthly lives with a veil over our minds. We live with the curse of Adam and Eve’s sin. The truth is, when they disobeyed, they corrupted the entire human race. From that time, all who have been born in the natural way have been born in the image of Adam with minds that are veiled.  That veil remains until, mercifully, it is removed by Christ through His word, that we might believe and come to trust that same word.

Jesus replied by reminding the Sadducees of the instructions God gave to Adam and Eve and to Noah and his family, [Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1] “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” That is, the primary objective of marriage is to grow the human race. But husband and wife are not only to produce children. A husband is to sacrifice himself for the well-being of his wife and children so that his children will grow up in a God-pleasing, loving, nurturing, and safe environment. The wife in turn is to receive her husband’s service with thanksgiving and respect so that parents may work together to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

That means, because the human race multiplies here in time, the role of marriage is fulfilled here in time. There is no need for marriage in eternity. The Sadducees hypothetical situation was irrelevant. It simply showed that their minds were veiled.

Jesus continues to teach as He shows the reasonable nature of the resurrection from the dead as He turns to the Word of God spoken to Moses from the burning bush. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Jesus proclaimed that the true God “... is not the God of the dead but of the living.” That is, Jesus showed them their rejection of the resurrection makes no sense when you consider how God identified Himself to Moses.

Less than a week after this last test with the Sadducees, Jesus would prove the reality of the resurrection by rising from the dead. I’m sure it’s no surprise, but Jesus is the only person in all of history to predict not only His death, but also His resurrection from the dead. Throughout His ministry Jesus regularly and clearly taught that evil men would arrest Him and kill Him and that, on the third day, He would rise. Jesus said that He would rise from the dead, and Jesus kept His Word.

The temple authorities were never able to embarrass Jesus in debate, but they did get their wish.  Judas, one of Jesus’s own disciples, offered to betray Jesus to them. Finally, they had a way to arrest Jesus without causing a riot. Judas would, for thirty pieces of silver, betray Jesus into their hands. They convicted Jesus in an “emergency, middle of the night, closed court trial,” and backed the Roman governor into a political corner so that, on the Friday after Jesus had encountered the Sadducees, God’s word was again fulfilled as Jesus hung on a cross. There, hidden from veiled minds, Jesus paid for the sin of the world. There, as skies turned dark, He redeemed you and me from the power of the devil. There, He claimed you as His own. Jesus freely and willingly surrendered His life to save you from eternal death.

As you know, it was on the first day of the week that Jesus then proved the truth of the resurrection. He showed Himself to His disciples. He showed that He is indeed the God of the living. He showed His teachings are true. He gave us the eternal promise that those who die in Him will also rise and live with Him forever.

It is by His Word that God reveals that you and I and all who have been baptized have been united with Christ in His death. It is by His Word that God reveals that all who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin have, by grace through faith, already joined Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob among the living, that you also are a forgiven child of God.

In His Name, Amen

What's the Focus?

November 03, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

The text for our meditation on this All Saints’ weekend is from our first reading where John records part of his vision, "Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, 'Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?' I said to him, 'Sir, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'" Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

In his vision, John is seeing a crowd beyond imagining, a veritable sea of people, beyond what the eye could see, all dressed in white. There are people from every continent and every island, representatives of every society and clan. No doubt, he’s able to see Kenyans standing side-by-side with Koreans, Eskimos standing alongside Arabians. There are Irish next to British, Chinese and Japanese together, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and Persians. All these people, from every place and time, clad in white, standing and staring together in awe. It’s an incredible sight to behold … but it is not the focus.

John sees also that they have palm branches in their hands, reminiscent of the day his Rabbi entered triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem. However, that’s where the similarities stop – the crowd back at that time would, in a matter of days, turn against his Lord, and cry out for His crucifixion with malice and vitriol and hate. The odds of that happening here with this crowd are zero. No, far from calling for a crucifixion, what he hears is a triumphant, melodious roar sweeter than music as they cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They wave their palms in victory as their triumphant cry sweeps along … but that’s not the focus.

These people clad in baptismal white are not the only creatures that John sees. He also sees all the hosts of heaven, all the angelic beings, surrounding the vast crowd. They’re bowing, falling down on their faces before the throne in worship and crying out, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” They look impressive – incredibly powerful creatures prostrating themselves, calling out to one another a phrase that echoes through the ages … but they are not the focus.

“Who are these?” It’s a good question that the elder asks John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” For his part, John humbly and simply replies with the truth, “My lord, you know.”  Indeed, the elder does know who composes this immense crowd, and from where they come, and so he explains to the awestruck apostle, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This ocean of humanity that John is watching are all Christians from all time and space, from Adam and Eve, who first believed the promise that the Seed of woman would crush the head of the serpent, to the last child baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. They are all here, palm branches in hand, crying out in a loud voice. It’s almost too moving for words, to see all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, from every tribe and every time, all singing as one … but that is not the focus.

The focus, I’m sure you have figured out, is upon the One whom all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are worshiping and praising and adoring. Their focus is upon the King of kings and Lord of lords, God Almighty, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, who was slain for the sin of the world and is alive again. The focus is not on the ones clad in white, but on Jesus, the One who shed His blood for their robes to be washed white and cleansed from sin. Awesome as this crowd of singing Christians surely is to John (and to us), the One to whom they sing is infinitely more.

That’s important to remember as we are celebrating this All Saints’. It is a bit of a melancholy day, a somber observance and celebration as it is brought home to us that some of those we loved and held most dearly … are gone from us. We no longer benefit from their physical presence in our lives – whether they were called to rest years ago or just in the past few days … and it hurts. Terribly. Death is a vile intruder into God’s good creation, certainly not the “old friend” that some so foolishly paint it as. Death tears asunder God’s creatures, and leaves devastation and pain too deep for words in its wake. It claims both prince and pauper, the beneficent and the cruel, all laid low equally by this despicable equalizer. On a day like this, as we are remembering those who have fallen asleep in Christ in the past year, it’s easy to focus heavily upon damnable death.

But this is not our focus – today, or any other. Instead, our focus is on the One in whom our now-resting loved ones hoped, the One in whom they trusted, the One they are now seeing face-to-face. Our focus this day is on the One who stood up to death and exposed it as the pathetic charlatan it always has been. Like the massive crowd and the angelic host in John’s vision, our focus this day is upon Jesus, the One who died on the cross of Calvary, making atonement for our sins, and three days later rose from the dead. Our focus is upon the One who, at the end of time, will destroy death, the final contemptible enemy. Our focus is upon the One who will, on the Last Day, raise all the dead, and usher those who have washed their robes white in His own precious blood to eternal life with Him, where “[t]hey shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

All Saints’ Day is a bit like a Christian funeral. Yes, there is sorrow and sadness as we remember those who are at rest in the presence of their Redeemer, but there is also an inexplicable hope, a peace that does surpass understanding. We know that we will see again those who have died in Christ … in the flesh … in the life of the world to come. We will see Abraham and David and Isaiah. We will see Peter and Paul and John. We will see Augustine and Luther and Walther. We will see Justin, Edward, Randy, Larry, Dave, Ron, Millie, Opal, Harry, Sally, Leon, Virginia, and Tammy. We will be reunited with them … but they will not be our focus. No, on that Day, as death fades to mere memory, standing in our own blood-washed baptismal robes, palm branches in hand, we will sing with them to the King of kings and Lord of lords, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  On that blessed Day, we will all be focused upon Jesus, the Lamb of God, sho took away the sin of the world.

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

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