1st Sunday in Advent – A LSB #’s 331, 663, 348
Text – Matthew 24:43
But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake & would not have let his house be broken into.
IF THE HOUSEHOLDER HAD KNOWN
The church service has ended. The final strains of the closing hymn have faded away. The pastor walks to the front of the chancel & says he has only one announcement for today. He tells you that it came directly from God, “Jesus will return tonight at 11:30 PM.” How should you react? What should you do?
That kind of announcement might make you take more seriously Jesus’ teaching that all of us should be ready all the time. However, your pastor will certainly be proven wrong even before the rising of the sun the next morning. And how many times can someone wrongly predict an event before everyone loses faith in those predictions?
One point that Jesus is clearly making in this text from Matthew is that no one will know ahead of time when this world is going to end. Another point Jesus makes is that God is not going to be telling anyone, not even your pastor. Anyone who makes such a prediction is either completely deceived, out of their mind, or outright telling a lie. Otherwise, Jesus is a liar.
God doesn’t say why He refuses to let us know, but the way college & seminary students approach writing papers may shed some light on a possible reason. If the paper is due in one month, almost no one begins working & turns it in after just one or two weeks.
A seminary professor of mine complained about students who turn in papers without proofreading. At first, I agreed with him & thought, “That is foolish.” That was until my 2nd year by which time I was really, really tired of writing papers. Then, if the class began at 9 AM, I was pushing the print button at 8:55, & still had to run to class. No time to proofread a paper then. It is certainly possible that if God told us the world would end in six months, too many of us would be waiting until five months & 29 days to get ready. Preparing for Christ’s return is not a several hour cram session like writing a paper can be. Getting ready for the Son of Man to return is the project of a lifetime.
The OT reading understands that concept by encouraging us, “…come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5 ESV) The heavenly Father knows what sin has done to us, & to all of His creation. He knows that a 5 hour cram session on being spiritual is no help to us at all. Instead, constant vigilance is needed because the seductive power of sin is too strong for us.
Daily repentance, intentionally turning back to God over & over again, is the vigilance that is needed to watch & be ready. We are live each day of our lives on earth as if it is the last day. Otherwise, we could lose our faith in Jesus because Satan’s constant attacks are meant to accomplish exactly that. We do live in constant spiritual danger.
The warning that pride comes before the fall, isn’t merely warning us about falling into sin. It’s also a warning that we could fall into damnation. Having pride in our faith, or pride in how good a Christian we are, puts our salvation on something other than Jesus. He certainly is coming, & when He does He will judge everyone. There will be no escape, no second chances.
Next, if we forget to plan for Jesus’ return, we’ll easily put off the good deeds that God’s Son has prepared in advance for us to do. Each of us has been entrusted with different talents & opportunities for different times & places. Our love for Christ impels us to honor Him with the blessings we’ve been given.
Third, if we forget to watch for the return of Christ then His creation increasingly does not matter to us. What does abusing God’s creation matter if we are not focused upon His return? It’s easy to become careless & indifferent regarding our calling to care for our planet.
Fourth, how many of you are discouraged by what’s going on in our state, our nation & in this world? If we are not actively hoping & preparing for Christ’s return, discouragement can destroy our lives. There’ll be the temptation to pull back & stop being the salt & light of this world. We’ll be tempted to save ourselves through just surviving instead of living.
Lastly, nothing else in this life is anywhere near as important as the return of the Firstborn of the new creation. Jesus is with us now through His promises, but our fallen creation, decaying bodies & corrupted minds are longing to be restored to perfection. In the midst of our confident faith in His promises we still look forward to the complete joy of His return.
If we are not prepared when Christ comes again, He will be the thief to us. His return will be as unwelcome as a midnight burglar shattering our restful slumber. The householder stands for any given believer listening to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus compares Himself to a thief who comes unexpectedly to break into the householder’s home.
Believers, of all people, should take note & prepare. This gospel text has a grim edge to it, due to the serious nature of the fate awaiting those who are not watching & ready for God’s return. Jesus is The mighty Lord who wields all power & authority in heaven & on earth. We should not mistake His patience & mercy for weakness & gullibility.
