Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Across the Middle East, this last year or so has been known as the “Arab Spring”—a time when people in the Arabic-speaking world have risen up in protest at the harshness of their leaders.
There have been revolutions in Libya and Yemen and Tunisia resulting in regime change. But is the Muslim brotherhood really an improvement over Mubarek and Qaddafi? Will the people in the Arab world be better off with their new leaders than they were before?
Here in our own country we have a congress with the lowest approval rate in history—a set of leaders who cannot bring themselves to actually work together for the good of our nation. "Occupy Wall Street" on the left and the "Tea Party" on the right agree about nothing—except—something is wrong and needs to be fixed. But will the next election of new leaders next year actually accomplish anything?
Human beings yearn for leaders who are wise and just: who are concerned for their people and lead them in ways that are beneficial. That desire comes from God. In the beginning, mankind was ruled directly by God-- but rebelled against his rule and came to be ruled by fallen men like themselves who bear the sword.
But still the hope for a wise, just, good, rulers remains. Fascism directs that desire to an authoritarian nationalism -and communism directs that desire to the forces of the economy- and democracy directs it back to the people. All of these fail to meet mankind’s desire for wise, just, benevolent rule because that desire can only truly be fulfilled by the righteous rule of our true King-Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
Several of the Old Testament prophets use this word picture of a “righteous branch” to describe the Messiah. They set before us the scene of a great forest fire or a clear-cut forest with just one small lone green shoot of new growth remaining. That branch is a sign of hope and new life in the midst of death and destruction.
It’s a vivid picture of what life was like for God’s ancient people. After Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south—two kingdoms ruled by a succession of kings.
Of the kings of the northern kingdom—not one of them was ever commended by the Lord—they were evil men who led God’s people into terrible sin. Of the kings in the southern kingdom, it was mixed bag--some good, some evil--all of them frail and fallen.
None of these kings was able to stop their descent into destruction. The northern kingdom fell to Assyria in 721 B.C. and the southern kingdom fell to Babylon in 586 B.C.—both kingdoms punished by God for their rebellion against his righteous rule.
But in the midst of that death and destruction, Jeremiah promised new life and the hope that comes with it. A righteous branch—an heir of David-- who would rule wisely. That promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ—David’s Son and David’s Lord—the true and rightful king of the world.
Our yearning for a ruler who is wise and good and just will not be met in a political candidate—no matter what they promise—it is only met in Christ-- and as we receive him as our king we can count on his wise and gracious rule over our lives. Jeremiah wrote that:
He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
After our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, wise men from the east came to Judea, searching for the Messiah. They asked Herod, who was king of Judea, where they could find the newborn king of the Jews. And when they found Jesus they bowed before him and worshiped him. Herod, fearing the loss of his own kingdom, sent soldiers to the surrounding area and killed every little boy he could find—trying to kill Jesus.
A more vivid contrast between the kings of the world and the king of kings cannot be found in Holy Scripture than Jesus and Herod. Jesus was born the Prince of Peace- while the rulers of the world wield the sword. The rulers of the world are frail men like us- while Jesus is wise and just and righteous in his rule.
The deep human longing for a leader who will not fail us can only be found when Jesus Christ is our sovereign king.
His will for our lives is perfect. He knows exactly what is best for us. He guides our lives by his word. And when we submit our will to his will—and when we turn over control of our lives to his gracious rule—and when we establish him as king upon the throne of our hearts—our lives will be blessed and our yearning for a true king fulfilled.
Of course we know about ourselves that this is the very thing that we fail so often to do.
Just like Adam and Eve who chose to rule their own lives—we choose to abandon the righteous rule of our Lord and go our own way.
Just like the people of Israel who believed that their power and politics could save them, we go from election to election believing that if we can just get the right person in power all our problems will go away.
That is why it is such good news that Jesus is not only our true king but he is also our savior from all those times and ways we abandon his rule. Jeremiah wrote about him:
In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'
It is important to note that when Jeremiah promised that Judah would be saved and Israel would dwell securely he was referencing the very people who failed the Lord so badly.
But the Lord did not wash his hands of them—he didn’t tell them that they had failed him for the last time and there was no coming back. Instead, the very people who went their own way—who looked to almost anything other than the Lord for the solution to their problems—those sinners are the ones he would save—those sinners are the ones that he would make sure, never had anything to fear again.
The New Testament says the same thing this way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When Jesus was born, Matthew was commanded by the angel to name him Jesus—for he would save his people from their sins. The promise of Jeremiah that there would come a king who would also be a Savior was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.
His death on the cross is the salvation of Judah and our salvation too. His resurrection from the dead is the promise of a life with God that death cannot end for Israel and for everyone here tonight.
He accomplished our salvation by living a holy life for us—in our place—everywhere we have failed. He offered up the perfect once-for-all sacrifice of his body and blood upon the cross—one perfect holy life for a world full of sinners—the righteous for the unrighteous-- so that believing in him—his righteousness counts in God’s sight for our salvation.
That is what Jesus—our Savior and King—has done for us. But there is even more still to come. Jeremiah wrote about the hope for the future Jesus gives:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.'
Jeremiah lived his life at a particular point in salvation history. The great salvation event of the past was the deliverance of the people of Israel from terrible slavery in Egypt.
By the might of his outstretched arm, God set his people free. He protected them from death by the shed blood sacrificed for that purpose and he led them to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea where their enemies were washed away.
The Lord showed himself to be a king greater than Pharaoh and a mighty Savior of his people. But that saving event was already ancient history as Jeremiah viewed the death and destruction of his day in Israel and Judah.
Was the Lord still a mighty king and gracious Savior? He was! Not only was he the God of the past, he was the God of the future. Just as he had acted with mercy and might in the past so he would act with mercy and might in the future.
As dark as those days were that Jeremiah experienced, there was a bright future to look forward to--for God’s saving power was still in effect. He would once again deliver his people from their enemies and bring them safely to himself. That deliverance was still in the future—but it was certain and sure for the Savior King had promised it.
We too stand at a particular point in salvation history. We know what Jeremiah had to look forward to, as an accomplished fact of salvation—the Lord raised up a deliverer for his people in Cyrus who set them free from slavery in Babylon and sent the home to Judah.
But we know even more. The Lord sent another deliverer—not just for the Jews—but for the whole world in his Son Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection has not only accomplished our salvation—but has given us hope for the future.
He turns our eyes from the failures of our past and points them to a new life that lies ahead for his saving work is not finished—but something for us to look forward to when he comes again in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth where will live with God forever. Jeremiah promised that: Then they shall dwell in their own land."
Not only do we long for true leaders but we long for our true home and this too is from God.
In the beginning Adam and Even lived in the Garden of Eden with God but their sin meant exile. God gave the Israelites a promised land but again their sin meant exile. The New Testament calls Christians aliens and strangers in this world—a pilgrim people on our way home. And so we are. We are passing through this earthly life to a new eternal home that Christ has prepared for us where his perfect rule no end.
Until that day we can enjoy his wise and gracious rule by yielding our will to his and letting his word—be the last words—about our lives. Amen.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
If you attend the adult bible class you can almost count on sometime during that hour, a timeline will be drawn on the dry erase board. It reaches back to Adam and Eve and stretches forward to Christ’s second coming with the cross in the middle.
We find our own lives on that timeline somewhere between Christ’s first and second coming—each day moving us closer to his return in glory—the final moment in time.
That progression of salvation history to the second coming of Christ is what Paul is talking when he says that: The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Because Jesus will once again enter directly into human history at his return in glory on the last day, we understand that his return grows ever closer with each passing day. Christ’s return is closer than it ever has been and our expectation of it ought to increase with each passing day.
But why does Paul when he says that salvation is nearer to us now than it was in the past? Aren’t we saved right now?
Yes we are! But there is still more good news to come with our Lord’s return. Right now, we have forgiveness for our sins and the strength to resist the devil and the promise that when we die our souls will go to be with the Lord. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has reconciled us to God and we are saved through faith in him.
But we also know about ourselves that: our faith is not all that it should be—that often times we give in to the devil’s temptations and our flesh’s weaknesses—that these bodies will die. We see the evidence all around us of a world that is broken by sin. We have to walk by faith-- not by sight.
But there is a day to come when the fullness of Christ’s redeeming work will be ours. We will lay aside our sinful flesh forever. Our bodies will rise from the grave never to die again. Evil will be punished- the devil will be cast into the lake of eternal fire- and there will be a new heaven and a new earth unstained by sin, just like there was in the beginning where God and man will enjoy perfect fellowship forever.
This is Christ’s salvation that Paul is talking about that is getting closer and closer and we need to be ready and awake and prepared to meet that new, eternal day. And so Paul says: the hour has come for you to wake up from sleep.
Paul used the word “sleep” to describe spiritual complacency. We’re unaware of what’s going on around us—we’re cozy and comfortable with the way things are—we’d just as soon stay where we are right now.
The consequences of hitting the snooze alarm and going back to sleep may not be all that big a deal when it comes to our earthly responsibilities (if we are an hour late to work or if we miss our first class the world is not going to end).
But when it comes to our spiritual life and eternity: the world is going to end- and spiritual complacency is deadly- and so we need to wake up because Paul says: The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
For all who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the dark night of sin and unbelief has come to an end--and so it is time for us to wake up, get out of our comfort zone, and get to work preparing to meet the Lord when he comes again.
The rest of this lesson from the Bible deals with that very thing—what the “work-day” of the Christian looks like as we prepare to meet the Lord. Paul says: Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Paul’s message is exactly the same as that of John the Baptist and of Jesus and the other apostles and the whole Christian church down to this day and this pastor: to prepare for the day of the Lord we need to repent of our sins and be renewed in our faith in Jesus—casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light.
We are going to look at some of those works of darkness that we are to cast off in more detail in just a few moments-- but suffice to say, works of darkness include everything that flows from our sinful nature as it is tempted by the world and the devil.
These works are not “freedom”—they are not legitimate lifestyle choices—they are not things about which Christians may agree to disagree. They are darkness—that is, they flow from spiritual darkness and need to be confessed as such and repented of.
This casting off the works of darkness is not a one time thing—but it must be done again and again by the child of God who desires to walk in the light of Christ and stand ready to meet him when he comes again.
As we cast off the works of darkness we are to put on the armor of light. Throughout his letters Paul uses the image of armor so that his readers could visualize the spiritual equipping the Holy Spirit does for those who are Jesus’ disciples.
There is the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.
Just as the works of darkness much be cast off again and again, so the spiritual armor of light must be put on again and again as we hear God’s Word and are absolved of our sins and receive Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion and are renewed in our faith by the power of the Spirit.
It is simply an impossibility that we would be able to be ready to meet the Lord when he comes if the Holy Spirit did not equip us for the spiritual battles we face as we wait for that day. We are fighting against spiritual forces of darkness and evil in which we are to have no part. Paul says:
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
Each of the sins mentioned by Paul—which are representative rather than exhaustive of spiritual darkness—were prevalent in his day—they were part of the culture and Christians were forbidden from taking part in them. They are still part of the world in our day and Christians are still forbidden from taking part in sin.
Paul puts orgies and drunkenness together because both are representative of sinful excess and extravagance. It is not so much the sexual element of an ancient orgy that Paul is thinking about (which was certainly there and will be examined in more detail later) but about the excessive eating and drinking and carousing that went on—all of it offered up as worship to some pagan god.
Now this may seem far removed from our place and time—but is it? When people are mauled by an crazed mob of shoppers trying to get some bargain—when holy days like Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving can only be celebrated by many of our fellow citizens with shopping baskets filled with cases of beer—when we entertain ourselves with the exploits of the Kardashians and the house wives of Beverly Hills—we should have no doubt that there is a god who is being worshiped with this sinful excess and extravagance-- and it is not the true God.
The same is true when it comes to the sexual morals of our nation and its citizens. Divorce, children born out of wedlock, couples living together, and pornography have risen dramatically over the last several decades. The culture around us is saturated by sexual images produced to sell some product. And modesty and simple decency have gone out the window so that now even on Sunday morning people dare to dress like they were going to a club instead of entering into the presence of the living God.
And it’s not only the actions of so many in our nation that have become corrupt—it’s their attitudes—hearts filled with quarreling and jealousy. Politicians try to gain the upper hand over their opponent by stirring up class warfare, pitting the have’s against the have not’s. Marketers make it their goal to instill in us envy for that which is new and improved. And our common life is marked more and more by rudeness and hatefulness and coarseness.
The words that Paul writes to us are not ancient history—they perfectly describe our culture and in contrast to the prevailing custom—Paul says that we are to walk properly as in daytime.
The word that is translated as “properly” means dignified and decorous. In other words, just because we live in a culture that is filled with moral filth does not mean that we have to wallow around in it. We are to have nothing to do with the spiritual darkness of the world around us but we are to live our lives in the light of Jesus Christ.
It doesn’t mean that the Christian has to be stiff or uptight or a prude—but it does mean that our lives as Christians are to be demonstrably different than the unbelieving world around us. The way we think about material things and sexuality and interpersonal relations is to be shaped by the words of the Holy Spirit—rather than shaped by unbelievers in the world around us.
Paul says that we are to: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. When we were baptized, we were clothed in the righteousness of Christ—his death became our own and we were raised in the power of his resurrection so that we could walk in newness of life.
We are baptized just once—but the power of God’s promise made to us in baptism goes on and on throughout our lives so that we can put Christ on again and again, laying hold of his righteousness by faith and turning away from sin and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit so that not only do we not walk according to the flesh but we make no provision or place for sin in our lives whatsoever.
This may mean that we have to abstain from alcohol—it may mean that we have to avoid some TV or movie that would incite lust—it may mean that we have to get a new set of friends who will encourage us to live as Christians—it may mean that we have to cut up the credit cards so that we are not constantly overspending—but whatever the sacrifice—what is it, compared to being prepared and ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?
Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of life. Amen.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The book of Lamentations was inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the prophet Jeremiah who was called by God to prophecy the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He lived to see his prophecy come to pass and was an eyewitness to the judgment God promised.
Lamentations begins with Jeremiah’s view of the utter destruction and ruin that befell Jerusalem and the temple.
Most of the people have been carried off into slavery—those who remained starved to death. The city and the temple were destroyed. The false prophets and unfaithful priests who cried out “peace, peace” were utterly mistaken and were slain in the temple that they never thought would fall. The soldiers who defended Jerusalem lay dead in the streets.
Jeremiah saw all of it—he was an eyewitness to the destruction and death he prophesied—and he knew the reason for God’s judgment. He wrote:
Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy…her transgressions were bound into a yoke and laid upon her neck…and the Lord gave her into the hands of those she could not withstand… for she rebelled against the Lord’s word.
The words of Jeremiah found in Lamentations are read in the Jewish liturgy when they commemorate the destruction of the temples and they are read in the Christian calendar on Good Friday in the service of darkness that commemorates our Lord’s death on the cross. They are the Old Testament lesson at our funerals.
The words of Lamentations give voice to the profound sorrow of the human heart when we see the destruction and judgment that our sins deserve and bring.
But it is right in the midst of these words of sorrow and suffering that the prophet Jeremiah is renewed in hope. He says: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.
The love of the people for the Lord had failed. Time after time, in countless ways, they had shown that they had divided hearts—that they were guilty of spiritual adultery. So it is for us too—and with the same result.
While it is not utter destruction that we look upon in our country on this day of national thanksgiving—it is indeed spiritual darkness.
Our political leaders are paralyzed and poll after poll shows that our fellow citizens hold them in contempt. Our economic life is stagnant. What passes for entertainment has become cruder and coarser. Pornography is everywhere. Babies are murdered because they are inconvenient. And people we ought to be able to look up to—people who ought to be leaders—commit the most despicable crimes.
Can anyone doubt that the stained, torn fabric of our common life together is unrelated to the declining commitment to the Lord in our nation?
Can anyone doubt that the pilgrims who came to this country and our Lutheran forebears would be astounded and appalled to see that the Ten Commandments and public prayer and the emblems of Christianity are forbidden in more and more places in our nation?
Can anyone doubt that rapidly declining church attendance is unrelated to the declining moral fiber of our people?
In our nation, love for the LORD has grown cold and hearts are divided in their loyalties and all we can confess is that we justly the Lord’s temporal and eternal punishment.
But we too- along with Jeremiah- are renewed in hope—even in dark days—because the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. The love that God has for us is not like ours for him. It never ebbs and flows. It never changes. It is never divided. It does not depend upon anything within us at all --but is reflective of who God is in his very being.
Even in the midst of the destruction that God had allowed to chastise his people, Jeremiah was certain of one thing: that the love that God had for his people was still in effect and he would mercifully come to their aid. He wrote that:
The LORD’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Mercy is the attitude and aid given to one who is weak by one who is powerful—it’s what unceasing love looks like in action towards those in need.
It was there between God and his people from the very beginning. God could have destroyed Adam and Eve after their sin—but he didn’t—he did what only he could do and forgave them and restored them to their original purpose as the mother and father of all the living.
God came to the aid of his enslaved people in Egypt when they had fallen so far as to have forgotten his name. He brought his people back from exile in Babylon. And he sent his own Son into the world to save those who could not save themselves.
God’s love is shown again and again in his mercy. The One who is mighty and powerful and strong to save—reaches out in love to help those who stand in need of his mercy and aid.
That is the certain promise that is made to us tonight in God’s Word: The Lord’s mercies never end. His willingness and power to aid his people is always present and can be counted on no matter how dark the day.
When a nation is on the wrong track—when we are afflicted with a terrible illness—when we are faced with economic ruin—when our own personal failures stand before our eyes—God’s mercies are new every morning.
Each morning when we open our eyes to begin a new day we can count on the Lord’s mercy, strength, and provision being sufficient for the day. That is why we don’t ever have to worry about what the future holds and indeed, are commanded not to worry—for the Lord has promised to use his might and power to come to our aid.
This last year has been a testimony to that promise for those assembled here. We sit here tonight fed and clothed and sheltered—our needs met—because the Lord has daily renewed his loving mercy towards us over this last year.
He has done this despite the fact that we have not served him as he deserves—that we have not loved him as he loves us—that we have not remembered to thank him for his provision. He has done this despite our faithlessness. It is this very thing that leads the prophet Jeremiah to say of the LORD: Great is your faithfulness!
We find the same sentiment in our catechism when we are asked: what it is that moves God to preserve, provide, and protect us. And Luther answers: God does all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. But then Luther goes on to ask us, what then do we owe our Father in heaven for all this? And the answer: It is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
That is why we are here tonight—to thank and praise God for his faithfulness—that he has provided for us and protected us over this last year and promises to do the same in the year to come.
But what about those times like Jeremiah was going through—times when it seems like every good thing has been ripped away? Still we can give God thanks for: "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
Can you imagine wandering the streets of Kingsville, seeing everything that is familiar and loved brought to ruin? Of coming here to Tenth and Doddridge and seeing our beloved sanctuary destroyed and defiled? Of coming across your friends and loved ones lying in the street, dead and dying?
That was the scene that greeted Jeremiah as he wandered the streets of Jerusalem and yet he knew that the one thing needful had not been stripped away from him and indeed could not be lost: that the LORD was his portion. His life with God could not be harmed by terrible things that happened to him in this life-- and so it is for us.
God grant that we never go through what Jeremiah went through or see what he saw—but we should also never forget that there is coming a day when every earthly thing will be stripped away: our health will fail, loved ones will die, and we will return to the dust of the earth.
It may happen slowly over many decades or it may happen in a moment-- but we too will know what it means to lose everything that our eyes have seen and our hands have touched.
That is why it is such good news that we cannot lose the one thing needful—the one thing that really, eternally matters: and that is our life with God. The LORD himself is our portion because Jesus Christ has taken away our sins and restored our relationship with God. And because the LORD is our portion, no matter how dark the days—there is hope for the future.
Hope looks forward to the future with the confidence of faith. And that is possible—even when death comes—because there is a future for us that death will not end. Jesus’ resurrection IS our hope. He is the promise that even death need not cast a dark cloud over our lives.
And so we too look forward to the future expecting good from the Lord. Jeremiah writes: The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
We don’t know what the new year will hold for us and for our nation. But we do know that the One who is the Author of history—the One who wisely guides our lives—the One who has brought us to this time and place safely—will continue to be the same kind of merciful, wise, good God that we have known in this last year. The Bible promises us that ALL things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
This promise of goodness from the Lord (a promise that he has never failed to keep) is the encouragement we need to trust him in those times when he seems slow to act—to trust him in those times when we would chosen differently for ourselves-- and know that God is patiently working for our good in the midst of it.
The Lord’s goodness, mercy, and love give us the confidence we need to put him first in our lives. We don’t have to worry that we will somehow miss out on some good things when we serve and obey him because we can trust his steadfast love to graciously give us all that we need for body and soul—just as he always has. Amen.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Attached is the 2012 church and school budget. Please peruse this in preparation for 11 DEC.
A few things for this week that are of importance:
Wednesday, we'll be covering the remainder of chapter 11 and jumping into chapter 12 of Revelation at 9:30 a.m. Those words are graphic in chapter 12: "And war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought..."
Thursday, Thanksgiving Day Service, at 9:30 a.m.
The youth of Mt. Olive will once again be journeying to see the Nutcracker on 18 DEC (Sunday, gather at 1, performance at 3 p.m.). If you wish to go and have the youth fund take care of part of your ticket, I need to know by this coming Sunday, November 27. The cost for you is $5 and the rest is co. If that's a problem, I want you to go. Please get with me. Absolutely, positively, I need your reservation by Sunday morning, if not sooner. Do not tell me as you're leaving church, or as you're coming in. Do not pass go... Oops, sorry 'bout that! Please send me an email indicating your desire to go by Sunday morning at the very latest!
Finally, a few important dates:
24 NOV - Thanksgiving Day Service, 9:30 a.m.
No Christmas Program practice or Confirmation Instruction on Sunday, November 27.
30 NOV - Advent Midweek Services begin at 12:15 and 7:15 p.m.
4 DEC - Confirmation Class (12:00) and Christmas Program practice (1:30 p.m.)
11 DEC - Confirmation Class (12:00) and Christmas Program practice (1:30 p.m.)
18 DEC - Youth to Nutcracker, no Confirmation Class or Program practice
20 DEC (Tuesday) - Christmas Program Practice at 6 or 6:30 p.m. (to be decided yet)
22 DEC (Thursday) - Youth Christmas Cookie Baking and Caroling (time TBA)
24 DEC (Saturday) - Christmas Program (6:30 p.m.), Christmas Eve Candlelight Service (11 p.m.)
25 DEC (Sunday) - Christmas Divine Service at regular worship times (8 and 10:30 a.m.)
Psalm 114 recalls the deeds of the God of Israel and His deliverance of His people. Christmas is a time when the Last Days begin. Read Psalm 114 as part of your devotions this week to hear of the awesome deeds of the true God in the past, and to wait with holy expectation for His awesome deeds to come.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The Bible has much to say on the subject of the end times in both the Old and New Testaments—in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation-- but much of what is written in these apocalyptic books is difficult to understand. Bookstores are filled with books all claiming to know and teach the truth about the End Times—but they all seem to have a different take.
In contrast, the church has always followed the Lord’s own plain words and confessed that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We confess it every week in the creed.
Today in our Gospel lesson, in simple language, we hear just exactly how the final judgment will take place from the one who will judge the world. Jesus says:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
On judgment day every person who has ever lived—including you and me--will stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ-- and we will be judged.
Before a word is spoken—before the evidence is given--the Son of Man will separate all the world’s people into two groups—one group on his left and one group on his right—just as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
That separation is the judgment—and there is no changing sides at that point. The day of grace that we enjoy today- to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus- to amend our lives--will come to an end with that division.
Shepherds have no problem making a distinction between sheep and goats because there is nothing that a shepherd knows more about than the difference between sheep and goats.
So it will be on the Last Day as the Good Shepherd separates those who are his (those who have believed in him and followed him) from those who are not his (those who have rejected him and went their own way). Every person in the world—including you and me-- will fall into one of those two groups.
The unbelieving world around us sees fine moral distinctions, with many shades of gray, when it comes to their relationship with God—they say that surely it cannot be so simple, so cut-and-dried as those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t. But it is just that simple.
When it comes to your relationship with God—you are either righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus—blessed by God from the foundations of the world with all that is needed for salvation from beginning to end—OR- you are cursed by God because you have not counted yourself worthy of his salvation and have rejected the forgiveness and eternal life that comes through faith in Jesus.
The basic division of all people into one of these two groups is not always evident because faith in Jesus is, finally, a matter of the heart.
But that division between the saved and the lost will be plain for all to see on the Last Day when the Son of Man comes to judge the nations and presents the evidence for his perfect, righteous judgment. Jesus will say to the saved on his right hand:
‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
There is nothing here that is difficult to understand: those who had faith produced the fruits of faith--those saved by grace were gracious people to others—those who received the mercy of God in Christ extended that mercy to others—those who were forgiven were forgiving. In other words, the life of Jesus was seen in the lives of those who were his.
The evidence that is given for a true and living faith is found in the small acts of mercy and kindness and generosity given to others simply because those who are saved by the loving sacrifice Man of the Cross--want to live loving, self-sacrificing lives like their Savior’s.
Another really remarkable thing about those who are saved is that all the things that we have failed to do-- are not even brought up.
We haven’t fed every hungry person or clothed every naked person or housed every homeless person—but these sinful failures to be all that we have been called to be-- have no part in this judgment because they have been taken away by the blood of Jesus Christ along with the wrong we have done.
But for those who have rejected Jesus Christ it is a very different story. Jesus will say to the lost on his left hand:
“'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
The great tragedy is that it never had to be this way. Hell was not prepared for people but for the devil and the other angels who rebelled against God at the beginning of the world. But when a person rejects Jesus Christ, they choose to align themselves with the devil and the fallen angels and they will receive hell as their eternal punishment.
And just as there are no great works of faith that are mentioned for the redeemed, so there are no great sins that are mentioned for the damned.
Those who had no faith-- simply failed to produce the fruits of faith that come from being saved and will hear the terrible judgment of all who die apart from faith in Christ— “depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire.”
As a final proof that our Lord’s judgment is valid, we hear the reactions of each group to the Lord’s verdict—their own testimony to the truth of the Lord’s verdict.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
The Good News for the child of God is that on judgment day, not only will our sins not be remembered, but all those small acts of mercy and kindness and generosity that we have forgotten about—that we would never have dreamed to lift up to the Lord as deserving of eternal life— will be remembered by him-and counted as if we had done them all for him.
That the Lord’s people are astonished by his accounting is a sure sign that they were not afflicted with the spiritually fatal disease of work’s righteousness—they simply did good to others out of love for the Lord—not to earn heaven for themselves.
Acts of love, done in faith, require no accounting on our part. They are simply given in the context of our ordinary, daily vocations. When we are forgiving with our family; when we set a good example at work; when we are compassionate and merciful to those in need; when we are concerned for the needs of others; we show ourselves to be the Lord’s people. On the other hand, those on the King’s left will answer, saying:
“'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The lost, even at that late hour, exhibit no sorrow or repentance to Jesus or even compassion for those who have gone without food and drink and clothing and shelter through their faithless neglect. Their only desire is to call into question the righteous judgment of a perfectly just judge.
We are tempted to believe that faced with hell, even the most hardened sinner would come to their senses, repent of their sins, and beg for mercy—but it is not so. Those who were not concerned for others will never be concerned. Those who have rejected the Lord throughout their life will continue to reject him for eternity.
That is why judgment day is merely a final demonstration of what was true: in a person’s life—at the moment of their death—and then forever in eternity as they “go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And so what does this plain and simple teaching from our Lord about the final judgment and the Last Day have to do with our lives this week? What does the Lord want us to do as a result of his words? How then should we live, knowing that we will stand before the throne of Jesus Christ and be judged?
First and foremost, no one ought to leave this sanctuary today without knowing for sure that they are one of those whom the Lord will call righteous and blessed on the Last Day. That confidence comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
None of us, by nature, are worthy to stand before a perfectly righteous judge—each of us deserves hell. But God sent his Son to save us from what our sins deserve. Jesus suffered hell for us on the cross. He paid for our selfishness and sins with his shed blood—and he rose up from the dead to give us eternal life. We receive the salvation he accomplished by believing the Gospel as it is preached and given in Holy Communion. As we do so, we can face the Last Day with confidence.
Secondly, we should measure our lives by Christ’s standard of what really counts and not the world’s. On the Last Day there are no questions about how much money we had, how important we were in the community, what car we drove, or what we did for a living.
Instead, the only thing that matters on judgment day is that we showed with our lives that we belonged to Jesus by caring for those around us. Nothing miraculous is required of us, but only that our faith in Jesus would bear the fruit of good works as we deal with others in the same gracious, generous, merciful, forgiving way that we have been dealt with by Christ.
And finally, we should live our lives this week -and always- in expectation of our Lord’s immediate return.
All of the worries and trials and temptations that we are faced with daily-- become something altogether different and altogether smaller when they are seen in the light of that glad and glorious day when the Lord says to each of us:
‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!
May God graciously grant it to each of us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Advent 1, Series B November 27, 2011
Lessons for The First Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 64:1–9 ~ We wait eagerly for the Lord to come set things right with our world and in our lives.
Psalm 80:1–7 (Antiphon: Psalm 80:7)
1 Corinthians 1:3–9 ~ We wait eagerly for Christ’s return, knowing that He will keep us secure in faith.
Mark 13:24–37 ~ We wait eagerly for the Son of Man even in distressing times, because we know His love.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Peace and Patience in our Waiting
In spite of the fact that our lives are so hectic, we are often waiting -- for healing, for comfort, for peace. With Isaiah we cry out, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” We must be ready at all times for that rending appearance of our Lord. We can be patient in our waiting when we recognize with St. Paul that only God’s mercy in Christ will keep us blameless on the day of Christ’s return.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, give me patience in my waiting that I may be ready for Christ’s return knowing that you have claimed me for yourself. Let each new day remind me that this world is drawing closer to your kingdom of glory. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Through our stewardship God makes us channels of blessings to many, partners with Him and co-workers in ministry – investors in an eternal estate!
OFFERING PRAYER: Gracious God, You send the Prince of Peace.
Make us ready for His coming,
As we use these gifts to share His peace
And in our lives express His loving. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When conditions in society around us and in the distress within us make us shout with anxious cry, “How long, O Lord?” we are strengthened by the promise that the One we await is the One who loved us so much that He gave His life for us. Although everything else is questionable, one thing is certain: our Savior is the Lord who has already reconciled us to Himself.
SEASONAL NOTE: Most people find Advent a difficult time---the world around us rushes headlong into Christmas and the Church seems strangely out of sync with the Advent themes of waiting and preparation. This is a time of quiet yet purposeful waiting for the right time to celebrate God’s gracious gift in the birth of His Son in human flesh.
As Lightning Rends the Sky
As lightning rends the sky with thunder crash
and mountains quake with molten lava flow,
we yearn for God to come with power and dash
the wretched curse of sin. Then all would know
there is no other God! The prophets told
the awesome deeds that glorified His name.
God’s saving actions made His people bold,
and they in turn were proud to spread His fame.
But now in gentle form and human skin
God comes to melt our crusty hearts today.
He holds us in His hand, and once again
He turns our broken lives like potter’s clay.
Trust God to mold you in His will, and then
He’ll fashion you according to His plan.
– Gilbert A. Franke, 11/18/08
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
In the Old Testament, false prophets had a trite and overused theme: peace and security for Israel. The problem, of course, was that there wasn't peace and security under many of the kings of Israel and Judah because of their kings' idolatrous habits.
These days, the same theme of peace and security are proclaimed by a sort of false prophets, those who proclaim our best life is right now, or that our society and world are constantly improving. If either of those were the case, we wouldn't have obesity, diabetes, and heart disease attacking at earlier ages all the time.
Paul calls us to our senses in today's Epistle (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Will this downward spiral ever end? Paul responds, "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him."
Kind of gives us that feel from the explanation to the seventh petition of the Lord's Prayer in the Small Catechism:
But deliver us from evil.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honor, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Tomorrow evening, the Church Council continues its meetings in leading up to the December Voters Meeting. We should have a date for that meeting after tomorrow, and I'll publish it later this week.
Lutheran Book Club will NOT meet this week since we finished the book last week.
Three of Mt. Olive's young people have achieved success in the dramatic arts.
-Trevor Johnson will be appearing in W. B. Ray High School's production of Crimes of the Heart. Performances are scheduled for this Thursday and Friday nights at 7 p.m. Cost of admission is $5.
-Abigail and Sarah Waddle will be appearing in Tuloso-Midway High School's production of Anatomy of Gray. Performances are scheduled for this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. in the Tuloso-Midway Middle School auditorium. Cost of admission is $5.
The youth of Mt. Olive will be attending the Saturday evening performance of Anatomy of Gray. Stay tuned for more information about rides, etc.
This coming Friday, Mt. Olive Lutheran School hosts its annual Thanksgiving Feast for students and their families.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY)
College students and families who will be traveling over the next couple of weeks - they'll be numerous and we pray for God's divine protection on their journeys
Schools as they prepare for Thanksgiving breaks
Our brothers and sisters in the faith at Lord of Life and Our Savior as they await the Lord's gift of a pastor
The Church Council
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, November 14
Wednesday, November 16
Bible Study (Revelation 11)
Thursday, November 17
Happy Birthday, Kathy!
Friday, November 18
School Thanksgiving lunch feast
Sunday, November 13, 2011
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
I think that most of us know the name of Harold Camping—the religious broadcaster who twice last year predicted the end of the world. What you may not know is that he did the same thing in 1994. Of course, he is not the only false prophet of the end times. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world half a dozen times in the last 100 years. Hal Lindsey said it would end in 1988. Joseph Smith of the Mormons predicted it and got it wrong as did Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists. And so it goes all the way back to the time of the apostles despite the plain and simple words of Jesus: that no one knows that day or hour of his second coming.
But while the day and hour is unknown, our Lord’s return in glory to judge the world—what the Bible calls “the day of the Lord” --is certain.
Jesus promised that he would come again to take us to heaven. At his ascension the angels promised that he would return in the same way he left. And we heard from the apostle Paul last week that, with the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God, Jesus will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise from their graves.
And so, if we cannot know the day and hour of our Lord’s return and if we do not need to know it, what do we need to know about the day of the Lord? Paul writes:
Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Christians do not need to know anything about the specific timing of our Lord’s return because what we do know is enough: that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. These are the same words that Jesus used to talk about his second coming—that it will be sudden and unexpected. And that’s all we need to know about the timing-- because that knowledge is more than enough to be prepared for that day—a day of destruction that the world around us chooses to ignore. Paul writes that:
While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
The great danger of the Harold Camping’s of the world is that they lead people to ridicule the second coming of our Lord and ignore or explain away the signs of his return and remain unprepared to face the judgment of God.
Before that day, Jesus says that there will be wars and rumors of wars—that nation will rise against nation—that there will be earthquakes and famines in various places—that lawlessness will increase and false prophets will lead many astray. And so it is -and so it has been- since Jesus spoke these words and prophesied these signs.
That’s the point—that at any time we are to be expectantly looking for our Lord’s return and we are to view the world around us through that lens of final judgment and eternity—not explaining away the signs or expecting that the next peace treaty or economic upturn will establish heaven on earth—but that Jesus is coming again to make a new heaven and a new earth by destroying all that is broken and evil in this one.
The day of the Lord will be a day of destruction. That may not sound like good news—and it’s not for those who are opposed to God—but it is good news for God’s people for justice will be done.
The day of the Lord will be a vindication of God and his ways and his people and the judgment and destruction of evil. According to the prophet Zephaniah, those who live by violence and fraud will be punished. Those who have misused power to oppress the weak will kneel before the Lord in submission. And those who have lived for wealth and material things will see them destroyed.
No one who has opposed the Lord and his ways and his people will escape destruction on the day of the Lord. The Bible knows absolutely nothing of a second chance after the Lord’s return for those who have rejected him up until that day. Zephaniah pictures the Lord searching high and low and seeking out every dark place where his enemies might hide to make sure that none of them escapes the judgment he brings. But we who live in the light of Christ have nothing to fear from that day. Paul writes:
You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.
How often do we shake our heads at the sinful foolishness of the unbelieving world—at the things that we read in the paper and see on the news and hear on the radio-- and wonder to ourselves: why on earth do they live the way they do and think the things they do and value the things they do? It’s as if we see things completely different from those who don’t share our faith. And of course, in many ways—that’s true.
The Bible says that those who don’t believe in Jesus are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God and in their ignorance and hardness of heart give themselves up to sensuality and every kind of impurity.
But we are not in darkness. The light of Jesus Christ has shone into our lives and opened our hearts and enlightened our minds. When Paul was converted to faith in Christ the Bible says that something like scales fell from his eyes—a vivid picture of what is spiritually true for every Christian.
We are children of the light who know that Christ is coming again and that this world as it is will not endure that day and we are called to live our lives in light of the knowledge—ready for Jesus’ return at any time. Paul writes:
Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.
It’s self-evident that Paul is not talking here about the physical sleep which God gives that refreshes our bodies-- but spiritual sleepiness that keeps us from being awake and ready to meet the Lord when he comes again—what the prophet Zephaniah called “complacency”—the notion that-- as things are now, so they always have been and so they always will be, and so there is no need to expect or do anything different.
That is absolutely untrue! We have been spiritually awakened to look for the dawn of the day of the Lord and we must not hit the spiritual snooze-alarm and fall back into the self-satisfied warmth of spiritual slumber.
Neither must we let anything dull our minds to the realities of that day. Paul distinguishes between sleep and drunkenness—both of them happen in spiritual darkness—but there is a difference. Spiritual complacency is a part of our flesh. We have to fight against the temptation to let the Lord’s return fall to the back of our mind.
But drunkenness is something else. It is the intentional choice to make use of that which dulls our spiritual awareness. For the people of Zephaniah’s day it was wealth and so long as they had plenty of money they thought they had nothing to fear. Many people have that same trouble today.
But it’s not only money that dulls our spiritual awareness. Alcohol and drugs and pornography and the press of daily life and the constant need to be entertained can also dull us to the need to constantly repent of our sins and be renewed in our faith in Jesus. Anything that dulls our readiness for the Lord’s return needs to be put aside so that we can instead be filled with those things that make us spiritually aware and awake. Paul writes:
Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
The image that Paul uses here would have been familiar to anyone living in the Roman Empire---Roman soldiers marching through the streets, prepared for battle, their armor flashing in the sun. The Christian likewise is to be prepared for the spiritual battles that will most definitely come as we wait for the day of the Lord by daily renewal in faith, hope, and love by hearing God’s Word and receiving Holy Communion.
These three Christian virtues constantly appear together in Paul’s letters and there’s a reason for that: they encompass the entire Christian life.
Faith directs our eyes to the past and the accomplished facts of salvation history. Jesus Christ the promised Messiah entered into the world in a particular moment in history. He died on the cross under the rule of Pontius Pilate and rose again three days later. Who he is and what he has done is the content of our faith—and because we are looking forward to his return—he is also the hope for our future.
Hope directs our faith to the future and the promises that still remain to be fulfilled—Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead—and a new creation.
Far, far from being afraid of the future and fearful of God’s judgment, we look forward in hope to a future that is filled with every blessing of body and soul because God’s faithfulness in the past is our assurance that our hope will not be disappointed.
And because Jesus is the content of our faith and our hope for the future he is also the one who guides and directs our lives right now in the ways of his love.
We don’t know when Jesus will come again but we do know what he wants us to be doing in the meantime—loving one another in the same way he loved us—doing good to our neighbor and forgiving those who hurt us. This is the way we are to live until the day of the Lord when we receive the fullness of salvation. Paul writes that:
God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Moment by moment throughout history God has been carefully, wisely, lovingly ordering the world so that we could come to faith in Jesus and endure in faith and so receive the fullness of salvation. We are the reason that God sent his Son into the world—that believing in him we would be saved.
Much too often we think of salvation only in terms of forgiveness of sins—and certainly it is that! But it’s everything else that comes from being forgiven and right in God’s sight: it’s having peace with God and the assurance that he is with us and a life filled with joy and purpose. But salvation also extends beyond this life into eternity.
That God has saved us by the death and resurrection of his Son means that we have been restored to what God wanted for us in the beginning—a life with him as his children that even death cannot end. Salvation means that God will restore everything broken by sin—that there will be a new heaven and a new earth—that we will enjoy perfect fellowship with God forever.
The Day of the Lord is the culmination of God’s saving work. It is not a day of wrath for us that we need to fear-- but the day of salvation when the fullness of what Christ has done in his dying and rising will be ours forever. May this Good News of our Lord’s return grant us courage to live as God’s people!
Monday, November 7, 2011
Proper 28, Series A November 13, 2011
Lessons for The Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7–16 ~ Those who think God does not care about their sins will surely be judged.
Psalm 90:1-12 [Antiphon: Ps. 90:17]
1 Thessalonians 5:1–11 ~ God has given us salvation in Christ, so we may live in the light of His grace.
Matthew 25:14–30 ~ God calls upon us to invest His forgiveness through our lives of service.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: It’s Time to Take a Risk!
Zephaniah brought God’s word of warning to complacent merchants and rulers of Jerusalem at a time when they thought they could count on political and economic stability without figuring on God’s investment! Jesus described the coming of the Kingdom in terms of a wealthy merchant who is looking for considerable returns on his investments. St. Paul reminded early believers that they have an inside track on the Kingdom market, living in the light of the grace of God, and so are able to risk faith, hope, and love to build up one another in a rich life for God just as Christ risked His life for us.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, wake me up with the light of Your day so that I am not complacent or haughty about Your judgment. Make me aware of Your claim upon me so that I will be aggressive in my investment of Your love and grace in my life as I await Your return in glory. Amen.
OFFERING PRAYER: What a privilege it is, Lord, to use the wealth You give
For the building of Your kingdom in the faithful way we live.
Keep us always watchful as we await our Lord’s return
So we see and help the need we meet at every turn. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has given us great material blessings and expects us to use His goods to build up His kingdom, not to advance our own gain or position. The faithful steward invests capital in the Master’s business.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We recognize many occasions when we have “buried our talents” – not being willing to risk our goods or our gifts to advance the kingdom of God. The comfort we have is that God has invested us with great gifts, grace beyond measure. He has entrusted us with the message of Christ’s redeeming love. While this parable sums up the warning of the unexpected return of the Lord and encourages faithfulness in our use of his gifts, it also points forward to Jesus’ identity with the needy and outcast, that we apply his investment of love toward their needs.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
All Saints' Day is one of my favorite celebrations in the Church Year. I love the hymns, especially For All the Saints. Especially, I love the last stanza: But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on his way. Alleluia, Alleluia!
I get the picture in my mind of those who have gone before us in the faith waking from the sleep of death, standing at attention and shouting their acclamations as the King of Glory, our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, passes on His way. But, this picture doesn't leave out the saints alive, still in the Church Militant. Rather, those are included in the last stanza: From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Perhaps I'm a little off base, but I recall an old John Wayne movie called "Back to Bataan," in which survivors of the infamous Bataan death march, portrayed by actors, are named and shown marching in a victorious formation. I sometimes picture that as the countless host, those named and those yet to be named, who made the firm confession and remained faithful unto death. I think of all those who have gone before our family in the faith over the past couple of years, and they've been numerous: my aunt Stella, my cousin Jeri, my father-in-law John, among others. You probably have your own list of those who have died in the faith, clinging to the Lord Jesus, who now rest from their labors. Knowing of the coming resurrection seems to spur us on to sing that stanza with even greater gusto.
Rejoice, people of God, Praise the Lord. Let us keep the feast in honor of all God's saints, in whose victory the angels rejoice and glorify the Son of God.
Almighty God, You have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AMEN
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Tuesday night, the LWML holds the much anticipated Chrismon Making Session. All are invited to learn and even make these meaningful decorations. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday morning, we continue with Revelation, delving into chapter 10. All are invited at 9:30 a.m. in the Overflow.
Wednesday evening, we conclude our study of Hammer of God, covering the third and final part of the book. After this, Lutheran Book Club will be postponed until after the first of the year.
Friday and Saturday, we celebrate with Bobby Schumann and Stephanie Duarte, who recently completed Adult Information Class, as they are united in holy matrimony at Mt. Olive.
The next two Sundays are the last two of the current Church Year. These Sundays carry with them a theme of the Last Day and the judgment that accompanies the appearing of our Lord Jesus in glory. These are great, yet sometimes scary themes. Yet, hearing them in the company of God's people gives the theme of judgment a different focus.
Finally, as we barrel toward the end of the current Church Year and the sweep into a new Church Year, there are several groups that need to be kept in your prayers:
-the Sunday School teachers as program practices begin and the busy season that leads up to Christmas requires their attention in teaching the faith
-the Altar Guild as they have a busy several weeks approaching
-the Church Council as they work on the annual budget
-the young people of the church who will be incredibly busy and yet again will lead us in wonderful services.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), Richard Rhode, John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
The homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Bud Bird, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Students and teachers whose schedules are about to become incredibly busy
Those who serve on the Church Council
Our brothers and sisters in the faith at Lord of Life and Our Savior Lutheran Churches as they await pastors
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, 7 NOV
Tuesday, 8 NOV
LWML Meeting - Chrismon Workshop
Wednesday, 9 NOV
Bible Study (Revelation 10)
Lutheran Book Club - completing Hammer of God
Sunday, November 6, 2011
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
We live in a world where death is an unwelcome intruder. All of us will experience grief and mourning until we are the ones being mourned. But as Christians we do not grieve as those who have no hope --for the dead in Christ will rise.
Through faith in the resurrected Lord we know that death is not the end- for those we love- who trust in the Lord. Death is not the end for us. The promise of the resurrected Christ is sure and certain: because I live you also shall live.
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote the words that we have before us in our text today to make sure that we know and believe that the life we have in Christ-- is a life that even death cannot end. He writes:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do- who have no hope.
All of us will have to deal with the death of loved ones at some point in time--but God doesn’t want any of us to experience grief unbounded by hope. Paul wrote these words about the death of Christians because he does not want us to “be uninformed” about our eternal future. Other translations say that he does not want us to be “ignorant”. The Greek work is “agnostic”—without knowledge.
Many people who see themselves as intellectuals will tell you that they are “agnostic” when it comes to the things of God—that they simply don’t have enough information to believe in God-- and they think that this lack of knowledge is some kind of enlightened virtue.
God’s Word says just the opposite—that it is knowing the truth about Christ and eternal life that comforts us in the hour of death.
Grief at the death of a loved one is to be informed and guided and, yes, moderated by a knowledge of the truth. And what does God want us to know? What is the truth regarding our death? That death—for the Christian—is a peaceful rest.
We do not fear going to sleep, we look forward to it after a hard day of work and we hope that our rest is deep and sound. When we go to bed at night- we get up in the morning-- and our senses and faculties and limbs ready to begin a new day. And when our sleep is deep, we do not experience the passage of time.
That is the way death is for Christians—and from that peaceful sleep we will arise just as certainly as we wake up in the morning to begin a new day. One of the old, familiar evening hymns says it this way: “Teach me to live- that I may dread- the grave as little as my bed—teach me to die- that so I may- rise glorious at the final day.”
The Bible does not teach that sleep is merely a euphemism for death-- but it teaches that is what death is actually like for the Christian and the Bible writers take that language from the Lord.
When Jesus came into the house of Jairus the synagogue ruler, it was grief and mourning that greeted him because Jairus’ little daughter had died. But Jesus told him not to be afraid for she was only sleeping-- and Jesus took her by the hand and she arose from the sleep of death.
That’s the way it’s going to be for each and every one of us on the Last Day because of what Jesus has already done in his death and resurrection for us. Paul writes that:
Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
The Bible says in Romans chapter 6 that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We die because our lives are broken by sin. Sin has destroyed God’s perfect creation and death is the consequence for all of Adam’s children—including us and those we love.
But Jesus’ death on the cross has atoned for the sins of the world and his resurrection is God’s promise that all who believe in Jesus will rise from the dead- just as he was raised from the dead.
Time and time again Jesus promised this very thing. “Because I live you also will live.” “I am the resurrection and life--he who believes in me will never die.” “I am the way and the truth and the life.” “I will go and prepare a place for you that where I am you also may be.” Promise after promise, Jesus grounded our hope for eternal life in his own life, death, and resurrection.
The bible says Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of an entire harvest of people who will rise from the dead on the Last Day-- just like Jesus did on Easter Sunday. Paul writes:
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Paul did not have much time in Thessalonica before he was driven from town by persecution and apparently the Thessalonians were confused about the end times and what it meant for their loved ones if they died before the Lord came. Many people in the church today are still confused about the end times.
I remember watching a program on one of the religious TV stations and there was a guy on who was teaching about the end times. And he was standing on a stage with a dry erase board behind him that went all the way across the stage. And it was absolutely filled with writing and diagrams and numbers and arrows pointing up and down—all of it trying to explain what he understood the Bible’s end-time theology to be.
And I remember smiling to myself because of the huge difference between that and how we confess the Bible’s truth about the End Times each Sunday in the creed: Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. That’s it! That’s just how simple it is!
Our Lord’s return in glory is not some riddle that has to carefully worked out by scholars—but a simple promise from God that children can understand: Jesus is coming again and the dead in Christ will rise.
Jesus’ return will be announced with the voice of the arch-angel and the sound of a trumpet so that there is no mistaking it or confusing it with something else. In that moment the dead in Christ will rise up from their tombs just as surely as Lazarus came out of his and they will join those Christians still living and be gathered together with the Lord in heaven.
You don’t need forty feet of dry-erase board to explain that or understand it. It is simple because the Lord wants his return to be comforting rather than confusing.
And there are two points of incredible comfort that I want you to understand and believe from these verses—two reasons why-- even though Christians grieve when a loved one passes away--we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
First of all, those who fall asleep in faith are called “the dead IN Christ”. The saddest moment of any funeral is when fellow mourners have left and only the family remains and then they have to leave their loved one behind for the final act of burial. It certainly feels like we are abandoning our loved one. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Those connected to Christ are never abandoned!
Christians are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection—we are connected to Jesus by faith and are members of his living body and the promise of God in Holy Baptism is that if we have been united with Jesus in a death like his-- we shall certainly be united with Jesus in a resurrection like his.
Death cannot sever the connection that believers have with Christ and his people and every Sunday when we have Holy Communion we gather around the rail with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to join our voice to their great song of praise that is constantly being sung in heaven until that day we add them around the throne of the Lamb in his kingdom.
Later on in this same epistle Paul writes that “God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” And in Romans Paul writes: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.”
We who are left alive after a loved one dies experience death as separation-- and that is a painful thing-- but the LORD wants us to know that those who die in Christ are still connected to him just as certainly those who are left alive—all of us joined together in the living body of Christ.
And the second great consolation of this verse about Jesus’ return in glory—is that all of God’s people (those who have died in the faith and those who will still be living when the Lord comes) will be reunited when he comes gain-- and we will always be with the Lord—together with those we love. Paul writes:
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The separation from loved ones at death is a painful reality for us-- but it is not a permanent reality for us-- for death’s power has been broken by Christ’s resurrection from the dead and it will be swallowed up forever on the Last Day by Christ’s victory over the grave.
And so who is that “we” that Paul is talking about that are going to be with the Lord forever?
It is you and me and our children and grandchildren—our spouses-- and our moms and dads and grandparents all those faithful Christians who have come before us and who will come after us. All of us united together with the Lord in heaven never to suffer the pain of death’s separation again because we will ALWAYS be with the Lord.
Paul wants to make sure that we understand that this is not his opinion about things—but it is a “word from the Lord” with which we are to encourage one another.
There is one comfort for us when a loved one dies --and one comfort for us in the hour of our own death-- and that is the words of the Lord that we have before us in our text today: Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep and the dead in Christ will rise. That is why we do not grieve as those who have no hope. May this Good News comfort us in our sorrow and in the hour of death! Amen.