Saturday, November 24, 2018

Stay Awake!

Mark 13:24-37 Taking a nap after a satisfying meal or laying our head on the pillow after a productive day of work are some of the great blessings of life.  Our bodies need that rest.
But drowsiness and sleepiness when it comes to our spiritual life can be deadly.  In today’s lesson we hear Jesus warn us about the necessity of being spiritually awake and aware of the signs of his coming so that we can be ready to meet him when he comes again.  Jesus says that:
“In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
            Throughout the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus lists various signs of his second coming in glory:  signs among the nations such as wars and rumors of wars; signs in the family such as parents and children fighting against one another; signs in the church such as false prophets and the persecution of Christians; and signs in the natural world like those mentioned here.
            When we look out at the world around us and see the never-ending conflicts among the nations of the world-- and the destruction of marriage and family-- and the crumbling edifice of the church--Jesus wants us to understand these events for what they are:  sure signs of his return in glory to judge the living and the dead.
            From the moment that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (an event prophesied by Jesus exactly as it took place forty years before it happened) signs in nature and in the church and in the family and in the nations of the world have clearly revealed that Jesus will come again and that we need to be ready.
            The events that Jesus describes here in these verses will occur immediately before his return as the heavenly bodies he set into place at creation—heavenly bodies that men have regarded as eternally constant as the course of the stars and the rising and setting of the sun and the waxing and waning of the moon-- will be no more as this world and all that is in it is destroyed to make way for a new heaven and a new earth. 
In that moment, when the world is literally crashing down around us, Jesus says that: They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 
            Occasionally you will hear Christians worry that they will not know Jesus when he comes again in the same way that so many of his own people who did not know him or acknowledge him during his earthly ministry.  But that is nothing for us to worry about!
When Jesus comes again it will not be as a tiny baby or a humble carpenter.  He will come again as the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He will not arrive in a crib or carry a cross.
Instead, as the heavenly bodies fall to the earth, he will come in the clouds with the power and glory of God himself and everyone will look upon him, even those who pierced him and every knee will bow before him and every tongue confess that he alone is Lord.
That will be a moment of abject terror for all who have rejected him in this life-- but for all who have trusted in him, for all who have followed him, for all who have confessed him as Lord and Savior-- it will be the greatest, most joyous day in the history of the world for he will come to gather his people to himself.  Jesus says that:
He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
            In that glorious moment of his return, everything that God has purposed and planned for our salvation from eternity will be accomplished for you. 
God chose you in Christ from before the earth’s foundations to be his own in time and eternity.  He worked throughout salvation history so that his plan to save the world would be made known.  He sent his Son Jesus Christ to live and die for you.  His Holy Spirit caused you to be born again in the waters of Holy Baptism, and he strengthened and sustained your faith and ordered your life in such a way that you would endure to the end in the faith.
On the day of his return, the everlasting love of God has for you in Jesus Christ will reach its divine, saving purpose as he raises the dead and gathers you with all the other faithful and brings you safely to the heavenly home he has prepared for you.
The second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the greatest, most glorious day the world has ever known and we are to be spiritually awake and watchful for its coming.  Jesus says that:
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 
            The signs of our Lord’s return in glory are not any more difficult to understand or interpret than a fruit tree putting out buds in the spring. 
The temple in Jerusalem lies in ruins to this day, not even one stone left upon another.  All over the world earthquakes shake the foundations of the earth and tsunamis sweep thousands to their death.  Nations war again nations in never ending violence and hatred.  The fundamental building blocks of society in the marriage and family are under attack.  And the church is persecuted by her enemies and destroyed from within by false prophets.
When we see these things taking place, we are not to say to ourselves:  “Well, that’s just the way it is.  It’s always been that way—it will always be that way.”  No!  Instead, we are to see these events for what they are—signs of the Lord’s return.  Jesus says:
When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
            There’s always been some question about what Jesus meant when he said that this generation would not pass away until they saw these things happening.  The simplest way to explain it is that those people who see the signs of his coming and hear his word will not pass away until he comes again.  And so it has been from then till now.
There were those listening to Jesus that day who saw the destruction of Jerusalem.  They saw family members turn against them on account of Christ.  They saw the apostles go to a martyr’s death.  And the words of Jesus promising to return for his people rang in their ears. 
So it has been in every generation and still is today as we listen to the voice of our Lord and see the same signs of the end all around us. 
The comfort for us is the same as it has always been for God’s people: the enduring power of God’s Word. 
It is his mighty word, spoken to us in Holy Baptism that has caused us to be born again.  It is his word preached in this pulpit and read in our homes that convicts us of our sins and comforts us with Jesus’ forgiveness.  It is his word that will endure and stand and save us even when heaven and earth comes crashing down around us.  It is word that will prepare us to meet him when he comes again.  Jesus said that:
“Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard, keep awake.  For you do not know when the time will come.
            From almost the moment these words were spoken by Jesus, there have been those who turned aside from them in an attempt to predict the day of the Lord’s return.  It happened in the ancient world and the medieval world and the modern world. 
History is littered with false prophets who would not yield themselves to the plain words of Jesus—false prophets who thought themselves better informed than Jesus himself who did not know that day when he spoke these words.
No one knows the day of the Lord’s return except for our heavenly Father and so we should immediately reject as false prophets those who claim they do and instead listen to our heavenly Father and believe him when says that there will be a day when this world comes to an end- and the dead are raised- and all are judged -and the elect are saved.
God has not revealed that date to us or anyone else because he wants us to be spiritually awake and aware throughout our lives so that no matter when Jesus comes we will be ready to meet him.  Until that day, Jesus says that our life as his people is like this:
It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.  Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
            Occasionally you will hear about some doomsday cult that has sold all their possessions and gone out into the desert to wait for the supposed return of the Lord only to be disappointed.  But that is not what Jesus wants us to do as we wait for him.
As God’s people, this time between our Lord’s ascension and his return in glory is not a napping time. 
It is a time to be active and involved with the work that Jesus has given each of us to do—work that serves others and brings glory to him. 
It is a time to use the gifts he has given us to extend his kingdom. 
And it is a time to be aware of the signs of his return so that we will be ready to meet him when he comes to judge the world.  Amen.

Praise Is Due to You, O God!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Praise is Due to You, O God!

Psalm 65 In Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism he says:  I believe that God has made me and all creatures…that he richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life…that he defends me against all danger…that he does all this out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy…and for all this it is MY duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him.  REPEAT
Luther wrote these words in 1529 but all they really are is a summary of the words that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write 2500 years before: 
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed.  O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. 
            All of us recognize, I think, that there are duties that are burdensome—things that we simply have to do because our job or station in life require them—but we also know that there are duties that are delights—things that are required of us—but that we would do even if they weren’t required.  For example:
            I like to work in the yard.  If I didn’t keep my lawn mown, eventually the city would get around to giving me a ticket.  But I don’t work in the yard out fear of punishment—I work in the yard because it is a pleasant thing to be outside and a joy to work with plants.  It is a duty to keep up my lawn—but a delightful one.
So it is with the gratitude and praise and thanksgiving that is due to God for all his blessings and tender mercies.  It is a duty—a requirement.  We are God’s creatures and he is our Creator and it is simply our duty to thank and praise him—serve and obey him.
But for the child of God—thankfulness is much, much more than a burdensome duty.  It is a delight and a blessing to give our praise and gratitude, service and obedience to the Lord because he is not just our Creator—he is our Father who forgives our transgressions.  David wrote:
When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.  Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!  We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! 
            The Bible is clear that all people recognize that there is a Creator who is responsible for all they have—even their own lives—and so it is right that all our fellow citizens take time to thank the God of creation for his gifts.
But we Christians know much, much more about God than that he is simply the Creator—we know him as our heavenly Father through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. ll
This is what is different for us Christians on Thanksgiving Day.  We know that there is not just some impersonal “force” out there in the cosmos who has created this world.  We know that there is a personal God who has a will and a plan and a purpose for his creatures:  that we would know him and love him and serve him as his children. 
Knowing God this way—as a personal Being who is not only powerful and wise-- but also holy and righteous and just-- places a moral imperative on us to live in the way that God says is good and right and it convicts every one of us--for we have failed to do what God requires.
But God in his mercy has not only created us and given us physical life—he has re-created us and given us a new spiritual life—by atoning for our transgressions by the blood of his Son Jesus. 
As much as we thank God for his physical gifts, it is this gift of salvation (that we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) that comes first in our hearts on this Thanksgiving Day as that which deserves our thanks and praise.
From eternity God has chosen us in Christ to be his children—he atoned for our sins by the death of his Son Jesus—and he incorporated us into his holy people through baptism. 
Earthly blessings ebb and flow—there are times of plenty and scarcity—at our death we will leave behind all our earthly possessions—but the gift of salvation that God has given us in Jesus extends will call for our praise and gratitude in eternity.  And so…
It is our duty and delight—first of all, as Christians—to thank God for the gift of salvation, even as we join with our fellow citizens to thank him for earthly, material blessings as well.  The psalmist writes:
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.  You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. 
            The identity and work of God as Creator is not just the teaching of the first three chapters of Genesis—it runs through the Bible from beginning to end.  That God established the mountains by his might—this is what the Bible teaches-- and it is what we believe and confess.
            On Thanksgiving Day it is our privilege and responsibility as Christians to affirm this biblical teaching with our worship and praise of God for his creation AND his preservation of the world. 
You see, God is not only the Creator—he is the ongoing source of all that exists at this moment.  It is his providential care of the world that continues to order and govern everything in the universe---and that is good news for us. 
Far from being at the mercy of impersonal forces we cannot control and barely understand—we know that our heavenly Father is the One who stills the stormy waves—who causes the sun to rise and set—who orders the affairs of men. 
Our heavenly Father is in control.  We are not simply hurdling through space, along for the ride, on a giant globe which knows no ultimate purpose and has no ultimate meaning. 
All creation-- and time and space-- are in the wise hands of the One who called it into being and will bring it to its final end.  And the creation around us -and the rise and fall of nations- and the plans of men- are all ultimately ordered and directed by our heavenly Father for our eternal salvation.
On this Thanksgiving Day we thank God for all the gifts of creation—but we also thank him for his ongoing involvement in creation—he is no “prime mover” of Greek philosophy—but he still rules and guides and directs this world to provide for the needs of our bodily life needs.  David writes of the heavenly Provider:
You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.  You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. 
            During Jesus’ earthly ministry he taught his disciples about the foolishness of worrying and being anxious for the necessities of life and he directed their attention to the natural world around them.  “Look at the birds who never plow and yet God feeds them—look at the flowers of the field who neither toil nor spin and yet God clothes them more beautifully than the richest man who ever lived”.  Nature herself reveals a God who abundantly provides for his creation.
David invites us to see the same.  The hills and valleys—the pastures and meadows-- overflow with the bounty that God provides.  ll
Caroline and I have been at both H-E-B and Walmart numerous times over the last several days—it seems like we always have forgotten something.  And I have a feeling that we’re like most folks in that we assume we will find what we are looking for-- but blind to the abundance around us.
But the next time you’re there at the store, just reflect for a moment on the overflowing abundance that God provides.  All of the grocery items on those shelves—row after row—in store after store across this great land-- have come from the hills and valleys and farmlands that God has softened with the rain and warmed with the sun and fed with the soil—abundantly providing for our needs. 
The words that David wrote in this psalm are a song of praise to the Creator for his great gifts and David pictures creation itself joining in that hymn of praise for God’s abundant, overflowing blessings.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
            Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity for us to do the same—to join our voices with those of God’s people and God’s creation as they praise him for his overflowing abundance that has fed us and clothed us and sheltered us over this last year. 
I hope you will remember those things that we have talked about this evening:  how God has blessed us with the gift of life and salvation—how his protecting, guiding hand has gently rested upon our lives--and how he has abundantly provided for all of our needs.
Praise is due to God from his people and it is our duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him-- but it is also our privilege and delight to come together and praise God from whom all blessing flow!  Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Day Is Drawing Near

Hebrews 10:19-25 I vividly remember this time of year in 1999.  Countless people were certain that the world was coming to an end at midnight on December 31st and there were plenty of so-called experts who were all to glad to egg them on.  Computers would stop working!  Planes would fall from the sky!  Grocery stores would run out of food!  And so on. 
People were advised to fill up their gas tanks- and make sure they had cash and have a supply of water- and canned goods on hand.  And those were the more reasonable suggestions!
Why food and water and cash would be necessary if the world was coming to an end I never quite understood.  But that’s what fear will do.  Of course we know the world did not end.
But the fact of the matter is:  this world will come to an end.  As certainly as there was a historical moment when the world came into being at the command of God, so there will be a historical moment when this world comes to an end.
And there are things that we need to be doing right now to be prepared for that day:  drawing near to God, holding fast to our confession, and stirring up one another to faith and good works—things that benefit us and the world and the church—things we need to be doing, not in fear, but in confident faith as that Day of our Lord’s return draws near.  The Bible says that:
We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
            On the Last Day every person who has ever lived will stand before the one, true and living God of the universe and will face his righteous judgment. 
The time leading up to that day will be filled with great and terrible signs in the church and in the family of nations and in nature--signs so pervasive and so powerful that the very foundations of human life will be shaken to the core.
            And yet, for the child of God, in the very midst of a world that is coming to an end and falling down around them, Jesus says:  Lift up your head for your redemption draws near! 
It is not fear, but faith that motivates the child of God and disciple of Jesus as we consider the Last Day and the end of all that we know of this world. It is not cowering in fear but confident faith that will allow us to stand in God’s presence unafraid and unashamed because Jesus has opened the way for us by his death on the cross.
When our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom—that barrier that kept from sinners from a holy God was no longer needed because the blood of Jesus had atoned for the sins of the whole world.
Trusting in his resurrection victory there is a new and living way for people to come into the presence of God through faith in Jesus.  That saving way is not ancient history… 
Our crucified and living Savior continues to serve us in God’s house as our great high priest, constantly lifting up his “once for all” sacrifice for our sins and praying to his heavenly Father for our salvation, speaking to us in his word and feeding us with his body and blood.
And the fact of the matter is, we already live in the presence of God and putting our faith in Jesus, we having nothing to fear from the day of his return.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to do to be prepared for that day.  There are!  The Bible says:
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
            First of all, to be prepared for the day of the Lord, the Bible says that we are to draw near to God.  In other words our relationship with God, our life with God is to deepen and grow and become closer. 
What greater blessing can there be for us than to be close to God!  That is possible only because God has first drawn close to us in his Son Jesus Christ.  He has come so close to us that he has taken upon himself our flesh and lived our life and died our death and bore our sin.  He knows what it is to live our live—to be lonely and hungry and forsaken by friend and misunderstood by family and to face death. 
We mere mortals can have a close, intimate relationship with the living God of the universe because Jesus Christ has made a way for us to God by washing away our sins and joining us to himself in the pure waters of Holy Baptism.
And so then as God’s dearly loved children, we spend these days preparing to stand before our heavenly Father on the Last Day by deepening our relationship with him. 
We talk to him in prayer.  We hear him speak to us in his word.  We fellowship with his people.  We learn about his ways and do his will so that when this world comes to an end and we come into his presence, God will be no stranger to us and heaven will feel like the home it is.
That is our hope as we look forward to the Last Day and we are to boldly confess that hope to the world around us without apology.  The Bible says:  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
We live in a world where people are living and dying emotionally on the outcome of the last election-- or the daily changes in the stock market-- or what some crazy person is doing here or around the world. 
Their hearts and minds are filled with turmoil that is nothing other than a reflection of the turmoil in the world around us.
Now, we Christians live in the same, dark and dying world as the rest of our fellow men-- but our hearts and minds are filled with hope that comes with a perspective that lies beyond this world. 
Evil will be punished!  Brokenness will be healed!  Blessings will come!  And while it is true that much of that has to be laid hold of by faith, we still look forward with hope because we know that the one who promised those blessings is faithful.  The Bible says that the one who has begun a good work in us WILL bring it to completion at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ!
How desperately the world around us needs to hear that confession of faith and hope from the lips of the children of God! 
In our world today, if people have hope at all, it is misplaced.  They think that the next election or the next promotion or the next pay raise will give them peace at heart.  But of course pay raises are never enough and politicians fail and promotions bring problems.
And there are so many people who have no hope at all because they have bought into a materialistic worldview that tells them they are merely bio-chemical creatures in a vast cosmos empty of meaning in the middle of a timeline already billions of years old with billions more to come.
In the midst of no hope- and in place of false hope-as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ--we can point the world around us to the hope of a new heaven and a new earth and life everlasting even as we do everything in our power to live out those kingdom values in our life together as the church right now.  The Bible says:
let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, as you see the Day drawing near
            It has been said by those who are critical of biblical Christianity that Christians are so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.  And…
Yes, we believe that this world and everything in it will come to an end.  Yes, we believe in the final destruction of evil and the victory of good.  But because we know how it all ends does not mean that we do not do all within our power (as we await that day) to do all the good we can while we can. 
It is because we believe in the redemptive power of God that we encourage one another to love those around us deeply and care for them in real ways with good works.
And so we heal the sick and feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and educate the young.  We show love to the weakest of the human family by:  protecting all human life-- and welcoming the stranger-- and caring for the outcast and the prisoner.
The people of God live a life of love and good works because we have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. 
As we gather in this place, we hear his voice in the word and we receive his real presence in bread and wine, and we see him manifest in the lives of our fellow Christians and we grow to love him and want to live our lives like his own.
And so we meet together and love one another and do good works and encourage one another in the Christ-life and all the more as the day of Christ’s return draws near.  The Bible says that salvation is nearer now that when we first believed and so it is.
This world came into existence at a particular moment in time.  Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross at a particular moment of history.  We were baptized into his death and resurrection on a particular day-- and this world will come to an end at a particular moment in history.
We are grounded in history but history will come to an end in the new, eternal day of our Lord’s return.   We look forward to that day with confident faith and hope because we know that our Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior and so we spend our time growing closer to the Lord and bearing faithful witness to him and showing his love to the world around us.
Living out our faith this way, we have nothing to fear as that Day draws near.  Amen.