Beginning the season of Advent is meant to help us get ready, but not for Christmas. As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ 1st arrival on earth, we are chiefly to use that preparation for His 2nd arrival. Then, there will be no tomorrows to “get right with God.”
The parable of the ten virgins comes shortly after this text. Do you remember the response to the five foolish ones who were not prepared? “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:13) In the larger context of the Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is approaching Jerusalem to die. The darkness of His coming crucifixion is hanging over Him. Yet, He knows of another darkness, one that will come upon us. It is a very subtle, unnoticeable darkness, unless we are awakened to it by the Holy Spirit. That darkness is the dullness that comes upon people when they forget to watch for the return of our glorious & eternal King. It is the danger of going on with life as if this world is all there is, & Jesus will never return as Judge.
Rather, Jesus wants us to imagine what it will be like to be reunited with loved ones who have died in the faith. Especially as we struggle, we should dare to consider the restoring of all creation. Yes, we still eat & drink, we go to church & go home, we continue living our lives, but we do so aware of Christ’s love which awakens us to true life.
We are aware of His Spirit, who meets us in this house of God, leading us in this one small way to look to the heavens, lift up our hearts, & say, “Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” If you truly believed that Jesus was returning for judgment tonight at 11:30, what would you do with the rest of this day? That’s what Jesus wants you to consider every day.
His forgiveness of all your sins is real. Wake up, make use of it & then live. Amen.
Rise, my soul, to watch & pray; from your sleep awaken! Be not by the evil day unawares overtaken; for the foe, well we know, is a harvest reaping while the saints are sleeping. Watch against yourself, my soul, lest with grace you trifle; let not self your thoughts control nor God’s mercy stifle. Pride & sin lurk within, all your hopes to shatter; heed not when they flatter. But while watching, also pray to the Lord unceasing. God protects you day by day, strength & faith increasing, so that still mind & will shall unite to serve Him & forever love Him. Amen. LSB 663:1, 4-5.
Thanksgiving – 2022 LSB #’s 435, 852, 806 Text – Luke 17:18
Was no one found to return & give praise to God except this foreigner?
NO ONE EXCEPT THIS FOREIGNER
“Come in poverty & meanness, come defiled, without, within; from infection & uncleanness, from the leprosy of sin, wash your robes & make them white; ye shall walk with God in light.” LSB 435:2.
Although the celebration of Thanksgiving is not usually associated with the season of Lent, the opening hymn provided a fitting lyric for the text in the Gospel of Luke. The Samaritan praising God received everything that James Montgomery was thinking of when he wrote Come To Calvary’s Holy Mountain.
In Jesus’ day, someone with physical leprosy lived in poverty & meanness. They were considered defiled without & within. In other words, it was assumed that a person who had leprosy must not be outside the family of God. They lived a horrific life & suffered an awful death. Worst of all, the only companionship they were allowed was with other lepers.
There’s little doubt that all ten lepers were deliriously happy to be healed. The difficulty in this text is that only one of them returned to Jesus to give thanks. And he was a Samaritan. It’s an accurate representation of the people in our nation today. In spite of our outward celebration of Thanksgiving, maybe one in ten bothers returning to thank Jesus for His blessing.
And we would be hard pressed to find anyone in our nation who has suffered like the lepers did 2000 years ago. Day in & day out, leprosy was a living death. Our individual people are far better off than the lepers of Jesus’ day, yet our entire culture seems to be dying an awful death.
At best, Thanksgiving is now focused on family, or possibly on helping others, but
Jesus has been forgotten. Like the other nine lepers who were healed, our people are happy to celebrate their blessings, but have totally forgotten to give credit & praise to the Giver. As Jesus put it, “Was no one found to return & give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18 ESV)
What do those words of Jesus say to worshippers & congregational life in an increasingly unchurched America? The lepers who did not return were spiritual. They called Jesus “master” & looked to Him for a favor, but their failure to thank & praise Him, even when reminded by the Samaritan, makes it clear that their focus was all about them.
America remains a highly spiritual nation; it’s just that more & more of us claim to be practicing our spirituality apart from the institutional church. Like the nine, people today claim to have “faith,” but it’s self-centered & self-determined, not the “obedience of faith” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:5. Current slogans such as “my body, my choice” make that clear.
Jesus praises the Samaritan & declares, “Your faith has made you well.” “Your faith” is not the hearer’s warm, subjective feeling, & it’s not self-centered. Rather, Jesus speaks of an outwardly centered trust in Him as Savior. Such faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit that has nothing to do with a self-determined set of values or beliefs, no matter how sincere.
Trained our entire lives to be consumers of anything that pleases us, many Americans, like the nine lepers, see faith as a means to a better place in earthly life. Jesus is merely the master dispenser of the blessings we desire. Due to our revolutionary heritage, bowing to a king is not high on the bucket list of most Americans.
However, the Samaritan, upon catching up to Jesus, “…fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” (Luke 17:16a ESV) Much of American Christianity today is about bettering life here on earth while refusing to bow our broken lives & empty hearts before Jesus, our King. The Samaritan reveals not only the proud & self-centered nature of people in his day. His humble gratitude reveals our faults in this day & age. Many of the people born & raised in our nation are no longer thankful for what God has provided us. They neither thank God nor even acknowledge that He exists. Our nation, even we ourselves, need from God what Israel received as we heard in the OT reading:
“And [Yahweh] humbled you & let you hunger & fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV) Only in humility can our hearts worship Jesus as King & reveal true thankfulness.
The Samaritan leper made the others look bad, through his gratitude. Multitudes of foreigners are coming to our land right now. They risk their lives to receive the blessings of living in this prosperous nation. Will they be thankful to God for those blessings, & in the process reveal our ingratitude by contrast? Will Jesus ask them, “Where are the other nine?”
With all the negative news in our media, are we still thanking God for our lives here in the United States? We have lost a lot in our nation these past forty years. Are we still thankful in spite of those losses? The foreigner in the text not only valued the blessing of healing. He valued the Giver. True faith celebrates not just the healing, but the Healer.
True faith begs for not simply the blessing, but for Jesus Himself. This Gospel reading is about Jesus because He is on His way to Jerusalem to treat more than the symptoms, such as leprosy. God’s Son is on His way to destroy the root of all the symptoms of sin. Jesus is more than our Healer. He is our Lord & King. Daily we should seek Him & bow down to Him.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Samaritan revealed a holiness based upon His own person, the sinless Son of God, & upon His sacrifice as the perfect, unblemished Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. The cleansing of the Samaritan was a foreshadowed holiness. As the Lamb of God paid for the sins of the whole world in His death, He fulfilled that holiness for you & for me. The cleansing of the Samaritan also continues Jesus’ ongoing ministry to the marginal people of society. The Samaritan proved to be fruit from seed that had fallen on fertile soil. Have our lives proven to be fruit from seed that fell on fertile soil?
No doubt, each of us is guilty. The solution is highlighted by the opening illustration: “Come in poverty & meanness, come defiled, without, within; from infection & uncleanness, from the leprosy of sin, wash your robes & make them white; ye shall walk with God in light.” LSB 435:2.
Through the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of us who once were foreigners have been welcomed into the family of God. Above all other blessings, for that we have reason to be eternally thankful. And in heaven we will be. Amen.
O God of mercy, God of might, in love & pity infinite, teach us, as ever in Thy sight, to live our lives in Thee. Amen. LSB 852:1.
Last Sunday of the Church Year – C (Proper 29) LSB #’s 703:1-4, 396, 337 Text – Colossians 1:13
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
THE DOMAIN OF DARKNESS
When you meet someone new, as you’re getting to know them through small talk, one of the common things people ask is this, “Where are you from?” To know that gives us a sense of who they are. Whether we’re from Ireland or Germany, Michigan or California tells people something about the experiences which shaped & molded us while growing up.
We might learn of the language a person grew up speaking & how fluent they are in our native tongue. In the Navy, I met an officer who grew up in southern California. He never considered that outdoor temperatures can end up below zero until he spent a winter in Idaho.
A friend of mine at seminary never considered that farmers would try to drain water off their fields, so the crops would not flood. He grew up in the desert & they always had to add water, through irrigation, to make anything grow.
Have you considered how your life, your thoughts, values & opinions were shaped by where you are from? Narrowing in more specifically on the spiritual aspect of life, have you considered the differences that exist between you & someone who has grown up in a thoroughly atheistic country?
