The First Sunday in Advent - December 3, 2017

"Come Down"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our consideration this morning, the First Sunday in Advent, is the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 14:1-9, which reads, "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence-as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Here we are at last, the first Sunday of the new Church Year, or, the First Sunday in Advent. We closed out the Church Year with talk of God's judgement, of the end of time, of God's coming down to earth in triumph and victory as death is at last destroyed and we as God's redeemed people experience the fullness of Christ's victory for us for all eternity. This is something that as God's people we long for. We long to see our Savior return for us, to take us out of this world that is filled with pain, with despair, with anger, and with murder, and with every other sin that man could possibly commit. People turn from God and ignore His commands. People search the Scriptures and pull out what they disagree with and throw it away, and only take notice of what they want, what makes the feel good; even twisting the Word of God to make it say something that it does not say. So many people say that God does not exist, if He does then He should make Himself known to the world in a very real and impossible to ignore way. God should, as the first two verses of our text this morning says, "Rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence-as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!"

So, in a way, we open the new Church Year very much the same way that we closed out the old one; we are waiting. We are waiting for God to come down. We are crying out to God to come down and to rescue us in a world where we suffer from sorrow, from temptation, from mockery and persecution from the enemies of God; a world where we continue to wrestle with the grief of sin and death.

The prophet Isaiah is in the midst of a people who are experiencing God's judgement. They are a people who have continually gone their own way and who have ignored God, except until the time comes when they need Him to save them. Then they cry out to Him for help and for rescue, they wonder where God has gone and why He has hidden His face from them; all the while forgetting the fact that they have turned their backs on Him and His Word and His commands. But still, Isaiah is asking for God to act in the same way that He had before for His people. Isaiah reminds God that He acted on behalf of His people in ways that the people did not expect. Isaiah describes these as "awesome things that we did not look for."

Time and time again God's people were trapped, or they were faced with an issue that appeared to be insurmountable by merely human means. God's people were in slavery in Egypt for over 400 years; and the Egyptians were of no mind to let them go. So, God came down, He appeared before Moses in the burning bush, He caused Pharaoh to release His people because of the mighty signs and wonders He performed in the plagues on the people of Egypt. The people of Israel were then faced with the Egyptians in front of them and the Red Sea behind them; so God came down and parted the waters so they could go through on dry ground. But, when the army of Pharaoh tried, God released the waters to their place and He drowned the army of Pharaoh in the sea. The people are faced with the walls of Jericho and God came down and caused these seemingly impenetrable walls to come tumbling down and in doing so He gave His people the victory over their enemies. All throughout the history of God's people He has heard His people's cries for help and for mercy and He has come down and rescued them. But then, over and over again God's people forget all that God has done for them and they turn their backs on Him and ignore His Word, forget His promises, both the promises of blessings and of curses, and persecute and kill His messengers whom He sent to bring them back to Him.

Isaiah cries out to God to "rend the heavens and come down" but he also acknowledges that the people are sinful. In verses five through seven we read, "Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities." But Isaiah continues as He says, "Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people."

Isaiah is crying out to God to be gracious and merciful to a sinful people. Isaiah does in no way deny the people's sins, nor does he make any demands on God as if God owes them anything at all. But instead, Isaiah comes to Yahweh in humble faith. He reminds God just who He is angry with. He says, "But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." Just as Moses had interceded for the people in Exodus after the golden calf by saying, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'" Yahweh remembered and He relented of the wrath He meant to bring upon His people. Isaiah prophesy's Israel's defeat and exile, but He also prophesy's their return to the land.

But more importantly Isaiah also prophesy's the coming of the Messiah. He prophesied of the day when Yahweh will once again act on behalf of His people in a way that they will not expect. He will "come down" to His people in the form of one of them. He will "come down" as an infant, born of a woman. He will come down as both true God and true man who will not be received by His own, but will be offered up to death on a cross. He will come down as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Who did not come in power or in glory, but who came down not to be served but to give His life as a ransom for many, for us, to pay the price for our many sins. Whose death did indeed cause the earth to quake and the rocks to split and darkness to cover the earth; and for the Roman Centurion to say, "Truly this was the Son of God!" Yes, we, like Isaiah cry out that Yahweh would "rend the heavens and come down" to return for us His people. Just as He kept His promise and "came down" to suffer and die and rise again for us; He will "come down" and return for us, and this time we know that every eye will see Him, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He has "come down." Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Last Sunday of the Church Year - November 26, 2017

"Death is Destroyed"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our edification this morning is the epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, which reads, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 has Paul talking about the fact that there are those who were questioning the fact of Christ's resurrection from the dead. In Greek culture the idea of a bodily resurrection was absurd. Also, anything physical was looked upon as bad, or evil by their very nature, but that the spirit was good. But Paul here puts all of that to rest. If there is no resurrection from the dead it would naturally follow that Christ was not raised; and so if Christ was not raised then we are all still dead in our trespasses and sins. Paul then reminds us that all those who had died in faith in Christ were lost. He ends by stating that if we only have hope in Christ in this life then we are most to be pitied. You see, if Christ had not risen from death and the grave then that would mean that death was in fact the victor. We could then in no way state that Christ has in fact conquered death. If Jesus had not risen from the dead then the authorities would have been able to point people to the tomb and say, "Look, here lies the body of your Messiah. He is dead and His body rots in the grave. Indeed, Paul is absolutely correct in his statement from verse 19. If the people, and if we, were placing our faith in a dead "Savior" we would be "of all people most to be pitied".

But how awesome it is that we do not place our faith in a dead Savior. Paul tells us, while writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Before Jesus death had held sway. All people lived their lives and then they died. Before Jesus, there were only two men who did not die but were taken bodily into heaven by God; and they are Enoch, who the Scriptures says "walked with God, and he was not, for God took him" and then the prophet Elijah, who was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind. Death held sway over the entirety of all creation. Why? Why, did God create the world with the purpose to sit back and watch everything in it to grow old, suffer, and then ultimately die? On the contrary, God did not bring death into His creation. We certainly do not know what was to happen to Adam and Eve, but death was not part of creation. God gave Adam the command that they were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil. He warned Adam that on the day they ate of it they would surely die. Sin, disobedience, brings death, and it surely did. James writes in the very first chapter, "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." God is not the author of sin. God is not the one who brought into creation. Adam's sin, our sins brought death into and ruined God's "very good" creation. Adam and Eve instantly knew something had changed, then they see God kill some animals to cloth them, then they see their son Cain kill their other son Abel. Sin and death held sway.

But this was not be forever. God promises the Savior who would bruise the serpent's head while the serpent bruised His heel. God continued to remind His creatures of this promise as He restates it over and over again to the Patriarchs, Kings, and Prophets of the Old Testament. But all of this time, death continues to hold sway. People continue to inherit the sin of Adam and continue in their own sin and unbelief, and death still held sway.

But at last, at just the right time, God sent His Son Jesus; true God and true man. Jesus was perfectly obedient, as were are not. But yet although innocent, as we are guilty, Jesus was the one who suffered and died, and He suffered and died for us, for our sins, for the sin of the world. Sin has been paid for. The debt has been taken care of in full. You and I, in fact no one, is required to make another sacrifice to God, or to do one bit of penance for their sins. Christ's sacrifice was complete, it was far more than enough. Then He rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus' sacrifice for us and our sins was full accepted by the Father and by Jesus' resurrection He showed that He had defeated death and the grave. Death no longer held sway. No, death has not yet been destroyed, but it is now only a foregone conclusion. Death, our enemy had been defeated.

It's strange however that the devil still continues to deceive us about death, just as he deceived Adam and Eve when he lied to them and said that they would not surely die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. How does he do this? Well, he still tries to tell us that there is no consequence for the sins which we commit. Then, he has somehow led us to believe such things as this, "Death is just a natural part of life." As Christians we know that there is nothing further from the truth. The devil has caused many to believe that not all life is precious, that not everyone's life is worth living, and that for some, death would be a better choice. He has caused some to embrace that most horrible of ideas that death is a friend. Our secular culture is ruled by the idea of the acceptance and even embrace of death. There is of course abortion on demand. It is legal to kill an unborn child at any time during a pregnancy. There is the call to make assisted suicide legal nationally. Euthanasia is already legal in Washington DC, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Euthanasia means "Good Death." It has also been referred to as "mercy killing." God is the one who has given us life, and God is the only one with the right authority to take it away. Contrary to what the devil says through the culture, death is not natural, nor is it our friend; death is decidedly unnatural and it is our enemy. We sin when we do not value the life that God has given to us. Luther's explanation to the Fifth Commandment says, "We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need." So indeed, just because we have not actively murdered, we have treated death as a friend and ally by hurting or harming out neighbor in their body, or failing to help them, or by wishing physical evil or harm to them.

But there is one death that we can say was a "Good Death" or "Good News" and that is the death of Jesus Christ. His death for our sins of hate, neglect, and murder, of treating death as our friend instead of recognizing that it is always our enemy; have been atoned for at the Cross of Christ. Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil at the cross and the empty tomb. As we are brought to faith in Him in our baptism we, as Paul writes in Romans six, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." Death, our enemy, has been defeated by Jesus our Savior, and on that last great day, we will all see death destroyed, and we already rejoice in the fruits of His victory. Death no longer holds sway over us because we live in the light of Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The 24th Sunday After Pentecost - November 19, 2017

"Well Done"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 25:20-23, which reads, "And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'" Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The Church year is coming to a close. This Sunday, besides being the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is also the second last Sunday of the Church Year. So, as is usual during this time, we focus some of our attention on the end of the age. We focus even more than we normally do on the return of Christ and upon the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. Last Sunday we looked at the parable of the Ten Virgins. As Jesus began this parable Jesus said, "The Kingdom of heaven will be like." So also Jesus continues immediately with the close of that parable by saying in verse fourteen, "It will be like." So what is the "it"? The "it" that Jesus is referring to is the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus is once again teaching the people about the Kingdom of heaven. He is talking to them about the end of the age, or the "Great Day of the Lord". When the Lord returns for His people, what is to be expected? What will the Lord do? How will the Lord Judge His people and all people? On the surface of it, this parable of the talents looks a lot like a parable about works righteousness. After-all, a king gives an amount of money to three servants to use as they see fit until the king returns. The king is trusting the servants to act and to deal wisely and faithfully with the property that they have been entrusted with. Again, after-all, these talents belong to the king and not to the servants. The servants have been given stewardship over the king's property. Stewardship also implies a certain responsibility to the One who appointed you to be a steward over their property.

Your employer has entrusted you to be steward over their property. Your stewardship over this property extends only so far as to use it to benefit the business of your employer. You are to us it to the best of your ability. It is not for your personal use. You are to be faithful with the property of your employer. It does not matter whether your employer is easy-going or a hard driver. It doesn't matter whether or not you like your employer; or whether or not you believe that they are fair. You are given a task, you are given tools to accomplish this task, and your employer will compensate you with a wage.

Now, if we were to compare this parable and completely equate it with the employer-employee relationship we would be wrong. That would be a misinterpretation of this parable. This has nothing to do with earning a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. This has nothing to do with working for an employer who treats you fairly or not. This parable also has nothing to do with the resources you may or may not have at your disposal. So then, if these are what the parable is not about, then what is this parable about? This parable is about faith. It is about faith and faithfulness. It is about the faith of the servants in their king. It is about what faithfulness these servants showed in their service to their master. It is also about one other thing that might be easy to miss; but it is also about the faithfulness of the Master to His servants. It should be easy for us to see just who these people are, who they represent. The King, or the Master, is of course God the Father Himself. The servants are us. The servants are the people who make the claim of faith in God and faith in forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the grace of God for the sake of His only-begotten Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. So then, what is faith? We see faith defined for us in Hebrews 11:1-3, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."

Just a bit further in Hebrews 11:6 we are told, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." Jesus Himself talks about faith to the father of the boy with the unclean spirit in the ninth chapter of Mark. In verses 21-24 we read, "And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "'If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Then of course faith in Christ and Him crucified and risen again for the sins of the world, and your sins and my sins specifically is the whole point of God's Word. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." It is our faith in the Master that allows us to freely and without worry serve Him and do the works which He has laid out for us. The first two servants in the parable were entrusted with different amounts by the Master, but they both immediately go out and work with what the Master has entrusted to them. They are afraid of the Master. They trust in His grace and mercy. They are not worried about making a mistake for they know that the Master is loving and merciful and forgiving. The Master has shown His mercy to them already. He has shown His love for them already. We know that our Master, our heavenly Father loves and cares for us. We know that He is full of grace and mercy. Scripture tells us in Joel 2:12-13, "Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster." We have a wonderful example of God's grace and mercy in the book of Jonah. Jonah is told to go to Nineveh to proclaim God's coming wrath upon the city. Jonah goes the other way; and when he does finally obey the people repent and humble themselves before God and repent. Then, to Jonah's dismay, the Lord relents of the wrath He was going to pour out on the city. So Jonah says in chapter 4, "O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." The third servant in the parable describes the Master as, "A hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed." Then he says, "So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours." The servant is then described by the Master as "wicked and slothful". What little he thinks he has is taken and he is cast out into the outer darkness. This servant does not love the Master. He does not have faith in the Master's goodness or His mercy. He only knows the Master as a hard man. So he does just enough to escape being punished, or so he believes. But the first two servants fully believe in the Master's love and His grace and His mercy. They are not afraid of Him. They know that if they make a mistake, if they sin, the Master will forgive them. So knowing this about the Master, they go out and use what the Master has entrusted them with in faith. The serve in faith knowing that they are already under the Master's forgiveness and grace. They are not trying to earn the Master's grace because they, by faith, know they already have it. They hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'"

So because of Jesus and His atoning work for us at the cross, we too are under the forgiveness and grace, and mercy of the Master. We too can work in His kingdom in a grateful, loving and faithful response with whatever He has entrusted to us. But it is not because of these works, but because of the faith we have been given in Christ our Lord that we too will one day here, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'" Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.