Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When the Wood is Dry

"For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:31; ESV). See another great sermon by the North Prairie Pastor <http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/2007/11/26/last-sunday-of-the-church-year/#more-50>.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Cross and the Clerical Collar

Stories like this are a dime a dozen, and I think I've blogged about this before (and even if I haven't, others have), but here's yet another reason pastors should consider wearing their clerical collars, or if they prefer not to, at least refrain from judging us who do...

I was in a hurry. I needed to drop into the hospital, visit my parishioner, and get out so I could get on with the half-a-million other tasks that awaited me. But first, a quick visit to the restroom. Only I was intercepted on the way. "Reverend," said the woman, but then she hesitated. "Well, I hate to bother you. It's just..." More hesitation. "It's just, my best friend is in a coma. I just really need someone to come and pray for her." The restroom would have to wait. So would the half-a-million other tasks. Even so would my own parishioner have to wait, just a little longer. I went with the woman to the room of her friend. We prayed. We talked about Jesus and the hope we have in Him (and yet it seems a bit irreverent to log on to some website and record this on a counter as a "critical event"). I gave the Lord's benediction. And none of this would have happened if I hand't been wearing my collar. "I'm sorry I bothered you," said the woman as I was about to leave. "That's okay. That's why I wear a uniform," I assured her, as I left to go to my own parishioner. (Don't worry, I made it to the restroom before any other "critical events").

I don't like wearing my clerical collar. I know a common objection to wearing them is that the collar goes to the pastor's head. That may be true in the beginning, when the first year seminarian puts it on for the first time. But I'd just as soon not wear it. It draws too much attention. It is a cross, worn on the sleeve. And it causes interruptions... Interruptions like a woman who just needs a reverend to come and speak God's Word and express the wordless prayers she knows and feels in her heart. That's why I wear the uniform, whether I want to or not.

Last Sunday of the Church Year/Sunday of the Fulfillment

Last Sunday of the Church Year/Sunday of the Fulfillment (C)
November 25, 2007
Text: Luke 23:27-43

When our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was crucified at the place called Golgotha, the Skull, the charge for which He was being executed was hung over His head: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38; ESV). This sign caused no small amount of consternation on the part of the Jewish rulers: “the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but rather, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written’” (John 19:21). Now it is doubtful that Pilate believed Jesus was any sort of king, much less the King of kings, and we can only speculate as to why he wrote what he did. But perhaps in spite of himself, Pontius Pilate was confessing the great truth upon which all of history hinges. Jesus is the Anointed King of the Jews, the promised Messiah, enthroned on the cross.

At first glance, this may seem to be a strange text for the Last Sunday of the Church Year as we meditate on the last things and the second coming of our Lord in judgment. But the cross is the decisive event determining our Lord’s verdict on Judgment Day. It is the decisive event determining whether you are pronounced guilty or innocent as you stand before His throne of judgment. Were it not for the cross, neither you, nor any man, woman, or child who has ever lived could stand in His presence. You have sinned, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Were it not for the cross, Jesus would say in His just judgment, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). For “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But on account of our Lord’s holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death on the cross, and on account of your baptism into that death, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). On account of the cross, the verdict handed down for you is innocent… more than that, righteous with the righteousness of Christ. Because of the cross of Jesus Christ you do not have to fear the Day of Judgment. The verdict has already been pronounced. The gavel has already sounded. You are pardoned. You are free. Jesus has won your freedom. Jesus has won your forgiveness. Jesus has won your salvation.

But beloved, your salvation is hidden under the cross. It is the mystery of mysteries that our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, and His coronation as our King takes place in His sacrificial death. Jesus is the King of the Jews, and He is our King, precisely on the cross. It is against all human reason. It is incomprehensible for us. It is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). But our salvation and Jesus’ Kingship is revealed to us on the cross.

Few in the Gospel lesson recognized this fact. The daughters of Jerusalem did not recognize it. They did not recognize their King going forth to war to win their salvation. They mourned and lamented the travesty of injustice that Jesus was being put to death as a criminal. Yet Jesus bids them weep not for Him, but for themselves. Jesus is finishing the journey for which He was sent. He is reaching the goal of the cross. And though all the suffering of hell awaits Him, Jesus knows that He will be vindicated in the resurrection. Therefore the daughters of Jerusalem should save their tears for those who will be caught up in the destruction of Jerusalem we heard about last week, and the unrepentant and unbelieving who will be caught up in the fiery judgment of God’s wrath. Weep for them, because their judgment is so unnecessary. Jesus has taken their judgment upon Himself in His suffering on the cross.

The Roman executioners did not recognize Jesus’ Kingship, either. Nor did the bystanders, or the Jewish rulers. While Jesus prays for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), they scoff at Him, saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (v. 35). “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (v. 37). Here we see just how true St. Paul’s statement is, that the cross is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. It was a foreign concept to both Jewish and Roman thought that God would win His victory over the powers of hell by submitting to a humiliating death. If Jesus was who He said He was, He should be able to save Himself. Surely He would not allow Himself to undergo such torture and disgrace. So they mocked Him. The claims Jesus made for Himself, claims of divinity and sovereignty, were inconsistent, so they thought, with the cross, suffering, and death.

So also one of the criminals crucified with Jesus mocked and reproached Him. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (v. 39). But it is here, at this point in the narrative, that one man does recognize the true identity of Jesus. He is no theologian. He is not one of the chief priests or scribes. He is not even one of the Apostles, who by this time were cowering in fear and would not recognize the significance of these events until well after the resurrection. No, it is the last person we expect to recognize Jesus’ salvation and Kingship. It is the other criminal crucified with Jesus. It is a sinner, who deserves his fate. He rebukes the mocker. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41). But it was not just Jesus’ innocence the thief recognized. He had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. He had heard Jesus absolve His enemies. He had heard the Word and watched the Word as He was nailed to a cross, the sins of the whole world heaped upon His shoulders. He beheld Jesus pour out His blood for the life of the world. And the Holy Spirit brought him to faith. The thief looked to Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith (Heb. 12:2), and beheld his King enthroned on the cross for his salvation. He brought no merit or worthiness of his own into the equation. He was a condemned criminal. But repenting of his own life, he looked to the life and death of Jesus for redemption. He trusted in Jesus for salvation. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). Jesus offers no rebuke. He does not remind the criminal of his sins. He does not demand satisfaction. Looking with compassion on the malefactor, Jesus speaks words of grace and absolution and life: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).

While all the other figures in our Gospel lesson demanded Jesus on their own terms, and would permit Him to reign only if He met their own conditions, the thief simply believed, trusted. Where there is conditional faith, there is no faith at all.[1] If you want Jesus and His salvation, behold the cross. The only true God is the crucified God. He wins His victory in death. He wins your salvation in death. What appears to be His defeat is really His triumph. On the cross, King Jesus reigns.

The world does not recognize Jesus as their King or their Savior. But you recognize Him. You recognize that things are not what they appear. Your salvation is hidden under the cross and the death of the Son of God. And it is because of this cross, the death of the Son of God, that you have no need to fear His verdict on the last day. For Christ is risen. Death could not hold Him. He defeated death by submitting to it, invading its camps with His life, and putting death to death. He defeated sin by paying its cruel price. He defeated the devil by storming the depths of hell. And God has raised this Jesus from the dead. You are baptized into Him, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). His death is your death. His life is your life. His righteousness is your righteousness. For He made your sin His sin on the cross. Therefore His resurrection is your resurrection.

Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He rules in His Kingdom. He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. But be not afraid. Your King remembers you. He remembers what He has done for you. He remembers His cross. And by inviting you to His Table this morning, He says to you, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” For the Supper of His body and blood is nothing less than a foretaste of the eternal feast to come, when our Lord returns in glory, and restores all things. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Thanks to my friend and colleague, the Rev. Mark Love, for this insight.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eucharist
November 21, 2007
Text: Phil. 4:6-20

“(D)o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6; ESV). As Christians, we have no need to be anxious about our life, what we will eat or drink, or what we will wear, for we know and believe that we have a loving heavenly Father, and He knows that we need these things. If He loves us, He will surely provide for “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”[1] This is what we mean when we pray for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer, as our Lord Himself bids us do. Indeed, we confess in the first article of the Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

Christian thanksgiving flows from faith. It flows from a faith that knows that God is gracious on account of Christ, and desires our every good. It flows from a faith that knows that because of Christ God is a loving Father who only wants the very best for His children, and will not allow His children to truly be in any need. Sometimes it will seem to the children like they are in need. But this is not unlike our own children, who often think that they need things that we as parents know are bad for them. “I’m starving!” declares the child to his mother. “Why don’t you have some carrots, then?” suggests the mother, who knows that the child is far from starving. “No,” replies the child, “I’m starving for cookies. I need cookies.” It is easy for us to see that the child does not know what he really needs. The mother does. The child should trust the mother. The mother will not let her child starve. And though the child thinks cookies are the best medicine to quiet the rumbling of his stomach, the mother knows that carrots are much better, have more nutrition, and do not make for tummy aches. Therefore there will be carrots with dinner rather than cookies. And when the child grows into maturity, he will thank his mother for always giving him what he needed, for loving him enough not to give him the things that were not good for him, and for providing for his every real need.

Is this not a description of our relationship to God our Father? We are His children. We do not know what we need (even though we think we do), nor are we able to provide for our own needs (even though we think we are). God does know what we need, and is able and willing to provide for us. So trust Him. Believe that He will give you what you need, and you will be free to live a life of thanksgiving and praise. That is our duty, after all. For all that God so graciously gives us as our loving Father, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. That’s the description of thankful living.

Therefore do not be anxious. You are free not to be anxious. Rather, present your requests to God in prayer and supplication and trust that He will deliver. He may not deliver what you want, but He will always deliver what you need. And then don’t forget thanksgiving. Thank Him, because before the prayer is even on your lips, your heavenly Father knows what you need, and is quick to answer.

It is easy to be thankful when we think of all the blessings the Lord so generously rains down upon us, when we think of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise” (v. 8). Chiefly do we thank and praise God for His great mercy in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us on the cross, and for raising Him from the dead. Through Him we have the full and free forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. And it is because of Christ and the reconciliation He has won for us with the Father that God so generously blesses us with every material and spiritual gift. Because we know Christ has brought us into a right relationship with God, we can rejoice in any circumstance. We can be content in any situation. We can rejoice and be content when we are brought low and when we abound, in facing plenty and hunger, in abundance and in need. For we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (vv. 10-13).

This Thanksgiving Day, our president has called upon the nation to give thanks to God for the innumerable blessings He gives us. It is truly good, right, and salutary for us who are in Christ to do so. Our thanksgiving flows from faith. We know God will provide. So on this eve before Thanksgiving, we come to be fed by Him. We open our mouths, and He fills them with His Word, with the Word’s body and blood. We are not anxious, for we know from experience, that it is true, as Paul says, “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 19-20). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
November 18, 2007
Text: Luke 21:5-36

Beloved in Christ, do you really believe that the Lord could return at any moment? Do you really believe that we are living in the last days? Are you prepared? The question is of eternal significance. Do you take Jesus and His promise of a speedy return seriously? For He has left us a warning. He has interpreted the signs for us. His coming again in judgment is imminent. The time is short. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17; ESV).

It is so easy for us to be complacent, to lull ourselves into a false sense of security. Jesus has not returned in the nearly 2,000 years since His resurrection and ascension. Why would He come back today? But He could. Don’t let Him find you sleeping. “‘Wake, awake, for night is flying,’ The watchmen on the heights are crying; ‘Awake, Jerusalem, arise!’” (LSB 516:1). Awake, for the Master comes. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (12:37). Keep watch. For you do not know the day or hour. It is true, it could be a thousand years from now. But it could be today. Be vigilant. “(W)atch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap… But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (21:34, 36). “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).

For this reason it is so important that we heed the signs of the end and of our Lord’s return. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31). You know how to read the signs that signal a change in the weather. Therefore read and heed the signs that signal the end of the age. What then are these signs? What things tell us of the Lord’s impending return for judgment?

For one, the destruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus prophesied the destruction of both in our text, nearly 40 years before the events took place. The disciples thought Jesus should be impressed by the majestic temple and all of its trappings. But “As for these things that you see,” declares Jesus, “the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (v. 6). The temple has become obsolete with the incarnation of Jesus. The dwelling place of God is with men, not in the temple, which was a shadow of the reality to come, but in the true Temple, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, and Son of God. It is of this Temple that Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). “(H)e was speaking about the temple of his body” (v. 21). God dwells with men in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Temple of God. So the temple of bricks and stone is no longer needed and was destroyed by the Romans as a sign of the end.

Likewise the city of Jerusalem, which was thoroughly sacked by the Romans at the same time that the temple was destroyed. Nearly 40 years before this, Jesus declared that the sacking of Jerusalem would be so great and terrible that the usual blessing of pregnancy and little children would become a great woe! The children would hinder the escape of the women from the city in that great and terrible day! But Jerusalem as the Holy City was also a shadow of the reality to come. Jerusalem was holy because the temple was in its midst. But the earthly city of Jerusalem pointed forward to the New Jerusalem, the Church Triumphant, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb… coming down out of heaven from God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:9, 11). When St. John saw the vision of the New Jerusalem, He declared, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (v. 22). Jesus is the Temple of God, and He dwells in the midst of His New Jerusalem, the Church triumphant, and His new Israel, the Church on earth, the Church militant. The Church is holy because the Temple of Jesus’ flesh is in her midst.

The destruction of the earthly temple and the earthly Jerusalem in AD 70 was therefore a sign of the consummation of all things. Jesus is making all things complete. Therefore the end is near. Jesus was declaring what signs the disciples should look for with regard to the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem when He declared, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:10-11). Indeed, all of these things took place. Likewise a great persecution of Christians broke out, just as Jesus predicted: “before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake” (v. 12). These signs are not unlike the signs that precede the end of the age. In fact, Jesus springboards off of His warning about the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem in order to warn His disciples about His second coming.

The signs of Jesus’ second coming are terrifying: “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (vv. 25-27). Great and terrible is that day. We see these signs even now, for example, in the devestating tsunami and the flooding of New Orleans after Katrina. These are signs of the end. But how should God’s people, Jesus’ disciples, regard the coming of the Son of Man?

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). While everyone else is cowering with fear at the coming of the Lord Jesus to judge the quick and the dead, Christians stand tall and face that Day with confidence. You do so not because of any merit or worthiness in you. You do not claim your own righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus. Because you know that Jesus died for you and lives for you. You know that He paid for your sins on the cross and was raised for your justification. You know He fulfilled the Law for you. You know that you are baptized into Him, into His life, into His death, into His resurrection. You have put on Christ. Your robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore when you come before His throne of judgment, you have nothing to fear. You have already been declared righteous on account of Jesus. That’s what it means to be justified. And when Jesus judges you, He will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

It will not go so well for those who are not found to be in Christ, who have not believed in Him and are not baptized in His Name. They will be cast out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus will say to them on the Last Day, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1). The judgment is real, and it is coming swiftly. That is why it is so important to keep watch and be prepared.

You are prepared by remaining in Jesus’ Word and faith. Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus' Word will never pass away (Luke 21:33). Believe His Word. For your redemption is coming. “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal. 4:3). Trust Jesus and you do not have to fear that Day. It will be a Day of great rejoicing for you. For on that Day the Lord will call the bodies of the dead out of the grave and reunite them with their souls. Those who are left alive will be caught up with Jesus and those who have preceded them in death. All the fetters of this fallen world will be shed for perfect freedom. No more sickness. No more pain. No more sin. No more devil. And most of all, no more death. All believers in Christ will be given eternal life in the new creation. They will dwell with God and bask in His glory, and He Himself shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. This is not just a pious wish. It is the blessed reality for every one of you who are in Christ.

The Lord could return at any moment. But the Church awaits His coming with eager anticipation, for His coming signals our deliverance. In an age of wars and rumors of wars, disturbances in the heavens, and overwhelming floods, the very creation testifies that the Lord is coming soon. So the Church watches and waits and communes and prays, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
November 11, 2007
Text: Luke 20:27-40

Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Our very life comes from God. Jesus is God in the flesh, the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is the revelation of YHWH. He is Abraham’s promised Seed. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day. He saw it, and was glad (John 8:56). He saw it, for though his body had returned to dust hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, he continues to live in God. Though he died, yet he lives. He lives in heaven and awaits the resurrection. For God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. It is of God’s nature to give life to His people. He is the source of life, the Creator of all the living. And He is the source of our eternal life and redemption. He is the God who raises the dead. And since He has raised Christ from the dead, we confidently confess that on the Last Day He will raise all the dead, and give eternal life to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Neither did they believe in any sort of afterlife, or angels, or miracles. But it was the resurrection with which they had the biggest problem. The article on the resurrection was the source of division within the Jewish religion. The Sadducees vehemently denied the resurrection. The Pharisees ardently defended it. So it was that the Sadducees sought to put Jesus to the test with a question on the resurrection. They wanted to trap Him using the levitical law of Moses. It seems there was a widow whose husband died before conceiving a child. Now, every good Jew knows the rule: when a man dies and leaves his widow childless, the man’s brother has a responsibility to marry the widow and have a child in his brother’s name. Well, there were seven brothers in all, and the widow married each one successively, and each one died leaving her without a child. The story is really quite far-fetched, but believability was not the priority here for the Sadducees. Rather, they sought to point out to Jesus the absurdity of the idea of the resurrection. “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife” (Luke 20:33; ESV).

Of course, the Sadducees weren’t really asking about marriage. Again, they had a much more sinister agenda. But Jesus humors them and answers their question anyway. “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (vv. 34-36). Jesus outsmarted the Sadducees using the very Scriptures they thought they were citing against Him! The Sadducees neither understood the Scriptures nor the power therein. They were asking a question pertaining to this world. They had no understanding of the world to come.

Marriage is a wonderful gift of God given for our life in this creation. God has given us holy matrimony for our companionship, for the propagation of the race, and as the one and only proper outlet for His good gift of sexuality. It was given in particular to provide for the promised Seed of Abraham who would save the whole world from sin, our Lord Jesus Christ. But God has given marriage also so that Christians can reflect in their marriages that holy relationship between Christ and His holy Bride, the Church. In other words, marriage is an institution in this world that points to a higher reality, the love that Christ has for His Church, a love so deep that He gave Himself into death for her, to present her to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:27).

But this was not the real question in the minds of the Sadducees. Their real question concerned the resurrection, in which they did not believe. So once again Jesus outsmarts the Sadducees using the very Scriptures they were citing against Him. “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (vv. 37-38). The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had died long before Moses encountered the burning bush. Yet they were alive in God and with Him in heaven. In the same way, though they had died centuries before Jesus was speaking with the Sadducees, they were alive in heaven. And they are still, to this very day, alive in God and with Him in heaven, awaiting the resurrection from the dead.

The Sadducees, however, did not believe in the resurrection. And there are many today, beloved, who likewise deny the resurrection from the dead, along with angels, and miracles. They deny these sacred truths in the name of science, reason, logic. Many of these deniers even claim to be Christians. Do not be led astray by their lies. For the very substance of the Christian faith hinges on the truth of the resurrection. St. Paul puts it this way: “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:13-17). Woe to us if there is no resurrection from the dead. If that is the case, then we are still in our sins, and if we are still in our sins, then death and hell are our lot. St. Paul, however, does not leave us in a state of hopelessness. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). And beloved, since that is true, death has been conquered and sin has been eradicated. For our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. He has given us new and abundant life in Christ. He has raised us out of spiritual death, snatched us from the jaws of eternal death, and taken the sting out of temporal death. For on the Last Day, when our risen Lord Jesus Christ returns to judge the quick and dead, He will call every last one of us out of the grave. He has the power to do so, for He conquered death forever in His own glorious resurrection.

Perhaps it should go without saying that most if not all of us here this morning are not Sadducees. We do not openly deny the resurrection of the dead. If we did, we probably wouldn’t be here. But don’t fall into the trap of the Pharisees, either. Remember, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection. They even congratulated Jesus after He had outsmarted their opponents, the Sadducees. They commended His answer and His use of the Scriptures. “Teacher, you have spoken well” (Luke 20:39). But though they believed in a resurrection from the dead, they did not believe in the One who is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). They thought they would be raised on the Last Day because of their own righteousness, their own perfect keeping of the Law. But that is not why anyone will be raised on the Last Day. On the Last Day, every body of everyone who has ever died will be raised from the dead. But those who did not believe in Christ, who tried to make it on their own merit, by their own good works, or who despaired of salvation altogether, will be raised for everlasting death along with the devil and his evil angels. Those, however, who believed in Jesus Christ and trusted Him for their salvation will be raised to eternal life on account of His righteousness. Their good works will have nothing to do with it. The resurrection to eternal life is given freely on account of Christ to all who are His.

You are His. He has given you new life. He has given you new birth into His living Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism. He has made you His own child and spoken you righteous. He has invited you to His feast. Our God is the God of the living. He fills us who were born spiritually dead with His life. He gives us life eternal and abundant. Knowing this, we pass through the valley of the shadow of death confidently, fearing no evil, for our living and life-giving Lord is with us, shepherding us, guiding us with His rod and staff (Ps. 23). Death is not forever for those who are in Jesus Christ. For He is risen. And if He is risen, He will not leave in death those who are baptized into Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Another All Saints' Sermon

I commend for your meditation an excellent Feast of All Saints sermon by the North Prairie Pastor. You can read it here at http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/44/#more-44.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

All Saints' Day (Observed)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 4, 2007
Text: Rev. 7:2-17

The Lord knows those who are His. He has sealed them with His own Name in Holy Baptism, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That is what the number 144,000 stands for in our reading from Revelation. It is not a literal number, but a number symbolic of all those who have the seal of the living God upon their foreheads (Rev. 7:3). At any given time there are a definite number of saints who belong to the Church, the new Israel. And the Lord Jesus knows every one of them. Not even a hair of their heads can fall to the ground without Him knowing. And you are included in that number. The Lord Jesus knows you. He has made you His own in Baptism. Your name is engraved in His blood on the palms of His hands and on His feet and on His side. And His Name is on you. You are sealed into His death and resurrection.

Again, to be sealed means to be baptized. Think of it like the sealing of a letter. The letter bears the sender’s mark. Or better, think of the stamping of an official seal on an important document. The seal makes the document legitimate and legally binding. That’s what your Baptism is. It is the official seal of God, reading “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” making the objective redemption won for the whole world by Jesus on the cross legitimate and legally binding for you, personally and subjectively.

Your salvation, your forgiveness, your justification is made complete in the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God. The blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin. Your sin-stained robes are immersed in the blood of the Lord and made whiter than snow. The sin-atoning work of Jesus is given to you in your Baptism. That is the seal. It is an act of God. You have nothing to do with bringing it about. God does it to you. He seals you. He baptizes you. God baptizes you into His Name by means of the pastor’s hand. But it is not the pastor who does it and it is not you who do it. It is God. He washes your sins away. He regenerates you. He calls you His own child. He gives you Christ’s righteousness. He places you in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is all God’s doing, and it is the delivery of your completed redemption.

But though your redemption is complete, your sanctification is not. In other words, you still have to fight against sin, against the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh here on earth. Your glory has not yet been made manifest. Your sanctification has not yet caught up with your justification. Your life appears to contradict the truth of your baptismal seal. You still sin. You still hurt. You still hurt others and you still hurt yourself. You are persecuted for your confession of Christ. You are scared to confess Christ on account of persecution. You are poor and reviled. You get sick. You are susceptible to injury. Men speak all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Christ and His Gospel. You still see as through a glass, darkly. Is this how it is supposed to be? I sure don’t look like a child of God!

No, you don’t. Your life remains hidden under the cross. You have to suffer. You have to continue your struggle against sin. But you do so knowing the outcome. The victory is complete, even though the battle rages on. This is the truth St. John wrote about in his first epistle: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; ESV). Appearance has not yet caught up with reality. We are God’s children now. But we don’t look like it yet. We have eternal life now. But we still have to cross through the valley of the shadow of death unless our Lord returns first. Sin has been conquered in us now. But we still sin and ask for forgiveness every day. We live in the time of what Luther called the “Already/Not Yet.” We are already saints of God, made perfect in the blood of the Lamb, and sealed for the day of redemption. But our status is not yet visible to the naked eye. In fact, it appears that we have the opposite status, that we are children of wrath, miserable with sin, having the devil as our cruel taskmaster and death and hell as our fate. But you see, our salvation is an article of faith, not of sight. Not every reality is observable. The greatest realities are impossible to observe. Those who are sealed are called to believe in spite of appearances. They are called to believe because our Lord is faithful. He has never yet broken a promise. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection. And if Christ has been raised, and we have been baptized, sealed, into His resurrection, we know that we too will be raised to immortality.

And we have the example of the saints who went before us. These shining examples encourage us and strengthen us. For they fought the good fight so as to win the crown. They were faithful unto death, and the Lord has given them the crown of life. St. John gives us a glimpse of what the saints even now enjoy in heaven as they await their resurrection. Their sanctification has been made complete. Their glory has been revealed. They rest from their labors. And they are ever praising God who sits on the throne, and the Lamb who is likewise in the midst of the throne. They are dressed in white and they hold palm branches in their hands. Their voices blend with the saints from every nation, tribe, people, and language from across the ages, vastly more than the 144,000, singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10). The angels add their hearty amen to this praise, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (v. 12). Who are these saints? “Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” (v. 13). “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them whit e in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). These are they to whom the sin-atoning work of Jesus has been given. They are washed white in His blood. They are sealed in Baptism. They have had His blood poured into their mouths. They are Moses and David and Peter and Paul. They are Ruth and Mary Magdalene and the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are Augustine and Martin Luther and our own Bill Harris. They are all your loved ones who have died in the Lord. They are with Christ, in perfect bliss, awaiting the consummation of all things when our Lord returns and raises the dead and gives all those who believe in Him a new heaven and a new earth in which to live with Him for eternity. They pray for us. We shouldn’t pray to them, but they pray to God for us. And though they do not miss us, they love us, and are united with us, and join us in the feast of Jesus’ body and blood from the other side of the communion rail.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (vv. 15-17). This is your future as well. This is the future of every member of the Church Militant who fights now and believes in spite of all appearances. Because of Christ, because of His cleansing blood, all who believe in Him will be translated into the Church Triumphant. For they are sealed in Him. They have His Name written on their foreheads.

You who are baptized have the Name of God written on your foreheads. It is His seal. You belong to Him. The Lord knows those who are His. He knows every one of them. And He keeps you until that day when you are brought into His rest. It is He who will wake you on the morning of the resurrection. Until then, you are comforted in Him, you believe in Him, and are nourished by His Word and Supper. And you know that the tears you shed now God will wipe away in Heaven. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Individual and Family Devotions

Pastor’s Window for November, 2007

Individual and Family Devotions

Beloved in the Lord,

Don’t underestimate the importance of daily individual and family devotions. The Word of God should be the daily focus of meditation for the Christian. God speaks to His Church through Moses: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9; ESV). The Psalmist declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). In our hymn of the month at Epiphany, we confess concerning the gifts Christ freely gives: “The gifts are there each day The holy Word is read; God’s children listen, hear, Receive, and they are fed. Christ fills them with Himself, Blest words that give them life, Restoring and refreshing Them for this world’s strife” (Lutheran Service Book 602:4).

“Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by ever word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). Scripture is the daily spiritual bread that keeps our faith in Christ alive. I suggest the members of our parish meditate on the Holy Scriptures every single day. Allow me to make a few practical suggestions.

While individual devotions are important, don’t neglect regular family devotions. Remember that parents have a God-given responsibility to teach the Word of God to their children. Each chief part of the Small Catechism begins with the words, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

Have a structure for your devotions. I recommend using the hymnal. Pray the offices of Matins and Vespers or Morning and Evening Prayer (LSB pp. 219, 229, 235, and 243 respectively) or use the orders of Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families (pp.294-298). Lutheran Service Book also offers two orders for Responsive Prayer (p. 282 and 285) as well as the Litany (p. 288). Finally, don’t forget to utilize the “Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings” section of the hymnal (pp. 305-318) and sing the hymns. Portals of Prayer also offers an order for devotions in the front part of the booklet. Whatever order you use, set aside a regular time (or times) each day for meditation on Scripture and prayer.

Daily devotions should always include both meditation upon Scripture and prayer. There are several very good resources you can use to guide your individual and family devotions. Of course we should always use the Catechism. I have also been promoting a book during my pastoral visits called The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism, which offers meditations on Scripture and the Catechism. Another good book is called God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C. F. W. Walther, which includes excerpts from the sermons of this founding father of our Synod. Both of the above books are available from Concordia Publishing House (http://www.cph.org/). Also available from Concordia is the updated edition of Lutheran Book of Prayer, an excellent resource for your prayer life. And as always, Portals of Prayer magazine is available for free in the narthex. These are handy not only for personal and family use, but for handing out to friends and neighbors.

There are several good online resources for devotions. A daily lectionary is available from our seminary in Fort Wayne at http://www.lifeoftheworld.com/. Portals of Prayer is available online at www.cph.org/cphstore/pages/forms/portals.asp. Some of you may remember a book by F. W. Herzberger called The Family Altar. An update of this devotional classic is now available online at www.illinoislutheranconference.org/daily-meditations/tym10%20calframe.html. The youth organization, Higher Things, offers a daily devotion called “Reflections” which is sent directly to your email. You can subscribe to reflections at http://www.higherthings.org/.

Our Lord Jesus freely gives us His gifts in so many ways. He desires to give His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, along with every grace and blessing, to you each day through the daily use of His Word. In Christ, you have a loving Father, who desires to speak to you in the Scriptures and hear you in prayer. Take God up on His daily invitation. Be in the Word. Teach your children. Talk about the Word when you are sitting in your house and when you are walking by the way, when you lie down and when you rise. God grant that His Word be a fixture in every home in our congregation. Amen.

Pastor Krenz