Think how someone might react if they asked you where you’re from & you answered, “I’m from the domain of darkness.” Unusual as that may sound, it is entirely correct. Each of us, & every other human being you have ever met, are from that domain. The Holy Spirit inspired & empowered King David to confess:
“I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been
sinful.” (Psalm 51:5 GNT) And the Apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions & sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world & of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh & following its desires & thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV)
That describes, very well, the domain of darkness, & God is making the point that all of us were conceived there. That domain has shaped us, along with our thoughts, opinions & values. The message Paul is delivering in Colossians is that we need to be rescued & our heavenly Father does not leave us in that domain of darkness.
The Holy Spirit works through the means of grace – Baptism, Communion & God’s Word – to transfer us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. All who believe in Jesus as Savior now live under His reign even here in the brokenness of this darkness. You & I are from the domain of darkness, but it no longer owns us. We have been set free of eternal death.
The nation we live in today has become a dark place, but it’s not that sin has been missing in prior years. It’s just that sin seems to have gained a greater foothold lately. Fewer & fewer people are willing to commit time & energy to the things God calls us to. He calls His creation to life, but Satan has a different definition of life than God.
The words we spoke during the Introit give us a facet of God’s definition: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him! (Psalm 33:8 ESV) Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 134:1 ESV) Praising God shows that we are truly alive. Satan despises that.
Whenever it comes to any definition of life that the Bible gives, the Devil will plant the question, “Did God really say that?” Satan will then offer up anything as life that has nothing to do with Jesus as Savior. For example, in our recent election, Proposal 3 was offered up by Satan as life. Instead of looking to Jesus as Savior from their troubles, people in Michigan voted to allow abortion anytime, anywhere for any reason. And real human beings have their lives ended in abortion, as the supposed solution to problems. Ending an innocent person’s life to solve a problem is a perfect example of living in the domain of darkness.
The whole reason the Son of God took on human flesh was to transfer us out of the domain of darkness & into His kingdom of life. God, in the flesh, died on the cross so that we can look to His resurrection life as the solution to all the problems that trouble us in this domain of darkness. Satan’s whole desire is to keep us permanently in that domain of darkness.
Yet, every time we turn to God in prayer, even if it’s simply “Come, Lord Jesus” before a meal, each time the Holy Spirit is demonstrating His power & desire to transfer us out of the domain of darkness. That’s why it is so important to teach your children how to pray, or teach your spouse, neighbors & friends. Turning to Jesus demonstrates that we have been rescued.
Living in the domain of darkness is a horrible place to be. Even though we no longer belong there its horror still affects us every day. You & I have far more to offer people as solutions than abortion. We have far more to offer people who are lonely than hooking up outside marriage. We can point to a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe.
“All things in heaven & on earth, visible & invisible, …were created through Christ & for Christ.” (Colossians 1:16 ESV) After transferring us out of the domain of darkness, He gives all of His creation to us, just like He gave it to Adam & Eve. Now, we continue to struggle in our calling as the caretakers of God’s creation.
In heaven we will fulfill our dominion over God’s creation perfectly in every way. There, no one will kill anything ever again. Confusion, suffering & death will not exist in that domain. There, we will experience & know intimately the heavenly Father’s definition of life in all of its amazing & beautiful ways. If you think a rising or setting sun can create beauty in this life you’ll be blown away by what you experience in paradise. And there, it’ll never get old. You will never take any blessings for granted. Your thoughts, values & opinions will be perfect & they’ll founded entirely upon the author & perfector of our faith – Jesus.
The domain of darkness is the exact opposite of that. It’s a world of lies & deception, of hatred & bitterness. It’s a world of entitlement & complete lack of gratitude. In that domain all of our thoughts, values & opinions are centered upon ourselves. What’s in this for me? There is no forgiveness & no hope in anything other than yourself.
As we have arrived at the last Sunday of the church year, we should also consider that our last Sunday on earth is now one week closer than before. For many of us here, growing older is synonymous with growing weaker & less capable. As a result, finding any sort of hope & forgiveness in ourselves becomes less & less likely.
On December 8th, 1987 the headlines read: “43 die on Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771.” In less than two minutes, 43 people had lost their lives when a hijacker shot a passenger & both pilots causing the plane to crash into a hillside along the coast of California. That’s a glaring example, yet, no matter how we look at it, life is short.
What really mattered for those who died in the crash? What really matters for anyone who closes their eyelids in death? Certainly not the things we possess! For the people on Flight 1771, the only thing that mattered was whether they had faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. God’s Spirit alone can transfer us to the kingdom of Jesus that lasts throughout eternity.
And God’s Spirit was at work on Good Friday as we heard in the Gospel reading. There, a criminal being executed next to the Son of God, simply 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 23:42-43 ESV) Hours or even minutes before death that criminal realized he could not possibly save himself. Finally he surrendered & then was transported from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Ever since, He has been in paradise joyfully awaiting all of his brothers & sisters in Christ who have not yet arrived.
This last Sunday of the church year calls us to look with vigilance & faithfulness for the 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus to take His redeemed people into paradise, & ultimately, into Heaven on Earth. This is the fulfillment for which all Christians yearn when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”
The next time someone asks, “Where are you from?” you now have quite a story to tell. May God grant you the specific words which that person needs to hear that he or she may also be transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
This is also what you & I need to rediscover each day if we are going to embrace the life of Christ in the here & now, as well as have comfort & hope with respect to how our days here come to their end. I can assure you that in Christ they end well.
Fear not! Peace be with you, even when death grips your mortal body! Christ has overcome the world of sin, death & the Devil. Your redemption draws near! In the name of Jesus. Amen.
See earth in darkness lying, the heathen nations dying in hopeless gloom & night. To you the Lord of heaven – your life, your hope – has given great glory, honor & delight. Your heart will leap for gladness when from the realms of sadness they come from near & far. Your eyes will wake from slumber as people without number rejoice to see the Morning Star. Amen. LSB 396:2, 5.
23rd Sunday after Pentecost – C LSB #’s 906, 789, 664
Text – 2 Thessalonians 3:11
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.
WALKING IN IDLENESS
In the calendar of the church, next Sunday marks the end of the year. Its official name is The Sunday of the Fulfillment. Our Sunday this morning serves as the Eve of the end of that year in order to heighten our sense of expectation for how this present world will end.
News of the war in Ukraine has mostly fallen off the headlines, but with Russia being a nuclear power, there is some nervousness concerning whether or not they’ll use them. Would that bring our world to an end? On a more personal level, it’s not beyond each of us to wonder how your story, or mine, will come to its end.
St. Paul wrote this 2nd letter to the church at Thessalonica because of their ideas about the end of the world. The church there was suffering under persecution, & though they were standing firm, fake news about the end of time is what they were putting their hopes in.
An excited, almost hysterical expectation had led some to abandon their regular occupation. They were leading idle & disorderly lives in dependence upon the charity of the church. To counter this, Paul offers sobering words pointing to the events which must precede the coming of Christ in glory.
The Apostle seeks to turn the church back to sober & responsible activity which is the hallmark of the genuinely Christian hope. You & I live in a horribly twisted world, where even the church, the very body of Christ, is infected by the horrors of sin.
For example, the Russian Orthodox church is backing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The church of its time called for Pontius Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Yet, that crucifixion of Jesus overcame all the plans Satan has to cause eternal harm to us. Since we are free of his rule, genuine Christian hope can turn away from preoccupation with our suffering. St. Paul said that our coming eternal hope & glory will far outweigh all our struggles & suffering here on earth. And while that is factual & true, getting our emotions in line with those facts is much easier said than done. Suffering still hurts, & depression is rampant across our nation.
King Solomon wrote that in all of our world’s broken history, there is nothing new under the sun. Therefore, it’s certain that life in Thessalonica was pretty much the same as life in our time. We too have people walking in idleness, more than ever since the pandemic. Despair & depression increased greatly during those Covid years.
Since God is in control of everything in His creation, followers of Jesus know that His almighty plan is unfolding. Yet, because so many things appear hopeless, we struggle to live by faith instead of by sight. There is so much pain & confusion today among the people of our country. Our government has proven itself incapable of solving our nation’s problems.
There has never been a better time to turn our focus away from government & back to Jesus. In that light, St. Paul wrote:
“…pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead & be honored, as happened among you, & that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you & guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing & will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God & to the steadfastness of Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV)
The love of God & the steadfastness of Christ is where all of our hopes lie. This past election proved ever more that our nation is continuing on the path of abandoning God. In Montana, there was a proposal that would have required doctors to provide care to babies who survive abortion. It was voted down, & Montana is not California.
Killing children in the womb was never enough to satisfy the Devil, but human beings are now proving themselves too foolish to realize that. And that can cause God’s children to despair, to give up & to surrender in fits of hopelessness. If there’s no point in voting, is there any point in working for a living? The government wants to be our nanny. Why not let them? And if I don’t work, I don’t have to pay taxes. It’s a logical argument, & a lifestyle that many people already follow. Why not you? Why not me? And come quickly, Lord Jesus.
St. Paul doesn’t fall for that sinful logic & forcefully counters: “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness & not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
With the phrase, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul makes clear that those strong words are not merely his opinion. Yet those strong words are also addressed to brothers. Paul has not written them off as unbelievers. They have grown lax in their love for their heavenly Father & for the price He paid to rescue them.
The Apostle seeks to rouse them out of their slumber. Are you sleeping? Maybe you have been working to earn your living. Maybe you’re retired & your occupation is now grandparent. Have you been walking in idleness regarding the mission of God? Jesus came, not just to seek & to save the lost, but to offer hope & comfort to those who are suffering.
All of us know that this world is full of people who are suffering & hopeless. While it’s true that many of them will no longer listen to anything that Christians have to say, some of them will listen when they see what God’s children do.
A lazy, uninvolved Christian is simply disobedient, neglecting the nature of the Church. They are denying how the Son & the Spirit work in & through the people of God to accomplish spreading the good news of forgiveness, but also loving & caring for one another. Paul goes so far as to say, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b ESV)
Paul instructs us to actually keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness. Stop
associating with them in their idleness. In the 1st letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had mentioned some who would not work, but were disorderly. It is evident that his brief exhortations had not produced the desired effect. Paul is most anxious that these friends should come to their senses, & it’s noteworthy that he continues to treat them as friends. His stern command is given in love.
Now, you need to hear this, Paul is not speaking about people who are unable to work. He is not uncaring or insensitive to the needs of those who, for whatever reason, cannot be employed. He is talking specifically about people who refuse to work & expect to live off the backs of others.
And Paul is not commanding those who do work to treat these brothers as unbelievers. He recognizes that idleness is part of the curse of sin that makes so difficult, so many of the important things in life. Anytime we are called to work against the debilitating effects of sin it truly is impossible to do so without the power of the Holy Spirit.
By refusing to use the abilities that God gives us for work, we are refusing the help & the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a dangerous path to travel in this world. Earning a living was an extremely difficult task in Paul’s day, quite unlike it is here in America now. It’s more like America was when factory workers slaved away 12 hours a day & 6 days a week.
To refuse to work when able, & expecting to live off the charity of others, was not just an insult but a life threatening circumstance. It was threatening to those who did work & to their families. To top it off, the idle ones were not just refusing to work, they were also meddling in the affairs of those who did, stirring up even further trouble.
Therefore, the urgency of Christ’s gospel mission is what Paul sets before us in the opening verses of the reading from Thessalonians: “…pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead & be honored, as happened among you, & that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you & guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 ESV) Genuine Christian hope can turn away from preoccupation with our suffering only by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Our sinful nature makes us too weak to do this on our own.
For that reason Martin Luther suggested that daily we remember our baptism & the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. It’s best if we consciously turn to God in our suffering & in our struggles.
It often seems tedious for us, to pray without ceasing, but it is that kind of sober & responsible activity that is the hallmark of the genuinely Christian hope. It is a living by faith, not by sight. While we too look forward to the end of time & Christ’s return, we don’t do so with a lazy & idle attitude. By sight, that may appear wise, yet by faith we realize it is foolish.
God’s children do not just put their hopes in the end of time, nor even simply in heaven. We put our hopes in Jesus Christ, in what He has accomplished, & in what He has promised. Because of what Jesus has done to save us, we live godly lives here in time. As Martin Luther wrote:
“The Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s Kingdom come? God’s Kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word & lead godly lives here in time & there in eternity.” (Small Catechism)
That is how the Word of the Lord runs & is glorified. The people of God participate, at a basic level, in mission & evangelism through prayer which turns the heart of believers to those outside of Christ. Prayer purposed for the growth of God’s Kingdom of grace & mercy, of love & obedience, somehow unleashes the potential of proclamation so it can run; run over racism, hatred, gender dysphoria, neglect & alienation. The Gospel outpaces all would-be & eventually fleeting identity-makers. The Good News of forgiveness in Christ brings with it the truth of a renewed-in-Christ humanity. Baptism begins that renewal within us. The end of time, with the resurrection, will be the final fulfillment of the promises given to us in our baptism.
On this Eve of the Sunday of the Fulfillment, we pray that our heavenly Father would remind all of us of that Good News. Amen.
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 others may know Your care. Amen. LSB 789:2-3.
22nd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 27) LSB #’s 802, 611, 727
Text – Exodus 3:15
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac & the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, & thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
Failure to Remember
Three older men are undergoing a memory test at the doctor’s office. The doctor asks, “What is three times three?” The first man answers, “274.” The 2nd man answers, “Tuesday.” The 3rd man answers, “Nine.” The doctor, pleasantly surprised at the 3rd man’s correct response, says, “Great! How did you get that answer?” “Simple. Just subtract 274 from Tuesday.”
It can be the elephant in the room, when an aging congregation like ours gathers together on Sunday morning. Failure to remember your multiplication tables, what you’re doing or where you’re going causes frustration in the least & fear at the worst. Dementia is one of the harsh realities of aging in a creation that has been corrupted by sin.
Sadly, it is not only physical illness that causes failure to remember. The spiritual illness of sin causes us to actively forget who created us, who redeemed us & who will raise us from the dead. And even when we remember who God is, we often confine Him to a tiny little box. We allow Him to influence only a small portion of our hectic lives.
For example, when it comes to Holy Communion, people like to explain that it is a personal matter directly & only between themselves & God. They do not acknowledge God’s ability or even desire to work through anyone else outside their own narrowly defined boundaries. It’s an attempt to limit God’s will to their comfort zone.
Each of us is guilty of that – trying to limit Yahweh to our own safe space. It’s something our sinful nature does effortlessly. The Exodus reading gives a clear example. The Lord said, “‘Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…’” Things were getting way out of his comfort zone. He did not appreciate how God was working outside the narrow boundaries in which Moses was trying to contain Yahweh. You & I understand how Moses felt because the Holy Spirit also works outside of our comfort zone.
Have you been asked to teach Sunday School, serve on the board of elders, count the offerings, volunteer in the school, lead a home group Bible study? Were any of those outside your comfort zone? I’m certain you could add to that list. Sin closes our mind in upon itself, taking away our God-given freedom to serve others wherever His Spirit calls.
We feel pressure instead of joy. We feel anxiety instead of peace. We are so familiar with fear yet we are unacquainted with heavenly confidence. We live puny little lives because the spiritual illness of sin causes us to actively forget Who created us, Who redeemed us, & that Yahweh Himself will raise us from the dead.
“The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac & the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:15 ESV) Like Moses, your pastor has been sent to tell you that repenting of your sins & believing that Jesus has forgiven them will set you free to love others as you already love yourself. As sinful beings we actively fail to remember that.
“The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac & the God of Jacob,” has created you, redeemed you & He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day. He is not a puny little god who can be tucked away into the narrow confines of your selfish comfort zone. He is not simply your own personal God.
That’s why He reveals Himself to Moses as He does, “…the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac & the God of Jacob.” Yahweh is not simply our puny little personal God, whom we can manipulate or control. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, which means He is the God of all Creation & the God of thousands of years of history. Yahweh transcends anything that human beings can discover, & He is fully aware of every single thing any of us will ever do. Failing to remember such a God is the epitome of foolishness. In fact, failure to remember the God who saves is a direct result of sin.
Failure to remember Yahweh is an accurate diagnosis of how our nation got to where we find ourselves today. After the people of Israel had been rescued from Egypt, before they enter the Promised Land, these words were given to them by God:
“Make certain that you do not forget the Lord your God; do not fail to obey any of His laws that I am giving you today. When you have all you want to eat & have built good houses to live in & when your cattle & sheep, your silver & gold, & all your other possessions have increased, be sure that you do not become proud & forget the Lord your God who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 GNT)
A majority of the people in our nation are suffering from a failure to remember the Lord, & all that He has done to grant us blessings. God instituted the Passover so the Israelites would remember that Yahweh rescued them from Egypt. Jesus instituted Holy Communion, not only to forgive our sins, but that we might remember how Jesus rescued us from slavery to sin.
Our failure to remember God destroys the blessings that He gives. Our failure to remember God can destroy the lives of other human beings in addition to our own life. Look at our nation – something like 70% of us feel that we’re headed in the wrong direction, & there’s nowhere near 70% of Americans today who truly follow Jesus. Almost everyone sees it.
When Jonah was sent to the city of Nineveh, to warn them of their coming destruction, miraculously, they repented. They confessed their sin & turned back to God, demonstrated by putting on sackcloth & refusing to eat or drink.
That clearly is not happening in this country, & there are no obvious signs of mass repentance. Instead, our leaders are doubling down on their immoral & godless policies. In the reading from Exodus, God’s people in Egypt were also suffering under a pagan religion & government. Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt & have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, & I have come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:7-8 ESV)
When the fullness of time had come, God came down, through Moses, to deliver His people. He did that in the Exodus from Egypt. He did that when He was born in Bethlehem. He will do that again on the Last Day, when the trumpet sounds & the dead in Christ will rise. Then, all the evil of this world will be separated from those who trust in Jesus.
The problem we have is that human beings are completely incapable of remembering Yahweh as we should. The evidence is everywhere in our world. We are not able to save ourselves. Our Creator is fully aware of that, so He remembers us, just as He remembered the people of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. He inspired the OT prophet Jeremiah to write, 31:19-20:
“‘Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; therefore, My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,’ declares the Lord.” Ephraim is just another name for the people of Israel. To be Israel was to hear God & to do what one heard, but Ephraim never found his way.
So Yahweh sent a new Israel, a new Son, one who would remember in our place. A Son who would hear God & do what He heard, again, in our place. This Son would remember the deeds of Yahweh, most especially the salvation that He brings. Even while hanging on the cross Jesus trusted in God for salvation, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46 ESV)
And the NT apostle John wrote, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things & bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (14:26 ESV) All that we need to remember is that Yahweh has called us to be His child, & that is enough to be saved. Yet, we have the opportunity to do far more than merely being saved. God’s heart longs to work through us to share the love of Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words & deeds. He even prepares those deeds in advance for us to do.
Looking at the state of our nation, & another election, how inadequate we feel, like Moses, when confronted with what appears to be an insurmountable task. And yet, what joy we receive when we recognize Yahweh’s hand guiding us as we pray & as we work.
The text in Exodus begins the account of God’s great act of liberation of His people Israel in the OT. It is also a foreshadowing of His much greater act of redemption of all people through His Son Jesus in the NT. Followers of Jesus, throughout history, have heard God’s Word & experienced His love & compassion. His salvation is real no matter what we are afraid of.
You & I have received His body & blood in the Lord’s Supper & been washed in the waters of Baptism, yet our actions constantly return to self-focus & away from Christ-focus. Daily, we fail to remember the name of our God & what He has done. Our comfort & our confidence is that Yahweh never ever forgets us.
Our spiritual dementia, we could call it original sin, has already been overcome by Jesus. Yahweh hears our cries of suffering. He sees our oppression. He understands & He came down at Bethlehem to deliver us. Our failure to remember is not a good or pleasant thing, yet it does not mean the end of us. For that we thank Jesus. Amen.
Oh, the height of Jesus’ love, higher than the heavens above, deeper than the depths of sea, lasting as eternity! Love that found me – wondrous thought! Found me when I sought Him not. O my Savior, help afford by Your Spirit & Your Word! When my wayward heart would stray, keep me in the narrow way; grace in time of need supply while I live & when I die. Amen. LSB 611:2, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet