Sermons, Uncategorized

Living in the Resurrection Now

The Poor invited to the feast - Luke 14:15-24
JESUS MAFA. The Poor Invited to the Feast, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.

Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said]: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

On first reading, this text appears to be an assortment of different, unconnected moments in the ministry of Jesus. We have a healing (vv. 1-6), a parable (vv. 7-11), and then a teaching about regard for the poor (vv. 12-14). When you look at the text more closely, however, you see this all happens on one occasion. The text begins with a reference to a meal on the Sabbath at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees and it is not until verse 25 that we leave this occasion.

Recognizing this unity encourages us to look for the connection among these seemingly unrelated events. Like a friend telling us what happened last night at dinner, Luke relates many of the details of this occasion with something in mind. When you look at what Jesus is doing, you will find the connection: Jesus is patiently revealing what the Resurrection truly means.

What comes to mind when you think about the Resurrection? For some, it might be all clouds and angels and souls taking flight. For others, a reunion with loved ones. For the more Biblically minded, it may even be the broken world suddenly and fully restored. In each of these cases, however, notice how it is an event located in the future. Not something we seriously consider as we choose whether or not to go out to lunch with a transgendered co-worker.

For Jesus, the Resurrection is not just a doctrinal teaching located in the future, or worse yet a line from the Creed that we say and move on. No. It is something which shapes our lives now.

Consider the focused patience of Jesus. He uses questions and healings and parable and direct address, all to bring about a glimpse of His eternal Kingdom among those who are gathered.

The reading opens with Jesus celebrating the restoration that occurs in His Kingdom. He heals the man who has dropsy and, by a question, invites the Pharisees and lawyers to see how this is fitting for the Sabbath, a time of rest in the reign and rule of God.

Receiving no reply to His question, Jesus tells a parable that invites those gathered to see the great reversal happening in the Kingdom of God. God works by grace and, therefore, those who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who humble themselves will be exalted by God.

When there is still no response, Jesus speaks directly to His host, inviting him to live in the liberality of God. The last line of the text seems odd: “For you will be repaid at the Resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). But this one small phrase opens up for us what lies at the heart of these various activities of Jesus.

Here, at a dinner, Jesus is offering a glimpse of the grace that will prevail in His eternal kingdom. The sick will be healed. The poor will be fed. The humble will be honored. The faithful will be rewarded. Even the host can live now in the liberality of God. No need to think of himself or his social obligations. He doesn’t need to look out for himself because he knows that he will be taken care of. Such divine assurance means he is free to extend God’s care to others.

The question this text poses for us today is, “What does it mean to believe in the Resurrection?” Is the Resurrection only about the future? Or, could it be possible, the Resurrection opens our life to the present? If so, how do we go about living in the Resurrection now?

An ancient group of philosophers called the Stoics believed it was important for everyone to remember death each day. Their reasoning was, “You’re going to die. You don’t know when, but you know it will happen.” Making people depressed was not the purpose of this, but rather helping people actually savor life and not sleepwalk through it. They also believed that if you remembered life’s impermanence, you would not be so quick to take your loved ones and friends for granted. Who knows, after all, how long you will have their company, and they yours? There is a good dose of common sense in this perspective.

Yet stoicism doesn’t come anywhere close to plumbing the reasons why Christians, from early times, have also frequently and intentionally remembered death. Stoicism lacked framework to truly see death as it is. To the Stoic, death was just a natural part of the cycle of life: you are born, you grow old, and then you die. Death is just the concluding chapter of life.

Christians, however, remember the beginning: Genesis. We remember that death is not a “natural” part of the world because it is not what God intended for His creation. We remember that the Creator’s gift was life, a life in which all things were good.

“Death” was at first only a word in God’s new creation, part of a warning attached to the fruit of a tree. It had no concrete place in human existence until man wanted his way instead of God’s and let the monster in and turned it loose. When Christians remember death, even remembering it daily, we’re not merely recalling that there is an end to life that comes at an unexpected time. We’re recalling that our first parents’ disobedience let loose an enemy into the very fabric of creation and that it is even now at work in our own bodies and souls.

Every Ash Wednesday, in countless congregations around the world, Christians line up and come forward to receive a strange mark, ashes smeared on their forehead, while hearing the words God spoke to Adam and Eve on the day death entered the human body. “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Yet on Ash Wednesday, the ashes are not placed in a single blob, but in the shape of a cross. This remembrance, then, is not only about being “dead men walking,” headed to the grave. Rather it is also a remembrance that out of incomprehensible love, there came forth from the Father His Only Son, into our flesh to know this death in His own body nailed to the cross.

It was on the very night that His sufferings began that Jesus spoke to His disciples some astounding words: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1–4).

It sounded so good to the disciples; but Thomas was confused. He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Jesus’ answer is one of His most famous sayings: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Jesus not only provides the way to the home He has prepared; He also is the way. How He does it is called “the blessed exchange.” Jesus prepared a way for us to come home and stay there forever by becoming man, like us in every way except without sin. He willingly entered into our death—even death on a cross—to pour into it His own divine life, destroying death from the inside out.

When the Christian thinks of death daily, he or she also remembers this above all: that Jesus entered into death for us to open the way back to the home God created for us at the beginning. Because this is so, the Christian daily thinks of death in order to learn to think of it as a defeated foe. If through Christ, the way home has already been opened, then death itself has been truly robbed of its sting. Death is no longer seen as the end, but a sound sleep from which Christ will one day awaken us with a word.

Have you ever noticed how most cemeteries are oriented with the graves going east and west? The casket is placed with the head to the west and the feet to the east? There’s a good reason for this custom—the Resurrection. It is thought that on the Last Day when Christ returns to raise the living and the dead, He will come from the east. So, for us Christians, we have this wonderful image that when we arise from the sleep of death, the first thing we will see is our Savior.

Such an unshakeable hope in the Resurrection affects not just how we face death, but also how we live each day now. As Jesus reveals, the Resurrection gives us courage to live each day in the radical liberality of God. Christ is not concerned about social consequences in His kingdom. Let the Pharisees talk—He receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1). He loves justice. He does mercy. He walks humbly with God. Regardless of the consequences. Such living could get one killed, (which it does,) but God, His Father, raises the dead and, through Him, establishes a kingdom where mercy reigns. Even now.

