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)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Get Real

Now that we are working our way as a society toward an end to our extended house imprisonment, employers are reporting that their former employees are unwilling to return to work due to government largess intended to help people through their unemployment until they can return to work.

The answer to these problems should be simple and straightforward: terminate and do not ever rehire those who would not return until their government money is gone.  Find and train new employees who will appreciate having a job.

The government is meddling and causing this problem, but any employer should recognize that they do not want employees who are only in it for the paycheck.

If you don't want to work, don't.  But don't expect everyone to change their world so you can recover from deliberate indolence.  The Bible says, "If any would not work, neither should he eat."  It is time to come back to that kind of realism.  This is just the fruit of government sabotage of our economic and social system.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Can These Bones Live?

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.  2 And He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.  3 And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord God, Thou knowest."  4 Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'  5 "Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.  6 ‘And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.'"

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  8 And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.  9 Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life."'"  10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 

11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.'  12 "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  13 "Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.  14 "And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'"

Sermon for Quasimodogeniti - The Sunday after Easter         4/19/20
                                     Can These Bone Live?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
"Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem dry bones; Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem dry bones; Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem dry bones; Now hear the Word of the Lord!"
I heard that song over and over again as a child.  Don't ask me why.  The song must have been popular or part of something going on in the Fifties or something like that.  We all sang about how the foot-bone connected to the heel-bone, and the heel-bone connected to the ankle-bone, and the ankle-bone connected to the shin-bone, and so forth.  It was all very rhythmic and musical and fun.  I remember, vaguely, knowing something about how this came out of the Bible, more or less.  I was amazed when I actually read the prophet Ezekiel and discovered what it was and what it meant.  This morning, you will discover too, if you don't already know.  Our theme is, Can These Bones Live?.

The answer most of us would give is, "Of course!"  We would answer that way because we have read the story, and because we have seen the bones in Ezekiel's vision come to life.  One or two of us might be realistic enough to say "No."  Bones don't come to life, except in visions, in dreams, in Hollywood Effects, and in the Bible.  Both answers would be wrong, of course.  Ezekiel gives the right answer – "O Lord God, You know."  It would be wrong to say ‘yes,' unless God says "Yes."  If God is not behind it, and wanting these bones to live, they have no chance whatsoever.  On the other hand, if God wants them to live, they will – look what He did with a handful of dirt!  Besides, if there were no possibility that the bones could live, we would have to deny the resurrection – especially the resurrection of those whose bodies have decayed.

The answer is, "If it is in your will, O Lord, they shall live."  It all depends on the Lord.  But this lesson is not about the ability of God, or of the bones to live, it is about the promise of God to rescue His people -- in spite of what they may believe is overwhelming odds against them.  The Children of Israel were facing the reality of their situation – they had been conquered and taken into exile.  They believed that their situation was hopeless.  They were facing the fact that they had no power, and no hope in and of themselves to set themselves free.   Because they had been favored by God, and now were crushed and exiled, they were also despairing.

The Lord brought Ezekiel to the valley of the dry bones in the spirit and asked him if those bones, long dead and dry could live.  Ezekiel recognized that he was in a vision and waited for the Word of the Lord.  Then the Lord commanded him to speak – and told him exactly what to say.  "Prophesy to these bones," God said.

Ordinarily, we would say that speaking to the lifeless is pointless.  But Ezekiel prophesied as he had been commanded.  Because he spoke the words which the Lord had given him to speak, the effect was immediate and powerful.  The bones grew new sinews and new muscles and new flesh.  It wasn't Ezekiel's power, nor was it the power of the words themselves, but it was the power of the Word of God.  And note: God didn't speak directly or act simply by divine fiat.  He accomplished all that He wanted to do by means of His Word, and, this is important, by means of His Word spoken by the one He called to preach it.

The lesson was the that the children of Israel were down and defeated and certain that there was nothing left for them.  They were moaning and complaining to one another about how they were crushed and there was no hope.  God showed Ezekiel the truth.  He showed Him not just what could happen, but what He was going to do.  He promised the people through Ezekiel that they would return from their exile, and that they would have good days again, as a nation – although those who received the promise were not going to live to see those days themselves. 

Something more, though.  God promised resurrection from the dead.  Now, many of those who heard the promises probably took them to simply mean the resurrection of their hopes, since they were all talking about how their hopes were dead and they were completely cut off, and it just sucked the life out of them.  But God clearly promised to raise them from their graves!  This is the promise of the resurrection which Jesus began to demonstrate the fulfillment of on Easter!

It is unusual to find a text that applies so directly and so clearly to our circumstances today as this one does.  Just like ancient Israel facing the destruction of Jerusalem, we face the threat of the killer Coronavirus, plus the apathy of the world, of our community, and even of many in our own congregation toward the Christian faith - or at least toward us at Immanuel Lutheran Church of Bartlett Township. The combination is a cocktail of frustration and despair.  Tell me if it doesn't sound like ancient Israel:  "Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.'" "

The difference is that they had just endured military defeat.  They had watched their neighbors killed with the sword and others were enslaved and forcibly resettled in another country.  They had good reason, by comparison,  to be upset. 

Their problem, however, was that they did not trust God.  If they could not see how things were going to work out the way they wanted them to work out, they figured there was no hope.  They were wrong, but that is the way they thought.  And God showed them through Ezekiel and this vision that the power was His, not theirs.  He showed them that His Word could accomplish much more than they dared imagine – and then promised them the unexpected – and nearly unbelievable!

Now, what are our problems about which people are so depressed?  A spooky sounding illness - which hasn't struck home yet, but could.  The lack of a large group of young people which threatens our future as a congregation.  The very limited numbers of those willing or able to volunteer.  The loss of social activities that were once common in our congregation.  Some do not like the pastor to address any of the problems the congregation confronts in his sermons, or talk about how faithful Lutherans are doctrinally sound and others not so much.  

The reality is, Some people do not trust God to keep them safe.  Some do not want to hear the Word of God preached as Pastor Fish preaches it.  Some individuals feel that they ought to be able to determine what is done and what is preached, and when they discover that they do not have that kind of control, they grumble, and grumbling is sin whether they like to acknowledge that fact or not.

The vision of Ezekiel reminds us that anything is possible with God, even where it is unimaginable to us.  We are the dry bones of the vision.  Can we live?  Can we succeed?  Can we thrive?  Of course, if it is the will of God.  The correct answer, from Ezekiel, is,  "O Lord God, You know."  And the power that will work life and health and strength and safety here is just exactly the same as worked the miracle in the valley of the dry bones – the Word of God, proclaimed by the one God has called and instructed to proclaim it.  If we think everything is dependent on us, our wit or our abilities, we are mistaken.  God wants to use us, but what good we do, and how we prosper is in the hands of God and our true hope is in trusting Him and doing what He sets before us to do, and hearing His Word!

And His Word to us is just the same as it was to ancient Israel!  It is the promise of salvation and of the resurrection from the dead.  I think we have wonderful people and God's absolute truth here, and it would be a blessing for everyone in the area to be a part of our congregation – they would fellowship with you good people, and they would feed on God's holy Word of grace and salvation. 

But that isn't the way things work most of the time.  The closer to the truth and to Christ we stand, the more troubles and persecution we can expect.  Jesus said so.  Our mission here to proclaim the goodness of the Lord which we just celebrated throughout Lent and especially on Easter, and to live boldly in that truth.

We know the secret of God – we know what His will for us is!  And what is that will?   He has chosen us for salvation.  We shall rise from our graves and shall enter the promised land of heaven, and shall live in God's presence forever.  And it won't be because we were such great people, it will be because of Jesus, and because God chose us in His grace, called us by the Gospel, baptized us into His family, and then kept us until we made it all the way to heaven.

We have a sure thing.  Our hope is not dead, or dried up.  We are not going to fall apart, fold up, or blow away.  We are going to live by the grace and power of God, as He shares it with us through His Word, and we are going to rise from our graves to everlasting life in glory.  And it will all be God's doing – here and now.  Listen to how it works, in the words of our text, "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.  "And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land.  Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'"

Can these bones live?  You know, O Lord.  Our well-being now and our hope for resurrection, and everlasting life and salvation all rest in the hands of the Lord.  Easter tells us that that's a pretty good place to be.  If God wants it, these bones will not just live, but thrive!

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

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This Is What We Waited For!

Isaiah 25:6-9
And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.  And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations.  He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.  And it will be said in that day, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.  This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation."

Sermon for Easter Sunday                                              4/12/20
This Is What We Waited For!

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Hallelujah!

The Old Testament is all about Easter – only it is about Easter coming, not Easter passed.  They were waiting for Easter since God told them that the Serpent would wound the Messiah, but not destroy Him, but that the Messiah would utterly crush the Serpent!  They were waiting for Easter since Job wrote, "I know that my Redeemer lives!  And He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth."  They were waiting for Easter since Moses wrote, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel."  The whole Old Testament is about waiting for Easter, so, in a sense, this is what we waited for!  And that is our Easter theme!

The Old Testament re-enforces the understanding of the truth that our religion is something that is described as "already / not yet".  Already we know, but not yet do we perceive with our senses.  Already we possess, but not yet do we fully enjoy that possession.  There is nothing about our salvation which is unfinished, or which we do not possess already.  Nevertheless, there is much about it that is not yet for our experience.  We have resurrection already.  We have eternal life already.  We have life with God in His presence already.  The not yet part is our sense of these things.  We don't see it.  We don't feel it.  So it seems to us to be "not yet".

But it is!  He is Risen!

"In that day," says our text.  Well, today is that day.  The Lavish Banquet is prepared!  We have been invited.  We have to be, because we are the Mountain of the Lord.  This is where the banquet is to be served – where it was served in part last Sunday.  Remember, the Mountain of the Lord is the place where His glory dwells.  Well, we, the Church, are the place where the glory of God dwells among men.  He dwells in each one of us that believes.  He is present among us wherever two or three are gathered together in His name.  This is the place where God promised to prepare the Lavish Banquet – and He has prepared it.

Look at the language used to describe it.  "Aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine."  We all know about how the aged wine is the best!  And I still remember my Grandma grabbing the round bone from the steak and sucking the marrow out.  She would invariably say, "Ohh!  The marrow's the best part!"  I eat the marrow to this day because my Grandma said it was the best part – and I have never learned to relish it the way she did.  The image here is the finest and choicest and most absolutely magnificent banquet fare.  And what could be better than the banquet of the Lord's Supper?  It is there we receive Him in His body and blood and, with Him, everything He has won and everything the heavenly Father has given him.

This banquet is resurrection from the grave – for us, not just for Jesus!  It is life everlasting beyond sin and all of its effects – no more pain, no more sickness, no more sorrow, and no more dying ever!  This banquet is the one Jesus spoke of as "The Wedding Feast".  He included it in several parables.  We call it "the Wedding Feast of the Lamb to His Bride, the Church."  The banquet is eternal life and salvation, but we possess those things already, right now!  That is what Easter is about.  But we do not experience them – not yet.  Nevertheless, the Lavish Banquet is before us – for it begins in the Church!

One item on the menu of this banquet is the veil that covers the nations.  The veil is death, and while it is mentioned on the menu, it is not for us, but for God to swallow it up.  God will end death.

But that is why I say that the banquet has already begun!  God has swallowed up death.  He put an end to death by putting His Son to death on the cross in our place.  Death is all done with!  That is the celebration of Easter.  Jesus has destroyed death, God has swallowed up the covering which rests on all people everywhere.  Death is dead!  He was killed by the death of life, because life could not be destroyed by death and life rose from the grave on Easter morning, destroying death in its path.

Of course, this is already / not yet.  It is true, already, but not yet do we see it and enjoy it fully.  This what we waited for!  This is what the people of old waited for!  Our victory is won!  Our death has been destroyed!  When we do what people today call dying, we will discover that it is the door to everlasting life!

But we will die, at least in this world and from this flesh.  That is a certainty.  And it is always accompanied by tears and sorrow.  For those of us who understand and who believe, it is sorrow at being left behind, and sorrow at the separation, but not sorrow about the beloved.  None the less, there is sorrow and pain and grief.  Easter is about the end of all that.

Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we, too, shall rise!  His resurrection guarantees and demonstrates what our resurrection shall be.  That is why we cry out "Hallelujah!" on Easter.  We can see the joy, even on those days when we cannot feel it.  But the day is coming when we shall also rise.  That is also what Easter is all about.

We will rise from our graves.  We will have transformed bodies and will rise to eternal life and to a reunion that is joyful and delightful beyond all expression here and now.  That is the day when the promise of our text shall be accomplished, "And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces."  Sorrow will be a thing of the past.  It will be gone because all that causes sorrow will be ended, wiped away like covering of dust on the furniture.

Sin causes death, but it also causes sickness, and sorrow, and frustration, and anger, and fear, and impatience, and despair.  All of those fruits of sin will be gone as well.  God will remove all of the sources of sorrow and dismay, and will give us a clear understanding of the true joy of our circumstances – as if seeing those we have loved and lost again will not be enough.  We will be us, and they will be them and we will know one another and delight in one another in that day.  And that is the day that we will shout for joy, This is what we have waited for!

Isaiah says, "And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth."   That reproach is our sin, and our dying, because God created us for eternity with Him.  He created us for communion with Him.  He created us to live in His love and bask in His glory.  Our sins, however have made that impossible.  So God took sin out of the way.  He carried it to the cross Himself, and killed us in His own Son.  And now He makes us alive in Him.  And we are forgiven, and never to die – except that flesh part, and that only for a time.  Our reproach will be gone, and in its place, we who were created merely in His Image, shall become partakers of much more – having been claimed by God as family, as His own children.  We will be more than merely without sin, we shall be positively holy – and like Jesus, whatever that may be, for the Scripture says, 1st John 3:2, Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.

That is the day that we are still awaiting, when the treasures of our salvation are not hidden from sight, but fully experienced and fully sensed and fully realized!  That is the ultimate day of the Banquet, when we shall relish the feast as we should, as it deserves.  And on that day we shall see God, and know Him without reservation or doubt or uncertainty.  Then we shall shout for joy the words of our text,"Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation."

This is what we have waited for.  And we know that it is so, For, as Isaiah tells us the LORD has spoken.  It is certain because it is the Word of God!  It is not merely pious and wishful thinking, but the promise of God and the very substance of our faith.  And it is important to remember that it is not just "pie in the sky by-and-by".  It is already true and real, even if not open to our immediate senses.  Jesus has accomplished it all, already.  But we do not possess it fully, not yet.  We wait to share in Easter with Jesus - in the resurrection.  But today, we celebrate it, for we have seen it.   Through the eyes of faith, and by the witness of the Apostles, we have seen it.

This is what Easter is all about.  This resurrection is the "free sample" in advance of the free Gift of God that we, too, shall rise.  So celebrate!  Shout for joy!  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!  Here in our text, we see Easter.  And in the Gospel, we see the Banquet beginning.  And we see Jesus.  And this is what we have waited for!

As we sing in the hymn:

I am content!  My Jesus liveth still,
In whom my heart is pleased.
He hath fulfilled the Law of God for me,
God's wrath he hath appeased.
Since He in death could perish never,
I also shall not die forever.
I am content!  I am Content!

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

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Nature of Sin

1 John 1:8-10
    If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Good Friday                                                        4/10/2020
    The Nature of Sin

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
Tonight we conclude our series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins, also called the Seven Cardinal Sins.  We close it by discussing the nature of Sin.  But first, we might ask, "why the seven deadly sins?"  Where did they come from?  It is never mentioned in Scripture. 

Well, over the centuries, the people of God had noticed that most sins fed on other sins, and that our sinfulness feeds on the doing of sins and grows stronger in the presence of sin.  There are countless stories where evil runs amok until it burns itself out where there is no other evil to feed on.  I have even seen a movie in which the evil protagonist was finally isolated in a sphere of pure goodness (something you can only do in a movie!)  and died screaming because it was alone.

All fiction aside, sin feeds on sin.  One evil makes the sinner bold to commit an even greater evil.  The story is common, even in our newspapers, of the murderer who also commits other senseless acts of evil, simply because it is his nature.  Evil feeds on evil and breeds evil.

And certain evils seem to underlie all other evils.  Pride seems to be an element of most sins.  Greed can be often found in many sins.  Envy, or gluttony, or sloth, or anger: they all join together in strange and exotic combinations to make up the component parts and the causes of other sins, such as murder, rape, or theft.  So these most common – and generally least objected to sins – came to be focused on as the deadly sins.  Its not that the other sins are any less deadly, but these were the ones fewest of us were on guard for.  These seven are "only human."  Except in their grossest forms, we rarely hear anyone object to them.  They are rarely thought of as sinful, let alone described as great sins.  Some psychologists will call them the necessary components of a healthy personality.  Sometimes we even hear them described as though they were virtues!       
But the problem is Sin.  Sin is that strange, inexplicable yet omnipresent "thing" that spoils life, sours relationships, and wreaks havoc in our societies.  Sin is the enemy.  But we don't naturally tend to treat it as such.

Instead, people try to joke about sin.  They try to make it out to be fun, or at least funny.  Whee!!  Aren't we having a good time sinning!?  Oh, isn't that man's Lust funny?  Will you look at that comical pride!  Our comedies and our comedians overflow with the joy and the jokes of Sin.  We have television shows depict the joys of lust, or the comedy of anger.  Most movies and TV programs seem to tolerate anything except morality.  Sin makes for great entertainment, or so it seems.

I admit that certain sins often do seem to have their comic aspects.  Some so-called "dirty jokes" are hilarious, if you can overlook the gross immorality involved.  And certain sins are temporarily fun.  That is the drawing card sin so often uses.  It promises fun, or pleasure, or profit.  But it doesn't have a label telling you in advance that the fun is only short-lived, and is followed by a long period of emptiness and defeated-ness.  As fun or funny as Sin may appear from the outside, viewed from inside it is deadly, and depressing, and destructive.

But we are talking tonight, not about sins, but about Sin (with a capital "S").  We are not focusing on the specific acts and attitudes we call sins, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but on that grand, singular reality called Sin, which underlies every specific instance of sin.  And Sin is deadly destructive.  Sin is hurt.  Sin is loneliness.  Sin is alienation from others and from yourself.  It destroys relationships, and robs people of their own estimate of their own worth.  What we hear joked about is a deadly, destructive force in our lives–and our world.

Now, you would think something as sinister as I have described Sin to be would be readily identifiable as such, wouldn't you?  The reality is that Sin can only be seen as sinful from the vantage point of the Will of God.
We can see that this is true from the Greek theater.  The Greeks knew about the problem of evil.   But they didn't understand it.  They saw evils as just one of the two great realities of this life, and accepted it as such.  They saw themselves as hopelessly caught up in a mechanistic world–and they might be caught by good, or they might get crushed by evil.  It was all in the fates, and they were helpless to do anything about it.  And it really didn't matter what they did or said.  You can see it in their drama.  Their stories make no qualitative distinction between good and evil.  Their heroes were equally good and evil.  They would usually suffer heroically through evil circumstances, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  It really made no difference to the play.

But the coming of Christian theology, and the Christian definition of Sin as destructive and life destroying changed things.  Man was no longer a worthless pawn, but a person , engaged in a cosmic battle!  Suddenly what one did, and what happened to the individual was significant!  The individual was important.  The individual had intrinsic value and worth.  Choices really mattered.  You could see this change even in drama.  In Shakespeare, Sin was what destroyed a life.  Sin stole a person's nobility.  Sin robbed and Sin killed.  Sin took the personal worth away from the sinner.

And now in our modern times, we have gone back to the machine.  In an era which titles itself the "post-Christian Era" the individual has again lost his value.  Our philosophies cannot see any difference between doing the right and the doing the wrong–only between getting away with it or getting caught.  Sin doesn't matter to our society.  That's why we can let pornography and prostitution flourish freely in the same neighborhood as a church, or gamble, even illegally, and justify it by saying that everyone does it.  It just doesn't matter!

Our casual acceptance of Sin shows itself in the psychologies of today.  We accept the abnormal and twisted as an alternative lifestyle.  We treat one another as behavior groupings and not as people.  We find ourselves helpless to improve our situations because we don't recognize what is wrong with them to begin with.  We try to cure the disease by treating the symptoms, and it isn't working!  We have come to view ourselves as accidents, as products of evolution.  So our nation can abort or euthanize the unwanted and inconvenient.  We can no longer recognize our own value or purpose, and we have no idea what to do about it.

And the problem is Sin.  Sin is destructive.  Sin is when and why we strike out at others in pain, or greed, or pride.  Sin is violence toward others . . . intentional violence!  Sin is also striking at ourselves.  We strike at ourselves in anger, frustration, fear, and helplessness.  Sin robs us of control of ourselves, and we begin to fell cheaper, and less human, and less worth the effort, any effort.  In one way or another, we destroy life – or the value of life – by sinning.

Sin is perversion.  Sin twists everything until black is not black, and white is not white, and until we prefer the comforting shades of grey.  Sin makes us tell one another in song and story, in play and movie, that the one who remains moral, the one who clings to the faith and to what is right is sick.  The brave and healthy one abandons all morality and curses God!

Our age tells us that the radical and the revolutionary, the demonstrator is the one who has been faithful, who has kept the faith.  But history, even modern world history, shows us just how faithless these have been when they have been granted power.  Psychology shows us how their commitment is more to the rebelling than it is to the cause they choose.  Our age also tells us that to be free means to be free from any restraint to evil.  Freedom from morality, freedom from goodness is called true freedom.  But why not freedom from evil?

And Sin is slavery.  Freedom requires choices.  And choice requires more than one option.  We become slaves to our desires, slaves to our egos, and slaves to sin, just as the Bible describes us.
And Sin is godlessness.  When a Christian repents, he or she doesn't just repent getting caught.  If we really repent, we aren't just sorry about the coming punishment, or the possibility of punishment, we are sorry for sinning.  We are sorry for cheapening our lives, and we are committed to not doing again that something to be sorry about!

And when we repent, we don't just repent to ourselves, or to others, but to God.  For the Christian the Bible paints an even clear repentance.  "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight!"  Joseph, tempted by Potiphar's wife does not reckon the sin as evil against his master, or the wife, or even himself, but cries out in horror, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God!?"  If we look at Sin honestly, we will have to find ourselves in the same position as the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, where he writes, "Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from this body of death?"

But the cure is here, in Scriptures.  Here in 1 John1:8-10:  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

This is the cure for our lost and impoverished condition in sin.  It begins with recognizing honestly that we have sinned.  Yes, even us Christians have "daily sinned much and indeed deserved nothing but punishment."  To assert that you have not sinned is a lie.  It is either intentional lying, or it is evidence that you have lost contact with reality.  Everyone sins, and so says the Bible.  Good or bad, as we may judge the individual, everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The next step is to confess them to God.  We must admit them, be sorry for them, and resolve in our secret and earnest intentions not to sin again.  We call that repenting.  When we repent, God forgives.  John writes that when we repent, God is faithful.  That means He will forgive us each time we repent.  But be clear on this.  God will not even hear the kind of repenting which knows that it wants to sin the same way again, and plans to sin again.

And John tells us that God is righteous to do so.  God punishes every sin, in Jesus.  The debt has already been paid.  We celebrate that payment today, and we will gather Sunday to celebrate the declaration of God that the payment was sufficient and was accepted.

God is just in forgiving our sins because the penalty for Sin has already been meted out.  He is just to forgive all of us for all of our sins for Sin is the offense, and all Sin has been met by the complete wrath of God in Christ Jesus.  Now all can be justly forgiven, both those whom we see as good, and those whom we see as bad, for all have fallen short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

The last verse of our "cure" says that either you confess your sins openly before God, and are forgiven and made holy through Jesus Christ, and become thereby a saint, or you are a sinner, and an enemy of God.  Impenitence is an attack on God. 

Denying your sinfulness – whether you do it publicly, or just privately in your secret, inner thoughts – is calling God a liar, and making yourself His enemy.  You have to know that you are a sinner, and confess it and repent before you can be made a saint.  And you must never lose sight that even saints are still sinners and in need of forgiveness daily – or you will immediately cease to be a saint at all!

Well, there it is.  The Seven Deadly Sins.  This is a fitting day to finish with it, for it was on this day, almost two thousand years ago, that God finished with Sin for us forever.  He died on a cross to lift its burden off of us.  It was a Friday then, too.  At first they called it God's Friday.  Then they called it Good Friday.  The anniversary of the death of our Lord Jesus is a Good Friday, for it is also the anniversary of the end of the reign of sin, and the beginning of the victory of our Lord Jesus – and our victory – over these Seven Deadly and all other Sins.

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

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Passover Is Here

Exodus 12:1-14
Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers  households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. And they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste-- it is the LORD'S Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments – I am the LORD. And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.

Maundy Thursday                   4/09/20
The Passover Is Here

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This evening we commemorate one of the most often remembered, and most often disregarded days in the life of Christ.  We mention it, although we rarely think about this day, even when we speak of it, every time we speak the Words of Institution in preparation for receiving the gift of God in the Sacrament.  We say, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the same night on which He was betrayed, . . .".  That night was tonight, what we now call Maundy Thursday.  It was the night that the Lord left us His last will and testament in this Supper.

We often ignore the fact that this holy supper took place in the context of the celebration of the Passover.  I mean, we know it happened that way, but unless a pastor preaches about it, we tend to ignore that fact.  The Passover was Jewish.  We are Christians.  End of story.

But the Passover is here! God established the Passover as a memorial to be celebrated as a feast to the Lord as a permanent ordinance.  Those words are all from verse 14 of our text.  Jesus did not intend to end or supersede the Passover celebration.  He intended to fulfill the type and give it greater meaning and to allow His people to celebrate the fullness of the true Passover.

Our text lays out the first Passover.  It tells Moses how to instruct the Children of Israel to prepare for the night when the Angel of Death would visit Egypt and end the life of the first-born of every womb – man or beast, except those who were in dwellings marked with lamb s blood on the door frames.  Those he would "pass over" and spare the lives of the first-born within.

Moses was to instruct them on how to prepare the lamb (they cooked it whole, with head and fur and guts inside -- roasting it over an open fire).  They were to be careful not to break any of its bones.  They were to eat it dressed for travel – with cloak on their back and staff in hand, and sandal on their feet, for it was a meal of haste.  They were to have unleavened bread, because they would not have time for bread to rise.  They were to eat it with bitter herbs (today they often use horseradish) to symbolize the bitterness of their bondage in slavery in Egypt.

The Passover meal was to be the reminder for them of the saving acts of God, rescuing them from bondage and giving them their homeland.  It was a reminder of His power, and of how suddenly He accomplished what had seemed impossible just days before.  It was a reminder of what they had left behind so that they would not desire to go back.  It was part of what made them a people of the covenant.  If they did not participate, they were not Israel.  If they were not Israel, they were also not allowed to participate.

Over the centuries, a ritual arose and evolved around the Seder.  It evolved into a much more elaborate meal with symbolism to instruct the young and remind the older ones of the great truths of their faith.  They stopped eating the Seder standing, and reclined at table.  They developed the ritual of the Afikomen - or "after meal" – a dessert type ritual dealing with broken and hidden Matzoth.  They developed the custom of the four cups of the Seder.  But the essence remained – the bread of haste, the sacrificed lamb and the message of the great saving work of God.

Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the same night in which He was betrayed.  He did more than celebrate it, however, He changed it.  With His coming, and with the events of the next seventy-two hours, the foreshadowing function of the Passover would be complete.  Instead of the lamb of the Passover shedding his blood for the lives and safety of the Children of Israel, as God worked their salvation from slavery in Egypt, the Lamb of God would shed His own blood for the sins of the world and to redeem and save all men from bondage to sin and captivity to death and hell.  The Passover meal would never again require a lamb to die.  The symbol was superseded by the reality.

Jesus took the unleavened bread of the Seder, and gave it new significance.   Jews who have become Christians see the death of Jesus in the breaking of the afikomen, and the burial of our Lord in the hiding of the afikomen, and the resurrection in the "finding" of the afikomen at the end of the meal.  Jesus took the sacred bread of haste, and proclaimed that it was His body, and commanded His disciples to "Do This" – often – in remembrance of Him.

Jesus then took the third cup of the Seder.  We suspect it was the third cup because it is placed immediately after the meal – when He had supped (in the King James s English).  St.  Paul called the third cup "the cup of blessing." That is because they spoke a special blessing over the third cup at the traditional Seder.  The third cup was known as the "Cup of Redemption."  It had come to symbolize the blood of the Passover Lamb, and commemorated God s saving acts, and His will to save.  This is the cup which Jesus declared was now His blood – blood shed for each of us for the remission of sin.  Then Jesus commanded that we do this also – often – in remembrance of Him.

This Holy Meal we receive, of which we commemorate the establishment particularly on this evening, is the Passover.  It is not the Passover of the Angel of Death in Egypt which we commemorate, however.  In Jesus Christ, the death which we have earned in sin has been passed over, and we have been redeemed and rescued.  The bondage to sin and Satan and Hell has been broken and ended for all who believe.  The bread of haste has become a koinonia – a participation together in the very body of Christ and in all that Christ has won for us.  It establishes our unity, and our eating of it declares to all the world that we are united in this faith and in this salvation.

The Cup of blessing which we bless is no longer merely wine, but it is also filled with the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross for our blessing and salvation.  The cup of redemption of the Seder has become more than a mere symbol, it is the cup of redemption, filled with forgiveness of sins and salvation for those who drink of it knowing what it truly is and trusting in the promises of God made in connection with it.  This cup is also a communion– a participation together in the blood of Jesus Christ and in what that blood has done.

This is the Passover.  We no longer need to kill a lamb for it, for the Lamb of God is here, in, with, and under the bread and the wine with His true body and blood our salvation.  We still eat the Lamb, but in, with and under the form of the elements of this holy meal.  It still reminds us of our rescue, and it works in us the rescue of which we are reminded.  It still points to the promised land – only ours is the new heavens and the new earth of eternal life.  It still makes us part of the people of God.  Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 10:17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.  It is our sharing in this one bread that establishes our unity in Christ.  This is the truly ecumenical meal, for all who believe share in it, but only those who share in our faith are welcome to share in it.   As with the Passover of ancient Israel, the outsider who partakes incurs the judgment of God, Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.

Modern Christians sometimes say that this is "What is left of the Passover." I say that it is the whole of the Passover and more.  It has been called the "Medicine of Immortality," for by receiving it we are healed of sin and death, and prepared for everlasting life and glory.  It is the cure for sin, for it brings forgiveness of sins to the believer, and in so doing heals him from death, and imparts even to his flesh the power of the resurrection to glory.

The Passover is here! It continues as a memorial and a feast to the Lord.  It defines who we are, and marks us as the people of God.  It serves to hold before our eyes the saving acts of God, For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup.  you proclaim the Lord s death until He comes.   It is, in every respect, the Passover meal of the true Israel of God, the children of the promise.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Endowed with Salvation

Zechariah 9:9-12
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.  As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.  Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you.

Sermon for Palm Sunday                                              4/05/20
Endowed with Salvation

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
On Palm Sunday, the original Palm Sunday, Jerusalem received Jesus as her King.  On Palm Sunday, the nation of Israel recognized Jesus as the One who was promised, the One in David's line who would ascend the throne of David and reign forever.  On that Palm Sunday, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of our Old Testament Lesson.  He came as King, humble, mounted on a donkey, and to the acclamation of the people.

It is certain that anyone who witnessed this triumphal entry into Jerusalem would have recognized both the significance of the ride and the fulfillment of this prophecy.  That was why the people were so excited – and why the Jewish leaders felt that they had to do something, and do something quickly!  This festive scene meant that the Messiah had arrived – but only to those who believed.  To the rest it meant trouble, unrest, a challenge to their authority and wealth, and possibly Roman interference.

They had to do something, and the choices they made turned the next week into what we call Holy Week, culminating for them in the crucifixion of a troublesome teacher and would-be-Messiah – and culminating for us in salvation and the glorious joy of Easter!  This morning we look at the prophecy and see what it was that they might have expected – and what we should expect – under the theme, endowed with salvation.
Webster s dictionary defines "endowed" as (among other meanings) "to equip with a quality or talent.  "   That comes as close to the definition of the Hebrew words used in our text which are translated "just and endowed with salvation" as it is possible to come.  The words mean that righteousness is the fundamental element of His nature, and that salvation is something that He possesses by nature.

How true those words are about Jesus!  "Righteous"  is His name, or so says the Scriptures.  His very nature is righteousness.  We sinned, and God is righteous.  In His righteousness, God could not simply ignore our sin.  There is something in us that knows that, too.  Sin caused us to be terrified of God and to hate Him when we confronted Him.  Terror and hatred of God, and our sins, twisted our humanity and we lost the spiritual ability to know God, to love Him, to understand Him or His will, or to trust Him.

Allow me to illustrate.  Each of us has experienced or witnessed at least one of those things which caused people to wonder how God could allow such things to happen.  Perhaps it was the innocent death of a good person – or of one at a tender young age.  Maybe it was a critical illness afflicting a beloved relative.  It could have been a destructive act of nature, an act of terrorism – or as we recently have experienced, a terrible pestilence.  We could not comprehend how God could allow such a thing to happen, or what good could possibly come from such evil circumstances.  We cannot understand God.  We cannot think the way He does.  We cannot make sense of everything He does, and so we do not trust Him.

If we trusted Him, we would not be asking what good could possibly come from these events or circumstances.  We would simply expect that it would be good, and if we could not see or imagine what the good could be, we would confidently wait for it, nonetheless.

But that is not how we usually handle such things.  Usually we chafe and worry.  We try to figure it out, and failing that, we accuse God of being absent, or unjust, or inattentive.  We find it almost impossible, and often patently absurd, to give thanks to God for everything when everything seems to be going wrong around us!  We fret.  We worry.  We despair.  And that is sin!

Instead, we should rejoice and shout in triumph.  That is what the prophet says – and it is echoed loudly in the New Testament as well:  Rejoice in the Lord always.  and again I will say it.  Rejoice!  Or the Apostle Paul writes in another place Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  We should be able to shout in triumph, for our Palm Sunday Lord enters in righteousness and victory!
He came mounted on a donkey.  Most kings would ride in on a mighty stallion.  Not Jesus.  He entered humble and gentle.  Salvation was already His to give.  Salvation is one of His attributes.  He did not need to win it so much as to demonstrate it and claim it by the exercise of His love and goodness.  He gained victory by what looked like defeat, and created such great peace out of the frenetic violence and horrible assault of Good Friday.

And the prophet promised that by this victory, the machines of war would be silenced.  Many have made the mistake of assuming that this meant earthly peace, nation to nation.  They look for the idyllic scenes pictured on the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower magazine.  But the war is the result of sin – it is our war with God.  The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God – enmity, says the King James Version, a burning hatred.  The King of the Palm Sunday coronation ride did not ride in to take control of an earthly kingdom.  Less than one week later, He was explaining to Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world.  The peace He came to establish was not that of nation to nation, but a bigger peace – between God and man by ending the war called SIN.
Mankind is at war with God.  He is our natural enemy.  Our sin and guilt make us hate Him, and He is utterly offended at us and by our sin.  He is HOLY.  That is why we look over our shoulder and silently blame God when things seem to go wrong one after the other.

And we would deserve it if He did!  Our sins are an awful offense to the righteousness of God.  We deserve anything and everything that God can throw at us!  We deserve pain and misfortune in this life, and eternal condemnation in the next.  Our guilty consciences know that!  The peace that this humble King comes to establish is peace between man and God.  He does that by taking the full wrath of God against us and our sins on Himself.  He did not ride into Jerusalem unaware that the cross lay ahead of Him.  He rode into Jerusalem to ascend His unique throne – to be nailed to that cross, and to suffer bitter agony and die the death that we have earned and so richly deserve.

The King of the Palm Sunday coronation ride endured the fear, the sorrow, the pain, and the death in our place.  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  He took our sin so that we might share in the righteousness He is, by nature, and that He might give us the salvation which is His to give.  He ended the war.  God is no longer angry with us, and we are to be terrified of Him no longer!  God has reconciled us to Himself by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ – shed for us on the cross.

Through us, the King of the humble ride is now proclaiming peace to the nations.  It is the peace of sins forgiven.  It is the peace of knowing the love of God for us, and His good will toward us – and what is His good will toward us?  Our war is over.  God is no longer the enemy to be feared – He is our loving heavenly Father. 

And this is the gift of the King who rides a donkey.  It is the gift which He pours out for all – and it is received by everyone who knows what he has done, and trusts the promises of God in connection with Jesus.  Your sins have been forgiven.  Jesus is righteous and endowed with salvation.  Fear not, for behold I am with you always!

Jesus kept the promise of God through Zechariah, in our text today.  Of course, He did it in ways no one expected -- from riding on two animals to dying on the cross.  He is just and endowed with salvation!

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Twin Sisters of Gluttony and Lust

Romans 6:8-14
    Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

    Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.

The Sixth Wednesday of Lent                       4/01/2020
                        The Twin Sisters of Gluttony and Lust

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

This evening I would like to introduce you to a pair of ladies, twins, and really all-American girls!  To some of you, they will be total strangers, and this will be the first time you have ever met.  Some of you will find them strangely familiar, perhaps, although you have never been properly introduced before.  Still, there may be others of you who are quite well acquainted with them.

Let me introduce you to the twin sisters of Gluttony and Lust.   If you find them a little disgusting, don’t let it bother you.  They have no sensitivity to what others think, and you’re right, they are disgusting.  They are also deadly murderers.  They murder souls.

Now, before I have any women’s groups upset, let me explain.  I call these two sins “twins” because they are so much alike, and I call them “sisters” not because they are feminine – or particularly the sin of women – but because they are so seductive and alluring to the unwary, and, let’s face it, a woman is the symbol of all that is seductive and alluring and attractive.  When I imagine gluttony and lust, however, I see two aged and over-painted flirts trying to look seductive and desirable, but looking totally disgusting instead.

Let me introduce you to gluttony first.  Ms.  Gluttony is known for her consumption.  Gluttony is usually equated with consuming great quantities.  But gluttony doesn’t consume for the sake of getting the food, or whatever, eaten.  There is no need to consume in gluttony, nor any great desire for whatever it is that is being consumed.  It is just consumption itself.  It is not even consuming for the sake of getting full, for Ms. Gluttony cannot get full.  She doesn’t taste, particularly, or admire the quality of that which she consumes.  She just consumes.  And gluttony doesn’t just consume other things.  The glutton consumes him or herself as well, in his or her gluttony.

The consuming is actually an escape.  The glutton is in flight from life.  Often people view gluttony as one of the more sociable and companionable sins.  Sometimes it masquerades as a fun time for a group, but gluttony is a very solitary sin.  Gluttony is focusing on the thing consumed and on self getting that consumable thing and consuming it.  In eating, the glutton escapes thought and purpose and interaction with others and focuses on eating.  He doesn’t focus on taste, color, smell, the sensation of being filled, or anything else.  The glutton focuses on consuming.

The glutton doesn’t escape into enjoyment but from it.  The glutton is incapable of real appreciation of beauty, taste, or fun, because the glutton is fleeing from the pressures of reality, and therefore the qualities of it, in favor of a non-demanding bowl of swill.
Therefore, Ms.  Gluttony is also devoid of gratitude.  She can never give thanks because it is either just swill, and not worthy of thanks, or she is ignoring it and fleeing from it.  In this lack of thanksgiving, gluttony is like the other sins.  Pride is offended by beauty or worth in anything but itself, and so gives no thanks.  Envy cannot bear the sight of beauty in another, and cannot see it in itself.  Anger will destroy it if it cannot possess it.  Greed sees the beauty in others only if they are reflecting his.  Sloth doesn't have the spirit or energy to enjoy or appreciate beauty.  Lust seeks beauty but doesn’t know how to enjoy it.  And gluttony doesn’t see beauty but reduces everything to the level of swill.  Therefore, none of the sins can, or wants to, give thanks.

Ms.  Gluttony is usually identified with overeating.  It is a common sort of gluttony which over- eats, although eating too much is not necessarily gluttony, but there are other sorts of gluttony.  One popular form today is dieting.  The focus is the same, on the consumable items, and on the self, but this gluttony expresses itself in denial of food instead of over-use of it.  It is still self-consuming, and it is still escape from the pressures of reality into one’s stomach.

Another gluttony is drug abuse.  What else is a “high” but an escape?  And everyone knows that if you are “into” drugs, then talking about them, or the high, or getting the drug, or preparing to use it, or using the drug is the entire life of the glutton for drugs.  Almost the same gluttony is the alcohol gluttony, which is most graphically illustrated on skid row but is no less present in the Bloody-Mary breakfast, the six martini lunch, and the dinner wines and after-dinner drunk of the social drunk.  Much that is simple gluttony is passed off as helpless alcoholism.  And then there is more than just a symbol in the phrase “a glutton for punishment,” or for work, or for youth, or life.

But enough “flattery” for this sister, Lust is every bit as charming as her twin.  So, let me introduce you to Lust.

First of all, I can say that everything I have said about gluttony applies to Ms.  Lust.  She deals with consuming, she, also, is an escape from life, and she is thankless too.  But Ms. Lust deals in sex.

Actually, Lust deals in sex and in self-love.  Lust is pure craving.  Lust has no concern with partners, quality, morals, or anything, only with satisfying the craving.  Lust is very lonely, although she has a lot of company and is often found mingling in a crowd.  But she is not interested in the crowd, or the mingling, only in the craving.  And she is empty because there is no time for joy or beauty, or love or anything, only the craving which refuses to be satisfied, and which demands more and different every day.

It is a common thought that lust stirs up sex, excites it.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Lust kills it, Lust dries it up, it empties it of meaning and enjoyment.  Lust actually takes what is free and natural and good, and makes an onerous task of it.  It makes a work ethic of it and tells the lustful one to work at it, work harder!, to satisfy that craving.

Lust offers nothing to another, no permanence, no obligations, no relationship, no responsibility, no involvement.  And lust receives just as little.  When all is said and done lust walks away with nothing, not even satisfaction.  Nothing has been added to ease the pain or loneliness.

Lust, like gluttony, feeds on other sins.  It feeds on envy that wants to have what everyone else has, and claims the right to have it.  It feeds on greed which wants to have or possess without purpose to the possessing, and while taking no joy in having, other than simply having. It feeds on sloth, lacking the desire or the energy to get involved or to take any responsibility.  It is like gluttony in this too, it is mindless and sense-less.  It thinks nothing, and it feels, sees tastes, and hears nothing.  Only the craving.  And it escapes a world full of reality by contemplating its craving like Buddha’s navel.

As ugly, as over-painted and disgusting as these two sisters are, they have a peculiar seductiveness to them, and they draw many unawares under their spell.  But there is an escape from them.  There is a way to say, “No!”

The first step is self-examination.  Look carefully and honestly at yourself and see if the description fits you.  Are you a glutton?  Are you lustful?

The second step is faith.  That involves repenting and trusting God for forgiveness.  It also involves a commitment to Christ and a desire to live in accordance with His will.

The third step, which can only be used if you have already accomplished the first two, is our text tonight.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.

If we believe, we have been buried with Christ in our Baptism, into His death.  And the one who has died is no longer under sin, for verse 7 says that he who has died is freed from sin.  Having died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him – both in eternity and now.  For the death that Jesus died He died to sin once and for all – for all men and for all time.  Having died, there is no more death for Him, or for us who have shared in His death by Baptism.  The life He now lives, He lives to God, and so must we.  So, St.  Paul tells us to consider ourselves dead to sin. We are, now, dead to sin – and we ought to reckon ourselves, to consider ourselves to be so.  Many times this feels contrary to fact because our sinful nature still lives and still hungers after sin and corruption, but the truth expressed in God’s Word is that we are truly spiritually dead to sin, and alive to God, in Christ Jesus.  With that fact in mind, it is clear that sin is unnatural for us spiritually, and that we must stop it, by the power which God gives us, wherever we can.

Our text says, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.”  Instead of using our bodies as tools of Satan and sin, we are to present them in daily living to God as tools of His will and service for Him.  And we are even given God’s promise that when we recognize that we are no longer spiritually alive to sin and no longer need to serve it, with God's help, sin shall not be master over us!  We are not under the control of sin any longer but of God.  We are no longer under the law which spurs sin on in us, but under the grace of God which forgives our sins and promises to release us from the doing of sin as well as the guilt.

If we so consider ourselves and live with God’s help, we can escape our twin sisters of gluttony and lust.  We can live as His people and serve Him as tools of righteousness.  We may not be able to stop sinning entirely in this life, but we can escape the control of sin, and the soul-murdering plots of these two aged and over-painted flirts, the twin sisters of Gluttony and Lust.  God grant you the faith and the strength to escape all of the snares of these and other sins, for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.