Thanksgiving – 2019 LSB # 981:1, 3, 5, 7
Text – Hebrews 12:28-29
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, & thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence & awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
If you are at all aware of the changes occurring in our country, and if you remember back just 20 years or more, it’s obvious that things are not the way they used to be. The public discourse was not as filled with hatred or intolerance as we see and hear in all forms of media today. More than ever the two things you don’t talk about at dinner are politics and religion.
The nation of Iran just threatened to destroy our country and our allies if we cross them. We’ve been in an official trade war with China. The Russians are still trying to destroy our confidence in the election of our political leaders. The drug cartels seem to be gaining strength in Mexico, and the overuse of opioids has reached epidemic levels across our country.
Marriage has been redefined by the courts, while the medical and psychiatric professions are working on redefining gender. Recent studies have shown that only 10% of our nation’s people look at life with a Biblical worldview. Many so-called Christian denominations are no longer willing to state that the Bible is the holy and inerrant Word of God.
For people under 20 years of age, all those issues are normal. Most everyone over 50 views today’s circumstances as a rapid decline in civilization. For them the very fabric of life is coming apart at the seams. Marriages, families, children, they all appear to be on a shaky foundation. What will this country be like in another 10 or 20 years?
To people over 50, life as they knew it is on very shaky ground. For people younger than that, life is also on shaky ground, but for different reasons. They see the vast inequalities that sin brings into the world, whether those are social justice or economic issues, but without a Biblical worldview they attribute those inequalities to the wrong source. At least the loudest voices in the culture are blaming capitalism, racism, sexism, and even God’s kingdom, for all the problems. They do so because for them, sin is no longer a real thing, and no matter who is coming up with solutions for problems, if you aren’t dealing with reality, the solutions cannot work.
I was reminded this morning by an email that the Pilgrims initially tried socialism when they arrived in America and it failed miserably in their own words. After some intense debate they switched to a more capitalistic system of farming and it was very successful. Instead of waiting for everyone else to do the work, the families each took their own initiative and thrived.
Greed is the result of sin, not the result of a capitalistic system. Greed also thrives in a socialistic system. Sin is what makes our lives appear shaky and unsustainable, because sin corrupts every single endeavor of mankind. Real people are really suffering from the brokenness caused by sin. It makes our world appear unstable and dangerous, because it is!
But that fact does not leave us without hope. If you’re trying to find hope in what you see and hear from the things of this world – that is the definition of lost. Politics won’t save anyone; neither will capitalism nor socialism, but one of those is based on a foundation that denies the existence of sin. That denial of reality guarantees that the system will fail.
The Creator of reality will never deny that sin has corrupted His creation. In fact He used the reality of sin to accomplish the execution of Jesus as payment for sin. There’s only one Being able to create a system that will not fail, and obviously that system has to rely upon that perfect Being to accomplish it. That is the good news which the book of Hebrews brings to us:
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (Hebrews 12:28 ESV) The wisdom and power of Yahweh have already created a kingdom for you and me that cannot be shaken. No matter what our eyes might see or our ears might here, no matter what abuse and suffering any human being or even other creatures might endure, there is a rescue that has already been accomplished. Each of us who trusts in Jesus as Savior from sin has a saintly nature that is extremely grateful for that rescue. We often fail to appreciate it because we also have a sinful nature that is not grateful at all.
To deny that such a nature exists, and the evil that it causes, brings all kinds of fairytale promises into play. Programs like Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal, will destroy the livelihoods of millions of people, but you can bet that somehow the politicians voting for them would see to it that they escape all of that turmoil.
You see, the sinful nature of politicians is just as powerful as yours or mine. Now, cynical unbelievers accuse faithful Christians of being delusional in our belief that the death of a Jewish carpenter 2000 years ago somehow makes everything in the world all right. Being honest, we can understand why. Doubts rise in our hearts too – every single day.
Sin has made that much of a mess of the world, and no matter how well-intentioned they are, solutions that deny the reality of sin also diminish, or erase, the power of the Gospel. And without the Gospel there is nothing to be grateful for. If you boil it down, all that the world can truly offer us is this: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
All over our nation people are gathering, not for the traditional Thanksgiving meal, but to go shopping. Black Friday is becoming a thing of the past as more and more stores are opening on Thursday. How can people truly thank God for what He has given them, when their main focus is on what they do not have?
In all the rush to find a sale, so they can get more, many wind up with more of something they did not expect, and would not search for. In this case, the devil is like Art Van. He always has anxiety on sale, and people don’t even realize they’re buying it! The 12th chapter of Hebrews gives us the solution: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
That’s a long sentence by standards of good English, but it’s talking about our presence in God’s house here on earth. It speaks of the presence here with us of all believers and of the holy angels and of God Himself. Yes, we can’t see them, but they’re here, because in Christ the boundaries of space and time are dissolved.
The text from Hebrews speaks of the Lord’s Supper being offered to erase our sins. Abel’s blood cried for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus cries that Yahweh is no longer angry with us, “Return to Him! Leave your sins behind. Leave your sinful ways behind, and follow them no more. Accept the new covenant of God, enacted by Jesus, in His death and resurrection.”
The new creation has begun with Christ’s resurrection to glory. And when He returns with trumpet blast to raise the dead the new creation will continue as each believer receives a body free of all the effects of sin. The new heaven and the new earth will also be created for us to see and experience in pure glory and perfection.
There will be no more anxiety on sale because you will be fully aware that you then have everything. The anxiety caused by sin makes our current world seem shaky at best and horrifying at worst. Everything already belongs to all God’s children, but sin has corrupted our ability to experience it, to see it and touch it and feel it, and to know that it’s real apart from faith.
Once we arrive in heaven faith will be no longer be needed, because sin will no longer separate our heart, soul and mind from what is real. There, gratitude will not be something we have to tell ourselves to have. In heaven we’ll know gratitude perfectly. There will be no sinful nature dragging us down or turning us away from the heavenly Father. The struggle we have today, and everyday on earth, is that we live now by faith, not by sight. God is aware of that, so His 3rd commandment gives us guidance and instruction to honor the Sabbath rest that He gives.
The author of the book of Hebrews certainly knew everything we know about sin and the effect it’s had upon, not just the world, but upon our own lives. Still, he wrote, “…be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”
As we fail daily, at that too, we can remember that Jesus marched to the cross on our behalf & He was unshaken in His resolve to grant you and me a place in His kingdom. Until then, we have God’s house here on earth as a place of rest and refuge from the brokenness of this world.
Here, our hearts may find that peace which surpasses all human understanding, and here we may gain a glimpse of the kind of gratitude we will experience in heaven. Until then, Jesus already reigns in His kingdom and He is unshakeable in His love for us. The world certainly is on its way to hell in a handbasket, but the children of God are on their way to heaven. Amen.
To Your temple, Lord, I come, for it is my worship home. This earth has no better place; here I see my Savior’s face. While Your glorious praise is sung, touch my lips, unloose my tongue that my joyful soul may bless Christ the Lord, my righteousness. While I listen to Your Law, fill my soul with humble awe till Your Gospel bring to me life and immortality. From Your house when I return, may my heart within me burn, and at evening let me say, “I have walked with God today.” Amen. LSB 981:1, 3, 5, 7.
Last Sunday in the Church Year – C (Proper 29) LSB #’s 828, 850, 922
Text – Malachi 3:18
Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous & the wicked, between one who serves God & one who does not serve Him.
SERVING GOD, OR NOT!
There was a fire sweeping through the forest & because of the flames & thick smoke, a fire fighter got separated from his team. The flames grew more & more intense, & while he was assessing the danger, he came across the very campers who’d become trapped after starting the fire. By then it was becoming clear that the raging inferno would soon overtake them.
It meant certain death for everyone there, except for one possibility. The fire fighter was equipped with a special foil fire-shield under which he could lie & the flames would pass over him without serious harm. The problem was that the shield wasn’t large enough for all of them to fit underneath it, & time was running out.
Even though the campers didn’t understand all that was involved in making the shield work, & didn’t quite believe they could survive by simply lying underneath it, the fire fighter had them lie down & he covered them with it. Then, the flames overtook them all. Those under the shield were saved, but the fire fighter died.
He died while giving his own shield to the very people who caused the fire. Does that story move you? Does it move you emotionally only, or does the story propel you to action? Hopefully you notice some parallels to the history recorded in Holy Scripture. Yet, neither story is about what you or I do. Both stories are about the attitude of the heart.
Human beings do not act apart from the attitude of the heart. Another way to say it is this, “Your attitude determines how you act, & how you act reflects your attitude.” People point to stories like the firefighter who gave his life & say that we should do the same. Christians like to point to stories about Jesus & say that we should do the same. On the other hand, Malachi wrote about 430 years before Christ was born, & this is how he described what the people of his day were saying. It’s just the opposite of doing what Jesus would do:
“…It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? …Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test & they escape.” (3:14 & 15b ESV) As in our day, there was plenty of evil to go around, & it seemed as if living a virtuous life was pointless.
How many of our community think of coming to God’s house every Sunday as unnecessary? How many people do you know who pray before & after every meal? How many do you see picking up litter off the floor as they walk through a room? Many people you know see those virtuous activities as pointless. Does that thought run through your mind?
The news in our day is full of stories about corruption, greed & destruction. People are selfish, self-centered & self-glorifying, yet they are held up as the ones we should imitate. The rich & the famous are above the law but the little guy gets thrown into jail. God’s answer to these constant & age-old struggles points ahead to the last day of time:
“Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous & the wicked, between one who serves God & one who does not serve Him.” (Malachi 3:18 ESV) When the sermon is titled ‘Serving God, or Not!’ we can easily conclude that religion is all about what we do, or should be doing.
But that is a superficial understanding of what Malachi is saying – the same problem the Lord pointed out to the prophet Samuel 3000 years ago: “…Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV) Our sinful nature has corrupted the way in which we see. We’re predisposed to look at things superficially, at the outward appearance alone. The heavenly Father sees much, much deeper than that. He looks on the heart of each one of us in this room. On the day that Jesus returns to set everything right:
“Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous & the wicked, between one who serves God & one who does not serve Him.” (Malachi 3:18 ESV) Because, for now, we can’t always tell if they are serving God or not; we cannot see another person’s heart. And because of our sinful nature it seems to us as if the wicked prosper & the righteous fail.
When Jesus returns, we’ll no longer be frustrated by the injustice that we now see going on all around us. That is the good news which Malachi is proclaiming to God’s people. It’s the reason why we look forward to & commemorate the end of the world by designating today as the Last Sunday in the Church Year. For those who trust in Jesus, Judgment Day will be a good one.
Our troubles occur as we wait to get there. When the wicked are not living rightly, & they appear to get away with it, it feels to us as if Jesus does not care. And as we dwell on those feelings, Satan is leading us away from Jesus into lives of indifference & skepticism. This doubting of Jesus is what Malachi is warning the Israelites of:
“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test & they escape.’” (Malachi 3:14-15 ESV) Does it sound like the devil has been successful in leading them away from the source of life?
Our culture today is the same as that in Malachi’s day. We look & listen to our society & question why unbelievers live lives against God’s Word & nothing happens to them. They seem to be doing pretty well & many of them are prospering. Not only isn’t the Lord striking them dead, He seems to be blessing them more than He’s blessing me. Maybe God doesn’t really care if someone is serving Him or not! Grumbling against God was a constant problem for His people throughout the 40 years in the wilderness. And that is a picture of our lives. Until the Last Day, our circumstances are similar to those 40 years in the wilderness.
You & I are still waiting to enter the Promised Land, & along the way all of us are guilty of grumbling. We question if it’s worth serving God. We complain that God does not act justly. So we don’t bother picking up that piece of litter as we walk through a room. We stop bringing ourselves, & our family members, here, each week, to receive God’s blessings.
As we slack off on receiving our Lord’s blessings, our heart grows dull. Little by little, so slowly that you can’t possibly see it, your heart becomes cold & lifeless, & eventually dead – inexorably dead. You see, this house of God is a foreshadowing of heaven. If your heart does not long to be here, will it be any different on the day you face the pearly gates of heaven?
There, at the heart of the matter, is “…the distinction between the righteous & the wicked, between one who serves God & one who does not serve Him.” (Malachi 3:18 ESV) How you act does reflect your attitude. If you’re actions are disturbing you, you need to remember that even children of God are still sinners. Our heart consists of a sinful nature & a saintly one.
When your heart is turned towards your Lord, then you serve Him. When your heart is turned away, then you do not. Though the words of the text from Malachi begin with a strong rebuke, they are words of love meant to turn our hearts back to their Creator & Savior. In verse 14, he wrote what the people were saying:
“What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” Do you realize what they’re complaining about in the 2nd half of that verse? They’re saying that it’s pointless to repent of their sins. That’s what “walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts” is about. It comes from their tradition of wearing sack cloth & ashes to demonstrate their sorrow over their sins. If it seems to you that God just isn’t fair, that your life isn’t joy filled as you would have it, is there hope for you? If your heart has grown dull, listless & cold, if your spiritual life feels inexorably dead, is there hope for you?
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, & the criminals, one on His right & one on His left. …One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself & us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:32-33 & 39-43 ESV)
You have three convicted criminals dying together. One of them is the very source of life. One of them rejects Jesus. The other allows the Holy Spirit to turn him back to Christ. He becomes repentant. That’s why Jesus died there to save any who would be turned back to Him. The death of God’s Son paid the price for all the sins of all human beings throughout history.
Now, we return to the story of the fire-shield & how those being saved by it did not understand how it worked. With the flames literally bearing down on them, they didn’t argue. They simply took their place on the ground & allowed the fire fighter to cover them.
In the same way, the blood of Jesus covers your sins & saves you from the fires of hell. As St. Paul wrote of Yahweh in Colossians 1: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (1:13-14 ESV) Amen.
Lo, the hosts of evil round us scorn the Christ, assail His ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith & praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days, for the living of these days. Cure Your children’s warring madness; bend our pride to Your control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things & poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal, lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal. Amen. LSB 850:2-3.
Armed Forces Sunday – 2019 LSB #668
Text – Ephesians 6:10-11
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD
Being prepared is always on the minds of our men & women serving faithfully in the armed forces. There is never a day that goes by that they aren’t ready or training to be more ready. They must be prepared to answer the call at a moment’s notice. Once the alarm sounds, they don’t have time to ‘get ready’ ... they need to ‘be ready.’
And to ‘be ready,’ they train, train, & train some more. They train as they would fight. That’s how our military leaders continue to ensure our personnel are ready for combat. The institution gets them physically & mentally prepared to make a defense of our country – for the hope of freedom. The Navy SEAL motto is, ‘The only easy day was yesterday.’
It is all about preparation & being ready to win our nation’s battles. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree & I will spend the 1st four sharpening the axe.” Preparation & readiness are critical in any planning, but especially in planning a defense.
It’s important to be aware that we truly are living in the Church Militant. We are in a war with the devil, with the world & with our sinful nature. So I ask: Are you ready? Are you ready? What is your plan to sustain you on the battlefield of suffering? How will you endure? What is your hope & confidence as you go into battle & suffering?
We live, surrounded by evil, in a sin-sick world. In America, we may not yet be hauled out of our churches, our homes or our businesses by wicked men who put us on our knees with a gun or sword at our head & yell, “Renounce Jesus or die!” Yet, we know that in other parts of the world, this is happening today. Christians are being executed & martyred daily for their faith. Here in our country, people are losing their jobs or positions for giving a defense of the faith & speaking out against issues that go contrary to the Word of God. We are being told to keep our religion in the church & out of the public square.
Oh yes, they tell you there’s freedom to worship in your church, just don’t bring it out into public. Hang your personal faith at the door on the way out of your home or church. How often have we ‘given in’ & stood by quietly in a discussion in public about cultural issues?
Did you remain silent because you simply didn’t want to be labeled a ‘bigot,’ judgmental, narrow-minded or the proponent of “hate speech?” We don’t want to suffer for what we believe. We want to be ‘liked’ & ‘accepted.’ It’s not easy to stand strong in the Lord.
Or you might be saying, “Come on, Pastor. I’m in the middle of a war right now with an illness, broken relationship, guilt, depression, addiction... I know what war looks like spiritually as well as physically. I’ve tried everything I can to fight ... to win ... yet the pain continues, & I am stricken, smitten & afflicted.”
That’s when St. Paul points to our fortress, our help, our comfort, our armor. It is not within ourselves. We cannot stand & fight alone. The devil will find a chink in the armor & again bring us to despair & hopelessness. Even in physical war, we can give our troops the best equipment possible to protect them, but day after day we see our troops killed in combat.
Many are killed by shrapnel or bullets despite all their training, all their combat gear. The enemy found chinks in the armor. My friends, the devil will do the same to us. He knows your temptations & your weaknesses. He will attack, & attack where you are most vulnerable. Therefore, our Lord pleads with us to come to Him.
In Psalm 46, God reminds us that He is our fortress, our refuge & our strength. In the sermon text, Paul reminds us that it is the armor of Yahweh that we wear in spiritual warfare. The ultimate goal of our enemy the devil, & his wicked schemes, is to get you into hell with him. He wants you to doubt the Word of God. He wants you to doubt the promises of Yahweh. He wants you to lose all hope in Jesus – falling into despair & hopelessness. In that light, we see the comfort & the absolute power of this passage from the Word of God:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord & in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh & blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God…” — NOT just parts of it. (Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV)
Why? So when the devil says, “You aren’t good enough to be a child of God, you are too evil for God to love & die for, Jesus could not have paid for your sins, your guilt, your evilness,” even then you will be able to stand your ground in the power of the Holy Spirit. To stand your ground, to stand firm – God gives you His armor.
The truth is that God, who cannot lie, has promised you eternal life. Living in a world where there seems to be no truth, we hold up our armor with the truth of God. He promised you eternal life. He, who cannot lie, told us that Jesus was sent to live, to suffer, to die and to rise again for you! God, who cannot lie, promised that whoever is baptized & believes will be saved.
We were dead in our sins & soiled by evil, yet God made the great exchange & gave us the robe of righteousness (the breast-plate of righteousness). In your Baptism, God reached into the muck & mire of your sinfulness & made you His child. He freely gives to you His righteousness. He grants you forgiveness, life & salvation!
No matter what accusations the devil throws your way – about how bad you are or how good you may think you are, your own righteousness is still like filthy rags. Yet our Lord gives us the breastplate of His righteousness. Jesus lived that perfect life for everyone. Jesus kept the law perfectly for you & me, now crediting that righteousness to us, declaring us “not guilty.” Satan’s darts of accusation cannot penetrate the Lord’s breast-plate of righteousness, which you can wear with confidence & pride. But the Lord continues to give additional armor. He creates & sustains faith in your heart that clings to the truth of His promises, which clings to His Word of forgiveness, hope & healing.
Faith clings to the cross of Christ Jesus, which puts out the flaming arrows the devil shoots at us. The Holy Spirit called us by the Gospel. Faith was given to us in our Baptism & in the Word of God. That shield of faith resists the lies & the despair of Satan, & clings to Jesus.
By the grace of God, for Christ’s sake, through faith, we are saved! That is our helmet given to us by the Lord – the helmet of salvation – the knowledge that our faith is not in vain, that we are saved from the devil & from hell. We know that our salvation is given to us freely by the grace of God, for Christ’s sake, through faith.
Also, the Lord gives us the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. That is a two-edged sword which beats back the devil & his lies. Jesus Himself used the Word of God as a sword to defeat Satan while being tempted in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit continues to give you the Word of God to pierce the devil, the world & your sinful flesh.
As Luther so boldly proclaims, “One little word can fell him (the devil)” & “Get behind me Satan.” God has given us a piece of armor that is both defensive & offensive in this spiritual warfare. There will be those who continue to doubt the Word of God, but not us. We know that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit.
Finally, there’s another piece of armor that many forget about, or take for granted – the footwear. As any foot soldier or grunt Marine can tell you, it does matter what you have on your feet. Without the proper protection, it is easy to slow down, lose your ground & not stand firm. The Lord is reminding us that because of all that we have just heard, we can believe & stand firm. Now that we know we have the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation & the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God), we are ready to move out. We are ready because we have the gospel of peace – a powerful passage from the Word of God. This is that peace that surpasses all human understanding.
It is the peace of God, knowing that we are forgiven, that we are saved, that we are redeemed children of the heavenly Father. This gives strength to continue in this vale of tears, in this Church Militant, in the present warfare. We already know the end of the line – we are forgiven children of the true God who loves us & will never leave us nor forsake us.
This peace comes from knowing that all things will be worked out for good & according to God’s purpose. This peace comes even though we may continue to feel pain & sadness, struggle with our pet sins, experience pain in relationships, illness & disease, feel loneliness in the loss of loved ones.
Yet, in all that, we will stand firm, trusting our Lord Jesus – trusting that even as we live in a sin-sick world, & all that comes with it, heaven is our home. Jesus has defeated our enemy & given us the armor we need to endure until our end comes, or Jesus returns again on the Last Day. In all our struggles we still move out & share that peace with our neighbors.
Are you ready for war & suffering? Are you ready to face the temptations that befall you? Are you ready to face the pain that may come your way? Yes! Yes! Yes, you are ready, because Jesus has made you ready by His living, by His suffering, dying & rising – all for you! Jesus made you ready by giving you His armor.
By the grace of God, for Christ’s sake, through faith, you are ready for the attacks & the suffering you will face. You have a faith that clings to the promises of God that you are a baptized, redeemed child of the heavenly Father. Your God-given faith clings to the cross of Christ for your salvation & will not allow the devil to give you doubt or despair, no matter how much pain & suffering you encounter. That is your hope & sure defense! Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood & righteousness. God is your fortress, a trusty shield & weapon! Amen.
Rise! To arms! With prayer employ you, O Christians, lest the foe destroy you; for Satan has designed your fall. Wield God’s Word, the weapon glorious; against all foes be thus victorious, for God protects you from them all. Fear not the hordes of hell, here is Emmanuel. Hail the Savior! The strong foes yield to Christ, our shield, & we, the victors, hold the field. Amen. LSB 668:1.
Grandchild Sunday – 2019 LSB #’s 740, 867, 739
Text – Deuteronomy 4:9
But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children & your children’s children.
YOUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN
How many of you know someone who has tried to run away from home? From television, the image is an icon in the minds of the Boomer generation – a young boy with a stick slung over his shoulder, a towel tied on the end, & all of his worldly possessions wrapped up inside – leaving home because of some perceived injustice.
How many of you know someone who is still running away, whether from home, or from family members, or just running away from responsibility in general? And how about you, what are you running away from right now, at this moment or in this phase of your life? Have you ever sat down & thought about it, about why so many people are running away?
The Word of God makes the answer very clear in just its 3rd chapter. From the moment that Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, she & Adam began to run, & every single one of their descendants has been running ever since. Their 1st born son – Cain – ran away from God. The author of the sermon text – Moses – he ran away from God too.
King Saul, King David, King Solomon, the Biblical record of their lives is punctuated with moments where they are running away from God. In our culture today people are literally running away from who they are, from the very identity of their genetic makeup. People born biologically male want to be female & vice versa.
Can you explain to your children & your children’s children why everyone is running? Have you stopped to consider why you are running? Even more important, are you able to share with your children & your children’s children what the answer is? Moses writes from experience in the sermon text when he says: “Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children & your children’s children.” What are the memories that Moses is speaking of? That’s the key. Going back a few verses before the OT reading, he wrote:
“You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. But all of you who were faithful to the Lord your God are still alive today – every one of you.” (Deuteronomy 4:3-4 NLT)
When the Israelites, while following Moses to the Promised Land, were in the vicinity of Peor, some of them fell into idolatry & worshiped Baal. As a result of their sin, the men of Israel were judged by God with a plague, & 24,000 of them died. However, every single Israelite who was faithful to the Lord was delivered from that plague of death.
That good news – bad news scenario is what Moses urged the people never to forget. They saw it with their own eyes & were to pass on those memories to their children & their children’s children. But Moses isn’t only speaking of the death or life events of Baal-peor.
The grand narrative of the Bible, the really, really big story, begins with creation – & it ends with the New creation. Yet, in Deuteronomy 4, Moses places himself & his audience into the story to change or to affirm your behavior:
“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children & your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9 NLT)
It’s significant that Moses enfolds the audience into what has happened in Israel’s story. As he spoke to the people about to enter the Promised Land, those hearers were not at Mt. Sinai any more than you were. The entire generation of Mt. Sinai was already dead. Nonetheless, Moses states that ‘you’ saw certain things. He claims that ‘you’ did certain things. He clearly intends for the audience to put themselves in to the story’s past so that they can join the story in the present, & make the story end the way it is supposed to end even in to their future. Yahweh works powerfully through you as you trust & believe in His Word & in His Promises.
Yes, every single time we sin you & I are “running away” from our Creator & our Savior. And yet, each new sin also creates an opportunity to run back to our Creator & Savior. Do you remember the words Jesus spoke in the Gospel reading? “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46 ESV)
When we sin we are running away from God & into the darkness, but Jesus came so that we do not have to remain in the darkness. Your children & your children’s children do not have to remain in the darkness. Whether you are currently darkness or light, you are already in that story. The only question hanging out there is this, “Which part of the ending will you be?”
Will you remain in the darkness, or, in humility, will you allow the Holy Spirit to draw you into the light? And once the Holy Spirit has drawn you into the light – you have a story to tell – a story of darkness & of light; a story of sin, but also of deliverance.
“…Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children & your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9 NLT)
Finally, you should also note that, in writing those words, Moses says absolutely nothing about your pastor. It says “you” should pass them on.
It is tempting to think that on Grandchild day ‘the pastor’ needs to come up with some clever & creative & cute way of passing on the faith to the children’s children in one easy sermon, or in one super happy worship service, or at least in one extremely catchy children’s message. So, did Moses get it wrong when he wrote those words so many years ago? Does the Holy Spirit just not understand that grandparents really are incapable of passing on the faith? Or is it possible that you have been struggling to trust in your Creator & Savior to keep His promises? Has He not already delivered you from the darkness & brought you into the light? Then, come out of your darkness & tell that story to your children & your children’s children.
The good news for each of you is this – you can stop running away from your God given identity, or from your job, or from being a godly parent or grandparent. You can stop running away from telling the story of all the ways in which the heavenly Father has brought you from darkness into the light. You can stop running in the darkness & begin sharing the light of Christ.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46 ESV) Amen.
Let children hear the mighty deeds which God performed of old, which in our younger days we saw, & which our parents told. So make to them His glories known, His works of power & grace; & we’ll convey His wonders down through every rising race. Our sons & daughters we shall tell & they again to theirs that generations yet unborn may teach them to their heirs. O teach them with all diligence the truths of God’s own Word, to place in Him their confidence, to fear & trust their Lord. Amen. LSB 867:1-4.
Backstory: Grandchild is a word that apparently does not exist in the ancient Hebrew language. When I read the blessing at the end of Psalm 128 that says may you live to see your children’s children, I realized that is the way the Hebrews described grandchildren. I typed it into the computer and it told me instantly that grandchildren are referred to ten times in Holy Scripture.
All Saints Day – 2019 LSB #’s 812, 677, 651
Text – Revelation 21:27
Nothing impure will ever enter the Holy City, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
THE BLOOD OF ABEL & THE BOOK OF LIFE
Today we’re celebrating a church festival called All Saints Day – one of the lesser-known festivals. It’s certainly not as well understood or as popular as Christmas and Easter. Yet, many churches have a special tradition for this day. Sometime during the service they commemorate Christians who, in the past year, went on to the glorious and heavenly company of the Saints.
These followers of Jesus have fought the good fight, they have finished the race, and they have kept the faith. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s the peace that our faith brings, but somehow it’s rather easy for us to think of the dear departed as Saints.
But what about you and me? Do you often, or ever; think of yourself as a saint? I mean a dyed in the wool, washed in the blood of the Lamb, righteous, perfect and holy Saint! Is that the image you have of yourself? PAUSE
An old time preacher had a line that went like this: There are two kinds of people in this world: 1) sinners who think they are saints and 2) Saints who know that they are sinners. The way the sentence is structured we realize the two statements are meant to be in contrast to each other. Looking a little more closely we’ll see what that contrast is meant to teach.
Sinners who think they are saints – we easily recognize people in this category. Here’s a perfect example from the Gospel of Luke, “The Pharisee stood and prayed in reference to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people: robbers, wrongdoers, adulterers, or even like that tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all my income.’” (Luke 18:11 NET)
Throughout the NT, the Pharisees are often portrayed as sinners who think they are
saints. And no matter what our personalities are like each of us struggles with bouts of arrogance. We all know someone who doesn’t measure up to our standards, or our way of doing things, and relative to them we consider ourselves to be saints.
During my 1st days at seminary I had a book that most other students did not. Many of them wanted copies of certain pages and I offered to make them, if they’d just pay me when I got the copies finished. After about a month, only one of the students still had not paid, and I’d heard all his excuses. He did not measure up to my standards.
Have you thought poorly of someone for dressing differently than you do? Have you ridiculed someone because of the style, length or color of their hair? Do you dislike working with a person because they don’t clean up after themselves like you expect? Do you consider others irresponsible if they don’t organize things the way you would?
It still bothers me to think that one of my best friends from seminary almost didn’t become a friend because I was so concerned that he hadn’t paid me for those copies. Realizing how arrogant it was to reject him, for not measuring up to that miserly attitude of mine, I still feel embarrassed. I almost prevented our friendship, because I thought he wasn’t worth my time.
But generally speaking, as Christians, we’re aware of the sinfulness of an arrogant heart, so we tend to look out for it and try to avoid it. We know too well our sinful nature, and don’t want any ideas of sainthood to go to our heads. I think that’s why so few of us consider ourselves to be Saints, even in the proper sense of the term.
Now, we’ll look at the old time preacher’s 2nd kind of person – Saints who know they are sinners. It’s safe for us to think of the dead as Saints. They no longer struggle with their sinful nature. They’re free of those twisted desires. But us, no! We don’t want to think of ourselves as Saints, because that puts the pressure on. It makes us feel like we have to live up to something, some kind of high standard. If we have to live up to something we’ll probably fail, and none of us enjoy failure. Also, there’s a tendency to think of high standards, like Sainthood, as a sort of goody-goody two shoes kind of lifestyle. I used to think of pastors that way.
I didn’t want anything to do with living that ‘good’ a life. I wanted to be free to have fun and to live my life my way, according to my standards, not anyone else’s. I wanted nothing to do with the lifestyle of what I viewed as sanctimonious do-gooders. PAUSE
Fear of ridicule is another angle in our reluctance to think of ourselves as Saints. Do you feel self-conscious about praying in a restaurant? Would it bother you to think that people might be watching, and then judging you? You could be labeled a holy roller or a Bible beater. Even though I’m a pastor, I still struggle with that fear of standing out from the crowd.
Or have you turned down a nomination to the school board or the board of elders, either because you didn’t feel that you were good enough, or you didn’t want to be? Maybe it’s even been suggested by someone, with a lot of nerve, that you consider being a teacher or a pastor. Well what kind of life would that be?
You see, we’re uncomfortable with being thought of as Saints, especially in the here and the now. Those problems arise if we view being a Saint as something to achieve. It’s common to view sainthood that way, as depending on how good we are and how we live our lives.
That understanding is not taught by Scripture. The problem is our usual definition of the word Saint. When Mother Teresa died, talk quickly turned to when she’ll be canonized, or declared a Saint. It was mentioned that, among other things, there’d have to be absolute proof of two or more miracles that could be credited to her.
Well, that’s not the kind of sainthood I’m speaking about today. That kind of sainthood obviously has to be earned. It requires us to do something. As Lutherans, we teach that Christ has already done everything that can be done for our salvation. Our faith teaches that we are Saints because Christ earned it for us, even while we were, and still are, sinners. The Biblical definition of Saint is this: Anyone, in heaven or on earth, who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin. The apostle Paul uses this definition frequently, throughout his letters.
Now, the saints in heaven no longer have their sinful nature to contend with. Those of us on earth still do, and we are still fighting the fight of faith. We are still running the race, and it can be an exhausting, fearful battle. But in the text from Isaiah the prophet is holding out hope for us. He’s writing of the last day – the Day of Judgment when Christ will return.
He’s counseling believers to enter their rooms & hide themselves for a little while until God’s wrath has passed by. Isaiah says that the earth will disclose the blood shed upon her, and the Lord is coming to punish the unbelievers of the earth for their refusal to believe. Some commentators go back to Genesis 4 where it says:
“The voice of Abel’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” They see Isaiah referring to this 1st shedding of human blood, as foreshadowing the blood of Jesus Christ that would be shed to pay for all the sins, of all people. To those who reject that forgiveness, bought by the blood of the Lamb, payment will be exacted from them for that innocent blood.
For believers, however, that last day will be a glorious one. All our spiritual enemies will be cast into the fire, our own sinful nature will be removed from us, and we will struggle and suffer and run, the race of faith, no more.
For believers the wrath of judgment day is not to be feared, for it means the end of our struggles with sin – like arrogance, or weakness, or fear of ridicule. It means the end of all disease, the end of the process of dying, and the end of death itself. For all the families and loved ones who’ve lost one of their own this year, there will be no more weeping and no more sorrow. Instead, our lives will be filled with what was only a vision to St. John as he wrote Revelation. There, he describes the Saints of all time as the bride of Christ. We will meet them again that day, and they will shine with the glory of God like a brilliant crystal. He says the city does not even need the sun or the moon – the glory of God is so bright.
The father of lies would have us shy away from thinking of ourselves as Saints. Satan desperately wants us to believe the lie that we aren’t good enough to be called Saints. But sainthood is nothing more than being a child of God.
Our Savior has promised that nothing can tear us away from Him, but if the devil can cause us to doubt we just might walk away from the heavenly Father. So the sermon text begins with another of God’s promises. It says nothing impure will ever enter heaven. There, we will no longer struggle with our current dual nature, of Saint and sinner.
God’s holy and perfect light will prevent anything that is shameful or deceitful even from entering the Holy City. Our sinful nature will be stripped from us. We’ll be left perfectly at peace – pure & clean – with no doubts, no worries, no second-guessing. PAUSE
So what about that second kind of person – the Saints who know they are sinners? Are they for real? Dare we call ourselves Saints without arrogance or fear? The Bible clearly tells us so. It says whoever has their name in the Book of Life shall enter that Holy City on high, the city of eternal light.
And the Book of Life isn’t some guest register that we need to sign when we visit. It’s a book of promise, the promise of our Lord and Savior who personally wrote your name there with His own blood. Amen.
O blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia, alleluia! Amen. LSB 677:4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet