Thursday, June 04, 2020

Non-Festival Time


The Non-Festival Time
The long, green season of Trinity is here.  Trinity Sunday, which is June 7 this year, marks the end of the festival portion of the Church year and ushers us into the non-festival portion of the year.  There are few religious holidays until we enter Advent again on November 29.   We could celebrate the beginning of Lutheranism, the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, on June 25.  Some churches also celebrate the secular holiday of the Fourth of July, but church holidays that are generally recognized and celebrated by the Church are few and far between until we get to Reformation Day on Halloween or Thanksgiving, November 26 this year.
The non-festival part of the year is primarily because we are entering into summer.  Churches used to confirm their youth on Palm Sunday because schools let out that week-end in Europe in the olden days, so the young people would be free to help with the planting and harvesting, and all the work in between while crops grew.  Society was primarily agricultural, back then, and there were no large machines to help with the labor; just the family.  After Easter, people did not want holidays to interfere with getting the crops planted, cultivated, and harvested.  So, the church backed off the celebration stuff.
When winter comes, the crops are in, supposedly, and the people were eager to have some merriment and the occasional party.  The church supplied much of that in the old days, with Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter for a culture that took their religion very seriously and had fewer distractions and entertainments open to them.  That all changed in the 1970s for our culture, and technology made doing farm work less child-friendly and child necessary.  These days we have many other entertainments drawing our attention away from the Church year-round, and farming tech and social media have freed young people and even many adults from the need, and often from the desire, to focus on the church and its celebrations.
The past couple of months have pushed many people farther away from church.  The COVID hysteria has created a fear in people of gathering together, and many in the church have taken it as a reason to stay home and stay away.  The latest “science” on the issue has come to the position that the lockdowns were unnecessary and perhaps even harmful.  The mask hysteria has been shown to be misplaced, as masks do not accomplish what people had been led to believe and maybe even be harmful.  The effort to “flatten the curve” took about two weeks to be successful, but people have been given more than two months to become accustomed to staying home and staying isolated, and not attending church.
First of all, “science” has been misused.  Science is the process of falsification.  It can only prove something to be wrong.  Science cannot tell us the things that the “experts” have been saying it did.  The “experts” counted on people not understanding that and being baffled by the use of the word.  And they were.
It should have become apparent to people when the science was shown to be so wrong time and time again.  The death toll was wrong – greatly exaggerated.  The use of masks was said to be bad for you, then good for you, then necessary for you, and is now known to be harmful to healthy people.  In spite of science and common sense, our governors were forcing infected people into nursing homes where contagion spreads easily, causing the unnecessary deaths of many elderly.  Science can only learn by trial and error, and when no one knew what to expect from the virus, science could not tell us anything reliably.
But Christian faith can.  In prior pandemics, even the black plague of the middle ages, Christians put their faith first.  They trusted God and understood that He would keep them – and if they were to get sick and even die, they were in the hands of their Savior and they would be in His hand for eternity.  If the worst thing that can happen – death – is also the best thing that can happen – going to heaven – they understood and firmly believed that they really had nothing to worry about.
The non-festival portion of the church year is about living the Christian life day by day.  Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, and every day is another opportunity to show forth the glory of God in the lives of His children.  Daily life is how we serve God, worshiping Him by living out what faith in Him means, and what the forgiveness of sins does to us.  See Romans 12:1-3.  When there is no difference between the people of God and the people of the devil (which is everyone except Christians), something is amiss.
Some things are the same for everybody.  Arithmetic works the same whether you are a believer or not. One plus one equals two.  There are many things that are not changed by faith in God, although the use we put them to may be.  The challenge of the Christian life is to discern where the differences lie and what we are to make of them as God’s children.  The challenge is not unlike the “game” I play in Bible Study, when I ask, “What does it mean that your sins are forgiven?”  Anyone who has played can tell you that the answer is not a definition.  The question is not “what does this mean?”, but “So what?”
During the non-festival portion of the church year, we are tasked with seeking out what difference it makes in us and in our lives that we are Christians – Lutheran Christians in specific – while the people around us are not.  Our answers are not delivered in a paper, or out loud in a Bible class, but in our living of our lives.  It changes how we deal with one another.  It affects our response to the common challenges of life.  Everybody faces the same challenges, but as the favored people of God, forgiven and blessed in particular, we can deal with the terrors and temptations of life from the basis of what God has told us and what He has promised us and our trust in Him.
Unbelievers have no knowledge and no hope in God.  We who know Him and hope in Him should be living that knowledge and that hope out and it should make us different.  After all, if we are not different, we are the same – in hope as well as behavior.  The non-festival portion of the year gives us pause to consider that and bear witness to God by how we answer those questions.
Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9
Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.  And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly."  And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.  And they said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language.  And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.


Sermon for Pentecost Sunday                                              5/31/20
The Tower of Babel
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In our lesson this morning, you heard the account of Pentecost.  What you didn't hear was that the miracle of the tongues, where the Apostles spoke in languages they had never learned, was the same thing as what happened at the tower of Babel, except that the purpose and effect of this sudden linguistic shift was not confusion but understanding and peace.  Although what happened was similar in certain respects, it was the undoing of the tower of Babel.  It was a mark in time that the effects of sin were being undone since sin had been forgiven.  Let us look at the tower experience, and what it meant, and what Pentecost means in the light of it.  Our theme is the tower of Babel.

The Tower of Babel is all about sin.  I know that some of you don't want to hear me preach about sin.  That is because every time I do, the sermon seems to point right at you.  There are a few of you who think I am picking on you when I preach.  I don't know who you are, or which of you it is, but I know that some people feel that way.  Which is funny, because I preach to me when I preach about sin except perhaps when I urge you to come to church regularly.  Obviously, I do that!  But the rest of my law preaching is preached so I feel that it addresses me, and I just figure that if I am bitten by the Law, some of you will be too.

So, anyway, the Tower of Babel is about sin.  God set man loose on earth after the flood with just one simple set of instructions  "And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it."  God wanted man to spread out and fill the earth.  The generations after the flood had another idea.  They did not want to spread out.  They did not want to be scattered.  They wanted to remain together.  And they said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

They were not building a tower to reach into heaven  at least not the heaven we hope to go to.  They were not trying to climb up to God.  They were trying to build a skyscraper.  They wanted a building that could be seen from all over the plains of Shinar.  They wanted a rallying point to keep people together.  It was intended that no one would move to where they could not see the tower. 

Admittedly, their vision was stunted.  They would have been happy to build something a hundred feet tall  ten stories would have seemed almost too tall to endure.  We build skyscrapers ten times that tall.  And God has no problem with tall buildings.  The building was not the problem  nor was the desire to build a tall building.  The problem was the reason for the building.  They built it to defy God.  They built it to deliberately disobey the command of God.

And God recognized that when we work together, we can do almost anything.  I cannot imagine how people two or three hundred years ago could have conceived of the words of God, And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them."  In a pre-technological age, those words would have had such a limited meaning.  But we have sent me to the moon and brought them back!  We can do genetic engineering!  It may not be much today, but it is amazing that we can do it!  And the next decades could see breath-taking advances in our ability.  We can fly.  We can send manned boats under the water with no need to surface for over a year!  We are building a space station.  Computers talk, and when you talk to them, they type!  They are making movies now without the need for actors.  We have seen a talking mouse, a talking pig, long-extinct dinosaurs brought back to celluloid life, there are even talking dinosaurs on TV, and I do not mean to include the members of Congress!

God created us to be marvelously creative.  But Nimrod and his crew were not just creative, they were stubbornly rebellious.  The tower was an act of sin, thumbing their collective nose at God.  And God put a stop to it.  He confused their tongues.  He gave each family group a new language.  I say it was family groups because if every single person spoke a different language, families would have been impossible.  God wanted families and reproduction, so I guess that it was by family groups, so that tribes moved away together.  But work on the tower was impossible when one worker - or group of workers could no longer understand the next.  Human fears and human egos forced men apart.

The tower of Babel confusion of languages was God's judgment on the rebellion of the builders.  It was a response to their rejection of God and His will for them, and it was effective because of their sin.  If they had been willing to work with one another and patiently try to understand one another, they could have learned one another's language.  But their sin, their egos, and their fears combined to drive them apart.

The same combination of human traits works yet today.  Our sins, our egos, and our fears about what others are doing, or might do, still causes divisions and drives people apart today.  The Church should be immune, but she is not.  God has forgiven us, so we should forgive one another.  But all too often, offenses and sins are stored up instead of forgiven and forgotten.  Our egos tell us that we are somehow better than the others, whoever they may be, and so we feel justified in holding grudges, in making life difficult for those we consider our adversaries, or in planning and politicking to control or defeat them  even in the Church.  We fear that our adversaries are plotting and planning and working against us, so we respond many times by doing the same.

Pentecost Sunday is the celebration of the truth that the Gospel has ended the reign of sin.  On Pentecost, God undid the power of Babel for just a few hours, to speak the good news of forgiveness and salvation across the barriers of language.  He didn't give everyone the same language, He gave His chosen Apostles all of the languages so that everyone could hear the gospel in their own language.  It was a foretaste - a sample in advance - of what life beyond sin is going to be like.  When God raises us to eternal life, there will be no language barrier, because the confusion of tongues is the result of sin and a symptom of sin.  Where sin is not, the language barriers will not exist either.

Nor will the other divisions caused by sin.  Our egos will not stand in our ways because we will know that all that we have, all that we know, and all that we are is from God.  He chooses to make us who we are and give us the abilities we enjoy.  That is true now, but when sin is not confusing our minds, we will recognize that truth and live in the light of it fully.  We will also have no fear of one another, since we will all walk in the light of the Lord and sin will be unheard of among us.  The legacy of the Tower of Babel will be gone.

Pentecost Sunday, two thousand years ago, illustrated what it would be like  what it will be like.  With the languages (and the sin) out of the way, the people rejoiced together.  It didn't matter who they were or where they had come from, they were simply the people of God together!  Luke writes in Acts that they were continually together for worship - the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer  and they were all feeling a sense of awe.

That is the beginning of heaven!  They were united without regard for who the other was.  They were excited to be together.  They were eager to worship, and they were all filled with the sense of awe that they were part of something wonderful and that something wonderful had come upon them.  When we get to heaven, we will all be happy to be there.  We will be happy everyone else there is there.  We will not ask where they came from, or judge them by their looks or speech.  We will be filled with awe at life in the presence of our Lord and we will worship together with great joy and great zeal!

We can start right now.  We live in the glow of Pentecost, not the shadow of the Tower of Babel.  We are united by the Holy Spirit, who is given to everyone that believes.  We have this great meal of fellowship and unity before us on the Altar.  We are here to worship and rejoice in our salvation.  What we want to respond to is the power of Pentecost not the confusion of Babel.  Our text tells us that the name of the place was "Babel" because of the confusion of the languages there.  The name of this place is Immanuel, God with us.  This is a place of grace and faith and hope and love.  Here is where we begin to unravel the confusion of Babel by means of the love of God and the forgiveness of sins - forgiveness given to us, and forgiveness pouring out from us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

When You Add It All Up

Ezekiel 36:22-28
"Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.  And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst.  Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.  For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.  And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God."

Sermon for Exaudi Sunday : The Sunday after the Ascension                                              5/24/20
                                                      When You Add It All Up
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Some people believe that the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is Gospel.  That is so probably because the Old Testament contains the most concise and explicit summary of the Law, the Ten Commandments, and the New Testament reveals with such clarity and simplicity the Gospel.  But the Gospel is woven throughout the Old Testament, and the Law is clearly stated throughout the New Testament.  The first Gospel promise is in Genesis 3:15, and the Law is nowhere clearer or more demanding than in the Sermon on the Mount.  The entire Scripture reveals both Law and Gospel.

Our text is merely seven verses long.  Nevertheless, there is clear and brutally frank Law in it, and the sweetest Gospel promises.  God speaks a harsh truth about the people of ancient Israel, and, I suspect, more than just a little truth about us.  Then He makes sweet promises to them, and to us.  He speaks about Baptism, and about conversion, and about Pentecost, and about saving us.  So, when you add it all up, God is speaking to us, through Ezekiel.  Our theme, then, is, "When You Add It All Up."

Ezekiel is profound preaching of the Law.  God says through Ezekiel that He had to destroy Israel and drive His people into exile.  It was part of the covenant which they broke egregiously.  God says, in effect, that if He had permitted them to continue without striking and punishing them, He would have become an accomplice – He would share in their sin.

Ezekiel even describes the sins in the chapters surrounding our text.  He says that the priests were bringing Idols into the house of God and sacrificing to them at the altar of God.  He accuses the unfaithful and uncaring religious leaders and teachers of fleecing the flock and growing fat at their expense, without ever feeding them or caring for them or protecting them from the wolves.  That meant they took advantage of the people without serving them with the truth or protecting them from all that is false in the world's religions that surrounded them.  He said it like this, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!  Should not the shepherds feed the flock?  You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.  Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.  And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered."

God wasn't talking about real sheep, but people.  He wasn't talking about real food, but the Word.  He wasn't talking about real wool, but the offerings of the people.  He wasn't talking about real beasts of the field as predators on His people, but false teachers, and the false religions around them.

God also charges the people themselves.  He speaks of the fat sheep and the lean.  Listen to a few verses from Ezekiel 34: "And as for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats.  Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures?  Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet?  And as for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet, and they must drink what you foul with your feet!'"  Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, "Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad,  therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another."

What God is referring to is the domination of one child of God by another – the rich against the poor, the strong personalities over against the weak, the aggressive or powerful over against the timid or the mild.  They were taking advantage of one another.  They were manipulating one another.  They were getting what they wanted out of their religion, and closing the doors to others without regard for their needs.  They were taking advantage as though their religion was theirs and for them alone, and as though they had no responsibility toward each other.

Ezekiel tells them that because of them, the name of God is blasphemed among the heathen.  People mocked their religion and mocked their God because of the behavior of the Israelites.  "And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight."
When you add it all up, the children of Israel were acting like the heathen around them, and worse than the heathen.  Because of their behavior, their lack of religiousness, their lack of faithfulness, the name of God was profaned.  It was made into something common and dirty – like a curse word – rather than something holy and precious and to be treated with respect.  It was because of their unfaithfulness and lack of sincere religion, that God destroyed Israel and drove them into exile under Nebuchadnezzar. 

I shudder to draw comparisons.  Christians are mocked and their God is ridiculed because of what Christians do and say, what they permit and what they deny.  Lutherans are the butt of jokes and Lutheranism is shamefully mocked and our faith is caricatured grotesquely because of Lutherans.  We often seem neither to trust God nor appreciate our own faith.  Too often we do not live as the children of a holy God, or as those who must stand before the righteous Judge of all mankind.  We treat morality as temporary and changeable.  We often treat worship as disposable.   Far too often, you treat the treasures of the Sacraments as optional and meaningless and merely human acts with no real power or significance.  We treat each other like dirt. Lutheranism is profaned among the unbelievers because of Lutherans.

And what about Immanuel?  How are we seen in the community?  Are we viewed as the home of sound doctrine and holy people?  Is this congregation seen as the place to go – or the place to flee from?  I am not talking about how you look at Immanuel, but what you communicate to your friends and neighbors.  How does the community see us?  Are we the home of God's holy people who live in Christian love with one another, or is the name of God profaned because of us?  What they see is what you show them and what you tell them – not what you see.  When you add it all up, our faith and our faithfulness, or lack of it, is what people see and hear.  How they evaluate Immanuel and Lutherans, and sometimes Christians as a whole depends entirely on what you show them and tell them.

In our text, God says that He will prove Himself holy by how He will deal with His people.  Ezekiel writes, "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.  And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God."

What He is talking about is the Gospel.  God gathers His people, cleanses them with water, creates a new heart within them, pours out His Spirit upon them, and gives them a land to live in.  That is the Gospel.  The gathering of His people is the Church.  The sprinkling with clean water is Baptism.  The cleansing from all our filthiness is the forgiveness of sins purchased on the cross at the price of the pains and suffering and death of the very Son of God.  It is our sins that are our idols – or we make idols of ourselves.  When God calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts and makes us His people, He gives us the new heart, taking our stony and sinful hearts and giving us the hearts of tender flesh, hearts that can love, and forgive, one another.  He pours out His Spirit through Word and Sacrament and teaches us to love Him and do His Will by forgiveness and grace.

When you add it all up, what God would have us known for is not our quarrels or our friendliness, but for His grace and love in Jesus Christ.  God made His name holy among the nations by the rescue and salvation of His people Israel.  What God would have us known for is Jesus Christ, that He died on the cross for us, and that we have been redeemed and made holy by His blood and by His love.  God would make His name holy among us and the people we live in the midst of by Baptism, and by our cheerful and willing witness to His goodness grace and love in Jesus Christ.  He would have us be known for living out the forgiveness He has won for us, and His name made holy through us -- His holiness demonstrated through our faith, our love for one another, and our faithfulness to Him.  When you add it all up, God would have us known less for what we do, and more for what He has done for us in love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Hung with a New Rope

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.  And the people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food."
And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us."  And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live."  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Sermon for Rogate Sunday                                              5/17/20
                                                     Hung with a New Rope
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There is an expression used to describe a person who is never satisfied.  They say that "he would complain if he were hung with a new rope."  The person or persons characterized by this half-humorous expression would be the sort that is always complaining, usually loudly proclaiming their dissatisfaction to everyone within earshot. That is, they would be the sort of people described in our text.  The Children of Israel were the sort of people who could complain under any circumstances.  They might well be described as the sort who would complain if they were hung with a new rope.  This morning, we are going to take a closer look at the account of the fiery serpents in our Old Testament lesson with the theme, Hung with a New Rope.

If there were an Olympic event in grumbling, the Children of Israel would have won gold every time.  Here they were, a people who had been pressed into slavery and cruelly treated for generations, and God had brought them out with tremendous miracles and signs and wonders!  God led them out, wealthy with the spoil of Egypt.  He opened the Red Sea before them and drowned their enemies behind them.  He personally guided them with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  They never had to sleep in the darkness they always had a night light, even out in the wilderness.  God fed them each day with the miracle of Manna and made water fountain out of rocks in the desert to give them something to drink.  God made sure nothing ever wore out, so they had no needs like those of the nations around them.

They should have been content.  They should have been downright giddy with happiness; freedom, riches, food without labor, security.  But here they are, in our text, complaining bitterly.  Their complaints don't even make sense.  They complain they have no food, and yet they also gripe about having to eat Manna.  "We loathe this miserable food."  Manna was a pleasant tasting, slightly sweet food, one that could apparently be made into bread or just eaten the way it was.  But, familiarity breeds contempt, and, after all, these were people who would complain if they were hung with a new rope.

Not like us.  You would never catch any one of us complaining!  No sir!  We live in the richest nation on earth.  We are the people who consume the majority of the resources consumed each year, even though we are a small fraction of the world's population.  We have abundant food, and it is clean and safe.  We have a health system that is the envy of the entire world.  People flock to our country to get our health care if they can afford it.  And if you cannot afford it, our hospitals are required by law to serve you anyhow.  We have the safest nation.  The only thing we have to fear is one another our enemies cannot generally hurt us, and when they do, like 911, we pound the daylights out of them.

We never complain, right??  No one gripes about prices.  No one complains about their doctor.  No one grumbles about how the vast selections in our local grocery stores aren't quite as fresh or pretty or broad as they were before CoVid-19.  No one ever hears any of us complaining, right?  We often don't realize just how good we have it, particularly when we complain.  We must seem to others to be the sort that would complain even if we were hung with a new rope!

How did God respond to the Children of Israel and their grumbling?  In this case, He sent what the Bible describes as "fiery serpents."  They may have been reddish or orange, or perhaps it burned when they bit.  We don't know why they called them "fiery", but we do know that the bite was fatal swiftly fatal, although not instantly fatal.  It was almost as if God had said, "If you want something to complain about, I'll give you something."  Our text says that many people of Israel died.

Then God did something unique.  When Moses interceded for the people, bringing their confession of sin to God in prayer (which was how God wanted them to do it back then), God told Moses to "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live."  So Moses made a serpent of bronze that looked like the ones troubling Israel, and He put it on a tall pole that is what the word "standard" means in the text, "and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived."

What is so wonderful about this is that it is salvation by faith, pictured for us by the Children of Israel.  You have to expect that there were those among them who said, or at least thought, that it was stupid to expect that just looking at the serpent on the pole would heal them.  They were probably sure that nothing so simple would end the pain and stop the poison.  Those who thought that way were what we would now call "casualties".  They died, and we have late word that every single one of them was a Coronavirus victim.

But anyone who took God at His Word and looked at the serpent lived.  All it took was trusting the Word of God enough to do what God had commanded.  I imagine that there may have even been those who didn't actually trust God, but did what was commanded "just in case", and they lived, too, and learned to trust the promises of God even when they don't make good, rational sense.

Even more, think about this: there was a serpent on a pole like the serpent of old from the garden of Eden, nailed to the cross.

But Jesus was nailed to the cross, you say.  That is true.  Jesus "became sin for us, He who knew no sin of His own, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  Jesus became sin!  He was all that evil through all our generations not personally, but He took it on Himself and carried it to the cross and nailed it there in His own body for us.  It was on the cross that Jesus crushed the head of that Ancient Serpent.  So, it was every bit as though the Serpent hung on the cross, just as the fiery serpents were hung on the pole, the standard, which Moses raised.  And just as those who took God at His Word and trusted His promise and so looked at the serpent received the salvation they desired and lived, even so, he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

When anyone looks at the cross of Jesus, trusting in what God has spoken, and all that God has promised on account of Jesus and His death and His Resurrection, that person is healed from the poison of sin, forgiven and restored, and given the power to live a holy life both here in time and there in eternity.  Those who cannot or will not believe, are poisoned and die that second death we call "hell."  It doesn't matter if they don't trust God, or can't believe it is something so simple, or don't want to have it given to them, but want to do something so they can hang their confidence on what they have done.  If they do not believe, they die eternally.  The other half of the verse above is, "and he that does not believe, shall be damned."

The problem of the Children of Israel was sin.  Their wicked hearts led them to grumble, even in the face of the wonderful deeds and gifts of God.  Death is the wages of sin.  When they realized their sin, they confessed it, and they repented, and they asked for forgiveness.  The pole of the serpent was their absolution.  They heard, they looked, and they lived.

The problem when we grumble is the same problem wicked hearts and sin.  The wages of sin is death, still today.  The solution is the same for us as it was for them.  We need to see our sin all of our grumbling against the goodness of God and what He has chosen for us as our path as his children.  Our sin is bigger and deeper than grumbling, of course, but let's just focus on that.  Our grumbling comes out of our flesh the part of us that does not know God, the part that was not put to death and raised to new life in our Baptism.

We need to confess our sin be honest enough to admit it, and that it is sin, to ourselves, and then confess it to God.  Then we need to repent, turn away from the sin, and turn to God for forgiveness.  And then we need to hear our absolution: your sins are forgiven.  Jesus paid the price already and clothes you with His own righteousness.  We look to the cross, and the empty tomb of Easter, and we see and hear our forgiveness.

And we are healed.  Because your sins have been forgiven, your death has been turned into the door of life everlasting!  You will not die, even though your body will, and your body shall one day rise from the grave to everlasting life, body, and soul reunited, with all the holy people who have trusted God and believed His promises.  The poison of the serpent cannot destroy us as long as we look to the cross.

Then, we can live out our salvation right here and now.  We can do that by resisting the temptation to grumble but give thanks to God instead.  We should give thanks as openly and often as we have been tempted to grumble and complain against God and His gifts.  We should give thanks because God is good, and we owe Him great thanksgivings.  We should give thanks because we are always under His loving care.  We should give thanks because we have so much to give thanks for and because we do not want to look like people who would complain if they were hung with a new rope.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

This Day Is That Day

Isaiah 12:1-6
Then you will say on that day, I will give thanks to Thee, O LORD; for although Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou dost comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.
Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.  And in that day you will say, Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name.  Make known His deeds among the peoples; make them remember that His name is exalted.
Praise the LORD in song, for He has done excellent things; let this be known throughout the earth.  Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.


Sermon for Cantate Sunday                                              5/10/20
This Day Is That Day

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of these days . . . Ralph Cramden always said, One of these days, Bang!  Zoom!  His wife, Alice, would always ask, Yeah.  What day is that, Ralph?  He was speaking about a day that he never intended to be real.  Many people think the Bible speaks just like that.  But the Bible is the Word of God, and God is announcing plans, not making idle threats.  The day our text speaks of is no threat, in fact, but a wonderful promise.  In our text, Isaiah speaks of a day that was to come, a day of singing and praise and thanksgiving.  This morning we want to briefly look at that day and our theme and message is, This Day Is That Day.

The first thing we notice is that day is a day of forgiveness.  Isaiah says it like this, I will give thanks to Thee, 0 LORD; For although Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away And Thou dost comfort me.  To understand that day and the forgiveness of that day, we must come face to face with sin.

God is justly angry toward us over our sins.  We do not want to face the truth, most of the time, but we sin.  And sin is not a minor thing, it is the rebellion against God that earns us His wrath and our own death.  We turn away from life for a few moments of pleasure, or power, or, like Judas, some sell Jesus for a few pieces of silver.  Your hatreds, your bitterness, your gossip, your grumbling are not small peccadilloes, they are sins.  They deny God, they accuse Him of being unfair and un­faithful.  In our sins, we choose death and self over God and life.

We deserve death, but we are given life and salvation, because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.  We merited the wrath of God, so it was poured out on Him.  We earned death and hell, so Jesus went to the cross and faced both as He hung alone, forsaken by God and mocked by man.  We chose death in sin, so He chose to die in righteousness, that we might live in Him.

Today, God is comforting us with the news of forgiveness.  His anger is turned away, toward the cross, and He comforts us with the sweet proclamation of forgiveness and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Jesus rose because God has accepted His death for ours, and now God reckons us holy with the righteousness of Christ, by which He earned life eternal, and so we also have life everlasting.

That day is a day of salvation.  Isaiah said it this way, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.  Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation.

That day is a day of forgiveness, and so it is also a day of salvation, for the forgiveness of sins means, as Luther says in the Catechism, life, and salvation.  Sin is what stands between God and man, and Jesus has taken it out of the way.  If He had been a mere man or some angel who had won our salvation, it would be uncer­tain, but it is God Himself who has purchased and won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.  There can be no doubt, no uncertainty - for God Himself is our Savior.  To deny us, He would have to deny Himself, and He cannot deny Himself.

Believing in that forgiveness opens the door to trusting God.  How can we doubt God when He gave all that He gave for us?  How can we question His will for us - or His love for us - when we see how great a price He paid for us?  The cause of our anger toward God and His toward us has been taken out of the way.  We no longer have any reason to be frightened of Him.  We know that He loves us, and so we know that we can trust Him.

Therefore, forgiveness, received by faith, ends fear.  It ends the fear of God -- at least it ends the terror of the notion that He desires to cause us pain and trouble.  It also has the power to end the fear of trouble in this life, because we know that we have the love of God.  Isaiah said it like this, I will trust, and not be afraid.  God is on our side, so to speak.  He desires only our good.  His love is demonstrated in Jesus and it is seen in the abundance of blessings which He pours out on us day by day.

As you may have realized, this day is that day.  The day of our forgiveness and the day of the love of God is today.  Today is the day that we can joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.  The waters of salvation are the waters of Baptism.  In our Baptism, God claimed us by name to be His own.  In our Baptism, He joined us to Christ, to the resurrection from the grave, and to eternal life.  He regularly refreshes us in that salvation through the marvelous gift of the Sacrament of the Altar, by giving us His very body to eat in, with and under the bread of the Sacrament, and by giving us to drink of His blood, once shed for us on the cross, in, with and under the wine.

Today we owe God thanks, and offer thanks to God, as Isaiah prophesied, I will give thanks to Thee, 0 Lord, and, Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name.  But these are thanks we can give only if we see clearly the danger from which He has rescued us.  We give these thanks here, in our worship service, and day to day in our prayers and in lives lived deliberately as His holy people.

This day is the day we are to cry aloud and shout for joy.  That is what we do in our hymns and liturgy.  That is also what we do in our prayers to a lesser extent.  Here, in worship, we formally cry aloud and shout for joy.  Day by day, you also cry aloud and shout for joy as you remember His blessings and speak aloud about His goodness to you.  Heaven knows that we grumble and complain aloud when we are not pleased with the circumstances of our life.  Shouldn’t we also be vocal and earnest also about the good things the sunshine and the rain, the health we have and the blessings we receive?

This day is also the day that we are to make them remember His name.  The whole world once knew His name.  They all once knew that He was God and the Giver of all things good.  But the world has forgotten, deliberately.  Our lives and our thanksgivings and our public worship are to make them remember.  If we who believe do not speak His praises and give Him the glory for our blessings and our lives, how will they hear?  How will they remember?

We have very little difficulty complaining.  We can complain about our aches and pains, often without re­membering that the days when everything doesn’t hurt are a gift from God.  We can complain about the cost of things, without recalling how God has given us so much that we can afford to dream about luxuries that were unimaginable a generation ago.  We can find the wind to complain about our congregation, or our pastor, or our church, without remembering to rejoice and give thanks that we have the Word of God and the riches of the Gospel.

We have the clear and constant preaching of our forgiveness, of Law and Gospel, for we know that we must also remember our sins to know the value of our forgiveness.  We have the Lord’s Supper to refresh us and strengthen us for life as the child of God in this world.  If we cannot speak of these blessings, if we do not re­mind others that God is our Source and our Savior, how will they remember that His name is Exalted?  How will we remember, unless we make each other remember?

This day is that day.  Today is the day we are to let this good news be known throughout the earth.  That is why God leaves us here, to hold out the precious hope to others.  If we keep it just for ourselves, our congregation withers.  We die, not just by natural attrition, but because if we do not share the Word of our hope in Christ, we must not be thinking about it for ourselves.  It must not be in us very clearly, if it is not overflowing from us.

How could we keep this great good news to ourselves?  We have the cure for death here!  We have resurrection from the grave here!  We have eternal life here!  It is not for sale.  There is no awful price yet to be paid.  You don’t have to do something great and difficult to earn it.  It is the gift of God!  Now think with me on this: If we found hamburger for 49¢ per pound, we would be telling all of our friends after we got ours, of course.  If we found shoes good shoes for $5.00 a pair, we would call our neighbors, after we bought the styles we wanted, of course.  If we had access to interest-free loans for cars or homes, we would tell everyone, as soon as we got ours.

Well, we have the answer to death.  We have the assurance of the love of God in life.  We have all the help and power we need.  We have the certainty of rising from our graves in better condition than we entered them.  We have the clear and utterly reliable promise of everlasting life beyond all the pains and sorrows and sicknesses of this life.  We have all of that in Jesus and strength for the day, and help in time of need, and peace in times of turmoil, and more if we trust God.  If we believe the Gospel.  We have all that because, as Isaiah put it, Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

This Day is That Day.  Today is the day Isaiah prophesied.  On that day,  He said.  Well, this day is that day.  We have been rescued, and God is our salvation.  He was angry, but now His anger is turned away.  Now is the time to sing, and give thanks, and tell others about God's goodness and love.  If we don't, who will?  This day is that day  of the prophecy of Isaiah.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 03, 2020

He Will Have Compassion

Lamentations 3:22-33
The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.  "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."  The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.  It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him.  Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope.  Let him give his cheek to the smiter; let him be filled with reproach.  For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men.

Sermon for Jubilate Sunday                                              5/03/20
                                                   He Will Have Compassion
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Life is never exactly what we want.  Have you ever noticed that?  No matter how hard we try, something always goes wrong.  Something is always missing.  You can make a lot of money, but there is never enough.  Our needs, or our desires, always outrun our income.  You struggle for the perfect home, but there is always one more project.  It wasn't even conceivable before, but now it seems almost imperative.  We struggle to build the perfect congregation, but just when it seems that we are almost at the verge of success, conflict arises, something changes, and that perfection eludes us.

The problem is sin.  The consequences of sin are much more readily apparent to us than the underlying cause.  We are never quite satisfied.  Others don't respond to us – or our circumstances – the way that seems only reasonable to us.  We give it our best and it is never quite good enough, or when we achieve what we set out to do, it is no longer satisfying, and we stretch toward the next goal in search of that elusive thing called satisfaction, or success, or happiness, or whatever we may call it.  Sometimes it is minor and we can ignore it for a while, but it always comes home to roost.  Sometimes it is striking, and painful, and un-ignorable.  In every case it is the consequence of the imperfect nature of man, and the imperfection our failings bring to the world around us.

The pain is called "the cross" for Christians.  Like the cross of Jesus, it comes on account of sin – not necessarily specific sins, but on account of our shortcomings and our failure to be perfect and holy.  Now and then, it even comes to us because of the sinfulness of those around us.  We are tempted, at times, to give up, or to feel crushed and defeated by the difficulties of life.  If we have the big problems under control, the little ones drive us nuts.  It tempts many people to think that God is punishing us, that our troubles are God's response to our sins.  That is one of the reasons it is so painful when a sermon speaks the Law of God too clearly, and we feel personally attacked, and personally offended.  Well, God speaks to us in our Old Testament lesson this morning, to address this very frustration.  God says, through the prophet, that in the midst of this gloom and temptation to despair we can be comforted by the promise that He will have compassion.  And that is our theme this morning.

The Prophet's words for this morning begin with the goodness of the Lord.  The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.  That is the point at which we must begin.  Christians in particular begin with the knowledge and the certainty that the Lord is good.  His lovingkindnesses never cease!  How great is our God!  How good He is to us!

Every morning, when you get up, there is air to be breathed, and it is filled with Oxygen and in just the right proportions.  The peculiar properties of water still work.  Food is still digestible, and it nourishes your body.  The properties of electricity, which God prepared, still work, and the trace elements in your body are still so constituted that they allow nerves to sense and muscles to flex.  On rare occasions, the human body loses those abilities.  We call it "disease," or "paralysis," or "Muscular Dystrophy," or "Parkenson's," or "Osteoporosis," or "cancer."  It doesn't seem rare because everyone gets sick and everyone dies eventually – but consider the wonder of your body!

Your body functions flawlessly for decades.  It works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  You go to bed, your body keeps working.  Your heart pumps millions of gallons of blood every year – for sixty, seventy, eighty years!  Your brain keeps calculating for close to a century, doing more work every hour, even while you sleep, than our greatest supercomputers manage to do with all their giga-hertz computational speeds in a week.  You store memories in sound and color pictures in a space the size of a grapefruit that would require a roomful of Compact Disks to store, and you keep them indexed by subject and person and season and emotion and scents of the air on that day, available for instant retrieval.  You smell that smell, or hear that sound, and you experience deja-vu – you may not even know that you are remembering.  Or you smell something cooking and immediately your mind is back in Grandma's kitchen sixty years ago.  We get frustrated on those days when our retrieval system fails us in one or two memory request out of the thousands each hour we just take for granted.  When the whole system finally fails, we call it "dementia" .

I could go on for hours just about the wonder s of the body – and then there is the world around you, and then the universe.  God tells us that it is all created for us and for our blessings.  His lovingkindnesses indeed never cease!  He feeds us and clothes us, He has made us wealthy.  I spoke to Rev.  Fehrmann, who was our mission speaker a couple of years ago.  He travels extensively in the third world in his work.  He told me that only about 10 percent of the third world population has even irregular and undependable electricity.  They rarely have televisions.  They only now and then have a radio.  They have very few cars outside of the big cities.  The big question for them is not "What shall we do tonight?", or "What shall we watch tonight?', but, "What shall we eat tonight?" or, "Shall we eat tonight?"  Even upon those in poverty, His lovingkindnesses never cease.  How much more is it clearly true for us?

His compassion never cease, they are new every morning!  Every day is filled with His goodness to us.   That is why the Prophet cries out, "Great is Thy faithfulness!"  And chief among His goodness to us is Jesus Christ!  He gave His only-begotten Son into death for our sins.  He hung Him on a cross to bleed and die in agony, that we might be forgiven.  And He raised Him from the grave on Easter to show us irrefutably that our sin have been forgiven, paid for completely, punished to the last of the wrath of God against sin.  He is Risen!  Your sins have been paid for.  You are forgiven.  You have been redeemed by the blood of the very Son of God!  It is finished!  He loves you with a love that transcends any full comprehension!

So, why do things keep going wrong?  Why do we get sick?  Why is life painful and difficult and frustrating at times?  Our text says that it is good.  It doesn't say exactly why, but it says it is good.  Through our troubles, God strengthens us and purifies us.  He disciplines us – and tells us that every child loved by his Father is disciplined by Him.  God also demonstrates for us in the New Testament how our patient and faithful endurance in times of persecution and pain witnesses so clearly and effectively to those who see our patience and observe our faith and faithfulness while we are in the midst of suffering.

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.  It is good for a man that he should bear The yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone and be silent Since He has laid it on him.  Let him put his mouth in the dust, Perhaps there is hope.  Let him give his cheek to the smiter; Let him be filled with reproach.

I cannot tell you how every event in your life is good.  But God can, and He tells us that it is good.  I cannot bring myself to call God a liar, so I must accept that even the things I do not like are for good, and that God is with me.  That is the present, day-to-day value of faith in Jesus Christ!

"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."  That is the true answer!  I trust in God.  My hope is in Him.  The writer of Lamentations, unnamed, but believed by most to be Jeremiah, writes, For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, Or grieve the sons of men.

God does not willingly afflict means that God has no desire to see us to suffer or have troubles just to have troubles – everything He does is for our good and the good of our neighbor.  He blesses with every event, whether we find it to be happy or sorrowful.  His plan is always for our welfare and blessing, so even when it is necessary to permit us to suffer pain or sorrow or temptation, He will have compassion!  He will rescue us from our troubles and bring us out of sorrow, and bless us. When He causes grief, as Jeremiah says, Then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.

Another way to say it is to ask the question I always ask you to answer:  What is the will of God for us?  Our salvation.  If you believe in God, then you want to keep that truth uppermost in your mind.  If you believe in God – that is, if you trust in Him, then you will know that no matter what it feels like at the moment, the Lord will have compassion.  The Lord is my Portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.
And that is the message this morning.  He will have compassion.  Last Sunday we talked about the Good Shepherd, and His care, and His culling of the flock.  Today we talk about the other reality of life – that it hurts a times, that we will suffer pains, and we will have to endure frustrations and sorrows.  In the face of that reality, the Church rejoices – that is what Jubilate Sunday means – and we rejoice because, in the depths of woe and sorrow and pain we hear the promise of God that He will have compassion!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 34:11-16
For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.  And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land.  I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel.  There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.  I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD.  "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them with judgment."

Sermon for Misericordias Domini Sunday                        4/26/20
                                                         The Good Shepherd

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of our favorite images in all of Scripture is the Good Shepherd.  Many people and many congregations have beautiful pictures, often by Warner Salmon, of Jesus carrying the lamb tenderly in His arms.  And everyone loves the Psalm appointed for Misericordias Domini Sunday, the Twenty-third Psalm, particularly in the King James Version we all memorized so long ago.  It is a comforting and warm image of protection and care.  It takes us back to our childhood and reminds us intimately of the good things about being a child with parents caring for you.

That is an image God has chosen for Himself.  He has repeatedly cultivated the image and the thought.  He wants us to see Him as the Good Shepherd, the one who will not let us down, that will not lose us, that will not let us hurt ourselves.  Each of our lessons for the week speak of the Good Shepherd.  Today we will look at one of the Old Testament Scriptures that speak of our relationship with God in such terms and view for our comfort and blessing the Good Shepherd.

What a beautiful image God gives us in the midst of a book of heavy condemnation and stern judgement.  Those who have studied the book of Ezekiel will tell you that it is striking in the anger and judgement of God.  God finds so many ways to describe the great horror He is bringing upon Jerusalem for her unfaithfulness, her idolatry, her political stupidity, and her desire to be like those who do not know God.  Yet in a book of powerful judgement, even in the blackest of condemnation, yet God holds out the promise of the gospel for those who are His and who must witness or endure because of proximity the great sufferings of the ungodly.

He says that He will search Himself for His sheep.  He does that too!  We know that faith comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God preached and proclaimed.  God seeks out each of His people, calling them sweetly by the gospel of their forgiveness and of the free gift of eternal life.  He enters them with His power and creates faith, He adopts them and welcomes them into His Holy family through Baptism and teaches them how to hear and believe and enables them to live for God in holiness.

God promises to gather them together from where they were scattered as on a cloudy and gloomy day.  To the first hearers of Ezekiel, this promise sounded like it meant the gathering the scattered who had been exiled by Nebuchadnezzar in the Babylonian Captivity.  To believers today, it is the promise of the Church, in which we are called together out of the world and fed on the rich pasture of His Word.  In actuality, it was the same promise then as now.  This is the promise of the Good Shepherd to bring His people together to hear His Word clearly and purely proclaimed, and to give them lives which will please Him in holiness. 

He speaks of lying in good pasture and grazing on the mountain heights of Israel.  This is a life of abundance and purity – but the abundance is in God's Word, and the purity is in the doctrine heard and lives lived by the people of God.  The mountain heights of Israel are as close as you can get to God in this world – and you can get no closer than where you hear the Word of God taught clearly, taught plainly, and taught honestly.

Then the prophet records one of the most beautiful and most terrifying visions in all of Scripture.  The Good Shepherd promises to feed His flock and lead them to rest.  The rest spoken of here is that eternal rest in heaven.  What a glorious vision!  Listen: "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick;"  God will tend to us personally.  He will find us even if we are lost.  He will fix what is wrong, and bind up our broken hearts.  He will comfort and calm.  He will heal the sick and strengthen them.  There is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, no weakness, no death in heaven.  God Himself will see to that, and we shall know Him and rejoice in that knowledge at last.  That's the beautiful part.

The terrifying part comes next: "but the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them with judgment."  The fat and the strong He will destroy.  He will feed them with His displeasure and with eternal damnation – for that is what "judgment" means.  What is terrifying is that we are the fat and the strong.  Not Christians in general, us.  We have every advantage.  We have the Word of God, clear and plain and in abundance.  We enjoy the rich blessings of the earth in abundance.  We have the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood before us three weeks out of four.  We are fat and lazy spiritually.  And we are what the Bible refers to so often as strong.  We are the ones who feel no need and fear no evil.  Maybe not every one of us, but too many of us.

The strong don't need help – so they don't pray much.  The strong don't need any more power or knowledge – so they don't study much.  The strong are wise and capable – so they don't let God's Word or their faith interfere with their thinking or decision making.  The strong have no compassion – so they take care of themselves first – and last, if the truth be known.  Spiritual pride and spiritual apathy mark the fat and the strong.  Modern American Christianity is marked by Spiritual Pride and Spiritual Apathy.

Spiritual Pride is when you think you have it made and need no more.  It rises when you feel confident that missing worship and standing aloof from the fellowship of the church isn't going to hurt you.  Such people feel that they don't need the Lord's Supper, for example.  They may take it because it is available, but they don't need it!  Spiritual Pride is present in those who say they can worship just as well out in nature as in church.  That's a lie, of course, but they believe it because they are so strong and healthy spiritually that missing here and there is no danger and no concern.  Spiritual Pride is at work when one believes and behaves as though faith were a personal thing between them and God and had nothing to do with others, or with church, or which church they associate themselves with.  They are too puffed up to fellowship, to share in the work, or give of themselves so others may benefit.

Spiritual Apathy is almost indistinguishable from spiritual pride.  It looks the same, at times, because both are so inactive.  Spiritual Apathy, however, is inactive because it just doesn't care.  Spiritual apathy keeps people from Bible Study – it isn't important and they don't care.  It isn't worth getting out for.  Spiritual matters always take a back seat to other things.  First there is family, then there are sports, then there are vacations, then there is the Covid19 shutdown and the fear that God will not take care of them if they risk coming to church. There are just so many important things to do that we don't make it to church for weeks, then months.

The fat and the strong – those who cannot take the time and effort, and those who feel no danger, no need to take the time and the effort – face the wrath of God and the stern warning of judgment in this Good Shepherd text.  We are the fat and the strong!
Our Voters' Meetings are one place we show up and get involved. Some behave in ways, at times,  that don't always reflect our faith or our humility.  We generally do nothing special to spread the word.  We do nothing special to build up the church.  Some speak evil about our neighbor, our congregation, or our pastor, which is negative evangelism.   We seem to do that well, complaining about our church or our pastor or our fellow-members.  And we gossip – the phone lines hum sometimes!   We look like those who have gotten over-confident or just plain who-cares-lazy about our gospel riches from God.

That's why this prophecy is also terrifying.  God has gathered His people in this prophecy.  Then He destroys the fat and the strong among them.  He is dealing with those who are fat and strong among His people, not the outsiders.  God came to seek and save the lost, to bind up the wounded, to comfort the broken-hearted.  Those who are comfortable, who are confident, who are strong and capable on their own have no part in Him, no matter what they think.

Even Jesus makes a point of telling us, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

But for those who are sick, who have sinned and fear the coming judgement God has a promise.  He has forgiven us in Jesus, paid for our sins by His death on the cross, and announced His love and His will to save us by the Easter resurrection of Jesus.  Those who are humble He will feed and lead to His eternal rest.

He feeds us even now.  He lays before us the heavenly feast in earthly clothing, giving us the true body and blood of Jesus in, with, and under the form of the bread and the wine.  He calls to those who know Him and believe His Word and trust in His promises to come here and receive Christ Himself in the mystery of the Sacrament.  Here, in this precious Sacrament, is forgiveness and life and salvation and everything which Christ has won for us.  This meal, and this fellowship and this gathering about the Word and Sacrament is what the Good Shepherd promised when He promised to gather, bind up, heal and comfort.  It is true that there will be more and greater in heaven, but it begins here.

The Good Shepherd.  He feeds and heals, He finds and strengthens, He gives them forgiveness and eternal life.  But He also culls the flock.  These are two sides, both real views of the same Good Shepherd.  Come hear and feed.  Come to the Good Shepherd in Word and in Sacrament regularly.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)