Advent 2 – "The Voice That Needs To Be Heard" – Matthew 3:1-12

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I. Voices Calling
A. World
guwg-repent“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

We are bombarded by voices telling us what we should think and what we should do and what we should buy and how we should vote.
• Talking heads on the TV, faceless voices on the radio, pop-up adds on the computer, commercials, infomercials, signs, billboards, pamphlets, papers, books – parents and teachers and bosses, politicians and preachers, all trying to get through to me.
• Every voice telling me that I need to listen to what they are saying because they have the truth and the answers I’m searching for.
• Every voice telling me what I can’t live without and how much better my life will be if only I would listen to them.

And I don’t know about you, but after awhile I just want to tune them all out and turn the all off and go hiking. (And you’re welcome to come hiking with me but don’t expect a lot of talking.) Which of us wasn’t relieved when the election was finally over, if for no other reason than the carpet bombing of voices let up a bit?

B. Church
And then amidst all of the voices coming at us and vying for our attention is the voice of the Church with its message that it insists must be heard. And sometimes, the voice of the Church is heard above all the other voices. But not so much as it used to be. Sometimes it just gets lost in the cacophony of chatter.

And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the voice of the Church from that of the politicians and marketing gurus because they start to sound pretty similar – politicians promise to save the world and make our life better if we will only put our trust in them; and churches preach that our hope for a better world rests with one political party over another; and they promote their programs for success with marketing strategies that a lot of businesses would envy.

So maybe it’s our own fault that the majority of people today hear the voice of the church as just another voice among al the other that sounds pretty much like the same talk, talk, talk. If the voice of the church has nothing uniquely Christian to say, then it’s just another moving mouth to be tuned out and turned off. Continue reading

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Advent 1 – "The Bold, Red Stripe" – Isaiah 2:1-5 – 11/27/16

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6da0d88537e3a7c8edfe2c48c2d5ba69The church’s season of Advent is a tricky journey to navigate. It’s tricky for a number of reasons. Advent is all about the coming of our Lord. So, the question is, ‘which coming are we talking about?’ His coming in the womb of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem OR His coming in the clouds from heaven OR His coming in the water of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion? Which of these ‘comings’ of our Lord is Advent about?

And the answer to the question is of course, ‘all of the above.’ When John writes in his 1st Epistle that “the Father has sent His Son to be the savior of the world,” he’s got all of these ‘sendings’ in mind – the
• incarnational in time,
• the sacramental throughout time,
• and the apocalyptic at the end of time.

But mostly Advent is about the coming of our Lord in the clouds on the Last Day of this world as we know it. Today is New Years day on the church’s calendar. Today we begin a brand new, year long journey, following our Lord Jesus Christ.

And what’s odd about this journey is where we begin. On this New Year’s Day of the Church, we begin another rotation around the life of or Lord. But we begin the journey, not at the beginning, but at the end – the very end. We begin this new journey with Jesus at the end of His earthly ministry, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and to the cheering of the people, “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

But Palm Sunday is the 1st Sunday in Holy Week. And this is the 1st Sunday in Advent. What we’re really doing today is welcoming the One who comes to Jerusalem to lay down His life for the world, but we’re welcoming Him when He comes in the clouds with glory on the Last Day.

Advent reminds us of where the journey is headed. Knowing where you’re headed makes all the difference in how you travel. The old saying is true, ‘if you don’t know where you’re headed then any path will do.’ Continue reading

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Last Sunday – "Remember Me" – Luke 23:27-43 – 11/20/16

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In the 9th chapter of his gospel, St. Luke wrote these words that we have repeated many times over the last several months, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk.9:51). Those were the words that we heard in our Gospel reading 22 Sundays ago. And Sunday by Sunday for 22 weeks now, we have been on this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.

And now this morning, we come to the destination of that journey – a place called “the skull.” Which is a very strange destination for anyone to “set his face to go to.” Besides it being the worst possible way to die, it is the object of utter ridicule and scorn and shame. The cross is the symbol of utter failure and futility and the one who hangs from it is truly “despised and rejected by man.”

And yet this is precisely where Jesus Christ, “in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” “set his face” to go.

Never has the One “by whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” descended so low, that only the lowest of the lowly may declare that “in him…” even they, “have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Continue reading

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Pentecost 23 – "Lift Up Your Heads" – Luke 21:5-28 – 11/13/16

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ethan-looking-upThe journey continues. On the last two Sunday we took a couple of ‘side trails’ to celebrate the Lutheran Reformation and the Feast of All Saints. But while we ‘sightseeing’ Jesus was traveling to the destination that “He had set His face to” way back in Luke 9.

And now this morning we realize He’s arrived. He’s in Jerusalem. Palm Sunday has happened and it’s Holy Week. From the accounts of all four gospels, it’s pretty clear that Jesus spent a good deal of His time from Sunday through Thursday at the Temple. Luke writes, “And He was teaching daily in the temple…” And great crowds went to the Temple to hear Him teach. And Luke writes, “and all the people were hanging on his words.” (Lk. 19:47-48)

On one such occasion, “some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with NOBLE STONES and OFFERINGS …” This is where we reenter the journey with Jesus. This morning, we’re one of those in the great crowds who are “hanging on his words.”

The Temple in Jesus’ day had been fairly recently refurbished by Herod the Great, and it was an architectural marvel. It was Passover week when many Jews came from miles away for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover, and they marveled at it just as we would. It was ‘immensely opulent.’

It was the massive size of the stones that the Temple was built on and the huge and high pillars that supported the walls and the roof that particularly caught their attention. They gave the unmistakable feeling of permanence and stability.

The ‘Offerings’ were all of the tapestries that hung from the pillars and the ‘holy vessels’ of gold and silver that were the offerings of the people. Continue reading

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All Saints – "One, Holy, Christian Church" – Revelation 7:9-17 – 11/6/16

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We begin with a bit of church history. There is evidence that as early as the 4th century AD, the Church established November 1st as a day to give thanks to God for those who were martyred for the Christian faith – a day that became known as “All Saints Day.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege of being martyred for the faith. Most have the more ordinary, but no less blessed privilege of living and dying what we might call a normal life and death, in the faith given them in their baptism.

So in the 11th century AD, the Church circled November 2nd as a day of commemoration and thanksgiving to God for all the faithful who have departed this life in faith and who now enjoy the blessed, BEATIFIC VISION. And so November 2nd became known as “All Souls Day” on the Church’s calendar.

With that said, it seems like what we have been calling, “ALL SAINTS DAY” is more like what the Church had in mind when it established “ALL SOULS DAY.” None of these names whom we have named this morning, died a martyrs death because they confessed Jesus Christ as Lord.

Today, we give thanks to God for all souls who were born again by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the same Spirit of Truth, given the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, and by the same Spirit of Power, were preserved in the one, true faith and who have been raised by the LORD AND GIVER OF LIFE out of this world of suffering and trials and tribulations and brought in to the presence of the glory of God.

As we sang earlier, these are “the unsung saints, that countless throng, who kept the faith and passed it on…” (LSB #678) Their names will never be written on the Church’s calendar and they will not be remembered for very long, except by their families and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. But their names are written in the BOOK OF LIFE that was sealed with its seven seals, which the Lamb who was slain broke open by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

One of the elders asked John, “who are these and where have they come?” These are not famous saints. John doesn’t know them and defers the question to the elder who asked, “Sir, you know.”

Some of these whom we have named, you may not know either. But some, we know quite well. These are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons, best friends of some of us here this morning. Time has passed and the anguish of the grave has faded. Death has lost the sting that it once had. And we give thanks to God for that too.

But unlike the vast majority of the world that can only think of their dead as friends and loved ones from their past, the Christian Church has always confessed that those who have died in Christ, are just as ALIVE and as much of the “one, holy, Christian and apostolic church” as we are, and that it is not THEY who have left us, but WE who eagerly anticipate being reunited with them.

It was G.K. Chesterton who once said that the Christian Church is the only organization on earth that does not disenfranchise their members just because they have died. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to heaven means that death is now only a flimsy and paper thin barrier that stands between us and them, BUT THAT CANNOT SEPARATE US FROM EACH OTHER because ALL are gathered around the Lord Jesus Christ and there is only ONE LORD.

Which, just to be sure we understand this rightly, means that they are NO CLOSER to the Lord than we are. Or, to put it another way, we are NO FURTHER from the Lord than they are. Because there is only ONE LORD.

Just as the Church on earth once beheld Him hidden in the pillar of cloud and fire, we now behold Him hidden in the water and bread and wine. But it is the same Lord and Savior whom the Church in heaven beholds “face to face” that ‘we see in a mirror dimly…” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Unlike the vast majority of this world that doesn’t know how to think about death let alone talk about, and therefore avoids the subject and would rather talk about more pleasant things, the Christian Church has no hang-ups with death. We talk about comfortably, without fear, and even with a sense of anticipation. “For to [US], to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

And this ‘faith’ that we confess with our lips spills over onto the way that we remember and speak about those who have died in the same, saving faith. We don’t need to pretend that they were perfect people or ‘worthy’ of eternal life. We’re perfectly free to remember and even speak of them as ‘sinful and unclean’ just like we are. They sinned against God and against their neighbors and even against us, by what they did and by what they left undone, just as we do.

It is not in their goodness that we find our comfort and even joy, but in the forgiveness for all of their sins and that all of their ‘filthy rags’ have been “washed… and made white in the blood of the Lamb,” just like ours have. No one in heaven boasts of their goodness and their wonderful qualities. “Crying with a loud voice,” they say, “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This is the shout of praise and thanksgiving that goes up from the one, holy Christian Church at all times and in all places. We wear the same glorious clothes as they do because we were baptized with the same baptism as they were, in which all of our filthy rags were washed and made white the blood of the One, Lamb of God.
I have sometimes wondered if their “cry with a loud voice” might not be due, at least in part, to the utterly shocking realization that they had been wearing these white robes ever since they were born again in the holy water.

Now in heaven, they not only SEE GOD AS HE IS, but they seem themselves as GOD CREATED THEM, in HIS IMAGE, HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS IN HIS SIGHT – a truth that they always struggled to believe and trust as long as they were alive in this world. “Now they know fully what they had only known in part.” (1Cor.13:12).

In addition to the white robes that they wear, they are also holding palm branches in their hands. In his gospel, John writes what he saw, “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him.”

There, on the day we now call “Palm Sunday,” Jesus came to set His Church free from the grip of death and hell by His blood shed for them on the cross and by His resurrection from the grave on the 3rd day. And His people welcomed Him with waiving palm branches and songs of praise, “crying out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (John 12:13).

Now, standing before the throne of God in heaven, the same Christian Church waives their palm branches in thanks and praise to the One who has come in the name of the Lord, and has delivered them out of this GREAT TRIBULATION and into His eternal glory.

It used to be the custom to place a palm branch in the hand of the deceased in the coffin as a vivid reminder to the living that this one died in the Christian faith and shall be one of the “great multitude that no one could number.”

“And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

The angels, the elders and the four living creatures before the throne of God. The prophet Isaiah found himself before the throne of God. And in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, he was terrifyingly aware of his sin, particularly, his unclean lips. And angel seared Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the altar and said, “See your guilt has been taken away and your sin has been atoned for.” But now every unclean lip has been sanitized by that which comes from the altar – hot coals for Isaiah – bread and wine for you and me, the beatific vision for those whom we have named.

We dare not wait until we die to join them in their hymn of praise. Every Sunday as we gather around the throne of the Lamb, we take our place in that multitude. We join our praise with the ‘angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and laud and magnify’ His glorious name.

All One, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church. All together, in every time and in every place, declaring the great “Amen” to all that God has done for us by the cross of Christ and His empty tomb. As you and I join our voice to theirs, we do so with the assurance of faith that our names have also been written in THE BOOK along with theirs and that the day will come when we too will be called out of this great tribulation and into the beatific vision.

So today, in the confidence of faith that sets us free to look death in the face without timidity or fear, we give thanks and praise to the Lamb on the throne for all souls in the Church Triumphant – “who hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; whom the sun shall not strike, 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.”

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Reformation – "There Is No Distinction" – Romans 3:19-28 – 10/30/16

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Ten people are trapped on the roof of a 20 story high burning building. The only way to safety is to jump across a 25’ chasm onto the roof of the adjacent building. One person jumps ten feet and falls to his death. Another jumps 12 feet and falls to his death. One jumps 15 feet and falls to his death. One gets a running start and pushes off the edge of the building and jumps 20 feet and falls to his death. “There is no distinction. All fall short…”

It does no good to compare one person to another. One may have jumped twice as far as another. One may have tried a lot harder than another. One may have been much more sincere than another. One may have worked all his life getting ready for this jump while another never gave it a thought until the very last minute. “There is no distinction. All fall short…”

And do you want to know the really crazy thing about all of this? The really crazy thing is that we keep trying to make the jump. We are all incredible optimists when it comes to estimating the human potential to save ourselves. We think that if we just do this or do that, if we try harder, if we are more sincere, if we use this program, if we elect this person, then we’d be able to make it. But “there is no distinction. All fall short…”

There are basically two ways that we try to make the jump. The first way is the way of the Pharisee whom we met last Sunday – the way of ‘self-righteousness.’ We’re convinced that there is a God and that He will judge us on the basis of our ‘goodness,’ or at the very least on how we compare to others, and so we try as hard as we can to be as good a person as we can be.

The second way we try to make the jump is by ‘denial’. Not ‘self-denial.’ Just ‘denial.’ “IF WE SAY THAT WE HAVE NO SIN…” But there’s no ‘IF’S’ about it, we’ve said it 1000 times. Who says it’s ‘sin’ anyway? It all sounds like another plot of the powerful to keep the masses in their place. The only “REAL” sin is to call something a “sin.” The times they are a ‘changin, God will have to adjust.

But “there is no distinction. All fall short…” Continue reading

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Pentecost 23 – "Self-Righteousness and Contempt" – Luke 18:9-14 – 10/23/16

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It’s always nice when we’re told the point of a parable before we actually hear it. Luke is pretty good about this. Last Sunday, we heard the parable of the Persistent Widow which Luke prefaced with these words, “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Lk.18:1)

Now this morning, we hear Jesus’ another parable. This one is about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. But before we do, Luke tells us where its headed and what the ‘take away’ should be. “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” There’s a connection between ‘self-righteousness’ and ‘contempt of others’ that our Lord wants us to understand.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”

At first glance, it seems as though Jesus has painted a picture in which it’s easy distinguish between the good guy and the bad guy – which is just the way we like it. We like it when we can categorize people; is he liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, white collar or blue collar, citizen or alien, believer or unbeliever. We like it when things are black and white, one or the other. And it seems like that is just what Jesus has done for us here. Continue reading

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Pentecost 22 – "The Persistent Widow" – Luke 18:1-8 – 10/16/16

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Every Sunday when we gather around the Lord’s Word and Sacrament we make the bold confession of faith saying that we ‘believe in Jesus Christ… who will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead…’

When we say ‘WE BELIEVE’ we mean that we are ‘sure,’ we are ‘confident,’ we ‘trust,’ that Jesus Christ will come again, and when He does, He will ‘do justice.’
– He will vindicate all those who put their faith and hope and trust in Him against all the accusations from others that they were being foolish and ignorant and naïve for believing and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and His cross is the power of God.
– He will get justice for those who could not get justice for themselves because they were too weak, or the deck was too heavily stacked against them, or the system was too corrupt, or they didn’t have an advocate.

Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…” (Mat.25:31-32).

And so our faith is not based on a ‘hallow hope,’ or a ‘pie in the sky,’ or our ‘own imagination,’ but on the solid foundation of God’s own Word and promise which cannot fail.

And so we pray to Jesus Christ when injustice is done to us and it hurts us and we suffer and our rights are denied and the courts rule against us. For justice comes from the Lord.
– And we pray to Jesus Christ when we see INJUSTICE HAPPEN TO OTHERS who cannot get justice for themselves. For justice comes from the LORD.
– We pray to Jesus Christ when we see the injustice of prejudice, and abortion, and the drug trade, and sex trafficking, and politics, and persecution. For justice comes from the LORD.

We confess that ‘We believe in Jesus Christ… who will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead…” And because there will always be injustice in this world until Jesus comes again, and because it will only increase and increase as the time draws nearer and nearer we will pray without ceasing. Persistent prayer is to be the posture of the church until our Lord comes again. And our persistent prayer is, “COME LORD JESUS.”

But how easily we ‘lose heart,’ and how quickly we grow weary of praying. How quickly we give up. Continue reading

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Pentecost 21 – "Clean!"- Luke 17:11-19 – 10/9/16

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Today marks the 15th week since we left the 9th chapter of Luke’s gospel where we heard him tell us that “when the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51). 15 weeks now we’ve been on this journey with Jesus. And on every stop along the way, we’ve learned something about what it means to be a ‘follower of Jesus.’ We’ve learned something about ‘discipleship.’ Or at least, I hope we have.
• ‘Discipleship’ is that response to hearing the voice of Jesus Christ and His call – “Come follow me,” and denying ourselves and taking up our cross and “following Him.”

One of the things that we’ve learned along the way so far, (or at least I hope we have) is that ‘discipleship’ is costly, to borrow a phrase from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s costly because it requires us to say ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to ourselves. That’s called ‘self-denial’ which is very hard for us to do.

‘Discipleship’ is costly because very often, it requires us to say “no” to the temptations and demands of this world, which has no regard for God’s Word nor recognizes that Jesus Christ is that very Word of God. So the ‘disciple of Jesus’ learns that he or she must often say ‘no’ when everyone else is saying ‘yes,’ or vice-a-versa.

This also means that the ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ is going to ‘stick out’ and be ‘different’ sometimes, just because he or she doesn’t ‘go with the flow.’ He says ‘right’ when other’s are all saying ‘wrong.’ She says ‘wrong’ when all her friends are saying ‘right.’

And the temptation along the way is always going to be to quit and turn back and take the easy way, the ‘wide path’ that it seems like everyone else is traveling and just go with the flow. But we don’t do that. Because we know that the ‘wide path’ doesn’t lead us to Jesus Christ, and apart from Jesus Christ, it’s all a pleasant swim in the river that is headed for Niagara Falls.

St. John, in his gospel, tells us that at one point in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, His disciples were turning back left and right because the cost of discipleship was getting too high. Jesus turned to His apostles and said, “Do you want to go away too?” And Peter, answering for them all said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)

On our stop on this journey with Jesus this morning, we meet a man who was going with the flow but who turned back. He left the crowd behind and became follower of Jesus because, well just because it became abundantly clear to him, Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life.

Luke writes, “On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” Continue reading

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Pentecost 20 – "Temptations To Sin Abound" – Luke 17:1-10 – 10/2/16

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Why do some people fall away from the faith that they were given in their baptism? We’re not talking about why some people who were confirmed in the Lutheran Church became Catholics or Methodists or some other denomination of Christian. We’re talking about those who were Christians, who considered Jesus Christ to be “the way and the truth and the life,” who put their trust and confidence for their salvation in His forgiveness and grace alone, who tried to live ‘God-pleasing lives.’ Why did they quit running the race? Why do they now live as though Jesus Christ and His cross have no bearing on their life?

I think we all know men and women, boys and girls who fit the description and some are very near and dear to us and it causes us a good deal of pain just to think about it. I think we could all identify some of the reasons for why some fall away from the faith –
– It wasn’t anything dramatic, no episode in particular, just a gradual drifting away from the weekly gathering with the congregation around the Word and Sacrament until after awhile the whole thing just became distant memory;
– Or maybe it was a conflict between the Word of God and a lifestyle. And God’s ways seemed ‘foolish’ and out of touch with the times;
– Or maybe there was a tragedy or bitter disappointment in their life and they blamed God for it and concluded that if that’s the way God treats His people, who needs Him.
How many more scenarios could we add if we had the time? Continue reading

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