Sunday, November 18, 2012

LSB Proper 28B Sermon -- Mark 13:1-13

November 18, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“As [Jesus] came out of the Temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’”

Times of trouble are foretold in the Scripture Readings that you heard this morning. Indeed, that is what the era will be as the Lord’s people await the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth. The foreboding words of the Prophet Daniel introduced the topic: “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” Jesus’ words reinforce that message. He speaks about the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple: “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Then He follows it up with further statements: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

Wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, calamities—these are what will be experienced on earth in this era. They are the agenda, so to speak, of the world. And yet, Jesus indicates that this is not just something that will be seen at the very end: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet…. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Much will be suffered by this world until the Last Day.

The statements of Daniel and Jesus reveal the carrying out of sinfulness and evil within the creation. They tell of what arises from the Fall into Sin. Turmoil, chaos, upheaval—these are the results of rebellion against the Lord’s will, against the Lord’s order. These form the characteristics of the world’s actions—of both man and nature. What was created in perfection now languishes in all its flaws and failings. As we have witnessed in the last weeks, even the process of supplying needed water to use is turned into a powerful way of bringing devastation and disaster. Mankind has become skilled at using ingenuity, inventiveness, and inspiration as tools to bring death and destruction on others. This is what we experience and even take part in.

The rebellion against the Lord’s will and the Lord’s order extends into the spiritual realm. The Lord has established His commands and promises. He has given great pledges about what He will accomplish and do for His people. Yet, many hear and do not respond in a positive way to them. Instead of grabbing hold of what the Lord is giving—forgiveness of sin and guilt, a life that never ends, deliverance from spiritual oppression and affliction—they reject it all and seek to rid the world of it and those who desire it. So Jesus declares to His disciples: “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them…. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.”

Still others will utilize the Lord’s pledges as tools for deception. This is what Jesus reveals: “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and they will lead many astray.” Instead of anticipating the promised arrival of the Messiah and the new era that He will bring, such people turn that anticipation of others into a weakness to exploit. The longing of individuals for what good will come is abused: impostors and frauds arise who claim to be what the faithful have been waiting for. They make themselves out to be prophets or seers, even the Messiah Himself. This has been witnessed throughout time, even seared into our memories: Jim Jones and Jonestown, David Koresh and Waco, Marshall Applewhite and Heaven’s Gate are not just answers to trivia questions about history. No, they stand as examples of such deception that Jesus warns against.

But in the midst of the turmoil, chaos, and upheaval of the world and the persecution and deception that take place in the spiritual realm, there is something that stands constant and true: the work of Jesus for the redemption of individuals. His work to bring atonement for sin and to open the way of everlasting life has been done according to the Lord’s will and order. This is what Jesus declares when speaking about His purpose in the world. Time after time, His statements refer back to His doing His Father’s will. It is what you have heard and will hear each time through the Church Year—from Advent to the Last Sunday. The witness about Jesus’ work has sounded again this day: “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until all His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

While this world endures and suffers many things until the Last Day, the sacrificial act of Jesus’ crucifixion and the exalting act of His resurrection stand fulfilled and accomplished. They have not changed or passed away. No, they remain true throughout time. And this is where Jesus directs His people to place their faith, hope, and trust. This is where redemption is found. So He tells Peter, James, John, and Andrew: “See that no one leads you astray.” He extends to them the promise: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” They have put their trust in Jesus, and He exhorts them to keep that so. Even as they experience the calamities and afflictions that come, Jesus’ disciples are to remain trusting in what He has done for them.

The same promise and exhortation that Jesus’ disciples received is also are given to you. The end has not come; you live in the midst of disasters and troubles. But you have the benefits of what Jesus has accomplished for you through His death and resurrection. This is what the generations after the disciples have heard from ancient days to now: “Therefore, brothers, since 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, 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.”

You are called to stand firm and endure. You are called to remain grounded on what Jesus has accomplished for you and to receive the everlasting benefits of it. It is your calling, especially in this time of trouble. Foretelling what you would experience and what the Messiah would accomplish, the Prophet Daniel writes for your hearing: “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” The book of life is where Jesus has written your names, as you have been made His followers. Your names have been written, as He has inscribed His name on your hearts and on your heads in baptism. That has not changed, even amid the chaos and disorder in this world.

Jesus’ work is why the promise is given: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” This promise is made to those who live through the time of trouble, through the era that precedes the world to come. You have been given the knowledge that makes you wise: this temporal world is not eternal as the Lord is; the order and agenda of this sinful world is not what the Lord established; the ways of this unrighteous world are not the Lord’s commands. You have also been given the knowledge that turns you and others to righteousness: the holiness of Jesus given to you through Baptism, Absolution, and Supper; Jesus’ sacrifice has atoned for your sins; Jesus’ resurrection has opened the gates of Paradise to all believers.

Living in the times of trouble, there are many who have no firm foundation of faith. There is plenty of inspiring others to participate in any activity besides love and obedience of the Lord’s ways. Witnessing the chaos and disorder, people will be fall into hopelessness. This is why you must heed the words written for your hearing: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And 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, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This is what will lead you to fulfill Jesus’ instructions: “See that no one leads you astray.” Therefore, you will have His promise fulfilled for you: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”

You are different than many who are all around you during this time of trouble. Because you rely on what Jesus has accomplished for you—His crucifixion to atone for your sins and His resurrection that brings you everlasting life—you need not be fearful or frightened. Your trust in the eternal work that Jesus has done makes you speak like the psalmist: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” You can dwell secure, even as the wonderful stones and wonderful buildings come crashing down, as nations rise against nations, as persecutors hand the faithful over to governors and kings. The Lord who makes known to you the path of life, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore—He holds your lot. And He will bring you the deliverance to life everlasting that He has promised.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

LSB Proper 27B Sermon -- Mark 12:38-44

November 11, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

Widows certainly are not the most prominent class of people in society. Yet, each society has them. They exist because of the death that plagues and afflicts all who are born of woman. Throughout the centuries, widows have been noted for the hardships that they face, especially in societies where economic livelihood is dependent upon individual physical work. That is the setting for the two widows mentioned in the Scripture Readings for this day: the Widow of Zarephath in the Old Testament Reading and the Widow of Jerusalem in the Gospel Reading.

What do these two widows have in common? Not only had both lost their husbands to death, they also were economically strapped. This is made clear in the texts: the Widow of Zarephath has just enough flour and oil to make one more loaf of bread for herself and her family; the Widow of Jerusalem has a treasury consisting of two ha’pennies to rub together. That is what the Scripture writers want you to know. But they also mention what these two widows do in the face of their economic distress. And that is where these women give testimony to people miles and years removed from their settings.

The incident with the Widow of Zarephath is important within the life of Elijah the Prophet. As he executed the duties of his office, Elijah was the instrument through which the Lord spoke judgment against His people Israel. The idolatry of Israel, from the house of King Ahab down to the lowest class, brought divine judgment against it. The Lord promised that no rain or dew would fall on the land: a message that Elijah was compelled to bring. Yet, the Lord determined that His prophet would be cared for. So He speaks to Elijah: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” This is how this Gentile woman enters into the knowledge of the Lord’s people for generations.

Coming to Zarephath, Elijah asks for water and bread from this woman. Her response indicates that she is suffering from the afflictions that the Lord’s drought had brought: “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” The widow’s statement spells out the starkness of her situation: she has nothing to give Elijah, no matter how much he may ask; no, she has enough for one more meal, then death by starvation awaits.

But it is precisely into this situation of impending and certain death that the Lord’s promise is spoken. The prophet opens his mouth and reveals what the Lord’s promise is for both himself and this woman: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” The divine calling of this widow is made clear: she is to be the provider of support for the prophet, and as she fulfills that, the Lord will provide what she needs so that she may live.

So the widow does as the prophet declares: “And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.” The widow’s faith drives her actions. She believes the promise that had been extended to her by the Lord. She believes the promise that is spoken mediately through the mouth of the stranger who comes from Israel. As she believes, so she acts; as she believes, so it is done for her. The impending death of starvation is removed by the actions of the Lord.

The same pattern is seen in the Widow of Jerusalem. The incident with her is not done in a foreign land, but right in the heart of the Lord’s city, even in the courts of the Lord’s house. The widow who comes to the Temple brings her offering alongside all the others who come to fulfill the Lord’s Law: “[Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”

As Jesus watches this widow, He comments on her offering: “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all that she had to live on.” Jesus’ words indicate the starkness of her situation: the Widow of Jerusalem has no more in her purse than the two mites. That is the extent of her wealth. It is all the purchasing power that she has.

So why does this widow toss both coins into the offering box? What causes her to put in everything that she has to live on? It is her faith that drives her actions, faith in a promise that has been made to her. This widow believes the Lord’s covenant promises that have been extended to her. She believes what the prophets declared about the Lord’s work for her salvation. She believes what Moses taught concerning the Lord’s commands. She believes what the psalmist wrote regarding the Lord’s watchful eye: “The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin.”

The faith that the Widow of Jerusalem has brings blessedness to her: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.” She has made the Lord her help. She has done so, even when the words of divine promise were given through the mouths of the scribes—those “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.” Her heart is not set on men, in whom there is no salvation, but on the Lord who reigns forever. And that causes this widow to give even the last full measure of her earthly wealth, as the Lord commands. This is why Jesus praises her and calls her two mites a greater offering than all the bags of coins that the others had brought to the Temple treasury.

These two widows stand as examples of the faith that the Lord is pleased to see among His people. It is what He desires to find in you, His people. He wants to see your trust in Him and His actions done for you. For He does not perform some generic actions for you. No, He brings answer to what afflicts you. Your sin, your death, your poverty: these trouble you. But the Lord reveals Himself as the remedy and answer to them. It is the revelation that He has given through the prophets, evangelists, and apostles, just as He revealed Himself to the Widow of Zarephath and the Widow of Jerusalem. What has the Lord promised? He has promised salvation for those who trust in Him. He has promised life everlasting for those who rely on Him. He has promised forgiveness for those who turn to Him.

This is what the Lord speaks to you. He declares what He has done for you, what He has done about your sin, your death, your poverty. The action has been performed by Christ: “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” The giving of Christ’s life, His offering of the entire abundance of His life in sacrifice in the holy places of heaven, has brought redemption for you, answering your afflictions. This is the divine act that opens forgiveness, life, and salvation to you. These are the exceedingly great and precious promises given to all who place their trust in the Lord.

So what is your response? What drives your response? Is it the same as seen in the two widows? Do you take the Lord’s words spoken to you through the prophets, evangelists, and apostles and cling to the promises made? Or have you disregarded them? There is a dependence to be found among the Lord’s people, a dependence that is shown in the actions of coming to where the Lord provides His benefits and the faithful act of receiving what He gives. This is what characterizes the life of the Lord’s people.

Since you are present here to hear the proclamation of Jesus’ work for your salvation, to be washed in the baptismal waters, to hear His words of absolution, to receive His life-giving body and blood in the Sacrament, you are acting like the two widows. Your faith in the divine promises have driven you here, even when they have been spoken through the mouths and administered by the hands of people who came from different places to here, as sent by the Lord. These are the acts of faith, acts rooted in your trusting what the Lord promises.

The examples of the two widows are not only to show that they had faith in the life the world to come that the Lord bestows. No, they show how reliance on the Lord’s promise of watching over them leads to giving for the support of others in this life. That same belief that you have in the Lord’s provision of eternal and temporal needs also leads you to open your hands and supply the physical needs of others. So many loaves have been taken from your kitchens and many mites taken from your purses that you have given to others. Not that you seek to gain something from the Lord by doing so, but because you believe in His words about opening the hands to others. You believe the divine calling that the Lord has given to you.

These are how you follow the blessed examples of the two widows. Like them, you may not be from the most prominent classes in society. You also face the afflictions that come in this earthly life, even the death of spouses and loved ones. But you also believe in what the Lord provides for you, putting your trust in Him who acts to delivers you from need to fortune, from curse to blessedness, from death to life. May that faith never be wanting, as you eagerly wait for Him to bring your salvation.

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Festival of All Saints Sermon -- 1 John 3:1-3

November 4, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”

Great words of promise are spoken to us, as we celebrate the Festival of All Saints on this morning. The Apostle says: “We will be like God, for we will see Him as He is.” What a promise that is! It is a miraculous thing, indeed, that we poor, miserable sinners will actually be like God. We truly will be like God, not falsely as the serpent in the Garden promised in order to deceive the Woman to take and eat the forbidden fruit. We will be changed, made by God to be like Him.

The significance of the Festival of All Saints is rooted in that promise. We remember those who have gone before us in the faith, the saints in heaven above. They were like us, but now they have been made more like God. They see Him face to face, seeing God as He is, as John recorded for us in his vision: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

Today we focus on the change in fate and status brought to people through Jesus’ death and resurrection—the great act of love, grace, and mercy performed for us. Through Jesus’ actions and having their merits applied to us through Holy Baptism, the preached Word, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, we have been made God’s children. This is the love that we have been shown: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” The Eternal Father calls us His children and considers us just like His eternal Son Jesus, granting blessing upon blessing to us and to all who have gone before us in the faith.

The Scripture readings for this day are full of statements of blessing. Already, we reviewed the promised blessing that John wrote of in his letter to the Church. John’s vision spoke of an eternal blessing that people receive: “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.” And the Gospel Reading for this morning spoke all about blessing.

The teaching of Jesus recorded by Matthew that you heard is called The Beatitudes, because they speak all about blessing. Jesus says: “Blessed are” all sorts of categories of people. What’s interesting about all those statements of blessing that Jesus makes is that none of them would rightly apply to us, certainly not at all times and places. Think about all the people He calls “blessed”: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These people Jesus calls blessed. But trying to strive to meet such categories and thus receive blessedness will prove vain.

How well do we fit those categories—poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Consider your own lives, and you will recognize that you don’t fit those categories well at all. Certainly, all of us can recognize a time when we do. But we know just as well how we are the opposite of them. We are proud. We revel and find joy in the things of the world. We desire the things of this world and are quick to find pleasure in sinful deeds. Extracting revenge is our typical reaction to being wronged. Our hearts are full of lust, greed, and scheming. Arguing and brawling become our standard practice and ways of entertaining ourselves. Faced with opposition from others, we are quick to cave and not stand up against them. In fact, we often join in their attacks.

Compared to Jesus’ stated categories of blessedness, we fall woefully short. Based on what we are and have done, we deserve to be called cursed, not blessed. We receive such condemnation when the Lord looks upon on our thoughts, words, and deeds that run contrary to His will. Every time that we are the opposite of these categories of blessedness, we fall into the areas of curse and condemnation. The Lord’s words of Law—words of judgment just as clear as the words of promise and blessing we heard today—are spoken against us.

But our fate is changed. We are changed. The divine promise is given to us: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” We are God’s children. We will be like Him. Since that is so, then we will be blessed by the Lord, the source of all blessing. Then those categories of blessedness will describe us well, as we are made to meet them. Note that well: the categories of blessedness do not describe us because we have striven to conform to the Lord’s image and character and achieved that; rather, His work done in us makes us that way.

All those categories of blessedness that Jesus spoke about in our Gospel Reading apply to Him. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us a depiction of Himself. He is saying to us: “I am the Blessed One. But not only am I the Blessed One, I am the One who brings blessing to those under divine curse.” Jesus’ words direct us away from ourselves and focus on Him. Can you make yourself poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers? Can you change who you are by nature? Jesus says, “Think again.” The leopard can’t change its spots. No matter how much we try, how much effort we put into it, we will never meet those descriptions of blessedness that Jesus outlines for us. Not even the saints who have gone before us were able to.

And yet, those descriptions of blessedness apply to us. We are made to meet them. That is what undergirds the statements that John made to all of Jesus’ people, even us: “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” The blessing is not acquired by us, not taken by our force or effort. No, it is given to us by the Blessed One Himself. Remember the focus of this day: the change in status that Jesus gives through His death and resurrection. We have been made God’s children, made like Jesus, by having His merits applied to us through Holy Baptism, the preached Word, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. The central thought of this day is that Jesus, the Blessed One, has made us blessed by connecting us to Him and applying Himself to us.

This is what the Lord has made known to us. Remember the vision of heaven given to John. Recall that great depiction of innumerable people in white worshiping the Lamb of God before the throne of heaven. In that vision, there was an explanation of why that crowd was there, what got them to that point. It really had nothing to do with what that group of people achieved or accomplished, but what was made to be theirs.

When John was asked about the identity of that group of thousands, he was told exactly who and what they were: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 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.” The multitude had this status because of what had been done for them and given to them. They were connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection; His work granted them access to the eternal blessings of Paradise.

So it is for us: we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It’s what happened to us as we were brought to the holy font. That’s what we saw happen during the last several months, with the baptisms of Holland and Sarah Bede. It happens repeatedly as we are absolved and as we partake of the blood of the Lamb in His heavenly banquet here on earth. This is what numbers us among the countless thousands who have gone before us in the faith. It is what makes them and us the children of God. Their story is the same as ours.

We are blessed, since have been connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection, knit together into one holy communion, incorporated into His body, the Church. Credited with what Jesus has done for us, we fit the categories that Jesus described in the Beatitudes. His actions make us so. It’s what John was talking about, both in his vision of paradise and his letter to the Church. It’s a matter of reality now and a reality yet to come: “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” That is what we will be, when we are resurrected and stand among the countless number of those arrayed in white who eternally stand in the presence of God’s throne. May the Blessed One who granted this privilege to those who went before us fulfill the same promise made to us.

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