Imagine living in that kingdom now. Something as mundane as inviting people over to dinner can be touched by the reality of the Resurrection. Rather than living in a world governed by social stratification—a world where there are those we invite into our homes and those we do not, people we need to impress to secure our future, and love we need to give or withhold depending upon who is watching—we live in God’s Kingdom governed by His gracious promise of resurrection. No need to push in line or rush about or always seek to be first. You literally have eternity to enjoy the moment. No need to secure our place, that is already taken care of by Christ. Instead, we are free to take care of others. Something as simple as whom we talk to or even how we talk to that person can become an occasion when we confess our belief in the Resurrection of the just.

God Himself is the model of one who invites all classes of people to His great supper of salvation. In the Resurrection, there will be people of all economic strata, including the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We’ll be with them for eternity. How we treat other people matters—because we are living in eternity and our days are expressions, sometimes humble and other times courageous, of the certainty that God ultimately rules over all things with love.

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

When facing health challenges, you can pray for healing, confident that God cares about you, He will be with you, and He promises to work all things for your eternal good. You also have the further assurance, that God will grant you healing—if not in this life, then in the Resurrection.

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

Mourning the death of a loved one, you have a different perspective. You do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since you believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep … the dead in Christ will rise … Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

What you do or don’t do on the Sabbath is changed when you are living in the Resurrection. Works of mercy, acts of loving our neighbor are not forbidden, but rather encouraged. And living in the Resurrection now, where will you be found each Lord’s Day? In the presence of the Lord, hearing the Word of God. Receiving Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening and preserving of your body and soul unto life everlasting. Celebrating with your fellow Christians, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the glorious foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Yes, living in the Resurrection now makes a big difference!

So, go in the grace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are living in the Resurrection now. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

In the Presence, Glory, and Rest of the Lord: Sermon for the Funeral of Lorraine Scheerhoorn

Click here to listen to this sermon.Lorraine Scheerhoorn

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

As you’ll read in her obituary, Lorraine confessed publicly the faith into which she was baptized in the Rite of Confirmation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Trosky on April 2, 1944. On that day, Lorraine promised that she would “continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.” By the grace of God, Lorraine kept that promise; she fought the good fight of faith and has received the crown of eternal life.

On the day of her confirmation, Lorraine received this verse, Exodus 33:14, a promise of God, that she wanted you to hear today: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

What an excellent text for the Christian life and death of one of God’s saints! As we should do with any and every Bible passage, we’ll first consider this verse in its original context, and then apply it to our lives on this day in which we recall all the blessings that the Lord bestowed upon His daughter and our sister-in-Christ, Lorraine.

As the Lord first spoke these words to Moses, Moses had just come down from Sinai with the two tablets of the Law, written by the finger of the Lord, only to find the people of Israel worshiping and sacrificing to the golden calf. When God threatened to wipe out the Israelites and start over again to make a new nation through Moses, the prophet interceded on their behalf. The Lord relented, telling the prophet there would still be punishment for those who had sinned against Him, but Moses was to continue leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land.

The Lord and Moses had a very special, unique relationship. We are told: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” We see this, in the conversation between himself and the Lord recorded in our Old Testament reading. Moses wrestles with the Lord in prayer much as Jacob had once done, not wanting to let the Lord go without first receiving a blessing.

Relying on this close relationship, Moses says: “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’” Moses then pleads for greater information concerning the Lord’s intentions as far as Israel is concerned: “Show me now Your ways… Consider too that this nation is Your people.” In other words, “I am to be Your leader of Your people, please let me know your intentions concerning them.” We see how Moses approaches the throne of the Lord’s grace “boldly and confidently,” as Luther encourages us in His explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism.

The Lord reassures Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Moses receives what he asks for! The Lord promises that His own personal Presence will continue to be with His people. Moses holds the Lord firmly to this word of assurance. “If Your Presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here,” he says. “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

These words of Moses, although stated as questions, are actually the words of a believer who clings to the Word and promise of God. He approaches the Lord in the spirit of the psalmist who declares, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).

Once more the Lord reassures Moses: “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.” Moses is overcome with joy. In this joyful mood he proceeds to make one more daring request. He says to the Lord, “Please, show me Your glory.”

Although Moses had communicated with the Lord “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), he had not seen the Lord’s glory in its total splendor. Moses wants to see God in all His holiness, His majesty, and perfection.

But the Lord cannot comply with Moses’ request, as He Himself states: “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” As a human being cannot look into the light of the sun without being blinded by its brilliance, so likewise sinful people living here on this earth cannot behold the glory of a holy God without being destroyed. Believers also are sinful human beings. They cannot know God fully or comprehend His ways. They cannot dwell in His holy light. Only in eternity will the veil between a believer and the holy God be removed, and “we shall see Him as He is.”

The Lord, however, does not become angry with Moses because of his unusual request. He rather says to him, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” What a beautiful reminder lies in these words! For us human beings here on this earth, the Lord’s glory rests in that name by which He has revealed Himself to us—the I AM WHO I AM, the Lord of the covenant, the God who in His Word has revealed Himself to us above all in His mercy, His compassion, His free and faithful grace!

Moses boldly asks for a direct vision of God’s glory, but God tells Him He will show him more—He will send His goodness. God will reveal more in His character than in His glorious appearance. The Lord then grants Moses an unusual experience. The Lord puts Moses into the cleft of a rock. While passing by, the Lord covers Moses with His “hand,” that is, with His protecting power. After passing by, the Lord lets Moses see His “back,” that is, the reflection of His glory. The Lord reveals to Moses as much as He can in the circumstances. The important revelation as far as Moses is concerned is the proclaiming of the Lord’s name.

There are times in our own lives as Christians when the pressures of this earthly existence weigh heavily upon us. Life’s problems and disappointments mount with increasing fury. The death of loved ones causes us pain and sorrow. The weight of sin wears us down. Our own responsibilities never seem to lessen in intensity. “How much more can we be expected to carry?” we ask. We wrestle with the Lord in prayer. We long for some kind of added reassurance that He is truly there, according to His promise.

With Peter we declare, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But isn’t there more than mere words? Heaven seems so far away. “Show us Your glory,” we say with Moses. We want the Lord to give us some tangible sign of His glorious Presence.

God gives us something better!

In Christ, we have better than a sign. We have God’s Presence with us. We have God’s glory veiled in human flesh. We have God’s promised rest. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. God sends us His goodness.

In our Gospel for today, we hear: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16–17).

The truth be told, because of sin, none of us deserve to be in God’s glory and presence. None of us deserve God’s goodness or promised rest—not Lorraine, not you, not me, not anyone. These gifts are given to us solely out of God’s grace and mercy, without any worthiness on our part, but for the sake of the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who came to earth as one of us, who covered Himself with human flesh and lived among us in this fallen, dying world.

Jesus lived the perfect, obedient life that Lorraine, you, and I would not, indeed, could not live. Jesus gave His life on the cross for the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—Lorraine’s, yours, and mine included. Jesus rose again from the grave giving us the certain hope of our own resurrection to eternal life. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf, even as He has promised to be with us always in His means of grace.

God, in His mercy and goodness, still condescends to come to us poor, miserable sinners in ways we can receive Him. Luther writes: “[God] says, ‘Man shall not see Me and live.’ Therefore He put before us an image of Himself, because He shows Himself to us in such a manner that we can grasp Him. In the New Testament we have Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, absolution, and the ministry of the Word” (AE 2:46).

God’s Presence was with Lorraine throughout her life. On the day she was baptized in May 1930, the Holy Spirit came to live in the temple of Lorraine’s body, bringing forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Holy Baptism, Lorraine was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all her sin. She was buried with Christ into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, she too might walk in newness of life. United with Him in a death like His, she shall certainly be united in a resurrection like His.

Regularly throughout her life, Lorraine entered the rest of the Lord as she made time to hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it in the Divine Service, Bible study, and daily devotions. The Lord came to be with her in His Supper, feeding her His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of her faith. As Lorraine confessed her sins, Christ spoke forgiveness to her in His Word of absolution. And when Lorraine prayed, she could do so with the certainty that God heard her prayers for the sake of Christ, and she could speak with the Father as Moses did; that is, “as a man speaks to his friend.”

In His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments—the Lord brought His promised rest to Lorraine throughout her life, up until the day of her death, when she entered His glory, His Presence, and rest for eternity. She now lives in the Presence of the Lord with all the saints who have gone before, looking upon His glorious face unhindered by sin. Having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, they serve Him day and night. He shelters them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, for the Lamb will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

One day, by God’s grace, we will join them there.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, may God grant this to us all. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Lamb Will Be Their Shepherd

FB_IMG_1557613509486Click here to listen to this sermon

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” (Revelation 7:17).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Each year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Fittingly, all our readings today give us insight to the relationship we have with Jesus as sheep and Shepherd and the benefits of that relationship.

Our Gospel takes place during the Feast of Dedication, also called Hanukkah, the Jewish national holiday celebrating the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in December 165 B.C. Jesus was walking in the temple area near Solomon’s colonnade. It offered some protection from the winter’s cold. The Jewish religious leaders encircled Jesus and asked Him point blank: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Sad to say, they didn’t really want to know the truth. What Jesus had already told them, what He had done, and the way He lived in His Father’s name were clear evidence that He is the Christ. But they did not want to believe. Similarly, today, many people claim to want to know exactly who Jesus is, yet they ignore His own words and ways. “You do not believe,” says Jesus, “because you are not among My sheep.” Those who are not among God’s chosen flock turn deaf ears and blinded eyes to Jesus.

In contrast to such unbelievers, Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. He knows them and they follow Him. The relationship between Jesus and His followers is intimate, personal. And because He is the Christ, the Son of God, the relationship is eternal. He gives His sheep eternal life. They will not perish forever. No one can snatch them out of His hand.

What words of comfort for you and me! We are secure forever with Christ Jesus. Our security is locked up with the Father in heaven. No one can take us from Jesus’ hands because that would mean seizing us from God the Father’s hands. And no one can do that. What is true of the Son also is true of the Father.

Jesus’ words are clear. He is from God. He is the Son of God. He is God. He is the Christ. “I and the Father are one,” he concludes.

It’s not enough to gather from His words only that He and the Father think alike or have a harmonious relationship or treat His sheep alike. Jesus is speaking of being one essence with the Father, of being God. And that’s exactly how Jesus’ enemies understand Him. To them, Jesus’ words sounded like blasphemy, so they pick up stones to carry out the penalty described in Leviticus for blasphemers. Their hatred and anger cannot be contained. They are ready to ignore the legal need for a trial. They are ready to carry out capital punishment even though they know by law that only the Roman government has that authority.

But no one will take Jesus’ life. He will lay it down of His own accord when the time is right. And He will raise it again. He will give His sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no enemy will snatch them out of His hand.

Jesus, in our Gospel, warns of enemies from outside of the Church; Paul, in our First Reading, warns of those from within—false prophets, fierce wolves. He encourages the undershepherds of Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.

Paul understands that a preacher must answer to God for the message he preaches or fails to preach. By saying, “I am innocent of the blood of all,” he is expressing his confidence that no one will go to eternal death because Paul has failed to preach the truth to him.

God’s will is that all men turn in “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” All the teaching of the Bible and all true preaching centers in this. To alter any of God’s Law or God’s Gospel is to misrepresent God’s will. To say more or to say less than God’s Word says can make a pastor guilty of someone’s blood, make him the cause of someone’s eternal damnation.

Shepherds feed and lead the flock. Pastors feed and lead the Church of God. The Holy Spirit has made them overseers, supervisors, for that purpose. As undershepherds, pastors are to guard themselves and the whole congregation. Paul uses the picture of a flock because he is thinking of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, the God who bought the Church “with His own blood.”

That is a striking expression, so striking that some copyists and editors and commentators have tried to change it. That’s unfortunate. The phrase, “God’s blood,” reminds us that when God became man, He did not stop being God. As the God-Man He is not two persons but one person. What the Man did God was doing. What belongs to the Man belongs to God. When Jesus’ blood was shed, God’s blood was shed. When God bought the Church, He did it with His own blood.

The savage wolves of whom Paul speaks are false prophets of the same kind Jesus warns about in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” No church anywhere at anytime can be complacent about the possibility of false teachers. Wolves kill sheep. False teachers kill souls. That is why we take our doctrine and practices so seriously. Though some misunderstand it as mean-spirited or intolerant or arrogant, it is actually most loving—a matter of eternal life and death.

False prophets generally do not come from outside but arise from within. They do not oppose the truth in a straightforward way and say that it is false. Rather, they distort it. They use the right words but twist and pervert them. Such lies and distortions must be opposed and exposed with the truth of God’s Word.

Who can keep the pastors faithful in their work and protect the Church from the savage wolves? Only God. How will God do that? Through the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The Word proclaims God’s grace, imparts God’s grace, and keeps us in God’s grace. That Word will make us grow to Christian maturity and gives us a share of the blessings that God has for His saints.

