Last Sunday of the Church Year – A (Proper 29) LSB #’s 892, 851, 348
Text – Matthew 25:34
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’
A Vision of Life
In 2006, scientists gazed into the heavens. A spacecraft was returning from a seven-year mission bringing with it particles of comet dust. Having gazed into the heavens, the scientists then gazed through microscopes at the dust of heaven, hoping to discover within this material clues to the mysteries of life.
However, before science became the final court of meaning, as it is with so many people today, artists have long been gazing into the heavens, creating paintings of a different court & of a different day – a day of judgment – when Christ would return & reveal for all people the meaning of life.
Taking a quick glance through paintings of the last judgment, one discovers a common theme. The heavens are torn open as Christ descends on a throne, & the earth is breaking apart as the dead rise from their graves.
While the paintings are usually way too busy, human bodies all mixed together with angels & demons, one factor is fairly consistent. If you look closely, if you stare at the face of just one human being, you will find on that face a look of discovery.
People appear as if they’re waking from sleep & only beginning to discover the deeper meaning of the world, of their Lord, & of the life that once surrounded them. Today, we will look closely at Matthew’s Gospel, & in it experience for ourselves some of that Last Day’s sense of discovery, for in this Parable of the Last Day Jesus Reveals the mysteries of eternal life.
In this parable, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the end, yet His words talk about the
beginning. Notice how Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (v. 34)
In contrast, as Jesus speaks to the wicked, He does not say, “Inherit the punishment prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Rather, He says, “Depart... into the eternal fire prepared for the devil & his angels.” (v. 41) God never prepared hell for His human creation.
From the very beginning, God’s intentions were always that humanity would live in eternal fellowship & blessedness with Him. No one was ever predestined to hell. All were created to live with God & to rejoice with Him in His creation. Those going to hell go there by their own choosing, for they have rejected Jesus & God’s original design for all people.
While some feel that this parable is about the end of the world, it does not offer a picture of the world ending at all. Instead, Jesus offers us a discovery of the world as God intended it. Yahweh’s original desire was for humanity to live in relationship with Him, & the day when Christ returns will be the day when God’s dreams for creation finally & fully come true.
People often misunderstand Christianity. They think it’s all about escaping this world in order to live in paradise. For them, Christians stand at a distance from this world, wanting to escape its physical existence so they can go on, as disembodied souls, to eternal life in heaven. Yet, that is neither what we believe nor what we confess.
Each time we confess the faith, we speak of the resurrected body, & we declare our confidence in “the life of the world to come.” Jesus’ mission was to bring all people into God’s eternal kingdom. Although we had turned away from God, rejecting His design & falling into sin at the Garden of Eden, God the Father turned toward us, still holding on to His original plan.
Out of love, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our sin & to be our Savior. Baptized into His death & resurrection, our eternal life with God begins. In Him, there’ll be a new creation, & we will be raised to live in the world as God originally desired it to be. Until that time, we live as stewards. We care for this world as those who have discovered in Jesus what God intended creation to be. We trust in, we live in, & we long for God’s new creation in Christ.
As Jesus speaks to His disciples about the end, notice how He opens their eyes to the reign of God that occurs in Christ. He appears 1st as the Son of Man, that figure from Daniel 7:13–14, who has finished God’s work & is therefore seated on His throne. (v. 31) Then, He appears as a shepherd, with the nations as His flock, separating the sheep from the goats. (v. 32)
Soon, the Shepherd becomes a King, who is also the Son of God the Father. His rule extends over all nations, throughout all time. (v. 34) This King, however, is hidden in the suffering of this world (vs. 35–36), just as the Son of God would soon be hidden in the events of His suffering & death. (Matthew 26–27)
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus claims, as members of His family, all who follow Him in faith (v. 40 & 12:46–50) &, until that Last Day, He is known among them by His Word, such as, “Truly, I say to you...”
While some people feel this parable places Jesus at a distance, descending from heaven at the end of time to reveal judgment, it actually reveals Him as very close to us right now. He is the Lord of all nations. God the Father has chosen Him to reign over all of what’s going on in the world you & I live in. Jesus is chosen to bring to fulfillment God’s desire to save all people.
Because of that, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Yahweh. He came into history to bring about the forgiving, saving reign of God in His life, death & resurrection. Though ascended into heaven, Jesus continues to speak among us now through His Word, claiming as His family all who believe in Him.
He is shepherding us like a flock until that day when He returns to separate those who
trust in Him for righteousness from those who do not. Then, as God’s long-standing desire, He will grant to believers the gift of life eternal. Jesus has not left us on our own in this broken world. Rather, He comes to us in His Word & Sacraments. He continues to reign in our midst, proclaiming to you the forgiveness of sins & the everlasting gift of eternal life in Him.
This parable ends the 5 discourses of Jesus in Matthew, but if you listen closely, you’ll hear it taking us back to the very 1st discourse – the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). In the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12) are the people God has called His own. Though rejected, persecuted, mourning, hungering & thirsting for righteousness, they receive God’s eternal blessing.
At the end of His ministry Jesus also reveals a people, “blessed by my Father” (v. 34). Those people, already made ‘righteous’ in God’s sight by faith in Jesus, are found yet again among those suffering in this world. Only this time, they are sharing God’s mercy with the ones who suffer.
Their merciful acts of faith come as a shock to them when Jesus reveals those good works (vs. 37–39). Yet, in a more amazing revelation, Jesus unveils His hidden presence among those “my brothers,” who were, in this life, hungering, thirsting, strangers, naked, sick & imprisoned.
Back to paintings of the last judgment – the faces of the people are filled with wonder & awe. Artists have captured their discovery of the majesty of Christ as He returns in the final Advent. Yet, Jesus paints an even more astounding picture in this parable.
For you, who’ve been made righteous by faith in Christ, there’ll be an even more astonishing wonder on that day. The Holy Trinity will reveal the good you have done, & His presence in your life, in ways that exceed all human understanding.
Like the ‘righteous’ in this parable, God’s people will not know the depth & breadth of the good works they’ve done during their lifetime. On that Last Day our Lord will reveal to the faithful the good works of mercy His Spirit performed through their lives in this daily struggle. Beyond that, He will also reveal how present He was in those hidden moments of ministry, graciously receiving from our hands the mercy we didn’t even know we were giving.
In the year AD 1304, Giotto di Bondone began working on a series of frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. At the very back of the chapel is the largest scene, the Last Judgment. Now, a fresco is painted on wet plaster which means the painting had to be done quickly, but the image he produced is eternal. Christ returns in judgment.
The scene covers the entire wall, with those raised to eternal life on Christ’s right & those raised to eternal punishment on Christ’s left. At the bottom of the image, underneath the cross, is the doorway through which worshipers returned to the world. The last image they see as they leave the chapel is Christ returning in glory.
Although we have no such image over our doors as we walk out of this church, we do have this Good News. In the Gospel lesson of today Jesus offers you an image of the last judgment to shape your life in your world. As you walk through the door – opened by the cross – you enter, with deeper understanding, a world in which Jesus still rules.
With that knowledge you may see things differently: the creation of this world, your Lord, even your life of service. Assured of your salvation, you now rejoice in these hidden blessings of God, this vision of life, present & eternal, which is far more glorious than any comet dust could ever reveal. Amen.
Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice; & with that have freely given blessings countless as the sand to the unthankful & the evil with Your own unsparing hand. Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. Amen. LSB 851:1, 4.
 Matthew 25:35-40 ESV
Thanksgiving – 2017 LSB #789
Text – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
THANKS FOR NOTHING
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish God would just show me what He wants me to do”? An answer to that question comes in the sermon text for this evening. Our heavenly Father wants us to rejoice & pray & give thanks. There is never a time when those are NOT part of the answer to our questions.
It’s common now for people to question going to church. Maybe you’ve had this thought after a particular worship service, “I got nothing out of church today.” Then, according to the Word of God in 1 Thessalonians, what should you do – give thanks for nothing! Isn’t that a radical thought? Scrapes against your emotions like fingernails on a chalkboard!
‘Thanks for nothing’ is an insult we level at other people when feeling cheated. As a result, you may find it difficult to take those negative emotions & turn them into an occasion for telling Jesus how thankful you are. Yet, the Word of God is quite clear, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)
In spite of the vast wealth with which our nation has been blessed, there is very little public display of thankfulness. The “in thing” is to protest, to demand equality, to shout down those with whom you disagree. A lot of people in the news today are, with very self-righteous attitudes, essentially telling our president, “Thanks for nothing,” & they aren’t saying a prayer!
God’s Word is clear. They should be giving thanks instead, “…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV) Many people in our day are abandoning the Church. It should be clear from the sermon text that it is not because the Church is so corrupt, or unloving, or hypocritical. People across our nation are leaving the Church behind because Jesus is just too radical. When they want to demand their rights, Jesus tells them “turn the other cheek.” When people in the Church want to hate those who are promoting & encouraging disrespect & violence, Jesus tells us “love your enemies.”
Turn the other cheek & love your enemies are the sort of commands that sinful human beings reject. We naturally rebel against such teachings, like our nerves rebel against fingernails on a chalkboard. Digging into those attitudes a little deeper, we find it’s not even the commandments that we are rebelling against – it is the Commander.
At its heart, sin is always a rebellion against our Creator. Instinctively, we demand the right to be the one making the choices in our lives. How dare anyone tell you what you have to do? If Yahweh is our Creator than all of us are beholden to Him. So even when good things happen to us the temptation is still there to tell God, with a proud heart, “Thanks for nothing.”
Our celebration of Thanksgiving, as it was meant to be, runs totally contrary to our sinful nature. That’s why the celebration has morphed into a focus on eating & family & shopping, instead of a focus on the Triune God & the fact that He blesses us. Keep in mind; none of those blessings are what we deserve. The wages of sin is death – not life. (Romans 6:23 ESV)
If we appreciated what it means to be spiritually dead, we would be so much more thankful for the fact that we are not. If we appreciated what it means to be spiritually dead, would we get bored so easily with actually being thankful to God for His blessing? Would, “thanks for nothing,” be anywhere in our vocabulary?
We should be asking ourselves this radical question, “How can we learn to appreciate what it means to be spiritually dead?” Toward that goal we look to Psalm 23, a very well-known verse: “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Each of you can recognize aspects of your own life in that verse, aspects of your life that have caused, or still do cause you to experience anxiety or fear. It might be fear of what you will lose as age overcomes you. It might be anxiety concerning decisions you’re facing with far too little information to base your choices upon. It could be the fear & anxiety caused by broken relationships.
In each of our lives, there have been or will be circumstances in which a sense of walking through the valley of the shadow of death settles in. And the root cause of those experiences? The fact that apart from Jesus Christ you & I are very dead. Yet every day of our lives we instinctively work to ignore that fact, to deny that reality.
Eventually, the truth catches up with us, & the psalm that David wrote begins to speak from your heart, & from your soul, & from your mind. The shadow of death comes out into the open. One small lie eventually added up to a lifetime that is false. A small betrayal became a habit of infidelity. One small denial slowly grew & hardened into unbelief.
What on earth is there to give thanks for? Is there anywhere to turn where hope can be found? The answer to this spiritual dilemma can be discovered in the physical realm of light. What must always be present whenever there is a shadow? The answer should be obvious, because without light there are never shadows.
“…Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.’” (John 8:12a ESV) Because we are becoming a new creation, at the hand of God, we feel the shadows all around us. Those shadows are the result of sin, but we notice them because of the Light. Without the Light there could be no shadows. Without the Light everything in our lives would be absolute darkness.
When the struggles of life come over us, when we enter a valley filled with shadows, rather than focusing on the struggles, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can choose to focus instead upon the Light behind the shadow. If there are shadows in your life, Christ must be there as well. Our heavenly Father uses the shadows; He calls us to ‘see’ the shadows, so we become aware of the Light. Let’s face it; under the non-stop blessing of good things we become soft. We take the blessings & we take life for granted. It’s how sinful beings react to the good life. It takes the shadows to turn us back to our loving Savior in order to see Him more clearly.
The reason that giving thanks for nothing seems ridiculous is because normally, in troubling circumstances, you & I focus entirely on the shadow. We try to fix it or remove it. When all we see is the darkness of our problems, the darkness of sin, of course we’re going to feel overwhelmed as if God Himself has left us high & dry.
People have asked, “Where was God during the shooting in Las Vegas? Where was God when a man was shooting up the church in Texas on a Sunday morning?” If it wasn’t for the goodness of God, we wouldn’t even recognize those shootings as a bad thing, because without Jesus every single thing in our lives would be a similar & absolute darkness.
But don’t misunderstand. The Word of God does not call us to give thanks for the shooting. We are to give thanks even in the circumstances of a shooting. You are not expected to give thanks for cancer, but you should give thanks even in that diagnosis. The circumstances of a shooting, or of a cancer diagnosis, are still so much more than simply disease & death.
“…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will,” what? You know the words: “…fear no evil, for You are with me…” (Psalm 23:4 ESV) Though we understand little of God’s will in any of our suffering – He is still good & we are still blessed to know Him. “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28 ESV)
All things, all the circumstances of life & living, are so much larger than our suffering. It’s often possible to see that once we get past the suffering, but until we get beyond it our heavenly Father is, through our anguish, giving us opportunities to live by faith rather than by sight. No matter how strong our faith is it’s a struggle to live by faith when the good times roll. We’re more likely to do that when trial & tribulation come our way, & for the opportunity to live by faith we give thanks to the only God who loves His people enough to join them in their suffering. For in spite of all the nostalgia surrounding Christmas Jesus was born to die.
His purpose in life was to suffer death so that it would have no power over us. The shadows of our lives do not define us. The Holy Spirit defined exactly who we are as He called us out of the darkness & into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV) Now we experience that light but dimly. In heaven, God’s children will experience that light completely & perfectly.
In the book of 1st Thessalonians, St. Paul tells the believers to comfort each other in their trials & tribulations with the good news that heaven is on its way. In our failures to focus on the light – heaven is coming. In our failure to be grateful & thankful – heaven is coming. In the big picture of God’s creation there is so much more to our existence than the anxiety we suffer.
Once we appreciate what it means to be spiritually dead, heaven stands out all the brighter. The dark shadow of our sinful nature is highlighted by the brightness of Jesus’ love for us. So as God’s children, the Holy Spirit calls us to take our eyes off the shadow of sin & turn them toward the Light of the world. Jesus has suffered our fate & covered us with His holiness.
When we appreciate what it means to be spiritually dead, the beauty & majesty of heaven stand out all the more clearly as being worth the wait, however long that may seem. In 11 days we begin the season of Advent which has the purpose of reminding us that Jesus will come back as our King. After that day there’ll be no more valleys filled with the shadows of our failures.
St. John describes that place in Revelation 21: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty & the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, & the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, & the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.” (21:22-25 NIV) There will be no shadows of sin & death either. Whether we are thankful for nothing, or for everything, the gratefulness & thankfulness of our hearts will be pure & unending.
Even today, God’s will for us is to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV) He realizes we are only capable of that with the utmost in help from the Holy Spirit, as Romans 8:26 teaches:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (ESV)
Once the re-creation of our body & soul is completed at the resurrection of The Last Day, we will effortlessly rejoice, pray & give thanks, not only with words, but with every thought & deed for the rest of forever. Until then we find comfort in the knowledge & promise of that future Day, which Jesus Himself will bring to us. Amen.
Praise & thanksgiving, Father, we offer for all things living, created good: harvest of sown fields, fruits of the orchard, hay from the mown fields, blossom & wood. Bless, Lord, the labor we bring to serve You that with our neighbor we may be fed. Sowing or tilling, we would work with You, harvesting, milling for daily bread. Father, providing food for Your children, by Your wise guiding teach us to share one with another, so that, rejoicing with us all other may know Your care. Amen. LSB 789.
23rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 27) LSB #’s 644, 516, 921
Text – Matthew 25:11-13
Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
ARE YOU READY?
Sometime after I arrived in North Dakota word got around to me that some people were offended by one of my comments a few months earlier. It was about the fact that there were no traffic lights for 65 miles in any direction. The complaint caught me off guard because I never suspected that anyone would think I was ridiculing the place for not having them.
No stoplights is a good thing. One of the items my buddies & I disliked so much about Ft. Wayne, Indiana, was that the red lights there were the longest any of us had ever seen. You could easily spend over two minutes waiting for one light to turn green. Even our friend from NYC hated them, & he was used to driving in a big city.
Another factor was that the stoplights in Ft. Wayne were everywhere, even at school & retirement home driveways. Whenever we went driving around, we’d always end up frustrated, having to wait, trying to be patient. It could take 20 minutes to go 5 miles. As soon as the lights turned green we were always ready to leave.
Are you ready? Wars & rumors of wars are one of the signs Jesus said would precede the end of the world. But then, there’ve been wars & rumors of wars for thousands of years now. The possible war with North Korea & the ongoing war against terrorism is nothing new.
Still, the end of time is such an important event, that in the world of theology it has its own name. It’s called the Parousia, & it comes from a word that simply means – arrival. The impending arrival, of Christ, is such a momentous event that it’s taken over the meaning of the word. There’ll never be another arrival like the one to come with the end of time. The 2nd coming of Christ is the Arrival; the “Parousia.” Are you ready for that event; that day like no other in the history of mankind; like no other in the history of the universe; the day when time will forevermore stand still? PAUSE
The foolish virgins of today’s Gospel reading were not ready. When they sought to enter heaven, the master told them, “I tell you the truth, I do not know you.” What crushing & frightening words to hear, & they will have an eternity to regret their lack of readiness; an eternity of torment & suffering the likes of which no one has ever seen here on earth.
And lest you are complacent, keep in mind according to the common interpretation of the parable, those women had been Christians; children of God who took their faith for granted. They were Christians whose time was occupied to the exclusion of nourishing their faith in preparation for the Parousia.
Imagine their surprise & horror when they heard their Lord’s words, “I don’t know you!” PAUSE What preparations have you made? How intentionally do you ask God to strengthen your faith? No one today thinks of competing in a serious sporting event without preparation. Athletes train 12 months a year, & not simply during the season.
While time still exists the clock is always ticking. Today we’re a few steps closer to the end of the world than yesterday. Is your faith any stronger, or is it weaker? Matthew records in his Gospel that 5 of the virgins were foolish, & five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but no spare oil.
When the bridegroom does not arrive as soon as expected all ten of the women fall asleep. However, the wise ones had planned ahead. They had prepared for the battle that would take place while waiting for their Lord to return. They had sufficient faith to ride out the storms of their sinful lives. They had seen to it that their lamps were well stocked with oil. The foolish women had done nothing. They allowed their lamps, their faith, to burn out, to wither away & die. They had not been feeding their faith regularly. They were not ready. They were unprepared for the attack of Satan that overtook them, & their sins overwhelmed them. We might overhear their conversation this way:
“Do you think we should go to church in case the bridegroom delays?” “Nah!! Quit being so anal. There’s plenty of time for that.” Or something like, “There’s Bible study tonight, would you like to go? Yeah if I had time. There’s just too much to do, & then the kids have their game tomorrow night, so I can’t do it then. Maybe next fall we’ll have time.”
The problem is next fall might not arrive, & you have no idea if there’s plenty of time left in your hourglass, or practically none at all. In the Gospel of Luke we read of a man who had great plans for his future, but no time left on earth to carry them out:
“And he began reasoning to himself, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I’ll tear down my barns & build larger ones & there I’ll store all my grain & goods. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink & be merry.’” (Luke 12:18-19)
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you.’” Jesus concludes, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God.” Are you rich toward God? Are you ready for Him to pass judgment on your life? Will your faith last until that day, or will it burn out like the lamps of the foolish virgins? PAUSE
This parable always bothered me, because when the foolish ones ask the wise for help, they say no. There may not be enough oil for both of us. Instead, go & buy some for yourselves. It bothered me because I was misinterpreting the point of the parable. It’s not about sharing with, or helping others. It is about faith, & none of us can believe for another.
None of us can have faith, for another. God judges each of us by our own heart. We live or die based upon our own personal relationship with the Son of God. Where is that relationship going in your life? Is it growing? Is it stagnant? Is it fading? Is your Lord becoming a long lost friend that you no longer keep in touch with? PAUSE
Are you ready? That’s what today’s Gospel lesson is about. Jesus uses a word that means be watchful, vigilant, alert. God is telling us to be ready! We don’t know the day or the hour, & the church cannot be ready for you. Merely having your name on the membership list does you no good if you have no faith in the way Christ works in your life.
Satan is trying to kill that faith. If it isn’t fed it will die. Lucifer wants to suffocate that faith, & if you don’t nurture it & look out for it; when you need it, it might be gone. Our lives are not a neutral playing field. They are a war zone of illness, jealousy & greed, of marriage & job failures. They’re a war zone of drugs & alcohol, of sexual desire & exploitation, & the Devil is commanding those forces. Are you ready? PAUSE
Our Lord is the opposing general & He’s given us many gifts to use in our battle against the Prince of Darkness. Making use of those gifts is our responsibility, & it’s our responsibility as brothers & sisters in Christ to look out for each other, to support & encourage one another. However, not a one of us can save anyone else.
The best we can do is to warn you as we see you walking away from your Savior & neglecting His gifts. Are you preparing for the return of our Lord by strengthening your faith through His Means of Grace? It’s not something you can see with your own two eyes, but He comes to you, & He strengthens you.
Through the faith God’s Spirit created by your baptism, you are able to trust Him even when you cannot see Him. Even when it seems as if the bridegroom is delayed & may not arrive at all, He is still there to comfort you, & provide healing. He’s waiting beside you to fill your lamp, to fill your soul. He’s arranging the events in your life to fan the flames of faith in your soul. Jesus Christ was ready, in your place, to face all the temptations of Satan in the wilderness those 40 days & 40 nights.
He was ready, in your place, to take on the burden of every single one of your sins, as He was baptized by John in the Jordan River. In your baptism the exchange took place, your sins for the righteousness of the Holy Son of God. Jesus was ready to die, in your place, when Pontius Pilate gave the order, “Crucify Him.”
In your baptism the exchange took place – your death for the eternal life of the Man who is the same yesterday & today & forever. Do you have your spiritual bags packed? Are you ready for the journey? What plans do you have for tomorrow, next week, for the end of this year? Have you included God in those plans in any intentional sort of way?
Your Lord has included you in His plans, so He declares in Jeremiah 29, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you & not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future.” (29:11 NIV) PAUSE
While waiting for the bridegroom, the wise virgins were able to fall asleep peacefully, knowing that they were ready for the return of their Lord. They were secure in the knowledge that their salvation was not dependent upon their own efforts or ability to stay awake & be ready. The Lord had prepared them & made them ready.
They were secure in the fact that their Lord had promised to care for them, & they believed His promises. They had tested their relationship with their Savior & discovered that they could trust Him to care for them. When He said that it was good to be in the Lord’s house,
& it was good to study His Word, they believed Jesus & did as He suggested. It was through
that belief that the Lord strengthened their faith, filled their lamps & made them ready. As the angel prophesied to Zechariah, about John the Baptist, “And he shall go before the Lord in the spirit & power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, & the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
As we await the fulfillment of God’s plan, we look forward to & celebrate the return of our Savior for He has made us ready. In three weeks, as we start a new church year, the season of Advent reminds us to prepare our hearts for the coming of the One who saves from the death sleep of our sins.
We prepare for the arrival, the Parousia, of the One who makes us ready, through the washing of water in our Baptism & through His own body & blood, which He gave into death & shed for us that we might have life to the full. When the light turns green will you be ready? By the grace of God our Father His only begotten Son has made it so. Amen.
“Wake, awake, for night is flying,” the watchmen on the heights are crying; “Awake, Jerusalem, arise!” Midnight hears the welcome voices & at the thrilling cry rejoices: “Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise? The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take! Alleluia! With bridal care yourselves prepare to meet the Bridegroom, who is near.” Amen. LSB 516:1.
2nd Last Sunday in the Church Year – A LSB #’s 790, 852, 689
Text – Matt. 25:34 & 41
Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...” Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil & his angels.”
ARE YOU TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN?
When my nephew was around 18 months old, my sister & her husband were struggling with the fact that he loved to throw his food on the floor. He’d learned the language of the teaching well, because when he threw the food he’d say, “Don’t throw food on floor again!” He just had not learned the point of the teaching.
While replying to their email, it occurred to me to ask if they’d sought the advice of their 3-year-old daughter. Maybe she would better understand what’s going through her brother’s mind. Well, they had already asked & this was her answer: “Tell him not to throw food on the floor, because maybe he doesn’t know.”
At the next meal, my niece told her bother not to throw food on the floor, & as all little brothers will do, he threw food on the floor. The father asked his daughter if she thought he understood, now that he’d been told. She replied, “Yes, he knows!”
The next day they asked her, what else could they try to get her brother to stop throwing food. She said, “Tell him not to throw food, because maybe he doesn’t know.” So much for child psychology, but there is a point here we should take note of: “Tell him, because maybe he doesn’t know.”
Even my 3-year-old niece recognized the value in teaching, & teaching your children not to throw food on the floor is useful. But in this day of smart phones & artificial intelligence, simply keeping the food on your plate is not going to get you by. It’s much more important that your children learn how to earn a living, & be responsible citizens. And even those ideals aren’t the ultimate goal. Our Heavenly Father did not create us for the sole purpose of earning a living. We weren’t placed here on earth only to slave away in a dog eat dog world of survival. If that’s your mindset, if you just hunker down & work for all you’re worth only to survive, what have you gained?
In the end, you’ll die like everyone else, &, as Ecclesiastes says, “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he’ll be a wise man or a fool? Yet he’ll have control over all the work into which I’ve poured my effort & skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” (2:18-19)
If what you’ve been taught is for & about nothing more than toiling under the sun, paying the mortgage, buying yourself the latest gadget, or traveling the world to see the sights, then you have failed to understand God’s love for you. Jesus said we are no longer slaves, but children of our Father in heaven. And as His children He provides us with everything we need.
Our sinful desires & expectations cause problems. As my nephew wanted to throw his food on the floor, we also want to live our lives our way, & we’re too proud to really listen to our Father. We think we have the answers, but it takes a humble heart in order to listen to God’s voice & follow His guidance. PAUSE
Now sin has destroyed the perfect life that God designed for us. Yet our Lord is more powerful than sin. Jesus has overcome our slavery to death & the devil. He’s conquered them on the cross. He endured that inhumane suffering in order that you might have life. We are not meant to be so preoccupied with work that we allow our spiritual life to die.
In this world we still suffer, we are still misunderstood, abused & taken advantage of, yet Jesus teaches that as long as we trust our Father in heaven we will be taken care of, loved & provided for. That’s a difficult lesson to learn – trusting our Lord for everything. And it’s just
as difficult to teach children that lesson. Our natural fears of being taken advantage of, or getting left behind in the quest for the things of life, cause us to ignore the suffering of others. We turn a cold shoulder to their needs because we’re too busy taking care of our own. We easily forget that God promises to care for us.
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus confronts our failures, or successes, in being helpful to our neighbors, in having mercy on others. Whether a man has been against Christ, or for Him, has been shown to God by a man’s deeds; deeds of mercy done, or left undone.
At the judgment of today’s reading God is revealing to all men the nature of our deeds, the fruit of our faith. Those, whose faith had been in their Savior will have produced deeds of mercy, even if they aren’t aware of them. And those deeds witness to God’s glory, not ours.
Those, whose faith was in their own efforts will have produced none, & those unmerciful ones will have committed themselves to the unmerciful enemy of God. Through their lack of mercy they have rejected the mercy of our Father, & will share in the doom of their master; the eternal fire prepared for God’s enemy. PAUSE
Since the baby boomers there’s been talk of a generation gap, but even if true, there’s one thing all generations have in common – sin & our need to have Christ’s forgiveness. It’s through the forgiveness of our sins that we are enabled to forgive & have mercy on others.
When we experience God’s love for us, we are empowered to share that same love with those who are in need of mercy. Consider the people who’ve sinned against you. They are in need of mercy. It might take the law to reveal to them that they have sinned, but the law has no power to heal them or change them. It only condemns.
It takes mercy; it takes God’s love to heal them of their sin. But forgiving someone that hurt us is difficult. It’s something that needs to be taught to your children. They will never learn that from the world. Children don’t naturally want to share. They have to be taught. The only time they really want things to be fair is when they’ve gotten the short end of the deal. They want to rule their world, & many a child that has not been taught to respect others ends up spoiled & merciless when considering the needs of anyone else.
Teaching forgiveness & mercy is something people can quickly learn the language of, even while they miss the point of the teaching. It’s easy enough to mouth the words, “You’re forgiven,” but much more difficult to actually live out that forgiveness.
You may know someone who says, “I forgive you,” even while they’re throwing the food, or your forgiveness, on the floor. They tell you you’re forgiven, yet they’ll never forget that you were wrong. They’ll hold you accountable whenever it suits their purposes.
As my niece might have said, “Tell them to have mercy, because maybe they don’t know.” Teach your children why they should have mercy. Tell them whom it is that gives the strength to have mercy. Tell them that it’s a battle against spiritual forces when they are given the opportunity to have mercy on another soul.
It’s not only our sinful flesh we’re fighting against, but the forces of darkness & evil, spiritual forces much stronger than we. We must have God’s help in order to be merciful.
In our prayers of the church, I conclude petitions with, “Lord, in Your mercy,” & you respond, “Hear our prayer.” God had mercy on us 1st. He loved us 1st, & out of our knowledge of His loving us 1st, Christians respond in love. In our prayers then we request things of our Father’s mercy. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We love Him, because He 1st loved us. That’s a doctrine we teach, but these days, doctrine is viewed as a bad thing. That’s because people have not been taught how doctrine plays itself out in our lives. It is a doctrine that we love God, because He first loved us. When does that doctrine play itself out? On any occasion where you are given the opportunity to be merciful. Do we take advantage of those opportunities or turn our back on them out of selfishness & lack of mercy?
Teaching our children this lesson is more important than teaching them to read or write. It is more important than teaching them to drive a car, or surf the web. It is more important than teaching them how to shoot free throws or shoot a buck during deer season. Are you teaching your children? Are you telling them, because they might not know? PAUSE
Even if we are merciful, the devil will tempt us to meter out our mercy. Like my nephew was given a little food at a time so he could only throw a little, we often are merciful only to a certain degree. If we see people abusing our goodness then we stop or limit it.
God isn’t like that. His mercy knows no bounds. Even if we use it too much, He keeps on giving, & giving, even unto death. We are not to judge when we’ve had too much mercy on someone. Even when we use the Law, it is to be done in mercy. We have to help someone see that they are sick before any remedy can be effective.
God doesn’t meter out our forgiveness. He gives generously & immeasurably. You & I, we abuse it & throw it all around the floor by sinning again & again, but God keeps on giving, keeps on forgiving. We should daily thank our Lord for that.
For whenever we fail to feed the hungry, God still feeds us. When we fail to invite strangers, Jesus invites us. When we need clothes, God provides them. He looks after us when ill, & He visits us when in prison. It is Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath by completing all the works of mercy for us, & in spite of us.
It is based upon His works & merits & mercy that our Lord Jesus Christ says: “…Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34 ESV) God’s work of blessing: begun in His creation, continued throughout history, active in the worship life of His people, comes to its climax in those words: “Come, you who are blessed.” Amen.
Gracious Savior, gentle Shepherd, children all are dear to You; may Your loving arms enfold them in your care their whole life through; fondly tend & safely keep them in Your mercy strong & true. Tender Shepherd, never leave them, never let them go astray; by Your warning love directed, may they walk the narrow way! Thus direct them, thus defend them lest they fall an easy prey. By Your holy Word instruct them; fill their minds with heavenly light; by Your powerful grace sustain them always to approve what’s right; let them know You yoke is easy, let them prove Your burden light. LW 475:1-2, 4.
O God of mercy, God of light, in love & pity infinite, teach us, as ever in your sight, to live our lives in Thee. Teach us the lesson Jesus taught: To feel for those His blood has bought, that every deed & word & thought, may work a work for Thee. Amen. LSB 852:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet