Sunday, November 29, 2020

More Than Meets the Eye


Matthew 21:1-9

And when they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to Me.  And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”  Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, ‘BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.’”  And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.  And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road.  And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!”

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent                                11/29/20

More than Meets the Eye

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Something is happening in our Gospel lesson, this morning, something more than it seems.  First, this is not merely a lesson about Jesus riding a donkey.  Secondly, the account is of what we call “Palm Sunday”, but today is far from Palm Sunday.  It is the traditional lesson for the first Sunday in Advent, so it obviously carries some freight that a quick reading of the text might not suggest to you at first.  Thirdly, the events described are both more and in some ways less than what it would appear to us from our place in history.  With those thoughts, I invite you to consider the text, and the Palm Sunday ride, under the theme, “More than Meets the Eye”.

Our age tends to look at the Bible in a minimalistic fashion.  If the Bible says something, we tend to want to make it as simple as possible.  From that perspective, this would be a story about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Of course, He did that.  Riding in was noteworthy in those days because most people, including Jesus, usually walked.  Riding was left to the rich, the powerful, and the soldiers - typically the ones in command.  Here, Jesus is riding.  He is riding in a parade which echoes, however faintly it may seem to us, the coronation ride of the ancient kings of Israel.  It is striking that Jesus rides and that He rides a donkey and a colt.  It is striking that the people recognize what is happening before them.  One might be able to mistake it for a parade or a simple donkey ride.  But that would require ignoring the history of Israel, and there is simply more here than meets the eye.

Of course, the coronation of the king would usually involve a great horse.  Kings were important people.  It is noteworthy for the humility of the King who rides in that He chooses a donkey - and rides on the colt.  Some people want to imagine that the prophecy only really speaks about one animal - the donkey.  So, as I prepared this sermon, I read a couple of commentators who noted the prophecy of Zechariah was Hebrew parallelism - that the two mentions in Zechariah of the donkey, and then of the colt, the foal of a beast of burden, were meant to refer to a single animal.  That is a misunderstanding, however.  Zechariah simply says a donkey, and a colt, the son of a female donkey.  Matthew clears up any confusion – Scripture interprets Scripture – by telling us that both animals were there, and Jesus rode, probably the colt.

He came in humility.  Just as Zechariah prophesied.  And the people witnessing it proclaimed Jesus to be their King.  They did that by crying out the ancient formula of praise for the coronation of the king.  They were also expressing their conviction that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the One long promised to sit on the throne of David.  There had been no son of David on the throne for hundreds of years.  Now they were announcing that Jesus was the Promised One, the King who would set Israel free and establish the everlasting kingdom.

Did they fully understand what they were doing?  Some did, perhaps, but it is likely that many did not fully understand, just as many today do not fully understand.  There’s more than meets the eye, here.  While they did not necessarily understand the full import of what they were doing, Jesus did.  God set these events in motion around Jesus.  

And the High Priests and the leaders of the Temple understood it.  It was knowing what was happening and what it meant that galvanized them into the betrayal and trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  They feared that the Romans would understand and come down on the whole city - and they feared that it might be true, and Jesus would sweep them aside.  After all, their relationship with Jesus was not what one might call “cordial.”

The coronation ride of Jesus was more than even the High Priest imagined, however.  He probably thought it was a power-grab by Jesus, and an unfortunate mistake.  But it was the coronation of the Messiah.  It was Jesus’ public “coming out” as the One promised.  He was about to ascend His throne - but it wasn’t in some palace in Jerusalem.  It was on a lowly hill of execution just outside of town.  His throne was to be a cross.  There is no mistake there.  He came to take that throne and reign from it.  Jesus did not die as the unfortunate result of corrupted politics or as the twisted miscarriage of justice for the personal gain of the Temple leaders - although both were true and both happened.  But Jesus came to die on the cross -deliberately and with great purpose.

His purpose was to redeem us all from sin and rescue us from death - both the physical death of the body and the eternal death of body and soul in hell.  His resurrection on Easter demonstrates and proclaims that Jesus accomplished His purpose.  Your sins, and mine, are forgiven, bought, and paid for, punished already in the body of Jesus Christ in the pains of the passion and ultimately on the cross.  Now awaits a resurrection for all of us, because Jesus, our Substitute, rose from the dead.  Those who know these truths, and believe them to be true, and trust in God to do for us all that He has promised to do for the sake of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection, shall rise to new and everlasting life - “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

But those who have not heard - or have heard and refuse the forgiveness of sins and refuse to take God at His Word shall rise not to life, but to eternal death in which they are never just dead and gone and unconscious, but always dying and in torment of body and soul.  “He that does not believe shall be condemned.

Before Jesus ascended His throne, He was publicly declared and publicly recognized for who He is, and what He had come to do, even when many of those who witnessed it, and who should have recognized it, did not understand it or believe it.  The same is true today.  Many who should know what Jesus has done, and what it means, are still deliberately looking for something else, some other meaning or message.  Jesus was not merely a great teacher.  He IS far more.  Jesus did not come to give us a new and clearer understanding of the Law of God.  He did not come to make us a better-behaved people.  He did not come to open the door of heaven so that we could struggle and fight and work our way in.  He did not come to give us a wider variety of choices or decisions to make.  He came to redeem us from sin and death and hell.  And He accomplished all that He came to do.

We rehearse the facts of the case on the first Sunday of Advent because Advent is the season in which we look forward to His coming - both His coming in Bethlehem and His coming at the end of the world.  We put Palm Sunday at the beginning of Advent so that we are reminded each year that Jesus came to die.  The Christmas coming which we celebrate with gifts and lights and such merriment was so that He might suffer and die in our place and for our benefit.

And now He rules.  He has ascended His throne, and He rules His Israel - the chosen people of God - by grace.  Israel the nation did not accept Him or receive Him or continue to follow their king.  They contented themselves with the short-term Pax Romana and the familiarity of their status quo.

We cannot afford to do that any more than they could.  They were destroyed just thirty-some years later because they had not recognized the hour of their visitation - they did not believe and follow their King.  Some are tempted to think that our faith is about being good and pious and doing the right things, like going to Church and giving offerings.  Those are all good things to do - but they are the results of our faith, not the content, nor the proper activity of our religion.  The content of our religion is Jesus, His life and death and the gift of forgiveness and life eternal and salvation.  The proper activity of our faith is to receive the good gifts of God, such as His Word, our forgiveness, Christ’s true body and blood in the Holy Supper, and so forth.

There is more here than meets the eye.  Jesus now rules us by forgiveness and undeserved kindness and goodness and love.  It is His forgiveness of our sins that teaches our hearts to forgive one another.  Where we do not forgive, our hearts have obviously not believed Christ’s forgiveness - and therefore we come short of the glory of God.  Where we do good to those who are good to us, and return hurt and insult for hurt and insults we have received, we are choosing to live outside of the grace of God by which Christ rules the lives of all those who are God’s people.  When we withhold or withdraw our love from one another - even the least worthy of our brothers - we set a standard by which we declare ourselves to be unfit for the love of God, and without the desire to receive it.

Our religion is about receiving from God.  Luther says that being a Christian means receiving from Christ.  When one ceases to receive from Christ, one ceases to be a Christian.  It is not what we do, but what Christ has done that makes the difference, and what we receive from Him through His Word and sacraments that make us Christian.  Everything else flows out of a heart that knows the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Advent prepares our hearts to receive Him with the cry “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Let Us Give Thanks

 Lamentations 3:22-25

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.

Sermon for Thanksgiving Day 11/26/20

Let Us Give Thanks

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our nation pauses once each year to celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. On the face of it, it sounds like a good idea – but it is religiously somewhat silly. We are to be a people of thanksgiving. Every day is thanksgiving day for the child of God. We are instructed in Scripture to give thanks always, to thank God with all our prayers, to rejoice with thanksgiving, and to praise God for all His blessings – both temporal and spiritual. To simply set aside merely a single day is unthinkable.

Then there is the second question about encouraging everyone to thank whatever deity they might worship. It seems that on this one day we are expected to pretend as a nation that all Gods are real, or all gods are equivalent, or all gods are the same God, which seems to me to be a denial of our faith. Look, for example, at the various communities' ecumenical Thanksgiving services in which all the churches are expected to gladly participate. Does that meal mean that on this holiday theology doesn't matter?

Of course, most people don t think that way, and, frankly, most people don't really take time to give thanks. Our nation has made this the holiday of parades and football games, at least until Covid. Many people limit their thanksgiving thanks to the table prayer at the big meal — if they think to do it there. This year the Governor is trying to keep us from even going there.

So why do we Lutherans celebrate this day with a special church service? Because we have so much to give thanks for! Plus, we, of all people, know better than most people what it is that God has done for us and how richly He has blessed us! I mean, if those who do not know God and His love will pause for a moment on this day to offer some sort of thanksgiving to the air, we who do know God will surely take time to worship Him in the holy assembly of the saints, and to gather as His holy priesthood to offer our thanksgiving in public – where the whole world may come and see how God's people truly give thanks!

Our Old Testament text speaks about God's goodness and faithfulness, but it really doesn't say anything about giving thanks. You will notice that the text doesn't even use the word "Thanks," or "thanksgiving," or even the word "praise." Nonetheless, it actually describes real thanksgiving. And our theme, this morning, is, Let Us Give Thanks.

The verse that describes genuine thanksgiving is verse 24. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." Those few words tell us how to give God thanks. We give God thanks by confessing Him and trusting in Him.

The Lord is my portion, says my soul. That is a confession. It is a confession of faith that sees the Lord as the Giver of all that is good. He is the Source of our riches – and we are rich, even if you don t feel that way. Let's look at that truth: many people in the world have only the clothing they wear. When they flee as refugees, many can carry all their belongings in their arms or in a cart which they can pull. We cannot. And very few of us have ever had to flee as refugees.

Most people in the world today do not own houses. Most cannot afford a car. Only a minority can have a telephone in their home, or a color TV, or even a radio. Most of the world cannot go to the grocery store and buy the incredible variety of foods that we take for granted. When they can get food, they have to disinfect it and worry that it is safe to eat.

We grumble about health care costs and the inconveniences we face, but the vast majority of humanity cannot see a doctor, let alone go to a modern hospital, have expensive and extensive tests, and receive elegant and effective treatments for various aliments which were fatal even in our nation just a generation ago. Oh, how richly God has blessed us.

But best of all are the blessings you cannot stockpile in your pantry or save up in your bank accounts. We have the knowledge of the love and goodwill of God for us. Most of us have grown up in the presence of the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We have weekly services in which we can rehearse His great goodness and His desire to save us, and the salvation which He has won for us.

Because God loves you so much, He sent His Son into the world to be a man. Because of His great compassion, He placed His Son under the burden of the Law – with the same promise of eternal life if He kept it, and the same – and to us more familiar – curse that if He should sin, He would die both physically and eternally. He desired our good and our salvation so much that Jesus never surrendered to temptation – and He faced it more directly at times, and more subtly at other times – than we have. He kept the Law without flaw or failure and kept Himself pure and holy.

And because God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son to die in our place, to take our sins and be punished for them. "He became sin for us, who knew no sin of His own, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." He paid the price, and now He declares that we are forgiven, freed from the punishment and penalty of our sins, removed from the power of sin to threaten and the power of the Law to force and coerce our behavior, and no longer accounted as guilty or as enemies in the eyes of God.

To those who know these truths - and believe that God did these things - and raised Jesus from the dead, and who trust God to do the wonderful things He has promised to do because of Jesus, to them God gives eternal life and salvation. And every little bit of all of these blessings comes to us because of the good will and the overwhelming love which God has for us.

So, yes, the Lord is my portion! He is the one sure thing in this world. His love is proven over and over again in the furnace of affliction and shines forth in the sheer wonder of His gift. How can we do anything but thank Him? Let us give thanks! And the truest thanksgiving we can give is to know Him as He reveals Himself in His Word, and confess out loud, not just in church but in my daily life that the Lord is my portion, and I owe all that I have and all that I am to Him!

How sad it is to consider how few who claim to know Him take the time on Thanksgiving to gather with His saints to worship and demonstrate by their worship that the Lord is truly their portion. The nation, an institution which cannot be Christian, can set the day aside to give thanks, but the people of God often cannot be bothered. How can His children treat Him so?

But thanks be to God you are here! You have come to lift up His name and cry aloud, as our text says, that the Lord is your portion. So, that you have the opportunity once this day to say it, please say it out loud, "the Lord is my portion, says my soul."

He is the Giver of all things, and the One who watches over our lives to rescue us, therefore I have hope in Him. It is because we know of His love and particularly because we know about Jesus and all that Jesus has done for us and won for us that I have hope. Let us give thanks!

We can give God no greater thanks than to have hope in Him. I place my trust in Him and I look at all of my life through His grace. How can illness or trouble really hurt us if God is on our side? How can our adversaries triumph over us if God is with us? If God is for us, who can be against us?

In our troubles, God comforts us with the promise that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that He will reveal to us and in us through Jesus Christ. When we are grieving, God promises a day of resurrection filled with profound joy that will outweigh all of the sorrows you may feel.
To those who know these truths - and believe that God did these things - and raised Jesus from the dead, and who trust God to do the wonderful things He has promised to do because of Jesus, to them God gives eternal life and salvation. And every little bit of all of these blessings comes to us because of the goodwill and the overwhelming love which God has for us.

He also says that He knows that we cannot see or feel the reality of these truths today, but He calls on you to trust His love and His promises – not blindly, but with the cross of Jesus Christ in full view.
In the day of trouble, faith is the only real thanksgiving, that is, a living faith that speaks boldly and publicly about what God has done and which lives in complete confidence in Him. That is what God desires for us and in us. He wants us to "fear not", but rather to trust in Him.

And so the real thanksgiving is not simply a table prayer before we eat until we cannot move without pain, although the prayer is a part of it. It is not simply coming to church, although that is surely appropriate as a part of it. Our real thanksgiving is faith which finds hope in our troubles and sicknesses, and comfort in our sorrows in God's promises and blessings. Therefore, let us give thanks with both lip and life.

It is true, you know, what the Prophet said, 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. So we will wait for Him, and seek Him in prayer, and always give thanks for all His mercy and goodness!

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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Looking Forward to Heaven

 Isaiah 65:17-25

"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing, And her people for gladness.  I will also rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.  No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Shall be thought accursed.  And they shall build houses and inhabit them; They shall also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build, and another inhabit, They shall not plant, and another eat; For as the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My chosen ones shall wear out the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, Or bear children for calamity; For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, And their descendants with them.  It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain," says the LORD.

Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year              11/22/20

Looking Forward to Heaven

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

How would you describe the color of the sunset to a man born blind?  How would describe the delight of your favorite piece of music to a person who was deaf from birth?  The challenge in either situation is that the words we might choose to convey a concept would have no meaning.  Our references would have no correlation in the experience of the person to whom we are speaking.  Without vision, color is a meaningless word.  Blue is not cool, or berry flavored.  It is blue - but if someone has never seen anything, and has no experience of color, the words we could use to describe the sunset or even just the single color of "blue" would be as empty of meaning to them as the incoherent babbling of an infant is to us.

That little exercise in imagination was to help you understand the difficulty confronting the Prophet as he tries to put into words the heavenly realities pictured for us in our text.  Now, Isaiah had help, great help.  God was inspiring him.  Still, the task exceeds the power of language to accomplish with any clarity.  God is describing heaven here, but He must use symbols and images that we can understand to describe a place that is largely unlike anything we have ever experienced.  This morning, through the words of Isaiah, and along with him, we will be looking forward to heaven.

This is the last Sunday of the Church Year, and so we are looking forward to the end of the world.  The odd thing about such forward glances, is that we are living at the very end of the world, so some of what the text describes is already, and some of it is not yet, because it looks past the end of this world and into the next.

It gets more difficult than that – and more delightful.  Most of what our text says applies both now and in heaven, after the end of the world and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  What we discover, as we consider the Word of God, is that we are in heaven already!  It just doesn't feel like heaven, does it?  Nor does it look like heaven.  It looks like Minnesota.   But right now, for us, heaven is not a geographical place, entirely.  Heaven is where God is, and where His people are, and where His Word is preached and the heavenly gifts of God are handed out – gifts like Holy Baptism, the Holy Absolution, and the Lord's Supper.  So, heaven is in the Church.

Look closely at the text.  God talks about rejoicing in Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem He rejoices in is the Church.  We who believe in Him, we are what God rejoices in.  He doesn't rejoice in our sins and our quarrels.  He rejoices in our faith, and in our belonging to Him.  He rejoices in His people that they can and do accomplish holy deeds, and work the works which He has planned for us.  They shall not labor in vain, He says.  That is just like the promise He speaks about His Word, which He promises will accomplish what He spoke it to do!

He also has a wonderful promise here about prayer. "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear."  This promise is for us, right here and right now.  God will answer prayer.  He will answer according to His wisdom - and power - and our need – so that we may pray, and God will answer even as we pray, and may begin to answer even before the words are out of our mouths.

The reason that it is hard to distinguish between heaven to come and heaven right now is that the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything!  The old world ended and a new one began on that day.  Our sins were forgiven, and the Law of God was fulfilled for us.  Now the question of salvation, of where we will spend eternity, does not rest in our behavior, or on our accomplishing a standard of righteousness, or our repaying God for our sins, as in penance.  It is the gift of God, according to Ephesians 2:8.

Now God deals with us differently.  Jesus said it would be so; "Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name.  Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."

Now God is dealing with us as special because we are His people through Jesus Christ.  He is blessing us, and He is guiding us, and He is using us to accomplish His work here on earth.  He favors us because we are His.  He loves us because we believe in Him and in His Son.  So, all of these promises of blessing are true right now to one degree or another.  This is heaven - particularly here, and now, in the fellowship of the saints, gathered to hear the Word of God and to receive His gifts!

Of course, then there is Heaven -- the one that is a geographical place.  This passage also points our hearts and minds forward to that new world which will follow this one, when Jesus returns.  God is urging us to expect that day soon, just as He does through the Gospel parable of the Ten Virgins awaiting the Bridegroom, and as He does in the Epistle, in which Paul warns us to be on the lookout for that day, which is coming like a thief in the night!  We are to be looking forward to heaven.

It is in describing the realities of the coming age that Isaiah needs all of the pictures, and none of them do it justice.  First, God tells us that there will be a new place.  It will be a planet, and a universe - new heavens and a new earth.  When it comes, the sorrows and the troubles of the past will be forgotten.  Those who wonder how they will feel about their family and friends who do not join them in heaven can find comfort here – "the former things will not be remembered or come to mind."  We will not know, nor sorrow.  All of God's people will be there, and it will be right and seem right to us.

All of the language about the youth dying at the age of one hundred and such is just a way of describing the incredible length of life in eternity with God.  What they called youth, we call teenagers.  The prophet is picturing life so long that living what seemed to be almost unimaginably long in their time was just a short life.  That's talking about eternal life when you begin to sing "We've only just begun to live" at one hundred years of age.

The promise is that in this new earth, "There will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying."  There will be no sorrow.  The New Jerusalem is for rejoicing!  Infant mortality will be gone.  I don't know if there will be any child-bearing in heaven.  The Bible is silent about that.  But in this world, babies dying is a major cause of pain and sorrow – and it won't happen there.  Nothing will make us cry.  Nothing will interrupt our joy!

It sounds like this "new heavens and new earth" will be a place of productive labor.  We won't just sit around on clouds, strumming harps.  We won't be laying on cushions and eating delicacies all of the time.  We will be doing stuff.  God created us to participate in His creation, to manage and to develop and to garden and to shepherd and to build.  So, I suspect we will be doing so there.  Our text says so.  "And they shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build, and another inhabit, they shall not plant, and another eat; for as the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My chosen ones shall wear out the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, and their descendants with them."

This is where the prophecy gets tricky.  How much of this stuff is picture language, and how much is just what it seems?  It seems we will build.   It is clear that there will be no war, no stealing.  The evils that befall men in this world will not be there.  In these verses, we are reminded again of the long life of the people of God who will be there.  You will outlive the oldest and longest-lived trees.  You will wear out the things you make - buildings and such.  And in heaven, I doubt that planned obsolescence will be part of the manufacturing strategy.  Some of the promises speak of descendants and offspring.  I am uncertain if there will be children born in heaven.  In the resurrection, Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:30, there is no marrying or giving in marriage, but [that we] are like the angels in heaven.  So, when the prophet writes about our descendants and offspring, he may be writing about those we have here, who follow us there.

In any case, it is a good place to go - and a wonderful promise.  A promise of immediate communication with God.  He will hear and answer our prayers there, too, only more immediately and more readily perceived by us there than here.  And peace shall be the rule.  Even the creatures of the wild will be calmed, and there will be no violence or death.  Lions will eat hay like cattle.  Wolves will graze next to rather than upon the lambs.  The powerful will not hurt or take advantage of the helpless.  The serpent will be no danger to anything anywhere.  The Serpent also points our minds to the great serpent, Satan.  He will be of no danger to anyone either.

Of course, we know that already.  He has been destroyed, robbed of all his power already by Jesus.  All of these wonderful promises, eternal life and happiness and peace, and joy and contentment, all of these promises are because of the cross of Jesus and guaranteed to us by Him.  He has won the battle.  He has paid the price!  He has done all that needed to be done, and made us His people, and pours out all of these riches for us.  Your sins, whatever they may be, are forgiven.  That doesn't mean that they were okay, or inconsequential.  It means that Jesus has been punished for them already so that you don't have to be.  "."  That's how Jesus put it to the woman caught in adultery.  It is the faithful response to hearing the Gospel, that your sins have been forgiven.

Because of the cross, you have been cleansed of guilt and sin by Jesus.  He has made you to be one of His holy people.  He makes these promises and tells you what lies ahead so that you will be always looking forward to heaven.  It is not an "iffy" proposition.  It is a sure thing for all those who trust in Jesus Christ.  They are the ones referred to in our text, this morning, as "My people" and "those blessed by the Lord."  You, you are the people God meant in this text, who he calls "My chosen ones."

These promises, Old Testament and New are for you.  They are not for you exclusively, but for all of those who call upon the name of the Lord with faith.  They are repeated so frequently in the Bible so that you will know that God has not forgotten, and that the promises are real, legit, valid, and that God will do them.  God knows that life is hard and that we walk by faith, and not by how things seem.  That is what faith is about, and, frankly, life hurts often.  God wants us to know what good things He has prepared for us so that we do not lose heart, and so that we are always looking forward to heaven.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Gotta Get Me Some

 Proverbs 8:11-22

"For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things can not compare with her.

"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.  The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate.  Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine.  By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice.  By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly.  I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me.  Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness.  My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield than choicest silver.  I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.  

"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old."

Sermon for Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity           11/15/20

Gotta Get Me Some

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Once again, our text is from Proverbs.  Once again, the topic of the text is "Wisdom".  Solomon, the wisest man of his time, and reputed to be the wisest man that ever lived, had a great deal to say about wisdom.  But these words are not just Solomon's.  They are the Word of God, and we believe that they are inspired for us to read and consider.  When I read these words about the great value and the wonderful advantages of wisdom, the one thought that strikes me is, I want some.  So our theme this morning is, "Gotta Get Me Some."

The first thing that we want to remember is the Psalm (and the Proverb) that says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  Job 28:28 says that the fear of the Lord IS wisdom, and Proverbs 15:33 says that the fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom.  So, when we begin to talk about wisdom, we must understand that the entire discussion, in the Bible, is in the light of faith.  There is no wisdom outside of faith, as far as the Bible is concerned.

"God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise."  "The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men."  These are truths taught to us by the Bible, so, when Solomon writes about wisdom, we must first know that he is speaking about a wisdom that is grounded in the knowledge of God and trust in Him.  The exhortations to wisdom are really exhortations to faith and to life lived in the conscious exercise of faith.

What a wonderful treasure wisdom is!  "For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things can not compare with her."  Many people would differ with Solomon on this point.  Lots of people prefer wealth and jewels and good stuff!  Solomon is writing from the perspective, however, of a man who possesses both.  He is king.  He has wealth and glory that was world-renown.  When the Queen of Sheba came to see Solomon, she said that she had come to see if all that she had heard about his wealth and glory were true, so expansive were the tales, and that she had not even heard the half of it!  When Solomon said that Jewels and wealth and all desirable things did not compare to wisdom, he knew what he was talking about from personal experience.  I do not seem destined to have great wealth so, when it comes to something I can get, and something that is better than wealth, I gotta get me some!

"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence."  Prudence is sound judgment.  Prudence is caution and circumspection.  It means living life with all of the realities of life around us taken into account.  Prudence means careful management.  These are good things to have.  I want my life to make sense in the context in which I live it.  I want to do the right things, and I don't want to go around creating havoc - and I am sure that most of you feel pretty much the same way.  I want to be prudent.  Of course, to be prudent, I need to know what is going on around me, and Solomon says that with wisdom, one finds knowledge and discretion.  I gotta get me some!

I want to know.  I want to know what is real and what is not.  I want to know and understand how things work.  I want to know the secrets of life - how to work, and how to be happy, and how to make it work for me!  Wisdom does that!  Wisdom – beginning with faith – opens us to reality, and teaches us that what we see is not always real.  Boy, isn't that important in our day and age?  We can fake pictures.  We can make a movie or a video of someone doing something that cannot be done, in places that they have never been.  There has never been a time when you could believe what you saw, or what you heard, or what you read as little as today.  I want to know the truth so that I can be discreet - so that I can act carefully and do what is proper and appropriate in each circumstance and situation.

And doesn't Jesus say that if we continue faithfully in His Word, that we shall know the truth?  And doesn't He say that this truth shall set us free?  This is what wisdom promises to those who seek her, and who cling to her.  So how do we find wisdom?  How do we identify wisdom when we meet her?

Solomon tells us, by God's own inspiration, that "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil."  Since the fear of the Lord is wisdom, wisdom is to hate evil!  Where we see holiness and the rejection of evil, we are dealing with or facing wisdom.  Where we see evil practiced, we can be clear that there is no wisdom - and therefore also no fear of the Lord.  But specifically, what should we be on the lookout for?

Solomon wrote, in our text, the judgment of God, "pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate."  Pride and arrogance is when someone takes themselves too seriously.  It is easy to do, and people around you will usually recognize it before you do.  It is easy to assume that because of age and life's experience and success in past endeavors that we are smarter, more capable, and have a better grasp on things than we really do.  It is all too easy, and quite natural, to forget that all of our success and wealth and every good thing is from God and by His giving and choosing, not by our own native intelligence or ability.

The Evil way is whenever we speak or act in ways that God has forbidden, or in ways that deny Him and His place in our lives.  It is listed in the text this way because pride and arrogance usually lead to the evil way.  One of the temptations we all face daily is to be wiser than God in our own estimation, and to know a better way to do things than God's own way.  That is where the perverted mouth comes in so often.  We say things we should not say.  We say things to the wrong people.  We do not bring our troubles to ones with whom we have the problem, so very often, but we tell our friends, and those we know might be sympathetic to our pains and frustrations.  These things have nothing to do with wisdom, however.  At least not with this godly wisdom.

Godly wisdom brings direction, clarity, understanding.  That is what Solomon is writing about when he writes, "Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding." Knowing God, and knowing His will for us and His love for us, and trusting God helps us make sense of things, even the difficult and painful things.  It gives us the authority to live our lives boldly and confidently.  Solomon writes by God's inspiration, "power is mine."

Now Solomon did not mean simply the power of a life lived confidently in the grace of God and in faith – but that's a pretty good thing!  He actually meant the sort of power that kings exercise.  "By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice.  By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly."  But take note that it is not merely that they rule, but that they rule wisely, they decree justice, they judge rightly.  In other words, this wisdom, founded in the fear of the Lord, enables leaders to lead well.  We have only to look at our world and its crazy leaders, and the violence and destruction so many of them spawn, to see that ruling without this wisdom is not just or profitable, or admirable to anyone.

Then God says something, through the pen of Solomon, that is really important: "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me."  What that tells us is that this wisdom is not hard to find, nor is it locked up somewhere for only the few.  It is the wisdom of faith, after all.  Already in Old Testament times, God is telling us that those who seek it will find it.  It is the word, "diligently," that should catch our eye, however.  Many people take a stab at finding it, but they are content with a counterfeit.  They are happy with a religion that doesn't quite trust God, nor listen to His Word with any care.  They often proceed on the basis of the Law, and not the Gospel, or apply principles of the business world where the principles of faith and of the Word of God are more fitting.

The Evil way is whenever we speak or act in ways that God has forbidden, or in ways that deny Him and His place in our lives.  It is listed in the text this way because pride and arrogance usually lead to the evil way.  One of the temptations we all face daily is to be wiser than God in our own estimation and to know a better way to do things than God's own way.  That is where the perverted mouth comes in so often.  We say things we should not say.  We say things to the wrong people.  We do not bring our troubles to ones with whom we have the problem, so very often, but we tell our friends, and those we know might be sympathetic to our pains and frustrations.  These things have nothing to do with wisdom, however.  At least not with this godly wisdom.

And that wisdom is grounded in the Gospel.  God says, "I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice."  The righteousness is the righteousness which is by grace through faith, for the sake of Jesus Christ, and His death on the cross.  The justice is that our sins have been punished, and so, when God forgives us, He doesn't simply pretend we did not sin.  He forgives us because the atonement has been accomplished, the redemption price has been paid, and our sins have been covered by the death of Jesus Christ.

That is why He can inspire Solomon to write, "Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness.  My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield than choicest silver."  What is greater wealth than everlasting life??  Jesus said it, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?  For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"  There is no greater wealth than salvation.  But salvation is like an investment in the stock market.  It doesn't necessarily look so good, or have much value from day to day.  It has its greatest value at maturity – it is when you need resurrection and life eternal that salvation will deliver its true worth!  That is why I say, I gotta get me some!  It may be the only sort of wealth I may ever know.

And this has been the plan of God from eternity.  The New Testament says that God made this plan, and chose us from the foundation of the world — that is, from before He started creating.  Here He reveals it in the Old Testament, and tells us here, by the pen of Solomon, that this plan, this "Wisdom" has been in mind and in His heart from eternity.  "The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old."  The verse just before our text begins the thought of our text, and provides us with a good summary – "Take instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold, for wisdom is better than jewels."  This is true wealth, and true wisdom, and life eternal in Jesus Christ.  Every child of God shares the goal of our sermon theme, I gotta get me some!

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

Sunday, November 08, 2020

What Does God Require?

 Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high?  Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?  Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Sermon for Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity               11/08/20

What Does God Require?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Guilt is a monster.  When we feel guilty, we will do almost anything to assuage our sense of guilt and feel better.  That is part of the problem, for example, in so many broken homes, today.  One parent, or maybe both, feels guilty for what the division of their family is doing to their children, so they try to make up for it in often unhealthy and unhelpful ways.

Too often, parents coddle a child who needs discipline.  They create an atmosphere around the child, particularly if the parent is the non-custodial parent, that injures the child by too much pampering, too little normal life and too much of living every day as an exception to the rules.  It does something to the minds of the children.  Plus, many divorced parents continue their battle through the children, saying things to their kids, or in their presence, that children should not have to hear – about themselves, about the other parent, about the dissolution of the family.  Guilt makes people do really unfortunate things, at times.

We all stand guilty before God.  Guilt will work on us and our relationship to God and to everyone around us who is connected to us and to our relationship to God.  Once we believe that we are guilty, our hearts cry out with the words of our sermon theme, "What Does God Require?"

Our reactions to guilt are as varied as our personalities.  I am going to assume that each of you here is guilty, and knows it.  I know that you are guilty, and I assume that each of you senses that guilt to one degree or another, for one sin or another – probably many more than one sin.  I assume that you are aware of your guilt because you are here.  This is the guilt place - where we learn of it, and where we learn what to do about it.  If you have no guilt, admit no guilt, and sense no guilt, then you do not belong here.  Your presence here, among us sinners, marks you as a hypocrite!  It means that you are here pretending, for some reason, what the rest of us are sincere about.

Take note, I didn't say that you all felt guilty.  I was careful not to say that.  Some of you know that you are guilty, but you don't feel it.  When I preach the law, and it strikes too close to home, you are the ones who get angry.  You know that you are a sinner, but you have quieted the feeling of it down, or learned to ignore it.  You can sense it, but you just don't want to.  That is just one response to guilt.

Some of you may not want to be made aware of your guilt because you intend to continue in your sin, and you don't want to stop until you have accomplished everything you aim to do.  Businessmen who are doing something under-handed – or under the table – are often like that.  They want to "do the deal" or make a lot of money, or simply don't want to acknowledge what they know to be true about the way they do business.  So they deny it to themselves, they block the sense of guilt out, and they chafe mightily when someone, like me, brings their guilt into sharp focus.

Adulterers are often like this.  They want to believe that they are still Christian, that their circumstances are utterly unique, and that they are not guilty.  Gossips are  similar.  Everyone knows the pain of being gossiped about, lied about.  But Gossips pretend that what they are sharing is NEWS, that they are just speaking the truth, and that somehow, in their case, the evil of Gossip, listed in Romans one as several steps below homosexuality in the list of sin and corruption there, is a good thing, and that their wickedness is justified and holy.  Pretty much anyone who wants to do what they know is wrong and evil will try to bury their sense of right and wrong, and ignore their own awareness of guilt.

But guilt will come to the fore, if not now, then later.  Guilt is a monster.  It is like a living thing, and once it has its teeth in you, it is almost impossible to shake.  So, eventually all Christians – and many who are not Christian and never become Christian – find themselves facing the question of our text, "what does the LORD require of you?"  Our text does little more than ask the question, and then gives the godly answer.

Micah approaches the question like this, "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high?"  How can I face God?  How can I go to church and worship, as guilty as I am?  Then Micah explores the normal responses of the guilty human heart, "Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?"  This is the first answer.  Shall I just go to church?  If I am really sincere, and if I do everything that my religion says I should, and if I pour myself into the worship service, then I will feel better.  Human experience, and the Word of God, teach us that this is not enough, and we will not feel any better.  Nor will our guilt be assuaged.  Micah says, "Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil?"  These are rhetorical questions.  The obvious and anticipated answer to these questions is "No.  God does not take delight in the sacrifices of the unrepentant, nor can He be ‘bought off' with our meager gifts and efforts."

The problem here is the nature of sin – something we just don't want to face.  Sin is always against God.  You may do it to me, but you sin against God!  Joseph in Egypt understood that when he rejected the temptation of Potiphar's wife, saying, "How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?"  It is still true – sin is an assault on God, Psalm 51:4, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge."

Micah then cranks it up a notch: "Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"  He asks the question of the super-works of repentance.  He asks if he goes far enough, does something great enough or hard enough, will it make Him right with God?  He talks here about sacrificing his own child for his sins.  Would that be enough?  Again, his question is rhetorical, and he expects us to shout "NO!" back at Him.  God doesn't want, does not demand, nor will He accept such payment from us.  Nothing we can do is enough.  So, what does God require?

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?"  What does God require?  He wants you to do justice.  Don't worry about making up for the past, just do what is right and good and just from this moment on.  Do justice.  We want to do something noteworthy, something BIG.  God lives in the details.  If you do justice every day, in all your stuff and in all your doings, God will make the big picture work out.  It's called faith.  On the other hand, if you do the big things, and ignore or fail to do the daily, small things, those big things make no difference at all.

Then God says "to love kindness."  It's like the Golden Rule – Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.  Be the sort of person that you personally want to deal with.  Love kindness.  He doesn't mean simply to enjoy it when others are kind to you.  He means love doing kindness.  Be consistently kind in thought and word and deed.

A member of a previous congregation once wrote something to me in an e-mail about how when he gets good and angry and is about to say something unkind to his wife, she cools him down by asking if what he is going to say is really something he wants to say to someone that he loves.  That is the sort of thing that "to love kindness" means.  It means to think about what we are doing, and what we are saying, and measure it by the question of whether it is kind or not?

All of the conflicts of our lives could be eased if we began with these two principles - do justice and love kindness.  If we did that, and followed the last instruction of Micah – "to walk humbly with your God" – we would be doing everything we can to battle the monster of guilt.

Walking humbly with your God is just as easy – and just as hard – as it sounds.  "Walking humbly" means, at least in part, repentance.  It means that we face the truth of our sins, and humble ourselves before Him in repentance.  We need to ask God for forgiveness for all of our sins, not just the ones that we are comfortable admitting.  Walking humbly also means that we surrender to the idea that God is right, and we are wrong any time we disagree with Him or withhold ourselves from Him.  God's Word is right and true, even when it doesn't seem comfortable, expedient, or effective in accomplishing what we want to accomplish.

We need to confess our sins, and ask God's forgiveness.  That, and that alone, will effectively deal with guilt, because only when we humble ourselves, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness, God pours out on us personally the forgiveness we need and for which we hunger.  He has won it for us already.  Jesus paid the price with His death on the cross.  Our sins have been forgiven already!  We simply cannot apply that forgiveness to ourselves until we trust in it, and we cannot trust that God has forgiven us when we deliberately hide sins from Him and from ourselves, and pretend that ungodly behavior is okay, or, worse yet, it's the right thing to do.

When we confess, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness
.  That comes from 1 John, chapter 1, verse 9.  God stands ready to forgive us, and cleanse us, and comfort us, and to put the monster of guilt to sleep, and ultimately to death, when we trust in Him, and walk humbly with our God.

Walking humbly also means not taking yourself too seriously, or counting yourself as more important or worthy of the attention and admiration of others than anyone else.  This life in Christ is a team sport - God never intended us to go alone, and He is the leader.  Each of us is but a member of the body and support for others just as they are to be support for us.  Walking humbly with God means following His example - who did not count Himself too prestigious to save us, but humbled Himself, and became one of us to save us all.

These three steps are everything we need to lead God-pleasing lives.  These three principles are also the foundation for a truly godly congregational life: do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

And they are the answer to guilt from God Himself.  He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God.

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

Sunday, November 01, 2020

No More Tears

 Revelation 7:9-17

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?" 14 And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. 16 "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes."

Sermon for All Saints Day 2020                11/01/20

No More Tears

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Revelation is an apocalyptic book, a prophetic book about the end times.  It purports to tell us about the history of the world from the time of the Apostles to the end of the world.  Last week I talked about the two verse image that has been interpreted as referring to Martin Luther, Revelation 14:6-7.  Because of the nature of prophetic literature, the order of the prophecies and images are not constrained by time - they are not necessarily sequential.  Our text this morning is an example of that, showing us a vision of the saints in heaven long before many other prophetic images of world and church history.

Because this is a prophetic and apocalyptic vision and not a scene like a photograph of a place being described, we have to tread carefully when we make statements about the vision and about the images in the vision.  In art, some people do impressionistic pictures, like Duchamp's cubist Nude Descending a Staircase, or Picasso's Guernica which look nothing like the things pictured, and some do figurative art, like photo-realism, like Andy Warhol's Soup Can, which capture precisely what is being pictured looks like, like a portrait.  In apocalyptic Scriptures, some parts are very literal, but most of the images are impressionistic seeming, communicating some truth other than merely the picture it seems to convey.

In this vision, John describes is a scene in heaven.  It appears to be heaven at the end of time, but that could be because heaven is in eternity, and in eternity, everything in time is done.  This is not a picture we normally think of when we think of heaven.  Typically, I think we imagine heaven as similar to earth – the Bible calls it "a new earth," in one place or another – and in this vision, the whole host of heaven, "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues," were gathered together with palm branches in their hands shouting praises to God.

Now, this may be exactly what heaven looks like, but I think it is an image intended to say something about heaven and those in it.  We have other pictures of heaven from the Bible; a wedding feast, a pastoral image of the lion lying down with a lamb, and so forth, so I suspect this image is communicating something about the nature of heaven and the activities of those who are in heaven.

Everybody seems to be there: all nations and tribes and peoples and languages are there.  It is like Palm Sunday, people are waving their palms and welcoming, recognizing, and praising their King.  All the angels and those four living creatures were there, worshiping, too.  The praise is fitting praise giving God the glory He is due for the salvation which He has won and pours out.

Again, everyone is there – all of God's people; all who have ever lived and trusted in God.  Your parents and your grandparents.  Your brothers and sisters.  You.  All who have reached the goal of a life lived in faith in Jesus Christ.

How do I know?  The Elder in heaven says so, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."  Unlike the fantasies of the millennialistic crowd, the great tribulation is not some future event to which the world still looks.  It is now, the troubles and persecution of the Christian Church on earth – the Church Militant.  We are in the midst of the great tribulation, and those who endure by the grace of God will be numbered among that great crowd, we who have washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.  That is an image of forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Throughout eternity, John says, we will be singing, speaking, shouting out, and praying thanks to God for our salvation.  We will serve God day and night, as we should be doing here and now, but fail due to the weakness and corruption of our sinful flesh.  The picture is constant, endless praise and prayer.  Now, Heaven may look just like this, but I suspect that this is an image representing the perfection, praise, and love of our lives in eternity.

Heaven is the temple of God in which we shall serve Him.  We will be under God's blessings and protection forever.  The signs and symptoms and effects of sin will be no more – no hunger, no thirst, no unbearable heat of the sun beating down on us.  Instead, Jesus will lead us and guide us as our Shepherd, leading us to and through everlasting life –  and that life is without sorrow of any kind.  There will be no more tears.

Every Biblical picture of Heaven is really nothing more than a teaching tool, aiming to reveal something about a place and an existence in the presence of God that defies human comprehension.  This one tells us about our thanksgiving and praise, and the security and peace of our lives in eternity.  It reminds us that it is all-encompassing – everyone who has placed their trust in God, that is in forgiveness and life on account of Jesus and what He has accomplished for us and given to us, shall be there from all times and all places.

The Church on earth celebrates All Saints Day to mark that specific hope.  You know it was called All Hallows in the old days, leading to All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween, and the silly superstition that since the day was all hallows it must be the holiest day of the year.  It figured in their superstition that the night before must be the night of the greatest sway of evil - so we ended up with super-spooky Halloween on the night before.

The church has often had the custom of reading the names of all those members of the congregation who have gone to their heavenly reward in the past year on All Saints Day.  Our list this year would include Celesta Kyar and Marvin Runyan, Betty Wiese, who passed away since our last All Saints Day, and perhaps Rosalie Standing.  We count them among the host of heaven, pictured for us in this text.  Your parents and grandparents that believed are among that throng in heaven, as you each will one day be if you hold fast the faith and trust in the Lord.  Among that crowd, there will be no sin, no death, no sorrow, no sickness, only joy and thanksgiving, and a reunion before God which will never end.

The final detail to note is that the Lamb – Jesus – will be in our midst.  He will be our Shepherd, guiding us and leading us, and He will be among us, just as He is now, "wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in their midst."  The difference, I suspect, is that we will see Him there and hear Him directly, with no more hiding from our senses because, in this world, we walk by faith and not by sight – but in the world to come, we will walk in glory and see the truth, and have opportunity, which we will never fail to use, of worshiping our Lord directly and immediately, and not just through symbols and liturgy.

On that day we will sing our thanksgiving along with all those we have loved who have gone before us.  It is that coming day that we confess by celebrating All Saints Day, a day (the eternal day) in which there will be no more tears because God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

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