1st Sunday in Advent – B LSB #350
Text – Mark 11:9-10
Those who went ahead & those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Hosanna is not exactly a common, every day word. It isn’t now, & it wasn’t when I was growing up. Back then, I didn’t know what the word meant & no one had explained to me. What I clearly remember thinking is that in church we were singing to Santa Claus. And I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why we were doing that.
In one of the worship services we use here, the congregation still sings what is called the Sanctus. It’s the Latin word for holy. Here are the lyrics. “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power & might: heaven & earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
Based on my knowledge at the time, all I could come up with for a meaning to what we were singing was – Ho Santa! Ho Santa! And, like Jesus entering Jerusalem, there’s also a story about Santa coming to town. “Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry…” It’s good I never told that story to any of my seminary professors. They surely would have crucified me.
When it comes to the Church, & its traditions, there’s always a balancing act going on as God’s children seek to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Jesus dealt with that struggle as well. While living on earth, He was literally God with us, & yet, to most of the people, most of the time, He did not act like they expected the Messiah to act.
As God with us, even among the people of His hometown, Jesus is required to stand out, to not be “of” the world. The Gospel of Matthew records how Jesus suffers & endures derision & scoffing amongst His own childhood acquaintances:
“When He taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed & said, ‘Where does He get this wisdom & the power to do miracles?’ Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just the carpenter’s son, & we know Mary, His mother, & His brothers – James, Joseph, Simon & Judas. All His sisters live right here among us. Where did He learn all these things?’ And they were deeply offended & refused to believe in Him. Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown & among his own family.’” (13:54b-57 NLT)
One way Jesus was tempted to be “of” the world, occurred way back at the beginning of His ministry: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting 40 days & 40 nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came & said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” (Matthew 4:1-3 ESV)
Not having eaten for 40 days & 40 nights, who of us, if we had the power to turn stones into bread, would not have done exactly that? But, that was a temptation to be “of” the world.
You’ve heard the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” That’s another temptation to be “of” the world.
When we tell lies in order not to hurt someone’s feelings, we’re giving in to a temptation to be “of” the world. We don’t have to be a drug kingpin, a corrupt politician, or someone cheating on their husband or wife in order to be “of” the world. There are a million minor little things we do each day that are “of” the world because they are not “of” God.
God is love. Anything we do that is not driven by love for our heavenly Father is technically not from God. How many decisions do we make each day that involve not a single thought concerning what Jesus has done for us & how His love should guide our choices? For a good example, we can think back just four days, to Thanksgiving Eve.
In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, a year & half before the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote this regarding that war, & all the blessings he saw our heavenly Father give our nation even during that war:
“…the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless
remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit & proper that [those blessings] should be solemnly, reverently & gratefully acknowledged as with one heart & one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart & observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving & praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
I had to read quite of section of his proclamation to give you the context he was speaking in, but it’s that last part of the sentence I want to emphasize: “…to set apart & observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving & praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Mr. Lincoln doesn’t say a thing about having a huge meal, or about spending hour after hour shopping & preparing such a dinner. His proclamation meant to emphasize the setting apart & observing a day of thanksgiving & praise to our Father in heaven.
Now, let me ask, how many of you did that? How many of you set any time apart for thanksgiving & praise to our Father in heaven? To be rather blunt, there weren’t very many of you here this past Wednesday evening. Our congregation has well over 300 members. I’m being extremely generous in saying there might have been 45 of us there.
To make that lack of attendance even more dramatic, those who have researched it can’t even agree if President Lincoln was a Christian. Yes, there are all kinds of legitimate reasons why people couldn’t make it. There are also all kinds of excuses that being “of” the world gives you, & being “of” the world makes those excuse sound very noble & sincere.
I have to add, however, that excuses are always sincerely from the devil! I’m not talking about legitimate reasons, I’m talking specifically about excuses & I realize there’s a fine line between the two! But 45 out of 360 members; doesn’t that smell of something other than legitimate reasons not to be in God’s house last Wednesday evening?
The wealthier we become, the more independent we become, & the danger of that is
losing sight of the fact that no human being can ever become independent of our heavenly Father & live. By that I’m using the Bible’s definition of heaven as life & its definition of hell as death. No human being can become independent of God & live.
Can you survive abundance? Can we as American Christians survive the abundance our Lord has given us? That is truly a question for every man, woman & child in our nation today. I remember a guest preacher from some years ago. He made this statement, “The average American pet dog has better nutrition & health care than 75% of the world’s population.”
Will you survive abundance? The answer to that question will finally be known on Judgment Day, for all the world to see. St. Paul well knows the gravity of it thus he writes to the church at Philippi: “I know how to be brought low, & I know how to abound. In any & every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty & hunger, abundance & need.”
What is the secret Paul has learned? It should be a question that consumes our thoughts at Thanksgiving. Instead, most Americans focus their time & energy on consuming a meal.
Stuffing our belly full of food has become the manner in which we express our thanks, while rarely anymore do most of us thank our heavenly Father in prayer before any meal, let alone before every single meal.
The secret Paul had learned was to give thanks to the heavenly Father. The church at Philippi had sent Paul a gift of money to strengthen & encourage him, as well as to supply his needs. The entire letter to the Philippians was to thank them for that gift.
Maybe the fact that Paul was in prison enabled him to write an entire letter that literally overflows with joy & thanksgiving, quite unlike our lives today. Are we surviving our abundance? Isaiah wrote of God in the OT reading, “Behold, You were angry, & we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, & shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, & all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, & our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon Your name, who rouses himself to take hold of You…” (Isaiah 64:5b-7a) Was Isaiah writing to the people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church? It certainly sounds like he was!
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Have our thoughts, words & deeds of the past week been consistent with members of the kingdom of our father David? Or, have they been more consistent with people who are members “of” the world rather than merely in it?
Have the devil’s lie & excuses become so common to our ears that they now seem like legitimate reasons for ignoring our Savior’s call to repent & turn back to Him? Has our day of thanksgiving become just another self-centered holiday for taking care of ourselves, instead of allowing our Lord to care for us, & to bless us?
As He entered Jerusalem, the people of Jesus’ day were shouting greetings to the coming Messiah, yet it was likely the same crowd shouting, “Crucify him,” four & five days later! They didn’t understand how real this coming of their Messiah was. Not long before Jesus had fed the 5000 & then He raised Lazarus from the dead.
The crowds wanted a Messiah to reestablish an earthly kingdom of power & might. They wanted a feast like our American thanksgiving provided free of charge by their king. Instead, the very Son of God came in weakness & poverty, in hunger & brokenness, weary to the point of death from carrying our sins. Just 5 days later, He hung dead on the cross.
The Messiah’s advent is just as real today, yet just as hidden. He is God with us right now, yet our lives are filled with struggles against sin. At Easter time we say, “Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!” while our thoughts, words & deeds reflect a belief that Jesus is dead. Last Wednesday evening few of our members showed up. Those who did were blessed with God’s Word & presence. Those who chose to be somewhere else received a different type of blessing. Their earthly reward is all they received – extra sleep, time at home, watching a game on TV, working to prepare the next day’s meal.
Today, the 1st Sunday in Advent, we’re already looking forward to Christmas, yet too many of us don’t understand how real that coming is. All the commercialism is blinding us to reality. Like the crowds shouting “Hosanna” will we be left, once Christmas is over, without a clue? Will nothing in your lives have changed by December 26th of this year?
As Holy Scripture says: “Now is the day of salvation,” & the word Hosanna is perfect for our situation. With our indifference to Jesus, with our self-centered nature, with our lack of praise & thanksgiving to God, we need a Savior, & Hosanna means “Save us!” Jesus is blessed as He comes in the name of the Lord, because He is coming to rescue us from our sin.
Yes, He’s still coming in weakness, brokenness & suffering. The unveiling of His kingdom in our hearts becomes plain only in light of coming events, undeniably on the Last Day. Until then, like it was with Jesus, it is in our weakness that we are strong, for then we lean upon Yahweh’s power rather than upon our own. That is the genius & the glory of God’s kingdom.
However, the world loves power & might. It loves the razzle & dazzle of the bright lights, fame & fortune. Thus our Lord calls us to be in the world, but definitely not “of” the world. Jesus knows that fine line between the two is impossible for us to avoid, so He fulfilled that task for us. As we succumb to the temptation to be “of” the world, Jesus erases our sin.
The decisions we make each day, with not a single thought concerning what Jesus has done for us, are made holy in God’s sight, because Christ Jesus has paid the price of our failure. The words, “Hosanna in the highest” are a call for the Lord of heaven to come once again, to rescue me, to rescue you, to rescue whoever will listen. Once again we pray, “Stir up Your power, O Lord, & come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins & saved [Hosanna] by Your mighty deliverance.” God’s children daily live in the joy & the power of that Gospel message. Amen.
Enter now my waiting heart, glorious King & Lord most holy. Dwell in me & ne’er depart, though I am but poor & lowly. Ah, what riches will be mine when Thou art my guest divine! My hosannas & my palms graciously receive, I pray Thee; evermore, as best I can, Savior, I will homage pay Thee, & in faith I will embrace, Lord, Thy merit through Thy grace. Hail! Hosanna, David’s Son! Jesus, hear our supplication! Let Thy kingdom, scepter, crown, bring us blessing & salvation, that forever we may sing: Hail! Hosanna to our King. Amen.
Thanksgiving – 2014 LSB #753 (to the tune of #427)
Text – Philippians 4:12
I know how to be brought low, & I know how to abound. In any & every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty & hunger, abundance & need.
“Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?”
If I were a rich man, Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man. I wouldn’t have to work hard. Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum. If I were a biddy biddy rich, yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.
“Lord who made the lion & the lamb, You decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan? If I were a wealthy man.”
Those are the words of Tevye, the lead role in the play Fiddler on the Roof. He is a peasant farmer in Russia, of the year 1905, & he sings those lyrics from the song If I Were A Rich Man. It’s a common dream among mankind – to be rich.
The multimillionaire, John D. Rockefeller, was once asked the question, “How much money is enough?” He answered quite transparently, “Just a little bit more.” Satan well knows that the temptation of wealth is a powerful one. In fact, the Word of God in 1 Timothy tells us, “…the love of money is a root of sorts of evil...”
It continues by adding, “…and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:10 NAS) The devil’s work has often been accomplished through the simple temptation of greed. Wealth provides so dangerous a temptation that Jesus told us, “…for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle is easier than for a rich person to enter the reign of God.” (Matthew 19:24) You see, entering the reign of God means submitting to His authority in all respects. It means putting your own will last, & putting the heavenly Father’s will first, at every single opportunity.
To enter the reign of God means that humility & repentance must be your first reaction to each & every single one of your circumstances. Yet the wealthier a person becomes the more they’re tempted to use that wealth in buying their way out of being repentant & humble.
The wealthier we become, the more independent we become, & the danger of that is losing sight of the fact that no human being can ever become independent of our heavenly Father & live. By that I’m using the Bible’s definition of heaven as life & it’s definition of hell as death. No human being can become independent of God & live.
Can you survive abundance? Can we as American Christians survive the abundance our Lord has given us? That is truly a question for every man, woman & child in our nation today. I remember a guest preacher who from some years ago. He made this statement, “The average American pet dog has better nutrition & health care than 75% of the world’s population.”
Will you survive abundance? The answer to that question will finally be known on Judgment Day, for all the world to see. St. Paul well knows the gravity of it thus he writes to the church at Philippi: “I know how to be brought low, & I know how to abound. In any & every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty & hunger, abundance & need.”
What is the secret Paul has learned? That is the question of the evening. It should be the question that consumes our thoughts on this national day of thanksgiving. Instead, most Americans focus their time & energy on consuming a meal. Somehow, stuffing our belly full of food has become the manner in which we express our thanks, while rarely anymore do most of us thank our heavenly Father in prayer before any meal, let alone before every single meal. The secret Paul has learned he expressed two verses before the sermon text: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.”
The church at Philippi had sent Paul a gift of money to strengthen & encourage him, as well as to supply his needs. In fact, the entire letter to the Philippians was to thank them for that gift. Maybe the fact that Paul was in prison enabled him to write an entire letter that literally overflows with joy & thanksgiving, quite unlike our lives today.
Are we surviving our abundance? “Lord who made the lion & the lamb, You decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan? If I were a wealthy man.” Few Americans are peasant farmers anymore. Our nation became great while many of our citizens were.
It appears that God would have answered Tevye’s question with the word, “Yes, it would.” Wealth is a temptation to leave our heavenly Father behind as Holy Scripture informs us: “…the love of money is a root of sorts of evil, & some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith…” Those too are the words of St. Paul as he wrote to Timothy.
It seems that Paul’s point, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, is to direct our hearts & minds to thanksgiving in order to survive abundance & need, plenty & hunger.
If our thanking God is only because He has given blessings to us, if our focus is simply on the words ‘to us,’ then it is still a selfish & self-centered thanksgiving, not especially pleasing to our Lord. St. Paul’s entire ministry is a demonstration of the opposite. Consider the common table prayer: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, & let Thy gifts ‘to us’ be blessed.”
When you consciously (I know that doesn’t always happen); when you consciously think the thoughts of that prayer, where do you see the movement of the blessings? Where are God’s gifts moving to? Are they moving simply & only from our Lord Jesus to us? – “…and let Thy gifts to us be blessed.” Are you where His gifts end? Do His gifts disappear there in the black hole of our heart? Do His gifts disappear there in the black hole of indifference & ingratitude? Is our thanksgiving ultimately centered only on ourselves – a self-centered thanksgiving?
You see, there’s another way to see the movement in that simple prayer, & it makes all the difference between heaven & hell, between being truly alive & being truly dead. In the phrase, “…and let Thy gifts to us be blessed” we can also see the movement of God’s gifts as coming to us, yet not stopping there.
Thy gifts can instead go through us, to our neighbor around us, & that is what we are asking God to bless. “…and let Thy gifts to us be blessed.” In that vision of the prayer, the movement of God’s gifts is to us & then away from us. When we consciously think of the prayer in that way, we are asking that God bless His gifts as we share them with others.
It takes faith in Jesus; it takes faith that He will not stop giving, in order to share every thing we have with others. That runs counter to how the world thinks you become wealthy. The world, our culture, even our own sinful nature, think we become wealthy men by keeping a hold on everything we get. As the rich fool said:
“I will tear down my barns & build larger ones, & there I will store all my grain & my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (That sounds like our thanksgiving celebrations) But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, & the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:18-20 ESV)
St. Paul’s entire ministry was one of giving. He lived in Christ. He gave in Christ, & finally, he died in Christ. In the gospel reading about the ten lepers, I doubt that only one of them was grateful & thankful for being healed. Yet Jesus says only one of them turned back praising God with a loud voice & giving Him thanks. The key difference between the Samaritan & the other nine is in the last sentence, “Rise & go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Because the Samaritan believed in Jesus he was healed in a way the other nine were not. Remember this line from earlier in the sermon, “No human being can become independent of God & live.” The Samaritan was truly alive, & thus truly healed, because he did not think of himself as independent of God. He trusted in Yahweh & had faith in Jesus.
He was not merely thankful that He was healed physically. He was thankful that Jesus is the One who healed him. The other nine did not survive the abundance of their healing, & almost instantly it had an adverse effect.
Is surviving abundance easy? Not on your life, but the apostle Paul’s answer is to give thanks. Now, is giving thanks easy? No! Our sinful nature fights it every step of the way. And if you think of it in this way, that in giving thanks to God & praising His name, we are waging war against the devil, then it’s clear why giving thanks is not a simple matter.
Waging war against Satan is far beyond our human strength & wisdom. We should never think of the act of saying thank you as mere child’s play. Nevertheless, as Paul wrote:
“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer & supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Surviving abundance is something we cannot do without the help of our Lord & Savior. After this evening’s sermon text, Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That’s why it never works to be independent of Christ. “Apart from Him we can do nothing.” The more we despair of our own power & strength & wisdom, the more is Christ’s
strength & power & wisdom effective in us, & the more His gifts to us are blessed as we share them with our neighbor. Amen.
All for Christ I have forsaken & have taken up my cross; worldly joy, its fame & fortune, now I count as worthless dross. Who is sweeter than Christ Jesus? No good thing in Him I lack! Hand to plow, at peace I follow where He leads me why look back? Gone the past, unknown the future – grace supplies my daily breath; strong in Christ through death’s dark valley, firm & faithful unto death. Though the road ahead be thorny, though dark clouds all light obscure, though my cross-shaped path grows steeper, with the Lord, I am secure. Amen.
23rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 28) LSB #892
Text – Matthew 25:21
His master said to him, “Well done, good & faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Living in Our Master’s Joy
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 ESV) Those words ended the Gospel reading last Sunday & they lead into the reading for today: “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants & entrusted to them his property.”
In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus is explaining what our lives should be like now that we know the end is coming, & it will arrive when we least expect it! The book of James brings it down to earth in its 4th chapter:
“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town & will stay there a year. We will do business there & make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:13-14 NLT)
It’s in light of that background that Jesus tells the parable of the talents: “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants & entrusted to them his property.” If you are a child of God then your heavenly Father has entrusted to you His property.
That property might be children; it might be land, a home, a pension. It might be wisdom or good health. It most certainly includes the stories of what God’s Holy Spirit has done in your life to bless you with faith in Jesus as your Savior from sin. Christ certainly has saved you from your sin.
Given that life is like the morning fog – here a little while, then gone – what a tremendous blessing it is that you & I have so much more to live for than the fog of our days here on earth. Heaven waits & it will last forever & ever. Nevertheless, our Lord has promised to work through the fog of our lives today in order to bless the people around us, with the blessings that He has given to us. Everything we have is from God, & all of it is to be used to His glory. That is God’s design for your life right now.
Especially God’s people should not be surprised that there will be accountability for what we have received. For the 3rd servant in the parable, this became a tragic event, because he had been wicked & lazy. He failed to exercise even a minimum of good judgment by neglecting to deposit his one talent for interest with a banker.
He tried to excuse his sloth & negligence by alleging that the master was harsh & corrupt. He made such claims even though the master gave him an amount of money equal to 20 years of daily labor. That’d be in the neighborhood today, of $400,000. The fact of the matter is the 3rd servant did not want to work for his master. From a lack faith flowed a lack of service.
He was satisfied to be considered a part of the household but was willing to leave the doing to others. His relationship falls into the theological category of faith without works as James 2 speaks of. This servant was a hypocrite & an enemy of his master. For that reason he was cast out. Witnessing opportunities had been available to him, but he failed to seize the day.
His tragic end stands as a warning to all who refuse to let their faith blossom into a life of action. Early in our nation’s history, this parable was used against us. Preachers in England saw the Puritans as unprofitable servants, declaring that their emigration to America was God casting them into a land of darkness, where there’d be weeping & gnashing of teeth.
Later, American revivalist preachers declared this land to be a place of opportunity, where profitable servants would be blessed. Faithful stewardship would result in financial prosperity. We continue to struggle with this parable today, but our culture challenges us with the way it imagines God & the way it tempts us to mis-value God’s gifts to His people. Jesus is not talking specifically about America in today’s parable. He is preaching that He reigns over our world, yet through His sermon He does defy our American misconceptions.
Our Savior does not invite us into a world of earthly wealth, where faith is driven by profit motives, but into a world blessed with God’s love, where faith responds to our heavenly Father in joyful service. When the master returns to settle accounts, Jesus wants you to hear, “Well done, my good & faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
In order that this might happen to you, your family & your friends, we consider today, “What Does It Mean to Live in Our Master’s Joy?” The goal is that you would end up living in joyful trust & service to your Savior as you look forward to His 2nd coming. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 ESV)
Living in our Master’s joy means trusting in the God whom Jesus reveals rather than in the god we imagine, or the god that our culture imagines. The OT reading today turned our eyes toward the end of all things, & the vision is horrifying:
“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, & I will punish the men who are complacent… Their goods shall be plundered, & their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.” The great day of the Lord is near, near & hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress & anguish, a day of ruin & devastation…” (Zephaniah 1:12-15)
The horror, however, can cause us to overlook one of the most horrifying details of all. In the parable of the talents, the cause of the unprofitable servant’s damnation is none other than his own imagination. He chooses to live with a master he has imagined rather than with the Lord who has revealed his generous love. The servant believes the lie of Satan.
Jesus revealed a generous master, one who gives all that he has into the hands of his servants. The amount entrusted to each is astounding. By conservative estimates, just one talent is worth twenty years of daily labor. Later, the master says this was only a little as he sets his faithful servants over much. But the unprofitable servant, he lives with a different master, one he has imagined. For him, the owner is “a hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, & gathering where [he] scattered no seed.” (verse 24) This belief causes him great fear.
He’s so paralyzed that he buries his master’s talent in the ground. When the owner returns to settle accounts, he judges the servant according to what he has believed. As the servant believes, so it is done to him. Because he did not trust in the loving generosity of his master, the servant is cast into darkness where there will be weeping & gnashing of teeth.
Jesus came to earth revealing the generosity of God. His Father’s love is not to be measured in amounts of money, but in the life, death & resurrection of his Son. Jesus brought into this world a love that was priceless, a love that wouldn’t balk at the cost of sin, a love that would suffer death & damnation so the debt of all humanity would be paid, every sin forgiven.
Unfortunately, there are people each of us know who turn away from this revelation of God. To them, Yahweh’s love seems brutal, violent & uncivilized. They’d rather live with the god they imagine than with the loving Creator Jesus reveals.
The god our culture imagines, however, is not hard & demanding, someone to be feared (like the servant’s imaginary master). No, the American god loves everyone. He’s like a kindhearted grandfather; too weak to do any harm but strong enough still to love us. Instead of repentance, this god calls for tolerance. Instead of forgiveness, this god offers acceptance.
So turning from sin & being forgiven seem like strange activities to those who believe in the American god. Why all of this talk of sin? Nobody’s perfect, & God is love. People you & I know imagine they can stand before God with all of their sins & be accepted for who they are without an ounce of repentance. They believe in a politically correct re-definition of Yahweh. Sadly, this god is a figment of the American imagination. That figment will save no one. God saves us not by our imagination, but by His action. In Christ Jesus, God has entered into our world & acted to save. His love goes beyond our wildest imagination. He saves not by becoming what we want Him to be, but in being the One we need Him to be – our Savior.
Jesus knows the very real danger of sin. For that reason He calls us to repentance. He knows the eternal cost of sin & so dies under our eternal punishment. Of course, our Savior also knows the eternal joy of salvation & therefore rises again, not to tolerate sin & accept sinners but to forgive the repentant & invite them to live in eternal joy.
Living in the joy of our Master means turning away from America’s god. It means trusting the Creator revealed in God’s Son Jesus who gave His life for us that we might live in our Master’s eternal joy. So the question arises, “What does it mean to live in our Master’s joy?”
While one servant fears the master he has imagined, the other servants trust that the master is gracious & generous. Instead of harshly reigning over them, he rules through them in mercy, giving his great wealth for service in the world. He divides his possessions between them according to their ability, then sends them forth as servants differently gifted but equally loved.
Each servant is loved, part of the household of a generous Lord, yet differently gifted: one receives 5 talents, one 2, & the other 1. Living in the joy of their master means rejoicing in faithful service at his direction. Still, the fact that the master gives to each servant differently can trouble us. It looks like God does not love everyone equally.
In our culture, we associate having more with being better. People think the servant who has five talents is better than the servant who has two. In our profit-driven culture, we associate making more with doing better. People think the servant who makes five talents does better than the servant who makes two. Those attitudes tempt us to divide ourselves into those whom God loves more & those whom God loves less based on our abilities. Some churches do this by emphasizing service to the congregation as more important than service in one’s vocation. A member who teaches Sunday School & sings in the choir is honored as faithful, while one who works as a single mother & raises her children in the faith is seen as somehow less committed.
The master, however, receives both servants with joy: “Well done, good & faithful servant. . . Enter into the joy of your master.” (vv. 21, 23) God’s love for us delights in our differences & rejoices in the various ways He has created us for service.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Cor 12:17) Our heavenly Creator, who freely offers His love equally to all individuals, delights in the differences He created within us. He values each of us for our varied talents & abilities.
As a result, our service, no matter how small or how large, brings our Master great joy. Living in His joy means rejoicing in the various places He’s called us, & in the various gifts He’s given us for service.
That doesn’t earn us a place in His kingdom, because He’s freely given that to us in Christ. Rather, as we serve God, we manifest to the world the infinite variety of Yahweh’s goodness.
Living in our Master’s joy does not mean comparing ourselves with others to see how well we’re doing, or dividing ourselves from others as though God loves some more than others. Instead, it means trusting in what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ – that He loves each of us equally by empowering us to turn back to Him in repentance whenever we sin.
As we use that gift of repentance, we return to faithfully serving in the various places where God has called us, differently gifted yet equally loved. It’s like the faithful Christian who was asked if he was looking forward to his eternal rest in heaven. He responded, “Who said anything about rest? When I get to the other side, the 1st question I ask will be, ‘Master, what can I do next?’” That is what living in our Master’s joy is about. “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants & entrusted to them his property.” (Matthew 25:14 ESV)
All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield; wheat & tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown. First the blade & then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain & pure may be. For the Lord, our God, shall come & shall take His harvest home, from His field shall in that day all offenses purge away, give His angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast, but the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore. Even so, Lord, quickly come to Thy final harvest home; gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin. There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide: Come with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home. Amen.
22nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 27) LSB #808
Text – Amos 5:23-24
Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, & righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
THE NOISE OF YOUR SONGS
Today’s message begins with a simple question. We’re going to spend the sermon time this morning meditating on the concept the question raises.
“What is the 1st commandment?” Depending on the translation you memorized, it goes something like this: “You shall have no other gods.” As the head of the household should teach it, Martin Luther explained that commandment after he asked, “What does this mean?” Luther wrote: “We should fear, love & trust in God above all things.”
It’s a straightforward & simple explanation. The commandment is so brief & obvious it hardly seems worth the time & effort required to meditate on it. However, if your six year old child came to you & asked, “How do I keep the 1st commandment?” how would you explain it?
If the same child asked, “Dad, what do you do to keep that commandment?” would you have a ready answer? Are there examples you could give? What are the struggles you face as you strive to fear, love & trust in God above all things?
As the prophet Amos wrote, almost 3000 years ago, fathers, mothers & children were facing the exact same struggles – how to fear, love & trust in God above all things. It never is easy for sinners to do so, yet statistics & surveys make clear that fewer & fewer of our nation’s people today are making their relationship with God the #1 aspect of their lives.
It should be #1 in the quality of time spent. It should be #1 in the way we use our money. It should be #1 in the way we find rest & relaxation. Our relationship with our heavenly Father should be #1 in how we relate to other people, especially to our fellow Christians. How many of us set aside any amount of quiet time each day simply for the purpose of listening to the heart of our Lord? How often do we use the very first portion of our income to write out the check for our offering to God? In the frazzled anxiety of our never say die schedules is it really God that we turn to first when we’re flat out exhausted, in need of rest & relaxation?
Is it the norm, when planning your day, to consider the needs of other people before your own? Yes, even our relationship to our fellow human beings has to do with our relationship to Yahweh & His first commandment. Note that Jesus said the following all in one sentence:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your strength & with all your mind, & your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV) Another way of putting it is to say that the last nine commandments are basically an explanation of commandment number one.
That’s where Amos is headed as he draws to the end of the 5th chapter of his prophecy. Yahweh is warning this generation of Israel that their end is near. It arrives about 40 years later with the Assyrian invasion of 722 BC. God had tried less catastrophic methods to call Israel to repentance, like withholding rain from some but not others, sending plagues, etc.
At Amos 4:6–11, the prophet wrote of the nation of Israel, five different times, “‘…but yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.” In chapter 5 it’s as if the future has exploded into the present & the ones who used to be God’s people are seeing joy turned to sorrow, gladness to mourning & life to death.
The people of Israel are celebrating every Sabbath, feast & festival, but they’ve removed Yahweh from the very first commandment & put themselves into His place. Their worship services ring with thunderous songs, but their hearts are not with their heavenly Father. Their wants, their needs & their desires always come first. Instead of the first fruits, all they bring to their Creator are the leftovers. Yahweh, this is what’s left after the car payment, the house payment, the Direct TV payment. They long for Yahweh to come & settle matters of right & wrong, yet they themselves are the chief architects of the injustice & the unrighteousness.
Jesus Christ is the gospel that has been given to remove all of our sins, for any of us who have faith in Jesus. However, a humble & repentant heart is what faith in Jesus creates in the place of our sin. How committed are you to the work of humility & repentance that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in you? Is your soul alive, or is it just going through the motions?
As we see the unbelief within us, do we challenge it with the power of God’s Word or Baptism or Holy Communion? Those are the means by which Yahweh sends justice rolling down like waters into the lives of the people around us. Those are the means by which our Lord sends righteousness, like an ever-flowing stream, into the hearts of the people we meet.
If Yahweh is not at the heart & center of our soul, then He cannot send justice & righteousness through us into the lives of our neighbor. The 1st commandment is all about keeping our heavenly Father at the heart & center of our soul. It’s what the Holy Spirit is continually about as He challenges us with the Law & reinvigorates us with the Gospel.
The Lord has Amos write, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” Yahweh’s point is that no matter how much people may enjoy celebrating with their sons, if their heart is rejecting the Holy Spirit’s work, then Yahweh does not celebrate with them.
Because of our sinful nature, the Spirit cannot simply spend His time working happy things in our lives. The Old Adam, & sinful nature, in us needs daily to be drowned & die. Life is also about singing sad songs, hymns of repentance & remorse. When the Law has done its work, then times of refreshing & joy can arrive honestly & with true conviction. So a man had nephew who was a brave, rambunctious preschooler. They visited the zoo together one day. The lion enclosure, with its floor-to-ceiling window of thick glass was a fascinating place. The king of the pride was lying majestically just beyond that glass.
The nephew, knowing the lion could not possibly get through the window, began dancing in front of the king, just on the cusp of teasing him. After a few seconds, the king was displeased; he roared & took a swipe at the young lad. The man’s nephew slowly backed away from the window, eyes wide & mouth agog, awed by the teeth, the claws, & the roar of the king.
The nephew was a different little boy for the rest of the day at the zoo. Our heart & soul also need to see Yahweh as more than just a toothless old lion behind an impenetrable glass. He is a God to be feared in the sense of majestic power & dominion. He is, at the same time, a God to be adored in the sense of a baby laid in a manger, Immanuel – God with us.
The fall into sin caused all mankind to lose its balance, so Law & Gospel have been given to prop us up, if you will. Our heavenly Father holds us up in that tension between Law & Gospel. He chastens us with the Law & daily will resurrect us with the good news of the Gospel. Yes, our sins are forgiven. We also have tremendous need to be forgiven.
Our sins do bring injustice & unrighteousness to our neighbor. Yet, as the Holy Spirit works through us, justice & righteousness also flow out like the river of life. All that because Jesus came to be the righteous Israel that the people of Amos’ day could not. All that because Jesus came to be the righteous Israel that you & I could not.
Only in Christ, as we live, move & have our being in Him, do we have light instead of darkness. At the time of Amos, the people of the northern kingdom (Israel) had been on the path of apostasy & syncretism for nearly 200 years. About a dozen unfaithful kings had led them away from faithful worship at the temple in Jerusalem. The Israelites believe that if they mimic true worship through various feasts, grain offerings & burnt offerings, that God will be pleased & continue to bless them. But the songs of their worship will not be heard. They are nothing more than a reprehensible noise to their Creator because they’ve rejected His 1st commandment.
Yahweh is Lord. There is no other. He wants them to continue receiving his grace, but they won’t have it. We too have a tendency to want a tame, safe, comfortable God. We need constant reminders that this gracious, loving God is also awe inspiring & to be feared when we stray. Thus St. Paul in this text commonly used for weddings, reminds us of Jesus’ love for us:
“If I speak in the tongues of men & of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, & understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, & if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient & kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a ESV)
Jesus kept the first commandment for us all the days of His life here on earth. He sings the perfect love song as calls to us to return home. Sometimes, it takes His discipline to open our ears so that we listen. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
All Saints’ Day – 2014 LSB #662
Text – Revelation 7:4
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
The Church: Militant & Triumphant!
The custodian of a church in Buffalo, NY, each week would place a quotation on the sign in front of the church. One week he had the line, “This church is for sinners only.”
Several days later the pastor received an anonymous letter which read, “I am shocked to learn that our church is for sinners only. I’ve been a member of this congregation for 24 years & never realized I was out of place & not welcome.”
It’s a myth that the church should be a place for holy people, & the devil has been quite successful in keeping that fable alive. It goes to show how much work is left for God’s children to do here on earth. There’s a tremendous need among our neighbors & co-workers to understand why Jesus created the Christian Church.
You’ve probably heard people say, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” You’d have a difficult time trying to convince me you’ve never once thought that yourself. As with all the initial lies of the Satan, there is some truth in that statement.
For those who were Christians, when Joseph Stalin took over Russia, there often was no option of going to church, because he had the pastors executed or sent to labor camps. The church buildings were closed or converted to other uses. In their case, it was true; they could be, & had to be, Christians without going to church. They had no choice in the matter.
For healthy people in a country with religious freedom to make that claim is a totally different matter. It is never the saintly nature in us, which God created, that says, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” Those are always the words of our sinful nature. They are the words of Satan himself. On Mt. Sinai our Lord gave us the 3rd commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” When Martin Luther was alive & well he wrote this explanation for what God’s commandment means: “We should fear & love God so that we do not despise preaching & His Word, but hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it.” That is how a Christian’s saintly nature views going to church.
The church, as a building, is space a congregation dedicates to the glory of God, & God’s glory is greatest when He is serving His people. As Jesus said, He came not to be served, but to serve others, & to give His life as a ransom for many. His life, death & resurrection are still serving people today. That’s what a church building is dedicated to.
Yet, a building alone doesn’t serve anyone. It takes Christian men, women & children to serve people here in this place. It takes pastors & musicians, acolytes & ushers, altar guild & custodians. Chiefly, it takes humble & open hearts, souls who are willing to turn away from their sin & trust their heavenly Father with every aspect of their lives.
That is flat out warfare, between the saintly nature & the sinful, between the devil’s word & God’s Word. The devil says, “You can be a Christian without going to church.”
Jesus says, “And let us considers how to stir up one another to love & good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)
In the daily warfare, between our saintly & sinful natures, we need the encouragement of our fellow believers as we battle together against a common, outward foe. Among other things, God calls us together specifically for the purpose of speaking Words of God to each other for strength & reassurance.
Then, sometimes, the battles we face seem to arise because of our fellow believers. In those circumstances, it goes back to an inner battle between our saintly & sinful natures. On the one hand, we know we should love & encourage them. On the other hand, something about them irritates & tortures us so that we find it impossible, with our own strength, to love & care for them. Thus, if we are striving to follow God’s will, He uses our sinful weakness in order to force us to lean upon His strength once we realize that our own power is a total failure.
In our country, with religious freedom, Lone Ranger Christians miss out on so many of the blessings that our Savior delivers through a congregation of fellow believers. However, it doesn’t mean that reaping those blessings is an effortless process. Living a Christian life is still warfare, because the devil will not give up the battle until he is cast into hell.
Thus St. John was inspired to write of the Christians before the heavenly throne, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” The church on earth is often referred to as The Church Militant because it is always at war. That’s not a politically correct picture, yet the gates of hell shall not prevail. Satan cannot keep anyone prisoner against our Savior’s will.
That is gloriously good news no matter how much the liberal elite of our nation despises the very thought of the Church as the army of God. They despise it for two reasons, one because it talks of armies & two because it speaks well of Christianity.
You see, Jesus’ army fights to bring life & freedom to those imprisoned by sin. Satan’s army fights in order to bring death & to keep people trapped in their sin. Jesus wants us to warn people that they are sinners so they will allow themselves to be rescued. The devil wants Christians to scream at the sinners so they’ll despair of ever being saved.
There’s a fine line between the two. On the outside, it may look much the same, but the motive in our heart, as we warn others, makes all the difference in the world. So we need to be aware of what’s going on in our heart & discern the presence of either attitude. Are we speaking the truth in love? Are we speaking the truth in anger, or from hatred? Unfortunately, as sinful beings, even our love for others is often contaminated by hatred & anger. That does not prevent us from speaking the truth in love, but it does make it complicated, & often very difficult to do. Of course, dying on the cross wasn’t exactly a piece of cake even for Jesus… Our love for Jesus, because of what He did to rescue us, is what motivates us to warn people of their sin.
But good motives aren’t enough. We also, desperately need God’s strength to accomplish our mission, & we need it each hour of each day for every decision. For that reason, Revelation 7 gives us a picture, not only of the Church Militant, but also of the Church Triumphant. The 1st is the Church here on earth. The 2nd is the Church in heaven.
In the previous chapter of Revelation, Jesus is opening 6 of the 7 seals, & they are frightening judgments upon the unbelief of mankind. Chapter 7 opens with four of the devil’s agents waiting to wreak havoc upon the earth. An angel with the seal of the living God upon him prohibits this until the total number of God’s elect has been sealed:
“And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali…” And on it goes as John sounds the drumbeat of salvation.
By listing the 12,000, twelve times, John is driving home the completeness & the perfection of God’s saving work. Not a single child of our heavenly Father shall be overlooked. Not one lamb who believes shall be lost. The promises to Abraham, beginning way back in Genesis 12, are being fulfilled. That is the final picture of the Church Militant, here on earth.
Now we move on to the Church Triumphant: “After this I looked, & behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, & crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, & to the Lamb!’” One day all God’s children will be called out of the grave! What a glorious & triumphant vision! And they are standing in order to honor the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Their robes that were tattered & torn, horribly defiled even, by the sin & by the tribulations of life, have been plunged into the bath of the Lamb’s blood & are now a dazzling white. This is the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints & the life everlasting.
If there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents how unbelievably great will be the joyful adoration of the heavenly host when all the redeemed stand before their Lord & Savior! The question that applies directly to us, “Is there any fellowship left for us today, with the saints we love, who’ve already gone on to be with our heavenly Father?”
In a cemetery near the southwestern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, a tombstone marks the resting place of a young British soldier who died there in 1939. He was only 27 years old & the epitaph inscribed on that stone is a message from his parents in far off Britain. It reads, “Ever loving memory of our dear son, Ron, always in our thoughts.” Mum & Dad.
Love will not allow us to forget the saints in our families. Faith still unites us even though we are very much conscious of the great divide between time & death. There’s a bond that draws us close to them & that bond is our common Lord – Jesus Christ.
O, we wish to be near the saints, the loved ones we yet cherish. To hear their voices, to know again the touch of their hands, to be sitting across the table, to step out & share our lives with them, how we would plan our days filled with important adventures.
Such longing on our part draws us to the place of their rest, to the cemetery or wherever their ashes have been scattered. In God’s plan, if we wish to be close to our loved ones who died in the Lord, the place for that is not where the physical remains lie at rest. The place to have communion with them, to be near them, is here at the Lord’s Table. The Holy Communion of Christ is the Sacrament that links us to Jesus & through Him to the saints who in heaven are celebrating & praising Him even now.
Revelation 7 tells us that the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, & He is their Shepherd, caring for them in every way. This morning, this same Lamb is truly present here, giving us His Body & Blood in, with & under the bread & wine. He is cleansing us of our sins & uniting us to the Church Militant here on earth as well as to the Church Triumphant there in heaven.
In Christ we have a closeness of fellowship & a unity with our departed loved ones that in some ways exceeds what we had here on earth, because in Christ our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Let us be at this altar without fail for whatever ails us, whether sin or persecution, illness or the death of one we love.
Now, in that same cemetery in Jerusalem, there’s yet another epitaph on the tombstone of another British soldier, also 27 years old. This one expresses what you may be feeling this All Saints’ Day about your loved ones, as it reads, “We will meet again at God’s right hand then we will understand.” Amen.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see His banners go! Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope & doctrine, one in charity. Crowns & thrones may perish, kingdoms rise & wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ’gainst that Church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise & that cannot fail. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet