Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 1 Sermon -- Matthew 21:1-11 (LSB Advent 1A)

November 28, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’”

The crowds’ joyous cries sprang forth from their hearts and poured out of their mouths. They were glad, as glad as any Passover pilgrims ever were. They had been singing the Songs of Ascent, the psalms which formed the soundtrack for their journey to Jerusalem. Their prayers had been what you prayed this morning: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” They had been anticipating the celebration of Passover, remembering when the Lord had delivered their ancestors of old. They had desired to see the place where the Lord dwelt: “Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the Name of the Lord. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.”

But what were these Passover pilgrims going to see? They would see a flawed Jerusalem, a city which was only a shadow of what it was in its glory. Yes, the Temple was there. But the palace of David was no longer the place where the true king of Israel lived. There were no longer the thrones of judgment where David’s heir would sit. No, the representative of the pagan ruler of Judea would be in the Fortress Antonia. Remembering the days of old and the covenant which the Lord had made with their forefathers, these Passover pilgrims were hoping for the arrival of the Messiah, the Promised Deliverer.

On that day outside of Jerusalem, the Passover pilgrims witnessed the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises. That is what causes their great joy, a gladness beyond what had been found before in those who had traveled to the Holy City. For what did they see? They saw a Man who was riding into town on a donkey colt. But this was no ordinary Man. He had performed miracles. He had taught with authority greater than the scribes and Pharisees. He was “the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” As this Jesus entered the city, He was doing something that the Lord had promised centuries before: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The witnessing of the Lord’s promises being fulfilled—that is what caused the shouts of joy to come from the crowds. Not only would they remember the act of salvation that the Lord had done over a millennium before, now they were seeing Him act again. He was saving them now. So the crowds sing and pray to Jesus as He rides into Jerusalem: “’Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” Their songs recognized Jesus’ identity, origin, and purpose. He was the Promised Heir of David. He was coming with the Lord’s authority. He was there to save them now. It was exactly like the words of the Apostle Paul: “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Salvation was no longer a long-off thing; it was present in Jerusalem for these faithful pilgrims.

The pilgrims’ hope was in the Lord doing what He said He would do. That is why they were there in Jerusalem for the Passover. They were seeking the forgiveness of sins that the Lord located in the Temple sacrifices. When these pilgrims would have received those promised goods, they would be glad. But when they get to see the Lord’s greater promise fulfilled, they are overwhelmed with joy.

Hope and anticipation in the Lord’s promises is the theme of this Advent Season which the Church has begun this Sunday. We are much like those Passover pilgrims who were present in Jerusalem. Each of us who bear Christ’s Name believes in a long series of the Lord’s promises being fulfilled. It goes all the way back to the promise made to our First Parents cast out of Eden about a Serpent-Crusher who would arise. The promise was made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his Descendent. The Lord brought the people who believed in Him out of Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land of Canaan. All this led up to the sending of the Christ, the Promised Deliverer. His appearance brought atonement for all sins through His great sacrificial death and everlasting life through His glorious resurrection.

These are the promises which the Lord made and fulfilled in the past. We trust and believe that His actions were accomplished for our salvation. And like the people of Israel who trusted in the promises attached to the Temple sacrifices, we also believe in the promises which Christ has attached to Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper. We believe that His power is present in these sacraments—Christ’s forgiving Word attached to visible signs—so that our slate is wiped clean and we are restored to righteousness. That is a great and awesome promise which our Lord Jesus Christ has given to us, His people. So we gather around font, pulpit, and altar to receive what Christ delivers to us. Being here brings us great joy, like the Psalm described: “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

But like the Passover pilgrims who were present in Jerusalem, we also anticipate the fulfillment of one more promise. They awaited the appearance of the Promised Christ. Those faithful people of Israel trusted that the Lord would make good on His promise, that the Deliverer would come. The joy expressed in their shouts of “Hosanna” reflected just how much they believed the promise.

We also await the appearance of the Promised Christ. But we do not look for a King coming to us, humble, and mounted on a donkey. No, we look for a King who will come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, seated on His glorious throne. With anticipation, we long for the arrival of the Son of David to once again take His place on the throne of judgment, but not for political rule. No, we look for Him who has dominion over all things, just as the Prophet Isaiah declared: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

What an outstanding promise that is! It is certainly worth waiting for. And when it is fulfilled, how great will the joy be of those who believed Christ and expected Him to do what His Word said! When seeing the Lord Jesus appear, His people will say: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” For they know the identity, origin, and purpose of Jesus. They know that He is the descendent of David who would sit on his throne forever. They know that He is Son of God who bears the Lord’s Name as His own. They know that He is present to remove all the damage that Satan’s deceptions and lies have caused in humanity and to restore creation to its original perfection. This is what has been hoped for from the Fall of Eden to our day. Its completion will bring joy on a cosmic scale, like a Christmas morning for all the children who have ever lived.

That is what awaits all who trust in the Lord Jesus’ words and works. It is the great hope of Christianity. It is your hope. You anticipate the time when all of the Lord’s people will be gathered together in victorious glory. The Prophet Isaiah described it in part: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’” The great eternal gathering will take place. The Lord’s people will walk in His way of life forever.

But as you anticipate this great fulfillment, there is a warning to be given. The promised arrival of Christ will be of great joy for His people. But for those who are not His people, who do not know His way and do not walk in it, Christ’s appearance will be for great sorrow. Jesus’ descriptions of “the outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are also true. As the Advent Season brings again the anticipation of Christ’s Return, it also brings the exhortation to faithfulness and vigilance. The Apostle Paul’s words need to be heeded: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. . . . Besides this, you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed.”

As the day of Christ’s Return draws nearer, His followers are called to rise and renew their faith: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. . . . Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” You are called again to remember the covenant which He has made with you in Holy Baptism. You are directed to repent and put away the way of sin and death, since you are being conformed to the new way of life that your Lord establishes for your earthly days. Reinvigorated by the Holy Spirit who comes to you through Christ’s Words, you are prepared for His return.

So then you will be ready to anticipate Christ’s Return. You will look forward to the Day that He has promised will come. As you believe in Jesus—in His identity, His origin, His purpose—His arrival will be a time of endless joy. You will be like those Passover pilgrims and even greater, experiencing what none before them ever had, seeing the Promised Christ in all His glory, just as He said. Then you will sing your songs: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And the Lord Jesus will answer, bringing eternal deliverance and salvation with Him to be your possession forever.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Sermon -- Psalm 67 (LSB Thanksgiving Propers)

November 25, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.”

The Psalmist’s words echo the benediction that the Lord commanded Aaron to give to the people. The words pray for divine blessing. He believes what the Lord can do, what He has promised to do, for His people. There will be blessing, provision that comes from heaven itself. That provision forms the basis for tonight’s giving of thanks.

But what is that blessing which the Lord gives? It can be identified, listed for people to know. The Psalmist writes: “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.” Those words direct the hearts of the people to the material things which the Lord provides. That is what this harvest season often brings to mind.

The provision of what is needed to live was promised by the Lord to the Israelites. You heard what He spoke to them through His prophet Moses. As the people were to take possession of Canaan, Moses reminds them of that promise: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks and water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.” Here is listed a full catalogue of blessings, more than Sears, Penney, and Ward combined could stock or deliver!

Hearing what the Lord declares causes His people to recognize Him as the source of earthly blessings. He is the One who lets the earth bring forth its abundance. He works through the beings of His creation to give what is needed for others to live. This is what we also believe. We say so when speaking about the Lord’s work of creation: “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

It is good and right to remember that what we have is not truly of ourselves. We are not the source of it; rather, it is bestowed upon us. We are given access to what the Lord has created and given for our good pleasure. He is the source of what we need to live. And we are exhorted to ask for those earthly blessings in the confidence of receiving them, as you heard the Apostle Paul declare: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

But it is good to go back to the Psalmist’s words and see that another emphasis is found in them. There is something more, something greater that he lists in connection to the promised divine blessing. Hear again how the psalm began: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” Why does the Psalmist want God to provide blessing? So that the Lord’s way of salvation may be known!

What the Psalmist speaks of is more than the receipt of earthly goods. While the Lord’s provision of such things may be received—and certainly not refused by His people—it is not all that He has to give. The Lord’s blessing extends to more than the physical; it encompasses the just as real and more important eternal and spiritual. And that is what the psalm declares.

The Psalmist’s words reflect the wanting of more than the earthly. He believes that the Lord does save, does have a righteous way. And it is for him and all his fellow people of God. But the people of God are not limited to one ethnic group or nationality. No, the Lord’s salvation is to be known among all nations. And those who receive it will bring thanksgiving from whatever corner of the earth they inhabit.

Note what the Psalmist exhorts you to do: “Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth.” The nations—the goyim—that’s you and I. We are to be glad. We are to praise the Lord. We are to give thanks. Why? Is it because we have been brought into a good land? Because we shall eat and be full? That may be true, but it isn’t what the Psalmist says. The reason for such praise is because the Lord’s saving power has been made known to you and me.

While we do say that it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey God for the earthly necessities that He gives out of His goodness and mercy, that is not the limit of our blessings or the worship that is given because of what we receive. It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to the Lord for what He has done. And that especially includes the work of Jesus Christ our Lord who overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. That is the Lord’s saving power. That is the way of life which He has made known to us. And as it was revealed to us to believe, we have become the Lord’s holy people.

Since we of many tribes, races, and ethnicities have become the Lord’s holy people, we can understand the Psalmist’s words in a different light. Remember what he wrote: “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.” Those words may refer to the harvest seasons in Israel: “the land of wheat and barley . . . in which you will lack nothing. . . .” But perhaps it means a bit more: that it refers to the people of God who will come from all nations; that we are the earth’s increase—the people from the ends of the earth who have come to fear the Lord.

The Psalmist prays: “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him!” That is what the Lord is accomplishing even this very day. We are the fulfillment of that prayer, just as our ancestors in the faith were. It is not something that we have achieved of our own ability, but it has been worked in us. The way of righteousness has been shown to us who were lost in our sinfulness. The Lord’s saving power has been displayed among us who were worthy of condemnation. These are now our possession—a treasure greater than even a land sworn to be given to inhabit.

So our thanksgiving extends beyond the gratitude shown for receiving our daily bread, “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” Thanks is given for what the Lord has provided to save and sustain our souls. The Lord’s provision and the saving power that He has displayed preserves both body and soul unto life everlasting. And that is what you know and believe because the Lord has been gracious enough to show it to you.

So we pray to receive constantly the Lord’s provision. We do so in confidence that we are His people whose prayers He hears. So we pray with the Psalmist: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” We give thanks that we have received it. We ask that others may also have it and join with us in our blessing the Lord. And then the Day of Thanksgiving will not be limited to just one nation, but extend to the ends of the earth.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King Sunday Sermon -- Luke 23:27-43

November 21, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

And [the criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

What type of King is Jesus? That is the question raised by this Last Sunday of the Church Year, called Christ the King Sunday. There are all types of kings: some are virtuous and good, while some are ruthless and evil; some kings are politically and militarily weak, others are dominant figures; some kings have short reigns, others rule for a long time. This is what we see in our world, not in our nation, but in the nations around us.

So what type of King is Jesus? You heard the Scriptures describing Him. And what was depicted was not political strength or long reign. No, Jesus seemed to be an impotent king. Listen to what happened to Him: “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left.” How unimpressive! A king is executed by his enemies. There is no royal court, but only criminals hanging around.

But not only is there a lack of grandeur, listen to how people address this king: “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’” Is this the way that Queen Elizabeth would allow people to address her? The Japanese Emperor is not even addressed by personal name! But Jesus even has a criminal insult Him: “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”

Such appearances would not lead many to follow that type of king. Who wants to give allegiance to a king who ends up dying, not of old age, but after being arrested and condemned by his enemies? Is such allegiance worth it? What does such service get? That sort of thinking is reflected in the Old Testament Reading for this morning. As the people of Judea considered the requirements that the Lord placed upon them, they compared it to what was happening, including the lack of enforcement. So they spoke against the Lord and His rule: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

Who could blame the people for that sort of thinking? Everyone wants to know that their efforts and devotion are worthwhile. Vain and empty work is just wasted. There needs to be some sort of payout, some benefit that allegiance to the Lord as King would bring. Without benefit, there is no purpose behind commitment to Him.

So what type of King is Jesus? One who is so weak and impotent that He cannot deliver anything good for His subjects? Again, on the surface that is what it appears to be, especially in His crucifixion. With all the insults and challenges hurled at Him, Jesus does not come down from the cross. Instead, He remains hanging there as a victim, undergoing the full brunt of His opposition. But with Jesus, there is more than meets the eye.

When one knows what Jesus is doing in His crucifixion, then one does not see Him as weak, impotent, and vain. Instead, Jesus reveals Himself as a Victor, not just a Victim. This is what the one criminal sees not with his eyes, but with his faith. Even as Jesus hangs as a condemned man, the criminal speaks great things about Him: “This Man has done nothing wrong.” Even while Jesus is exposed to the elements to die, the criminal asks Him for something: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Why do these words come from the criminal’s mouth? Because he believes that Jesus is greater than what He is displaying in His death. He believes that there is more to Jesus.

Now where would the criminal get such an idea? Not from what he sees, but from what he has heard. It goes back to what Jesus had said and done before: His speaking of being sent from heaven, of having God as His Father, of bringing life and forgiveness to this world of sin and death, of giving His life as a ransom for many and taking it up again. These statements of truth are what the criminal believes. That faith forms his hope of finding a place in Jesus’ kingdom, even after being executed for the crimes he has committed.

The same faith in what Jesus has said and done is what allows you to look beyond appearances. It is what lets you confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Trust in Jesus’ identity as the Promised Christ causes you to continue in your allegiance to Him. So what about His identity do you trust? St. Paul’s description of Jesus is a good place to start: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” That statement of Jesus’ identity marks Him as the Creator and Preserver of all things, a cosmic rule over all things.

But the apostle’s description is not limited to that. No, he goes further: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” When confronted with the Crucified Christ, this statement of His identity is critical to know. For it allows you to know and recognize beyond what you see. It shows you the purpose of Christ’s death, demonstrating that it was not in vain.

Is Jesus’ death an exhibition of weakness? Yes and no. Yes, in that Jesus is a Victim; no, in that His death achieves something glorious. Though Jesus appeared weak, something great was still true about Him: “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” It is no ordinary man who was dying on that hill. Instead, it was God Himself present on that cross. And His presence had a great purpose: “through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” His death has positive effects for others. By dying, Jesus brings people into a right relationship with God the Father. It is how Jesus acquires people for His kingdom.

So when you consider the death of Jesus, you no longer see it as an event of weakness. Jesus is more than a Victim. Instead, He is a Victor. What type of King is Jesus? He is a king who goes on a crusade to liberate and deliver people from tyranny and slavery. This is the great truth that St. Paul confesses: “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” It is the great truth that we Lutherans confess in our Small Catechism, drawing on that statement: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”

What Jesus accomplishes through His dying and rising to life again gives Him the ability to make great promises, even in death: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” What the criminal saw in Jesus, behind the veil of weakness, is true. He does have a kingdom. He possesses power to give everlasting life. He is sent from above by the Father to right the wrongs that sin causes in humanity. And He will return to bring everything to completion.

There is more than meets the eye with Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. . . . In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. . . .” And that was true even on Mount Calvary, when it didn’t look like it. But confessing the truth that the eyes of faith see brings great benefit. Remember the promise that was made to the Lord’s people through the Prophet Malachi: “The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name. ‘They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.’” As you esteem the name of the Lord, even Christ the King, you receive the benefit of His work done for you. That esteem is not based upon what you see, but what you have heard about Jesus, what the Holy Spirit has led you to believe.

Now you know how to answer the question, What type of King is Jesus? He is strong, powerful, eternal, merciful, benevolent. He is the One who speaks in the psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” But He is no impersonal king; He is your Lord. He answers the plight of His people, even giving of Himself to do it. Because “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” Jesus is your “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” So He was in His death, when He reconciled you to the Father. So He is in His resurrection, after routing your enemies and freeing you. And so He will be when He returns and displays His full glory for all to see, preeminent over everything.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 2010 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, You crown the fields with Your blessing and permit us to gather in the fruits of the earth. As stewards of Your creation, may we receive Your gifts in humble thankfulness and share Your bounty with those in need; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for Harvest Observance]

November brings the conclusion of harvest time in much of our nation. The combines are going through the fields, reaping the bounty of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Orchard workers are busy gathering the last of the apples from the trees. The last cuts of hay and straw are being made and stored for the winter season. For many in my former parish in Iowa, the greatness of the harvest was immediately seen: the size of the piles of corn that couldn’t make it into the grain elevators showed just how much the earth had brought forth. We all wanted to see the piles reach the sky!

The Church’s Harvest Observance readings teach several lessons. The first lesson concerns the source of our earthly blessings. What is pulled out of the earth is dependent upon more than what was put in; something much greater is at work. This is seen in the psalm: 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. 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.”(Ps 65:9-13) The Lord’s hand makes the harvest possible. Without His effort, the entire agricultural enterprise is in vain.

The Psalmist’s statements about dependence upon the Lord’s giving are echoed in the Collect: “Almighty God, You crown the fields with Your blessing and permit us to gather in the fruits of the earth.” Note what is confessed: the very fact that we can harvest anything is a matter of divine permission and allowance. The Lord causes the trees to bear fruit according to their kind. He blesses the growth of crops. Even though mankind has sinned and cursed the ground through that sin, the Lord still grants His blessing, so that we may harvest and live. The busy reapers, pickers, and balers are all evidence of divine, providential graciousness.

But the Lord gives more than provisions for earthly living. He has a greater blessing to give. In fact, the Psalmist confesses that truth before he speaks of the Lord’s work in nature. Psalm 65 begins with a statement about adoration that is due the Lord: Praise is due to You, O God, in Zion, and to You shall vows be performed. O You who hears prayer, to You shall all flesh come.”(Ps 65:1-2) Yet, the Psalmist gives a reason that has nothing to do with fields or flocks. No, it is something deeper: “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!”(Ps 65:3-4) Praise is due the Lord because He deals graciously with the problem of sin.

The Psalmist’s statements show that the Lord is more than some sort of cosmic gardener who can manipulate the sun, soil, and seasons to bring forth food in season. While that is true, the Psalmist confesses the greater truth: the Lord works to supply what is needed for everlasting life. That makes Him trustworthy for now and for eternity. His supplying of what is needed for this body and life gives a track record for us to look at. The Lord’s ability to convert seed, sun, and water into sustenance for us and all mankind is evidence of that He can provide the other things that we truly need. That is the second lesson to be drawn.

The Harvest Observance is meant to direct our minds to what the Lord provides for our bodies and, more importantly, our souls. Too much focus on the temporal will cause us to miss the eternal. That warning is given by Jesus in the Gospel Reading: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”(Lk 12:15) The sheer folly of that man is seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Foolish Rich Farmer: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”(Lk 12:20) Jesus’ depiction of that foolish man shows that focusing only on earthly blessings and putting all the trust in them causes a bad end. So Jesus concludes with the statement: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.(Lk 12:21)

The reality that the Lord provides for both this life and the next allows us to be generous in this life. Because the Lord has atoned for our sins and established an eternal dwelling place for us, we know that our future truly is secure. Until that time when we come to the eternity that has been marked for us, we can spend our time on earth using our earthly wealth for the benefit of others. That is the third lesson to be learned. The call to generosity is seen in the apostle’s words: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”(2Cor 9:6-8) The security of having sufficiency for body and soul frees us to move from concern for ourselves to concern for others.

As harvest time draws to a close, you will have opportunities to act on these three lessons. Collections for many different groups will be happening this month and next. Pledge cards for next year’s offerings will be distributed. The Lord answers the Harvest Observance prayer: “As stewards of Your creation, may we receive Your gifts in humble thankfulness and share Your bounty with those in need.” But more importantly, there will be opportunities to make known your hope in the eternal provision. For He does just as the Psalmist declares: “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.”(Ps 65:5) Speaking of Christ’s work for you, others may share in the greatest possessions: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.