Paul knows that he will not always be there to help the Ephesians, but God with His Word will help them as He has even while Paul is there building them up in the eternal inheritance the Lord Jesus has prepared for them by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So He does today in God’s Word written through the prophets and Christ’s apostles and spoken by His undershepherds, His called and ordained servants. Listen to Him!

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Then He promises: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” In Revelation, St. John gives us a sneak peek at the eternal life in the new heaven and earth where the Lamb will be the Shepherd forever.

The people in the great crowd which John sees before the throne of God in heaven are coming out of “the great tribulation.” That crowd represents the whole Church as if it is already triumphant, as if it is already complete, as it will be at the resurrection at the End.

The crowd of saints comes out of the great tribulation victorious because they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Because of the redeeming death of Jesus Christ, the crowd of people stands pure and holy in the presence of God. With sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, and covered now with the righteousness of the Lamb, they share in the victory of the Lamb before the heavenly Father. They stand before the throne of God and “worship Him day and night” (Revelation 7:15).

The one who sits upon the throne “will shelter them in His presence,” literally, “spread His tent over them, the same word used in John 1:14, when the Word became flesh, He “tented” among God’s people. It could be that, in using this word, God is condescending to our human understanding of existence and manner of speaking. But more likely, the word is used to direct attention to the fact that God’s people, raised from the dead will live intimately in the flesh with God in the new heaven and new earth, and in a familial, intimate way, He will dwell with us in a manner that can be experienced also with the human senses. And because God will tent among His saints in heaven, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (Revelation 7:16). All our greatest needs will be taken care of!

As we reflect on what John saw and heard, we can’t help but be comforted with this thought: God always keeps His promises. John sees the final end of God’s promises concerning His people at rest in the presence of God and the Lamb, never again to be pained by the harshness of life we formerly experienced it in our earthly existence. In our new life with God, the Lamb “will be [our] Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17).

This relationship between God and His people, as pictured by His being our Shepherd, was revealed so beautifully in the 23rd Psalm. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord promised His people that like a shepherd He would look after them in order to rescue them and care for them. In order to carry out this Word, God then promised to provide His people with a shepherd. The promised shepherd would be His servant, born in Bethlehem from the seed of David. In the verses, preceding our Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Now in our text, John sees and hears the final outcome of these promises. The Shepherd of the Lord has been provided. By His death and resurrection, the servant David has rescued God’s people. As their Good Shepherd He tends the flock, caring for them and leading them through the great tribulation to “springs of living waters—eternal life—already now on earth, then in heaven with God, and finally forever in the new heaven and new earth.

A final truth describes the rest and the peace of the crowd of saints before God’s throne in heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). Tears and laments are part of the experience and character of the faithful people of God while on earth. Tears are shed over one’s sins and the sins of others, over the ruin and sufferings experienced by others, over one’s own afflictions, when confronted with God’s anger, when alone and in sorrow, at death, and at other times of sadness.

In this life the shedding of tears is as much—at times even more—the experience of Christians as are joy and laughter. But it is the gift of God’s grace to turn the weeping and sorrow into joy, for He has promised a day when “the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). John now sees the complete and final fulfillment of this promise of God. The final word describing the peace and joy of the saints before God in heaven says it all: “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. You hear His voice through His Word and follow Him. He feeds you on the green pasture of His Supper, His own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. No one will ever snatch you out of His hand. The Lamb will be your Shepherd forever. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Keys of Death & Hades, Life & Heaven

WordItOut-word-cloud-3738677Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

In our First Reading, an angel of the Lord opens the doors of the prison that hold all the apostles, not with the guards’ keys, but miraculously. In fact, the guards aren’t even disturbed. When the religious officials arrive, they find the jail fully secure, but completely empty. The Gospel has free course in spite of prison doors. God’s saving purposes are not frustrated by locks.

In our Gospel, the apostles are gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews and what they might do to them. But there is one whom the locked doors did not keep out—the resurrected Jesus. We don’t know much about Jesus’ resurrected body, but we do know He left a sealed tomb with even the grave clothes still intact and that He appeared inside a locked room without use of door or key.

But as miraculous and supernatural as these incidents are, they are not the most astounding actions or miraculous openings in our readings for today.

In our Second Reading, John tells us of one Lord’s day during the time he was on the island of Patmos. He was in the Spirit when he heard a loud voice speak to him. Turning around, he saw some amazing sights: seven golden lampstands and one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When John saw the risen and ascended Christ in all His glory, he fell down before Him as dead. John could no more stand before the heavenly Christ than he could touch the sun. Indeed, he could no more stand before the glorified Christ than Moses could stand before God and see His face at Mt. Sinai—unless given special grace and permission. No sinful mortal can stand before the exalted Son of Man because of the corruption of sin and God’s own holiness and glory.

John’s falling down as dead is like the action of every faithful proclaimer of the Word as he falls down in repentance before the Word that comes to him. Something good for us pastors to remember: Every ministry of the Word should begin with the repentance of the minister and Christ’s forgiveness of his sin.

Jesus gave John the grace and permission to stand up before Him. Placing His right hand on John, Jesus told John, “Stop being afraid.” This Word of gracious comfort empowered Christ’s servant to stand up in His presence.

The Lord Christ identified Himself as “the First and Last.” Like “the Alpha and Omega,” “the First and the Last” also denotes the eternalness of God and Christ, an eternalness of Christ in relationship to His Bride, the Church. In using this title, Jesus assured John that, as the Eternal One, He is his Savior; therefore, John should not be afraid.

Furthermore, Jesus identified Himself as “the Living One,” a title used in the Old Testament to contrast the true God with all the idols, which are dead and thus have no existence. Jesus Christ was dead but now lives forever. Because of His death and resurrection, Jesus says, “I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Some translations say, “death and the grave,” but “death and Hades” more accurately renders the Greek. In Roman culture, Hades was commonly thought of as the realm of the dead. Having “the keys of Death and Hades” is nothing less than holding the power to release people from the realm of the dead. Christ alone, who has conquered death, has this authority.

Jesus has the keys. He has the keys of Death and Hades. In Matthew 16:19, He declared to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This is big stuff. Jesus has the keys—the keys to heaven and death and Hades: you couldn’t escape the prison of your gracv, but Jesus unlocks the door and delivers you from your cell—and there is no power that can stop Him. Furthermore, He has unlocked the gates of heaven for you. You are delivered from death and hell to life and heaven.

Where does this take place? This is what ties it to our Gospel lesson for the day, where the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the disciples who are gathered in the locked room for fear of the Jews. Jesus hails the disciples with the typical Hebrew greeting: “Peace be with you!” But on the lips of the risen Savior, it is much more than a casual wish. He brings them the peace that the world cannot give, the peace that will sustain them through all earthly troubles.

The disciples react in their fear as if they are seeing a ghost. But Jesus’ resurrected body still bears the marks of the crucifixion, to which Jesus points to erase their last doubts. The disciples rejoice! It is the Lord Jesus, alive!

Jesus again speaks peace to them and commissions them to carry on His work: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. And when He says this, He breathes on them, and repeats the gift of the keys to the disciples gathered in the locked room: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Where does this great unlocking of doors happen? The keys are turned with the forgiveness of sins. This is what we call the “Office of the Keys.”

“The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent” (Small Catechism).

Repentance is really a two-step process: first, recognizing the reality of our sin; and second, turning to God in faith for His mercy.

Someone who does not believe he is a sinner cannot be repentant—what’s to repent of if you are not doing something wrong? So, the first step to repentance can only happen after the Law does its accusing work. People have to hear what God’s Word says so they can recognize themselves and experience contrition over sin. The flesh, the world, and the devil spend all their time whispering, “What you are doing isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s not bad at all!” Our consciences are assaulted and dulled every day by our own sinful desires. Only the Law of God can cut us to our hearts, bring us to our knees, and show us where we are wrong (usually, that is almost everywhere). Once that message gets through and we know we are slaves to sin, the first part of repentance is accomplished.

But it is not enough just to know and believe we are sinners. If we stop there, we despair, knowing that our sin separates us from God. And trying to get out of sin by our own power will also lead us to despair, because we cannot stop sinning no matter how much we want to.

So, the second part of repentance is faith: believing God’s promise that in Christ we are forgiven and have new life, namely at turning away from sin rather than to it. In particular, it means that we turn with God’s help from the specific sins of which the Law convicted us. That turning goes beyond inward resolve and really wanting to do better. Repentance includes mortifying our flesh and physically, mentally, and spiritually laboring to leave the sins that plague us.

“Repent!” sounds like a harsh message, and it is harsh. Hearing what God’s Word has to say about our favorite vices makes us angry, ashamed, and afraid. But it also makes us see that there is only one way out: Jesus. That’s why the call to repentance is one of love. It is the call God put in the mouths of His prophets and apostles so that His people could be saved. It is the call of Jesus Himself, whose love for us was so great that He took on our flesh and lived among us. He did not come to give us the message we wanted to hear (you know, the one about how you are really pretty good, especially compared to that other person). He told us the truth that we needed to hear: we are perverse, we are lost, we are dead, we must be made new, and He is the one who makes all things new.

Repentance is not some theological abstraction. For Lutherans, repentance occurs in the very concrete practice of Confession and Absolution. Our pastors do not leave us hanging. The second part of repentance is also theirs to administer. They show us our sins from the Law, and they show us our Savior in the Gospel.

Our pastors convict us with God’s Word and then forgive our sins in Christ’s place and by His command. They may do this corporately in the Divine Service, and they particularly do it in private Confession and Absolution. There is no real comfort in going home and crying into our pillows about how sorry we are. Our pastors are there to restart our crushed hearts with Jesus’ words of ultimate love: I forgive you all your sins. Those words do not just comfort us, but they effectively change us, so that even in our daily lives we grow more into the likeness of Jesus.

You can fake an apology, but you cannot fake repentance. Repentance is not just devout-sounding moaning about what rotten sinners we are, but it is leaving the life of sin we love so much. It means the slanderer keeping her zingers to herself, the lecher cancelling his Internet, the glutton by-passing the buffet, and the impious spending Sunday morning at church instead of the lake. It is change, and it hurts. Only the Holy Spirit could accomplish this work in us, because if there is one thing sinners do not like, it is giving up sin.

Sin dies hard, so hard that it took the Son of God with it to the grave (albeit briefly). And the sin in us kills us day after day. This why the Christian life is one of repentance. Repentance is not a one-time thing, because sin is not a one-time thing. We sin daily and hourly. Everything we do is tainted by sin. So every day in a Christian’s life is also characterized by repentance. In our personal prayers; in our worship together; in our private confession and receiving Absolution; and in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we are repenting constantly. We are always seeing our sin and throwing ourselves at God’s mercy, who spared not His Son to save us. With His help, we turn away from sin again and again and again.

To all who hear, we declare God’s Law and Gospel. We speak truth that we’re born in sin, that the wages of sin is death; and we declare the Good News that Christ has died for our sins and Christ is risen. When someone says, “I like my sin, so I’m not going to repent,” we tell them what the Word says: as long as they hold onto that sin, they still have it. That sin is retained, bound to them—the gates of heaven are shut, the gates of hell wide open. And when someone repents and trusts in Christ for forgiveness, we tell them what the Word says then, too: that Jesus has taken away that sin, that they are set free for eternal life. The gates of hell are shut for them, the gates of heaven wide open.

It’s all about the forgiveness Jesus has won by His death and resurrection and gives to you. In fact, forgiveness takes His death and resurrection and gives it to you. That is also why we always return to speak of Christ and His forgiveness here, for only forgiveness locks hell and opens heaven for you—for only Christ and His forgiveness give life. Rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness for your well-being. That’s what He told the disciples to proclaim in our Gospel lesson, and that is what prepares you for His return in glory on the Last Day.

Of this you can be sure. You will see that glory on the Last Day, and on that day you will rejoice. Your Savior holds the keys to death and Hades, eternal life and heaven. He has shut hell for you and flung wide the gates of heaven by His death and resurrection. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Last Enemy Is Destroyed: Sermon for the Funeral of Veva Mae Baden

Veva BadenClick here to listen to this sermon. 

“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” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26).

Randy, Rhonda, other family members and friends of Veva:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This weekend we observed the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The “war to end all wars,” it was optimistically, if not naively dubbed. At first idealistic, the term has become quite ironic. In the 100 years since the Armistice was declared with Germany on the 11th hour of the 11th month, our own country has fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and is still involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems that the moment one would-be dictator is deposed, another takes his place on the world’s stage. Another war begins in the futile attempt to end all wars.

But there’s a much deadlier war going on. A spiritual war that has been going on for centuries—ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. It’s the battle of the Seed of the woman and seed of the serpent. Good vs evil. God vs Satan. And the toll that it has taken is enormous. Thousands of years with 100% casualty rates. For as we know, the wages of sin is death. And all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All have followed the path of Adam: From the dust of the ground you came, in the ground to dust you shall return.

The fact that death is our spiritual enemy has immense significance for us Christians, especially on a day like this. Sometimes at funerals, one hears comments such as these: “We shouldn’t be sad; we should only rejoice. God blessed her with many years. Her suffering is over. This is a victory celebration.” To be sure, there is a sense in which this is true. But death, the last enemy and sign of sin’s universal dominion over fallen humanity, will not be swallowed up until the Last Day, and Christians are free to grieve at the death of their loved ones.

Even the 90 years that God granted Veva to serve her family and community, to share her joy of music by teaching piano and playing in church are a drop in the bucket compared to our Creator’s plan for us. God never intended the pain of separation and the heartache that attends death. That sharp pain of grief can be an entirely appropriate manifestation of the biblical understanding that death has not yet been fully overcome. And so, Christians may and should mourn at funerals—but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

But there’s Good News on the battle front!

The fight is over. The battle won. Christ is risen. Death is defeated.

Oh, I know, it doesn’t look that way on a day like today. The evidence suggests otherwise. The flowers in the nave. Veva’s mortal remains lie in the casket before us—one of the latest casualties in the conflict of the ages. In less than an hour, we will be committing her body to rest in the ground. But God’s Word clearly declares that death has been defeated!

That victory was won about the 9th hour of the Friday we Christians call Good. In the darkness, when Jesus drew His last breath and shouted, “It is finished!” Again, it didn’t look victorious at all, but that was the end of death’s reign. The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law. Jesus absorbed the power of sin by becoming sin. Jesus took the sting of death into His own flesh. The Law is fulfilled. Sin is judged. Death lies defeated.

Easter is not the victory. Good Friday is. Jesus’ death is the decisive victory when death swallowed up life and lost. But without the resurrection, the victory remains hidden. Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t know Jesus from Adam. But Christ is risen, the firstfruits of the dead. He unbarred the gates. He broke the chains. He threw open the prison doors. The stone is rolled away. The burial clothes are folded neatly. The tomb is empty. Jesus has risen.

Every harvest has firstfruits. The first strawberries of spring. The first tomato of summer. The first wheat and corn and soybeans of the harvest. Firstfruits mean more to come. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He’s the first of the dead to rise. But there’s more to come. Many more.

For Christ, the resurrection took place almost 20 centuries ago. For those who have believe in Him, the resurrection will take place when He returns in glory on Judgment Day. The first sheaf was from a grave outside Jerusalem on the first Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago. The harvest will be from graves all over the world when our risen Lord will appear on clouds of glory, and His own will rise from their graves and will be caught up to meet with Him in the air.

“As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” When Adam fell, humanity fell. When Adam sinned, humanity became a sinner. Death came into this world through one man, Adam. His death was the death of us all. His sin is our sin and our captivity.

That is why Christ had to come as man. That is why the Word had to become flesh to dwell among us. Humanity needed a new head. A new Adam. A second Adam who was like the first and not like the first. Like us in every way except for sin. A sinless Adam who would do what the first Adam did not do and what we in Adam cannot do.

When Christ died, humanity died. When Christ rose, humanity rose in Him. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The battle is won, but the war is not yet over. There are still border skirmishes, pockets of resistance, enemy soldiers lurking. Even after the Armistice was declared, the battles continued as generals tried to take more territory before their troops were withdrawn. We still get sick, still have accidents, still grow old, and we all die. We are born of Adam, children of Adam. We are conceived and born with Adam’s inherited sin. Birth is one hundred percent fatal. Everyone enters this world with an expiration date.

But Christ has conquered death on behalf of fallen humanity. Christ is humanity’s new head, a humanity that is destined to rise on the Last Day. That doesn’t mean that all rise to eternal life. It does mean that all rise. Those, like Veva, who trust in Christ and His merits rise to eternal life. Those who trust in themselves and their works rise to eternal condemnation. But all rise. All humanity is caught up in the victory of Jesus and no one is left behind.

What Christ has won for all, He gives in Holy Baptism. Through the water and Word, Veva was adopted into the family of God, made a co-heir with Christ of all the treasures of His kingdom, including forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Baptism, she was declared by God dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. She was buried with Christ in His death and raised to new life in His resurrection.

What happened with Jesus in His death and resurrection is now made yours in Baptism. You are dead and you are alive. Dead in Adam and alive in Jesus. Jesus’ victory over death and sin and the Law are yours. God has granted it in His name. The last enemy has been conquered!

How pitiful it is when Christians talk as though Jesus was nothing more than a crutch to lean on. How pitiful it is when Christians live in cowering fear of death and the grave in full view of Jesus’ open and empty tomb. How pitiful it is when we act as though our puny hold on this life is all there is and all there will ever be. Jesus’ resurrection proves that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you!

Christ is risen, the firstfruits of the harvest of the resurrection!

“Firstfruits” means more to come. A future. A destiny. A hope. For Veva. For you. Though you die, yet in Christ you live. And living and trusting in Christ, you never die forever. There is now and there is not yet. Now we live by faith in the Son of God. Now we live trusting God’s promise of life in Jesus. Now we live believing that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.

But there’s a coming day, a great day, a glory day, when we will see with resurrected eyes what we must now believe and take God at His Word. The end, the Last Day, when every temporal rule and authority and power will be destroyed, when every dead will rise, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Christ has enemies. The war still rages on. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh still tempt us, causing us to doubt, to disbelieve, to wander from the flock. We forget the open, empty tomb and live in servile fear of death. We bargain with false religions and quack cures trying to cheat death. We live in denial, as though death were an illusion. We forget the promises God has made for us in Jesus Christ.

The victory is won, the outcome is guaranteed, but war rages on. It is not a war against flesh and blood. It is not a war fought with bullets and bombs. It is not a war fought by power and might. It is not a war that we fight, but one that Christ fights seated at the right hand of the Father. He is restless to put all His enemies under His foot along with the head of the serpent. And He fights that battle with the Word of His mouth and the fiery breath of His Spirit. That’s how this war is fought. Word and Spirit. Word and Sacrament. Baptism. Body. Blood. Forgiveness. Holy Church. Holy Ministry. That’s how the Son of God fights His war against every rule and power and authority. And that’s why it’s important for you to come to the place where He promises to give these things—the Church!

At the end of World War II, there were Japanese soldiers on isolated islands in the Pacific who did know the war was over. They did not realize they had been defeated. They were still fighting a war that had ended years before. Someone had to tell them, and it wasn’t always safe. They were at war.

That’s what you and I do in the world. We tell the people we meet that the fight over sin and death is over. The battle is won. That’s why we gather here in the Lamb’s foreign embassy, the Church to hear it again, over and over and over again. To be reminded, that this fallen world and this broken life is not all there is. To be encouraged to stay strong and ready to the end. The best is yet to come.

The last enemy, death, is destroyed. Christ is risen! The grave has lost its sting! On the Last Day, all the dead will rise, and Christ will bring Veva, Gordon, you, your loved ones, and all who die in the faith to be with Him forever in the new heaven and the new earth. Amen!

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This sermon is based upon an Easter sermon by William C. Cwirla.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

Sermon for the Funeral of Donald Long

Donald LongClick here to listen to this sermon.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Near the end of his life St. Paul wrote at least two letters to one of his understudies—a man named Timothy. The second is a farewell letter in which the apostle warns the young pastor of false teachers and exhorts his charge to carry on his preaching of the Gospel even as he has begun. In the last section, chapter 4, verses 6-18, Paul begs Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, for he knows his time on earth is short. This will be the basis for my sermon this afternoon:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.

“Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:6–18).

There he was: an old man whose life’s journeys were now drawing to a close. His travels were now measured in terms of feet and yards, as opposed to the miles that he had once been able to journey. The years had taken their toll and he was tired clear down to his bones. Indeed, his movements were restricted by his physical condition. In fact, he knew that the end of his life was at hand and he looked forward to the time when the Lord would call him home to the glory that awaited him. His desire was to depart and to be with Christ which would be far better.

At this point in his life, his needs were few and they were very simple. In his present condition, only the basics of physical and spiritual life were important to him. One of his blessings was to have the medical care that was required. Luxuries, accumulation of material possessions, prestige, and past accomplishment were unimportant at this stage of his life.

His restrictions in movement also came from his surroundings. He could only move about when others allowed it. He was not free to go wherever he wanted, in fact, he was confined. Indeed, when he wrote to Timothy, Paul was a prisoner in Rome awaiting his execution for being a Christian.

As we think about what Paul’s needs were, we can readily see that Don’s were similar. In his letter, the apostle included the request that Timothy bring his cloak. The combination of age, the winter, and the chill of his dungeon left Paul desiring to be kept warm. So also with Don. The man who had always been so active, pursuing his interests collecting coins and guns, hunting and fishing, flying and bird watching—the man who just two summers ago bicycled over 400 miles on the paths around Pipestone was confined—first indoors because of health issues, then toward the last, imprisoned in his own mind. There was the need for the immediate physical necessities—warmth, food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.

But there was also the self-recognition that he needed spiritual care as well. One of the marks of faith is to recognize the need to take care of one’s soul. Men like Paul and Don confessed their sin and looked to God for forgiveness and salvation and eternal life. Whenever they were able, they worshiped their Lord. They were not like those who were once members of the church, but who, like the man named Demas, “was in love with this present world,” and who deserted the faith and had no place for God any longer. No indeed, they acknowledged that they were sinful in thought, word, and deed. They knew that Christ had died for their sins, taking the penalty of their guilt upon Himself on the cross.

Their hope was in the Lord Jesus who rose again from the dead to ensure victory over death; and that they had if only because of God’s grace. Christ was their confession of faith, the only One in whom there is hope for life in the face of death—the only one each of us will face. For each one of us will come to the end of this life here on earth.

Paul knew that his death would come at any moment at the hands of the Romans. Don did not know when the good and gracious will of the Lord would be done—when the Almighty would call him into eternal glory. But both were ready. Both could say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Are you ready? Could you say the same thing? Just as surely as the mortal remains of Don are before us today, so also will it be for each of us here, unless the Lord should return first. When will your end come—will it be today on the way home, suddenly and unexpected, or will you live to be 94 years old like Don did?

Perhaps the most important question is “Will you be ready?” What are you going to do with this Jesus? For those of you who have neglected your spiritual welfare or that of your family, let both the words of Paul and the reality of Don’s passing demonstrate your need for a faithful relationship with the Lord.

Paul stated the truth that those who have no such trust in and worship of the Lord will not partake in the joys and blessings of heaven, but that those who do fear, love, and trust in God can have the greatest confidence when he wrote: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

That same hope was Don’s and it can be yours, too, for the sake of Christ. We are always in the shadow of death in this sinful world, and we don’t know how much time we have left here. But we can say with confidence, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” No matter what lies ahead, you always have more life to look forward to—eternal life.

Remember that, and remember that it is all for the sake of Christ. See, you might feel very certain of your salvation now, but uncertainty becomes the devil’s haunting weapon of terror when death draws near.

For now, you continue to fight; and it’s a good fight because you’re a child of God, because the Holy Spirit sanctifies your life for the sake of Jesus. But it’s a fight all the same, as the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh work hard to make you feel miserable for being a Christian. For now you run the race, and it’s a good race, too. Your pace might be faster or slower, but the finish line means eternity with the Lord, not the end. Keep your eyes on the prize—Christ and His crown of righteousness. Keep in the means of grace—God’s Word and Sacrament.

When Paul was no longer able to go about freely and be with the congregation for worship, his desire was still to have the Word of God brought to him. He asked Timothy to bring the books and the parchments to him—to have the Word of God brought to him in his prison cell.

When Don was no longer able to come to church, his desire was to have the Word of the Lord brought to him. From the monthly times when he received the Lord’s Supper and heard Bible readings to the times groups would sing to him and other residents of the nursing home, he was kept close to his Lord.

I might add at this point that all of us, but especially you children, need to take a lesson from Don with respect to memorizing the Bible passages, hymn verses, and the liturgy. When his eyes became such that he could no longer read and when no one was there to read to him, he had the Scriptures because he knew many verses from memory.

Paul wrote that he wanted Timothy and Mark to come to be with him. He needed to have people around him. The same was true with Don. All of the visits by family, friends, and members of the congregation were greatly appreciated. Even when Don was no longer able to speak, he would still smile and hold on tight to your hand as you said good-bye.

Therefore, I am confident that his parting words for you who have come here to remember his life and to pay your last respects, he would say: “Thank you for coming today.” And for those of you who are Christians and who will see Him in heaven one day, he would probably say something like this: “God be with you until we meet again.” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

A House Not Made with Hands: Sermon for the Funeral of Paul Brockberg

Paul Brockberg bannerClick here to listen to this sermon.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Like the psalmist, I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” That is, to say, I was glad to hear that the visitation yesterday and our service today would be here at St. John’s. It is good and right that we should be at this house of the Lord. Every time that I would visit him, he would ask: “How are things going at the church? How was attendance last Sunday? Was Jeff there? Bryan? Got many kids in Sunday School?”

It’s easy to understand why this house of the Lord would be important to Paul. This was the place in which he was baptized, confirmed, and married, Paul’s children were baptized and confirmed here at St. John’s. Paul served as a Sunday School teacher, church officer, and elder for many years in this place. Here in this place, Paul joyfully and heartily sang the praises of God. Here, week after week, Paul heard God’s Word proclaimed and received Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of his sins and the strengthening of his faith.

But today we’re not going to focus on this place, this house made with human hands. I want to spend more time talking about a “building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” and the place that Jesus has prepared for His followers.

St. Paul describes life now in this body as a tent—“the tent that is our earthly home.” It’s fading. It falls apart. It’s damaged by time, elements, and toxins. Really, the problem is that it’s a victim of the wages of sin. For a while, it’s a source of groaning. Eventually it is destroyed because the wages of sin is death.

So your body preaches sermons to you all the time—sermons of law. The sore throat and stuffy nose of a cold. The ache of arthritis or overtaxed joints. Toothaches. Allergies. The heartbeat that flutters now and then. Cataracts. We’ve each got our own list of pains and maladies: all of them preach that far from indestructible, we’re fragile and vulnerable. All of these remind us that the tent doesn’t last forever. And while that is a sad fact to contemplate, it is a very necessary lesson.

You see, you and I are, by nature, very much materialists. I don’t mean that we love material things more than we should, even though that’s often the case. Rather, I mean that we believe that material things are more real than immaterial things. In this case, your body is the material thing: you can see it, feel it, suffer its pains, enjoy its exhilarations. Because of that, you’re tempted to believe that your body is far more real than the soul—which you can’t see, feel, suffer, or enjoy.

Because you’re so much more aware of, and attuned to, your body, you’re then tempted to judge life and God by how well your body’s doing. If your health is good and your body is in good shape, then life is good and God is good. But if your health is bad and your body is failing, then life is bad and God is failing you. It’s easy to fall into this way of thinking for materialists like you and me. We tend to think of ourselves mainly as bodies that also happen to have souls.

But I propose to you that we are more souls that have bodies than bodies that have souls. We are souls with bodies—the soul is real and the soul is important. We can’t see it, but that doesn’t diminish its worth. In fact, it is more valuable than most of those things we can see. Jesus says in Mark 8:35: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” If your body is in great shape but your soul is stained with sin, you’re condemned. If your body is in poor shape but your soul is cleansed by grace, then heaven is yours forever.

It’s an important point, but there’s another danger lurking here: scorn for the body. Various false religions, as well as some within Christendom, have come to view the body as a prison for the soul. Death to them means release from prison, and an afterlife as a naked spirit free from bodies. That’s going too far in the other direction. The fact is that both bodies and souls are gifts of God.

God created Adam and Eve with both bodies and souls before the fall into sin. That sets us apart from all other creatures. Jesus honored our bodies by becoming flesh Himself in order to redeem us, body and soul. He subjected Himself, body and all, to God’s wrath on the cross so that we might be spared. Buried in the tomb, He sanctified our graves with His body which did not see corruption. Then He rose from the dead, body and all—and ascended into heaven, body and all. So if the Lord created your body and redeemed your body by His death and resurrection, it is not be an object of scorn. It remains your tent for as long as you remain in this world. It remains a temple of the Holy Spirit, for you are a redeemed child of God.

This can be a difficult truth. I think of Paul, who suffered from health issues for many years, the last twelve at Good Samaritan. At times, I’m sure, his body seemed a prison from which he wanted to escape. And in a sense, though there is grief at his death, there is a sense of relief when Paul was finally delivered from his afflictions. But I think it is important to make a distinction: his body wasn’t the problem—the affliction was. Similarly, his life was never a burden—the affliction of his body was.

I think that distinction is important: if you regard your body as the problem, then you will despise the body that God has created for you, perhaps even curse it. But if you regard the wages of sin as the problem, then the toll it takes on your body will lead you to ongoing repentance of your sin and trust in Christ—Christ who by His forgiveness delivers you from sin and death into life everlasting.

This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building with God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Your tent—your body—here is going to fail and fall apart unless the Lord returns soon. But that is not the end: you have eternal life in heaven, and you have a building from God. A building—not a temporary tent, but a building. Your body, just better—perfect, in fact. Better than it ever has been here. Free from corruption. Forever.

St. Paul goes on: “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Your body in this world is going to make you groan—it takes a beating and it falls apart. But you don’t groan to be released from a body—you eagerly await to be released from the burden of sin on your body. Heaven isn’t being unclothed so that you’re just a naked soul or spirit, but it is being further clothed in an incorruptible body that lasts forever.

Why is this so? St. Paul tells us: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” That’s quite a verse right there: God the Father has created your body, God the Son has redeemed your body, and now God the Holy Spirit is given to you as a guarantee that eternal life in an eternal body with eternally good health is yours. All three persons of the Holy Trinity are at work for you—soul, spirit and body.

And if the Triune God is at work for you, no wonder St. Paul can go on and say, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” For now, you don’t see the Lord. You see the pills you have to take, the hearing aids you have to wear, the cane or wheelchair you have to use, the smudge on the MRI that means trouble. You see the casket at the foot of the sanctuary that bears Paul’s earthly remains and it reminds you that one day it will be your body in the casket and your family sitting in the front pews. But you are still of good courage, because you know that he and you are fully redeemed by Christ.

And so now, by faith, you know though he is away from the body, St. Paul, your dad, grandfather, relative, friend, neighbor, our brother, is at home with the Lord. He has gone to the place that Jesus prepared for him with His perfect, obedient life, His sacrificial death, victorious resurrection, and glorious ascension. He rejoices with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in the New Jerusalem, where there is no more weeping and distress, no disease or death, awaiting the day of resurrection and the new heavens and the new earth.

And as for you, you live in this tent—and you groan and you grieve. But walking by faith, you know this: you are among those for whom Christ died. Solely for His sake, this tent of body and life are not the end. Only by His grace, the heavenly home is yours. Take heart, dear Christians, and be of good courage in suffering and grief: the day of the resurrection lies ahead. Your mortality and groans will be swallowed up by life everlasting, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.