Sunday, December 26, 2021

God Has Spoken to Us


Hebrews 1:1-6

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.  For to which of the angels did He ever say, "THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE"?  And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"?  And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM."

Sermon for Christmas                                                              12/25/21

God Has Spoken to Us

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Talk to me.  You've heard people say that before.  Talk to me.  And if you do, how would you do it?  Silly question, right?  You would use words.  That is how we talk.  Well, Jesus is the Word of God.  That is from the Gospel of John.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."  And then verse 14: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

This Christmas morning our epistle lesson tells us that God has spoken to us – and He has spoken to us in the person of His Word – His Son Jesus Christ.  Our Christmas message – the one that give us such joy on this morning is that God has spoken to us!

Hebrews is the most intellectual of the epistles.  There are parts of Hebrews that, frankly, baffle us.  Even the simplest parts require careful reading and careful thought.  But the opening verses of the entire epistle to the Hebrews is pretty simple.  It tells us that Jesus is God's communication, His Word to us.
God has always been talking to man.  He walked personally and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  After they had sinned, they could not bear His presence.  They were too frightened.  So God began dealing through intermediaries with us.  He sent prophets.  He spoke to them in visions, usually, or dreams.  He communicated with them without actually talking out loud.  Moses seems to be the last one that God talked out loud to.  After that, it was in visions and dreams and such – or he sent an angel.  He always stayed in touch, giving guidance and revealing more about Himself through His prophets.

In Jesus, we have God returning to direct communication.  That is what we celebrate in our Christmas celebration.  God was in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is God, the Second Person of the Trinity.  Christmas is the festival of the Incarnation.  Isaiah 7:14, which prophesies the Virgin Birth, also prophesies that the name of the child will be Immanuel.  The meaning of the prophecy is not that He will have that name, but that He will be God, with us – among us.  Jesus fulfilled that Word of God by putting on human nature and human flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and being born at just the right time – Scripture calls it "the fulness of time," and Luke says "the days were accomplished that she should be delivered."

The manger in Bethlehem is precious to us because God was born there.  He was not born according to His divinity, but according to His human nature – but God was born as a man there.  And having taken on human flesh and blood, God spoke directly to us.  There was no "middle man".  There is no mediator, except the man God chose to be, Jesus Christ.  So, at Christmas, we celebrate the truth that God has spoken to us!

Jesus often said that the words He spoke were not His, but that they had been given to Him by His heavenly Father.  Jesus wanted us to know that God was speaking to us in Him.  He always pointed back to God as He taught.  God was speaking to us and teaching us in Jesus, and He took great care to let us know precisely what it was that He was doing.  He knew that men would disbelieve and deny Him and His Word in time, but He wanted to be as clear as possible so that those who would believe would have utter certainty and clear evidence that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.  That is why every sermon has a text, and often quotes Scripture.  When the Word is spoken faithfully, God is still speaking to us through Jesus.

But that isn't all that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews meant to say.  He meant that Jesus was God's communication.  Who Jesus was, and what Jesus did, and the fact that He was here to do it, is as significant as the Words He spoke – and it says as much or more than Jesus did with His mouth.  God spoke to us by sending His Son.

Jesus spoke of the love of God for us.  Of course He also preached about it, but just the fact of the Incarnation spoke to us about how far God would go – how deep His love is for us.  Think of the manger scene.  Could you imagine having your child in a barn, and using a hayrack for a crib?  Would you send your daughter or daughter-in-Law to give birth in filthy conditions on a cold night in an open-air stable like that?  Yet God chose to be born there for us.  He chose a teen-aged girl and a humble and poor carpenter as parents.  He chose to be born on a trip, in a stable where the young parents were housed for the night because the town was so crowded.  We celebrate Christmas every year without pausing very often to consider the absurdity of it, or what fantastic love it was that required God to humble Himself to become human, and then a poor human in a poor nation at a time and place in history so crude and violent and backwards.  The simple fact that Jesus is who He is reveals God speaking of His great love for us.  God has spoken to us!

And why did God do this?  It was our sins.  Because of our sin, we deserve to die.  We come from polluted stock and we behave as though we never knew God.  We hate, we covet, we lust, we gossip.  Many times we act as though God will not take care of us.  We behave as though God were less important than our next outing, our next purchase.  Even we, who know God and His goodness many times will behave as though we did not, or that we simply do not believe or care.

God did the Bethlehem thing for us.  He did it to save us from our own sins.  He was born in a stable so that He could die on a cross in our place, and redeem us from His own justice.  He had to keep His own bargains – He had to punish sin with death.  He had to be just and fair and righteous.  And yet He desired to save us.  Jesus coming, and His attention to fulfilling every prophecy – right down to the virgin mother and the place of His birth – speaks to us of the desire of God to save us.  There was no way to rescue us from the just consequences of sin, except to take them on Himself.  So Jesus was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those that were under the law.  He, who had no sin of His own, became sin for us – took our sin upon Himself – that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him and through Him and on account of Him.  That is how much God wanted to save us – God has spoken to us!

Jesus Christ –  the fact of His birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension – spoke of God's plans for us beyond the grave.  Now I know that all of what we are looking at is not Christmas.  But we cannot celebrate Christmas two thousand years after Christ's life and pretend that the manger and the shepherds are all that there is about the holiday.  Jesus demonstrated what God has in store for us.  He told us plainly that He would come again for us.  He told us that because He lives, we too shall live, and because He rose from the grave, we too shall rise from our graves.

And we celebrate that truth as much as any, in Christmas celebrations.  The birth and life and death of Jesus speak to us about God's plans for us which go far beyond the short time we spend here in this world. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.  And when the time comes, and God raises us from the grave, then death will be defeated, and we will cry out with all the children of God, Death is swallowed up in victory!  O death where is your sting?  O Grave where is your victory!  And we will share in and delight in that reunion with all those who have gone before us, whom we miss so today – parents, grandparents, children, and spouses.  We will be there and we will do that and we will delight in God with all of our being – and Jesus, His existence and His life is God telling us all of these things.   God has spoken to us!

  And that is what we celebrate today.    God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Jesus tells us many things – but He reveals even more.  He is God, and He reveals God to us – His love, His nature, His compassion, His power, and His will.  And what is the will of God for us?

And you know that because God has spoken to us through the person of His Son.  And that is what we celebrate in Christmas – and it is truly merry!  So let us sing and laugh and feast and celebrate with all our might.  God has spoken to us and the first word He said was a little baby, born in Bethlehem, sung about by angels, and worshiped by shepherds.  

A merry and a blessed Christmas to you all!

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

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Life of Faith


Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent 12/19/21

A Life of Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Do you believe in God?

That sounds like an odd question for a sermon, eh? The thing is, believing about God and believing in God are two different things. Most everyone who comes to church anywhere believes about God. Christians all believe about God. The problem is that many who believe about God take that for "faith" in the sense of "being a Christian" – and it is not. Christians, who are truly Christians and not simply deceiving themselves, also believe in God. They trust God.

So, the question I began with is really, "Do you trust God". I want you to note the difference between "trusting in God" and "trusting God". Trusting "in" God is a generic sort of thing. It is sometimes half-hearted, and other times, at arm's length. We trust in God to do His part, or we trust in God to be a certain way or do specific duties, and the like. It has the sense of a list of responsibilities that God is to assume, and we trust in Him to do them and to do them passably well.

Trusting God is actually and deliberately – or at least consciously – depending on Him. Trusting God is facing life with the certainty within yourself that God is watching, and blessing and caring for you. My month of Covid and the near brush with death impressed this on me. You are safe because God loves you. You will have what you need because God loves you. You will make it through whatever challenge faces you, because God loves you if it is in accord with His holy will. And that is what our text is addressing this morning. Our theme is a Life of Faith.

The focus of the season of Advent is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His return that will mark the end of all of our pains and sorrows and the beginning of eternal life in glory. That life in glory is the cause for our rejoicing, mentioned in our text. We know the love of God for us, which we celebrate in the Christmas season, as we celebrate the first Advent of Jesus long ago in Bethlehem. The Spirit-wrought certainty of the love of God for us finds its first evidence in the gift of His Son. It is that confidence in God that produces the rejoicing Paul addresses in the first verse of our text, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say, rejoice!"

Our cause for rejoicing is not found in our circumstances. The first Christians and every generation since have faced the hostility of the world and the normal troubles of life. Being a Christian does not change the external conditions of our lives, except that under the hatred of the world, our troubles may be multiplied. Our rejoicing is due to the gift of God in salvation, and our confidence in Him and His love for us, and His ever-present concern for our welfare. We do not judge the love of God or His ‘favor' by checking out our external well-being. Our certainty of the love of God for us and His will to bless us flows out of the knowledge of what He already has given for us, and our trust in the promises of blessing, protection, and salvation which He has made to us which are rooted in Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification.

Because we believe that, we can rejoice – even in circumstances that seem less than joyful. What is happening in our daily lives is not the final word of God to us or about us. Jesus Christ, resurrection from our graves, and everlasting life beyond pain and sorrow, sickness, and death are the final word of God. In many ways, this life is a prelude to the one to come. That life is where and when the full blessedness of the believer will be seen. Now, just as you can face the difficulties of life because you look forward to the cessation of pain and the comfort and well-being to follow, God's people can look forward to the joy to be received and continue to rejoice in that promised joy even in the midst of present trouble and pain. It is the final and enduring state that gives us the courage to live in and live through the intermediate stuff.

We can be so moved by our confidence that the hope of the life to come affects our conduct in the present time. That hope, and the knowledge of who we are in the eyes of God, builds in us patience - forbearance in the face of the sorrows and difficulties of life. That is reflected in the words of our text, "Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men."

Paul isn't suggesting here that we go about telling people about how patient and forbearing we are. He intends that we let people know by being forbearing, by exercising patience. The patience of which he speaks is the patience we evidence in times of trouble, pain, or sorrow. Let's face it, life will present us with situations and conditions over which we will chafe. We just don't give up on God. We continue to rejoice. We behave as God's people even when those with whom we must deal do not. Our God has forgiven us great sins, both in quality and quantity. As our relationship to Him is marked by forgiveness, our relationship with others is to be marked by forgiveness – by patience and forbearance – as well. We are the people of forgiveness.

We are a people formed by forgiveness, and we are a people whose conduct toward the world is shaped by our forgiveness and forbearance with their thoughtless and evil ways. We don't forbear by taking part in the evil, but by being Christ-like, by forgiving those who haven't asked and dealing honorably and decently with everyone, even the rotters!

That doesn't mean that they will reciprocate. They will likely continue to hate us and try to abuse us or take advantage of us. But, in Christ Jesus, what do we have to lose? We already have eternal life. Resurrection is not merely guaranteed, it is a foregone conclusion. Jesus rose, and we are tied to Him, so, just as we share in His righteousness, and in His life, we must share in His resurrection! In fact, He has promised that everyone will rise from their graves. The difference between us and the others is that we will rise the everlasting life in glory, and those who reject Christ will rise to eternal death, shame, and torment - what we have learned to refer to as "hell".

It is the reality of life, the pains and irritations of normal life, and the hostility of the world, that Paul has in mind when he says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." The world will not reciprocate our patience and forgiveness. They will be looking for, and sometimes just making up, a cause to attack us and hurt us. Plus, our lives are not set aside from all of the troubles that normally afflict people. We will get sick. We will get injured. Sorrow and troubles will find us. We bear witness to our confidence in God, and His utter reality and love, by how we bear all these things faithfully and patiently and in a manner that reflects clearly that we are the people of God in Jesus Christ.

So we are not anxious about anything. That means we set aside worry. Some of you may be worried about how you are going to manage in your senior years. Some of you are worried about things I cannot imagine. Paul says, "Don't worry about anything", "Be anxious for nothing." Trust God.

Now, this isn't a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky kind of thing. It is a life of faith. It is confidence in God. We believe the love which He has for us and we trust His promises. He said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." Okay, we do. Just been there and done that. We pray. He has promised to hear our every prayer and answer each one. He has promised to "cause all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purposes." That's us!
Do you trust God?

Then pray. But as you pray, pray in faith. Speak to God about your confidence in Him and remind yourself that your hope is about something far better than this life and that you know with the full confidence of faith that God has already won it for you, and promised it to you, and has begun giving it to you even in this life. That is how and why your prayers are filled with thanksgiving. Do you need things, blessings, help? Of course! Yes! But you also know that God loves you. You know the gift of life which is already yours. You have a firm expectation of future bliss and glory. So you don't just say, "Thank God!" You actually thank Him. Your prayers are not the childish and demanding prayers of the unbelieving and immature. They are prayers of faith, of people who have seen God in action, who have heard of His love and know His promises, and believe. They are prayers for faith, for strength of faith, for greater patience and perseverance, for a heart a thanksgiving in the midst of whatever struggle you may be in.

And the result, which God alone works, is the peace of God. It is the peace of knowing that, no matter what, God is with you. It is the peace that works in times of danger, times of sorrow, and times of trouble of any sort. It is understandable, to some extent. It is founded on faith and does not worry. It is built with thanksgiving, and so it cannot be mixed with feeling sorry for one's self, but has to be aware of the goodness and grace of God. It has the confidence that God is listening when we pray and blessing us according to what we know to be a good and gracious will, so it is peaceful, unafraid, confident - not of one's self, or of life, but of God and His love.

The text describes the love as surpassing all comprehension. That doesn't mean it makes NO sense to us. It is just so much more and so much more powerful than it seems like it should be. It is incomprehensibly durable, powerful, lasting. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are not those that determine this peace - and so it "surpasses all comprehension". It is not worked by our thoughts, or by our faith, although it is grounded in it. It is worked by God. The peace which God gives through faith is so much better, more durable, and broader than anything we can work up in ourselves, that it catches even those who possess it by surprise - although pleasantly so.

I don't mean to suggest that you will not or should not feel those fears, worries, angers and such. Your flesh will challenge you daily with such things. I know mine does. I mean that you fall back on God, on prayer, on your faith, on His Word and His promises, and on His love for you. You fight the good fight of faith, even within yourself. Especially within yourself.

And that is a life of faith. God creates this peace and strengthens us to live as His children. When we do it, the world sees it, and we witness just by being God's people. It was the biggest evangelistic tool of the first century of the Christian Church. People saw the peace and joy of Christians who were facing life as hard or harder than themselves. They wanted some of that peace. They wanted whatever it was that gave the Christians the power to face death singing. They wanted to know something so worth living for that it was easily worth dying for. Nothing in their world of unbelief and despair matched it. Nothing even came close. And so they sought out the Christians and asked them what it was. And Christians told them. And they believed the Word of God, and the Church grew. That is still God's great evangelism program today. It will work just the way God has planned for it to work, because it doesn't depend on us. And, it is a life of faith!

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

Sunday, November 07, 2021

The Things That are Caesars

 Matthew 22:15-21

Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said.  And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.  Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?"

But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?  Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius.  And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?"  They said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."

Sermon for 23rd Sunday after Trinity                                     11/07/21

 The Things that Are Caesar's

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The debate is over 2,000 years old.  It rages on today.  It has been going on for as long as men have served the true God, I suspect.  The debate began when God created man and placed him in society.  He tells us in His Word that the government is His, and the authority it exercises is His.  He commands us to good citizens.  Many religious leaders impress on us the need to serve God first – We ought to obey God rather than man.  They often suggest that being a good Christian is at odds with being a good citizen of the state.  And how we divide this up and how we act it out has been the focus of controversy ever since.

I wish I could say that Jesus settled the argument in our text, but things are never settled in the church.  Jesus gave us guidance, but the debate is never settled among men.  It just keeps coming up again and again.  There are answers, but the Old Evil Foe does not permit us to rest long on them – the answers are just contrary to the flesh, and so we tend to travel from one extreme to the other like a pendulum swinging back and forth.  So we need to keep coming back to Jesus and the Word to hear how we might properly deal with the issue of God and Caesar, of Church and State.  Our theme this morning is The Things that are Caesar's.

The setting of the Gospel lesson is late in the ministry of Jesus.  The enemies of Jesus are becoming bolder, and more aggressive.  The Pharisees have decided that it is time to trip up Jesus.  They choose the unresolvable issue (at least for the Jews) of how to deal with the foreign occupation.  If Jesus answers the question that one should pay the Roman taxes and humble themselves to this Gentile domination, then He would multiply His enemies, and probably disappoint the masses because they were fed on a daily diet of ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, and hatred for Rome.

On the other hand, if Jesus answers that they should not pay taxes, He would be guilty of fomenting revolution and the Romans would take care of the Jesus problem.

If Jesus tried to be coy and take a middle ground, or not answer clearly and definitively, they could use that too to damage His reputation, and turn the more aggressive and radical groups against Jesus.  In any case, they figured, they had Jesus caught in a "no-win" situation.  It was politics as usual back then just as much as today.  So they sent their disciples along with the Herodians, government sympathizers and friends of King Herod, and sprung their trap on Jesus.

Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?  Of course, there is the double-edged trap.  Is it morally and religiously lawful?  They expected the answer to be "No."  Is it socially and legally in the sense of Roman law, lawful?  They knew that the answer would have to be "Yes."  So they figured that they had Jesus, with witnesses no matter which error He slid into.  But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?"

Then Jesus did the unexpected.  He asked them for the coin with which they would pay the poll-tax.  When they produced it, a denarius, He asked them "Whose likeness and inscription is this?"  In other words, whose coin is this, who issues this money?  And they had to admit that it was Caesar's – and then Jesus said those famous words, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."

Jesus answered the question by implying that there were things that were properly under the regulation and possession of the government, and things that were not.  He also suggested by His answer that the Pharisees were guilty of confusing what belonged to God and what belonged to the state – and apparently were "rendering" to neither one the appropriate things.  They were not giving government its due, and they were withholding from God what truly belongs to Him.

So the question this morning is, which are the things that are Caesar's?  Logically we then also need to consider what are the things that are God's?

First of all, we recognize that everything is the Lord's.  Psalm 24 says, "The earth is the Lord's and all it contains."  Since God has created government, and all the authority which government exercises is from God, generally the things that are Caesar's are what Caesar says they are.  The things that are Caesar's change throughout time.  As the government changes, so do its demands and controls.  In our nation, we have had a great deal of freedom.  We acknowledge as a society the right to certain freedoms that people in the time of Jesus did not enjoy.

Caesar's things include whatever Caesar chooses, except when the government attempts to take the things of God.  And so, to understand Caesar's things, we must recognize what it truly God's.  And God's things are very simple and basic.  God created you, so God has the right to tell you how to live.  You owe Him obedience.  You owe Him thanks for the simple fact of your existence.  Besides all of this, God has created everything you need for life, and daily and richly provides.  For these things you owe God genuine and heartfelt appreciation, great thanksgiving, and your unwavering trust.  You should love God!

That isn't how we feel, or how we behave as a rule.  We take the good for granted and grumble about the difficult or painful.  We disregard God's plans and will for our lives and our behavior, and we serve ourselves and hurt one another.  We sin against God, and by our sins we deserve to be wiped from the face of creation and forgotten by God.  His Word even says that this is what we deserve.  But God does not discard us.  He does not destroy us.  He does not wipe us away, but He has redeemed and rescued us.  When we had set ourselves up as His enemies, He still sent His Son Jesus to face our sins and die our death and receive on the cross all that our sins merit before God.

God has taken our sins out of the way by punishing them in the body of Jesus by sufferings, pain, and death on the cross.  He has demonstrated that our sins are forgiven by raising Jesus from the dead.  And now God declares through the preaching of His Word that anyone who knows what he has accomplished in Jesus Christ, and trusts Him for what He promises because of Jesus Christ, has forgiveness of sins and eternal life, starting right now!

Therefore we owe God thanks and praise, to serve Him and worship Him with holy lives and to give ourselves freely to our neighbors for Him.  The things that are God's are our intellects, and our wills, and our affections and values.  The rest is Caesar's.  

We are to pay taxes cheerfully, for the government is simply a servant of God for the purpose of social order.  We are to obey the laws, even the ones we do not like or agree with, because the state exercises God's own authority – and we owe God obedience.  When we give God what is God's, we end up being good citizens, because serving our neighbor by good citizenship is will of God – it belongs to the things of God which we should give to Him.  We owe Caesar good citizenship, for when we disregard the government, we disregard God.  When we disobey the government, we disobey God.  When we rebel against the government, we are rebelling against God Himself, with the single caveat that when the government command us to do what God forbids, or commands us not to do what God commands us to do, then we must recognize that the government has itself rebelled against God and has no authority, and then we ought to obey God rather than man.

But even then, when we disregard Caesar for the sake of faithfulness to God and for the sake of conscience, we owe it to God to endure whatever standing for the truth costs us in terms of pain, or social pressure, or fines, or prison, or even death.  Those are the things of God.  We owe it to God to bear faithfully the cost of being faithful, whatever that cost might be.  Sometimes the cost is faithfulness to the government when we don't want to be faithful, and sometimes it is bearing government sanctions for being faithful to God by disregarding the government.

We owe God our values.  We owe God our love and our affections (that is, what we choose to value here on earth).  We owe God our intellects – to use them for Him and His purposes, which means for the welfare of our neighbor,  And we owe God our wills – to desire and to will what God desires and wills.  The rest of the stuff, our time, our money, our property, and even sometimes our lives in this world, fall into that category of the things that are Caesar's.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, November 01, 2021

Taking the Kingdom by Force


Matthew 11:12-15

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Sermon for the Reformation Day 10/31/21

Taking the Kingdom by Force

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Commentators say that there are two ways to understand the verses before us this morning. One is that men have seized the kingdom of heaven by force. The other is that the kingdom of heaven has come upon us in a mighty way — with great power.

Both interpretations are fitting on Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517 something ordinarily insignificant happened. Luther nailed an invitation for a cordial, academic debate on certain esoteric theological points to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in the form of 95 theses. Yet, in the next 13 years God did something marvelous and great. We celebrate that great thing, the rediscovery of the Gospel and the freeing of the church of God, on the anniversary of that "little thing."

At the time of Luther, men had seized the kingdom of heaven by force. The church had become rich and politically powerful. It had also become thoroughly corrupt. Many priests were entirely ignorant of the Bible and of Christian doctrine. Offices in the church were commonly sold to the highest bidder. From local parishes, to bishoprics, to the cardinal's cap itself, and even the Papacy could be bought for a price. Greed ruled and indulgences – supposed to be special grants of forgiveness of sins – were sold.

But worst of all was the false doctrine. No one heard or knew of salvation or forgiveness. Oh, they heard the words, but the truths of Scripture behind those words were unknown and untaught. Works were exalted. Men were taught that they still had to pay for their own sins. The monastic orders, often little more than slavery for the church and frequently houses of debauchery, were declared holier than the keeping of the whole Law of God.

God was pictured as utterly holy, distant from man, essentially unknowable, angry, and judging. Men were taught that they could not pray to God. They were told instead to rely on the intercession of the saints. Mary took her place at the throne of heaven as Queen, in command even over the Son of God Himself, and the Sacrament of the Altar became a twisted thing which was believed to sacrifice the Lord Jesus for the sins of the people again, each time they celebrated it.

The faith of many fell somewhere between a desperate, urgent desire to earn righteousness and appease the ever-angry Judge, and those who winked at the silly superstition of religion gone mad and simply used the system of their society for their own ends.
Satan ruled. He had shut up the hopes of men, chained men to idolatry and pagan sacrifice again, and the kingdom of heaven – at least as it was visible on earth and open to mankind — had been seized by force, taken captive, and doors to the kingdom of heaven were closed to man.

Then came the Reformation. Luther unlocked the kingdom of heaven with the keys of the Reformation doctrine — the great "Solas" of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura - by Scripture alone, Sola Fide -through faith alone, Sola Gratia- by grace alone, and Solo Christo -in Jesus Christ alone.

Luther answered the darkness and ignorance of his age with the revealed truth of the Word of God. No longer did anyone need to wonder, the Scriptures answered! The darkness of human values, opinions, superstitions, and attitudes were swept aside by the light of the authority of Scripture.

God had spoken to man. He had revealed Himself, His will, His justice, His love, and His grace. Suddenly, one man standing with Scripture could stand alone against the whole world. Scripture was right. Let every man be proven to be a liar, God's Word is still true!
And it is clear! No man needs to wait upon the wisdom of another. God's Word is clear for the child — and still deep and challenging enough for the greatest scholar. Every man could read and see for himself what is the gracious will of God.
And what is the will of God for us? [our salvation]

God's will is that all men should come to faith and know the goodness and love of the Lord. God has taken the Law out of the way. Faith, not obedience to rules – but faith, is now known to be how God has appointed for us to receive His love and grace. Faith is now revealed to be that obedience which God seeks. Faith — which trusts the promises of God, which takes God at His Word when He tells us that He loves us, that He wants only good for us, that He will never fail us or abandon us, that He will never allow us to be destroyed - that faith lays hold of the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Works of holiness, sacrifices, intercessory prayer, and penances of great price are of no value to salvation. That is not to say that they are all bad things to do, or without their uses, but they have no power or worth before God to earn or to grasp salvation.

But faith, which looks only to the promise of God for Christ's sake, is the channel through which God has chosen to pour forgiveness, salvation, resurrection. Such faith trusts God, often in spite of what the believer sees, hears, and feels, simply because it is God who has promised. It is the trust of the heart that forms and shapes every attitude and deed in the light of its confident expectation of God's goodness, love, providing, and protection at every moment.
This faith can receive the blessings of salvation because Jesus has earned them for us already and because God has chosen to give eternal life to all who believe. His choice in this matter is called "Grace." Grace is the third key of the Reformation. It sets man utterly free from the slavery of the Law. Man is saved by Grace Alone.

The answer to the "why?" of salvation rests not with the social status of the individual, nor with the piety and the good works of the individual, or the attitudes of the individual, but with the goodness of God. It is God's good pleasure to forgive us for Jesus' sake. It is God's kindness and grace that causes Him to choose from among all men to save and rescue us.

Before Luther, the answer to why some are saved and others are not was thought to rest in the efforts and attitudes of man. But Luther taught that anyone who is saved is saved from himself and in spite of his works and value, rather than because of those factors. We are saved by God's free, gracious choice. Every man, woman, and, yes, even child has earned death and hell, and it is grace alone which accounted for salvation.

The Reformation principles — the "solas" — changed the world. Human effort did not save: it could only serve the Savior. Man could not sell what God alone could give. Faith replaced works. Scripture replaced the authority of the church and her various leaders. Grace made each person important and every station in life holy. And it was all in connection with Jesus Christ — and Him alone!

The Reformation fostered the political idea of individual personal worth — or personality. The Reformation encouraged the idea of personal, human rights. The Reformation was the driving force behind the development of public education, for every man needed to be able to read God's Word for himself. The Reformation taught mankind the concept of vocation — a calling from God — that every man in every type of employment was called by God — placed in his work and family to do holy service to God by serving those closest to him. The ordinary work-a-day duties and tasks of life were properly identified at last as truly God-pleasing good works. Luther himself championed the freedom of religion, the concept of self-determination, and that God meant life to be enjoyed, not merely endured, all to His glory.

Without the Reformation, the American Revolution — and even the principles upon which our nation was founded — might never have happened. Look at the French revolution, with its excesses and instability for so many years. They tried to do it without God and in defiance of God and His existence and failed. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone, are the keys of the Reformation which set the kingdom of heaven among men again, and opened her gates to all who believe.
But today the kingdom of heaven is being taken by force again.

Men deny Scripture again. Men in the church! They deny the divine Author, and therefore the divine authority. They teach that it is just the word of men, and would make us dependent again upon professional scholars and exegetes to tell us what the "word of God" really means.

Men deny the power and value of faith once again. They lay before us social agendas – and works – and attitudes to which, they say, we must conform to be saved. They sell salvation on television with ‘magic cloths', anointing oils, and all manner of deception. They say you have to experience a certain experience or feel a certain feeling in order to have any assurance of heaven.

The Church is being used again for political power - look at politicians who use the pulpits of churches from which to campaign. Just as the Humanists said in their manifestoes should happen, the service of earthly human need and the glory of human endeavor have become the primary mission of many church bodies. But the worst thing is that false doctrine is rising again, even within our own Synod.

Church Growth Principles replace the power of the Word of God for many. Novelty and variety - which is to say "entertainment' — have replaced faithfulness and confession in the hearts of many. Many focus on feelings, and the emphasis on the "experience of faith" has taken the focus away from the content of the faith, the very Word of God which is to be believed. The living of the Christian life — often referred to as the "Christian Walk"— has replaced trust in the grace of God, and made faith a human work, rather than the work of God within us in many hearts. The prayer, the decision, the obedience, and the pragmatic reign. Nowadays God is not only the angry Judge, but His "opinion" hardly matters as homosexuality and LGBTQ2+ commands increasing acceptance in the church, and so-called Christian leaders rush to dialog with — and pray with – Jews and Moslems, and the rush to approve such things divides churches.

We need to turn once again to the keys of Luther's Reformation. We need to reclaim the centrality of the doctrine of Justification of the sinner by the marvelous grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. We Lutherans need to celebrate God's gifts to us and give thanks. Romans one, verse twenty-one, begins a catalog of sin and the first sin in the catalog is, "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."
We want to rejoice and give thanks for the treasures He has poured out on us.

In Luther's day, the kingdom of heaven came among men with great power by the preaching of God's Word by Luther and those Lutherans. It seized men, making powerful disciples of the truth of men such as Philip Melancthon, Martin Chemnitz, John Gerhardt, and later C.F.W. Walther. The whole world needs to hear that same word of God's loving and gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation purchased and won by Jesus Christ by his death on the cross in our place, and His resurrection, which boldly proclaims our forgiveness. We need to apply Holy Scripture to our faith and our lives, and let God guide our hearts, our minds, and our deeds. We need to rest in that firm confidence of God's promises of forgiveness, of resurrection to life eternal, of salvation as His sure gift of grace through faith. We can do that only by the power of God's Holy Spirit working in us through the hearing of the Word of God. Then the kingdom of heaven will come powerfully among us, seizing us with power and making of this generation mighty witnesses to His eternal truth and glory.

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

Monday, October 25, 2021



John 4:46-54

He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off. And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.' So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed, and his whole household.

This is again a second sign that Jesus performed, when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Sermon for 21st Sunday After Trinity 10/24/21


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There is believing -- and then there is believing. I can say that because the official, whose son was healed in our Gospel lesson, discovered several different ways of believing. The Bible itself speaks of believing in a number of different kinds, and not all of them are viewed as saving faith in the Scriptures. This morning I would like to take the opportunity of the text to look at what the Bible says about believing. So, that is our theme: Believing.

In our Gospel this morning, an official comes down to Cana from Capernaum. He is called a royal official, which tells us little. This Official's son was sick. We don't know what illness he may have had, but it was thought to be potentially fatal, and that it was about to end the life of the child. The man appeared to be completely out of options, so he went to see the local miracle worker. He had undoubtedly heard things about this Jesus-Rabbi, and so he came to where Jesus was – in desperation. How do I know this? Jesus looked into the man and saw that there was no real faith yet, just mainly desperation. "Unless you see signs and wonders, You will not believe." Clearly, the man did not yet believe - although he believed enough to come to seek out Jesus. I suppose that is a kind of believing. He was desperate, and little more, "Sir, come down before my child dies." The man did not say, "Come down or else my son will die," but "Sir, come down before my child dies." He still seemed to expect the boy to die, down deep in his heart.

Then Jesus said, "It's taken care of." "Go your way, your son lives." No waving of the arms. No mysterious chants. No potions. No signs and wonders. Just the Word of God, "Go your way, your son lives." And John writes that the man believed the word which Jesus spoke to him, and started off. There is believing. He heard, and he took Jesus at His word and headed home. What faith!

On his way home, his servants met him. Cana is twenty, maybe thirty miles from Capernaum. Since they did not yet have cars, and even with a horse (if they had one) thirty miles is a long way, it took the man the rest of the day – with an evening resting under the stars or at some inn somewhere – and part of the next day to get home. Before he made it all of the way, however, he was met by his slaves coming to meet him with the happy news that his son was now better. He asked at what time the boy began to mend, and they said it was about 1:00 P.M. – the seventh hour (since they started their daily hours at about 6:00 A.M.). The man recognized that it was just about at that time that Jesus had said that his son was going to live. Then John writes the most peculiar thing – ". . . and he himself believed, and his whole household."

I thought that the man had believed in the first place, but Jesus saw that it was not real faith but more a sort of desperation. Then Jesus promised that his son would live and the man headed home, with John writing that the man believed. And now, all of a sudden, having heard that his son is recovering, the man believes. Apparently, there is believing, and then there's believing.

What we are seeing is different kinds of faith. First is the half-believing, half-disbelieving, skeptical but desperate kind of thing that brought the man to travel for two days to get to Jesus. Next, we see a faith that kinda-sorta believes. He took Jesus at His word, but it still appeared to be a wait-and-see kind of thing. He got what he could, and went home with hope, and not much else. How do I know? Because when he heard that his son had recovered, he had to ask when he started to get better. Even with the news that his son was well, he couldn't quite believe that Jesus was responsible for it. He had to double-check. He had to ask.
Then he really believed. He discovered that the fever broke at the moment Jesus said that his son would recover. Now there was no doubt. He trusted Jesus for far more than just this healing. Now he understood who Jesus was and what that meant for his life.

Our experience of coming to faith in Jesus Christ is often similar. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us by the Word of God. That is instantaneous and complete by God's power, but our experience of it, our consciousness of it often feels much like this man's path. When God proves Himself to us, then we believe.
Many Christians, so-called, have that historical faith. That is faith like the Bible says demons have: "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder." They never learn to trust God. This is the faith that one professor of mine once said was nothing more than the intellectual assent to propositions of low probability.

What is missing from such faith is trust. God has forgiven you all of your sins. He paid the cost of your sins by killing His Son of the cross instead if you. He made Jesus bear your pains and your guilt and your shame. Jesus died for you, and, as a result, God has forgiven you every sin. He demonstrated the sufficiency of the death of Jesus for your redemption by raising Jesus from the dead. Saying that this is forgiveness real is one thing. Trusting it is another. There's believing, and then there's believing.

What does it mean to trust in God? It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins.. It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost – the very lifeblood of the Son of God and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.

Do you trust God? Then you forgive, as He has told you He would have you do. Then you set your priorities as you know God would have you set them, and not as they appeal to you, necessarily. Then you put first things – God's things – first.

Do you trust God? The official came to pray to Jesus, but he clearly was prepared to go home without what he asked for. He didn't really expect that Jesus could heal his son, or that Jesus would, so when he prayed to Jesus, he was doing what I call and "just in case" prayer. You know, just in case God is listening, and just in case He is interested, and just in case He wants to help, I will pray. Do you pray like that, or do you pray with confidence that God will answer?

Do you pray expecting God is going to take care of things? God does not always give us precisely what we want, but if we ask for His will to be done, then we ALWAYS get what we pray for! That's believing.

What does it mean to trust in God? It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins... It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost – the very lifeblood of the Son of God and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.

Do you see what I mean? Simply acknowledging the truth is not the same as trusting in God.

Now, does God demand that every Christian be a radical Christian? YES.

"Radical" means "to the root". We are to be rooted in Christ and hoping in Christ, not in this world. We are to lean on God and trust in Him and not trust our own wisdom, or strength, or understanding. When we do that, we will do everything in the light of that faith, ruling our actions and our words and our attitudes by our trust in God and hope in forgiveness and expectation that we will rise from the grave to live forever. That's believing.

The man in the Gospel saw Jesus in action. He trusted from that moment on that Jesus could and would take care of him, his family, and his needs.

You, too, can let every pain, every crisis, every need rest in the hands of Jesus. This faith is more than just believing that it is true, it is believing that it is for you and that God counts you precious to Himself and watches over you, and will bring you through all things safely.

That is believing.

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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Called - And Chosen

 Matthew 22:1-14

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.  And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.  

"Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."'  But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.

"Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'  And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

"But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?'  And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

"For many are called, but few are chosen."

Sermon for Twentieth Sunday After Trinity                                    10/17/21

Called – and Chosen

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Many are called, but few are chosen.  What a difficult saying.  We like to think that if we hear the call of God and join His people, we are "the chosen ones".  This passage puts that in doubt.  We feel called, and yet this seems to suggest that we may be among "The Called" without being among "The Chosen".  Look at the man in the Gospel lesson this morning.  He was invited, he came, and then he was thrown out.  He wasn't one of those who stoned the prophets.  He didn't rebel.  He just wore the wrong outfit, and, whammo!, he is cast out into that outer darkness.  What could this mean to us?  Let us take a look – our theme is Called – and Chosen.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.  This is a parable.  We have to assume that every detail is not significant, but we can align some of the images Jesus uses in this parable to what the Old Testament used, and see what Jesus was saying.  The King, for example, represents God – the first King of Israel, and the only true King.  Until the people rejected God and demanded Saul, God was King, it is called "a theocracy."

The Son is the Son of God.  Pretty easy stuff, so far.  The wedding feast is the fulfilment of the Kingdom and the outpouring of salvation which we see as the Church.  We even talk about heaven as the wedding feast of the Lamb with His bride , the Church, even today.  God was all set to fulfill the Messianic promises, and to send His Son and to work our salvation, and when He sent out word through His slaves, the Prophets, to the people of Israel, those who, according to the story Jesus was telling, had been invited but were unwilling to come.  They ignored the summons of the Prophets.  They ignored the call to repent.  They were all so busy with their lives and the blessings which God had poured out on them that they had no time for – and no real interest in – the God who had blessed them and made them a people.  Too many choices, too much wealth, too much to do to pay much mind to God.

Was the King to be deterred?  No.  He sent even more slaves.  Still, the people would not listen.  Their farms, their businesses, their pleasures, and their families were just more important.  In fact, they found the crying of the prophets growing more irritating by the day until they could bear it no longer and they began to punish and finally to kill the messengers.  "How dare they tell me I am sinful?!"  "How dare they tell me that my priorities are out of place?!"  "How dare they preach repentance to me?!"  "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them."

Many are called, but few are chosen.  It is interesting to note that the Jewish presence in the Christian Church died out about one hundred years into the life of the Church after the death of Christ.  The whole nation had been called, and so few ever believed and received eternal life.  In fact, the destruction of which this story speaks was Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and destroying of the independent kingdom of the Jews which happened in 70 A.D.  "But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire."

"Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'  And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests."  Ahh!  Here we are.  These three verses cover the whole of the next two thousand years of history.  This is the Christian Church.  God has sent out His servants to invite everyone we can find to the wedding feast.  That means the preaching of the Gospel.  Anyone and everyone who would accept the invitation and come to the feast is welcomed.  But keep in mind how many - who call themselves Christians today - believe something other than the Gospel we proclaim, the Gospel that the Scriptures teach.

Remember the call that went out in the parable.  It is the same call today.  "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' The dinner is prepared.  Jesus has taken our sins to the cross, and paid for them and met the justice of God in our place with His death on the cross.  Our sins have been forgiven, and God is pouring out eternal life to all who hear the invitation to the feast of salvation, the wedding feast of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.  All is ready, or as Jesus put in from the cross, "It is Finished!"  The cry of the prophet is the same message as the proclamation of the pastor, "Repent and believe."

Now – this second part of the parable takes us forward to the final day, what many call Judgment Day.  The King comes in to look over the guests.  The guests are all of those who have come into the church – but not the holy Church as the assembly of all those who believe, and only those who believe.  This is the church as we see her on earth, with believers and hypocrites mingled together.  There are those who are truly Christ's, and then there are those who are represented by that one man without the wedding garment.

In ancient times, the kings provided the wedding garment to everyone who came to the wedding.  These clothes were festival clothes, sometimes brightly colored, always brand-new.  One of the benefits of being invited to such a wedding was that you got a new outfit.  This was in a world where people generally wore their entire wardrobe everyday.  New clothes was almost better than money – and often served in the place of money, for those who could afford it.

God has clothed each one of us who believes with the wedding garment of holiness, the robe of Christ's righteousness which is ours in the forgiveness of sins.  In other words, you are both called – and chosen.  To keep this image clear, remember Adam and Eve in the Garden.  When they sinned, they were naked.  Sin is nakedness, and God's forgiveness, and the gift of righteousness which is ours in Jesus Christ, is true clothing.  The wedding garment, then, is the forgiveness of sins, and salvation, and the righteousness which is the gift of grace to all who take God at His Word and trust Him – in other words, to those who believe.  That is what tells me that this man was the hypocrite among us.  He was in the wedding hall and among the wedding guests, but he was not wearing the wedding clothes.  This is not just any unbeliever.  They did not enter the wedding hall.  They are already outside in the darkness throughout the story.

The question was simple.   "Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?"  If you are in the church, you are expected to be wearing the righteousness of Christ.  Can some in the Church not wear the garment?  Sadly, yes.  They are in the vicinity of the Church, and look to be part of the Church, but they are not, they are merely part of the visible church - the local congregation.  Some belong to churches that claim to be Christian, but teach dependence on one's own works - or on one's own preparation for salvation –  or on one's own decision and prayer for salvation.  They think they have heard and accepted the invitation to the banquet, but they came in without the garment of the grace of God in the Gospel because they never really heard it - but they were told they were just as Christian as anyone else - more Christian, even.

On the other hand, how can anyone who actually hears the Gospel regularly not wear the wedding garment?  Answer:  They do not believe.  One group of this sort does not believe that they are all that bad – you know, sinners.  So they do not really ever repent, and therefore they never have forgiveness as their own, because they don't see any point in it.  The Gospel has no value to them, and they don't bother with actually believing.  There are people like that in the church.  They think everyone else is just like them.  They come for the music, or how it makes them feel to come to church, or they come for the social interaction.  They never understand that they are different – except for being not like those religious fanatics who make them feel uncomfortable with all their God-talk and exaggerated (to them) piety and stuff.

Others don't wear the garment because they don't believe, period.  They don't trust God.  They want to earn it all for themselves.  They don't understand this forgiveness stuff – after all, they know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Some of these people believe some of our doctrines, but they know that they can't accept all of that nonsense that the pastor preaches.  They say, He has his opinions and they have theirs.  It is a matter of interpretation, right!?  They like the crowd, they feel comfortable in the congregation, and, so what if they don't believe all of that stuff the pastor preaches?  They look around themselves and see that it is obvious many in the Missouri Synod don't believe it either.  They tell everyone they meet that they are just as good a Christian as any of them, and they pretend that they belong as much as the next man, and they are hypocrites.

Still others just can't stop moving long enough for the Gospel.  They have their riches.  They have their pleasures.  They have their sins.  Surely God isn't going to hold them accountable for that.  They don't repent because they don't need to.  They have a "right" to their sins, their unfaithfulness, their lukewarm-ness to the Gospel.  They don't need to be in church every Sunday.  They don't need to go to Bible Study to get into heaven.  They give God that one hour out of the 168 He gives them, and they are sure that they have done what they need to do.  They never look back.  They never examine themselves.  They never give God another thought as they do that Old Testament thing of getting lost in the blessings and forgetting the One who blessed them.

The important point is that however they make it to the wedding – that Last Day – without every really wearing the wedding garment they have been given.  They may have even worn it for a while, but it got too hot, too restricting, too old-fashioned, and they took it off and never looked back.  When the King enters, He will know the difference.  He can see what we cannot.  He can see who is wearing the wedding garment and who is not, who is real and who is just faking it.  The result, the outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, is hell.  It is eternal misery and torment, augmented by the knowledge that they are cast out into it because they did not take care to wear the garments of salvation which Christ has won and God has freely given to everyone to wear.  And notice that there is no excuse for not wearing the wedding clothes.  He was in the hall, he clearly had been given the garment.  Not wearing the gift is a deliberate act of rebellion, just as unbelief in the church is never an "OOOPs, I didn't realize" but always a cold-hearted and wicked rejection of God, of His grace, of His love.  Jesus said, And he was speechless.

Many are called, but only those few who place their hope and their confidence in Jesus and what He has done will enter the wedding feast of eternal life in glory with Christ.  Those who trust in Him are also called "the Chosen".  The number of the saved will not be small, it will just be few in comparison to those to whom the invitation has been given.  The hypocrites will be separated from the people of God by the only Person who can see the difference, the person of the Son of God, who sees into your heart and knows what you believe and who you trust.

The feast is ready.  You are all seated in the banquet hall.  We have the foretaste of the feast here at the altar today.  Today we invite you once again.  Everyone who enters this church and hears the Word of salvation is invited - called.  Each of you has been presented the wedding garment, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.

Take care to wear the garment of salvation.  Examine yourselves daily, whether you are in the faith, and cling to Christ in His Word and in the Sacrament.  For many are called – all of humanity, in fact, – but few are chosen.

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