Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

You Are Too Easily Satisfied

“I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey.  And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.  I am the Lord; I have spoken.”

Our problem as American Christians is not that we do not expect God’s goodness.  We do.  We expect that God will do good things for us.  He will bless us, prosper us.  He will heal our diseases, find us a job, keep our blessed ducks in a row.

                Our problem, our sin, is that we expect far too little from God.  We are satisfied with far less than God would give us.  We are contented with the minor blessing of this world, rather than the major blessings of the world to come.

                You see this in our culture’s satisfaction with fornication, pornography, and adultery.  People are perfectly satisfied to get the momentary pleasures of random copulation rather than to receive the greater satisfaction of marriage, fidelity, and commitment.  In other words people are satisfied with raw lust, rather than waiting for true love.

                When it comes to the church we are satisfied with more money in the plate, more rear ends in the pews, and more peppy pastors.  We are worried less about faith, hope, and love.  We are satisfied to be entertained, rather than to be challenged.  We are content to be appeased, rather than to be converted.  We are satisfied with good feelings, rather than good news.   

In Ezekiel 34 God promises the people of Israel that He will give them new and better shepherds.  He will give them greener pastures.  He will punish their enemies.  He will be their God forever.

                God will keep His promise.  No more enemies.  Better shepherds.  Better pastures.  Grace and abundance forever.  It will happen.  God has spoken.

                And it does happen.  The people are brought back from exile.  They had been taken captive and held in the land of Babylon for a few decades, but then God sent them back home.  He delivered them back to the greener pastures of Israel, back to the promised land.  And, more or less, they were satisfied with that.

                They were satisfied to have a king, a shepherd, who was their own.  Forget that these kings and rulers were no David.  They were not even descendants of David.  At least they were Jews. 

                The Jews had many priests, many kings and rulers over the course of several centuries.  They established a few new orders, the Pharisees, Sadducees, the scribes and elders.  They obeyed the Law as best they could, and that was that.  They were satisfied.  

                But God wanted to give them so much more.  He wanted to raise up for them, not just any ruler, not just any old king, but the true heir of David, the rightful king, the Good Shepherd.  They were happy to have their little local shepherds, when God wanted to give them His Son.  He wanted to give them Himself.

                And perhaps we can apply this lesson to the church today.  Each congregation has its own little shepherd.  And we can get a little too satisfied with that.  We like our pastor and so we sit back content and relaxed.

                Now, I want to tread carefully here, because on the one hand pastors are necessary.  Pastors are called to do the work of God, to proclaim His Word.  And that is where the problem lies precisely.  We become satisfied with the man and forget about His work.  Because His work is to give us something far greater than Himself.  He gives us JESUS!

                If you are satisfied with me because I can preach without notes, because I have a cute little family, or because I am a Saint Louis cardinals fan, then repent.  Be satisfied with nothing less than Christ Himself coming from my mouth in Law and Gospel, in doctrine and practice, in every action and every phrase.

                Pleasure is not the goal of human sexuality.  Marriage and children are.  Entertainment is not the goal of worship.  Forgiveness is.  Pastors are not the ultimate shepherds.  Jesus is.  Thanks be to God.

                It was Jesus whom the Jews should have been looking for, but they missed Him by and large.  While they were satisfied with these little shepherds, Pharisees and Sadducees, THE SHEPHERD was in their midst.  

                Jesus, their great Shepherd, led them to the greener pastures of God’s Word and fed them with truth and righteousness.  He bore the weight of their transgressions to the cross and delivered them from their enemies of sin and death.  He exited the grave so that His sheep might follow Him through death and into a life that will never end.

                Why are we satisfied with less when God wants to give so much more?  It is sin.  Repent.  And receive here the best stuff that God as to offer.  Not a mere man dressed in a white robe, but a message, a promise from God.

                Your sins are forgiven because of your Good Shepherd.  God is pleased with your service because of Jesus.  You will rise from the dead because of Jesus.  And that, my friends, is where we shall be ultimately satisfied.

                JESUS IS COMING BACK!  The dead will be raised.  Every sin will be forgiven.  Every disease will be healed.  Every weakness will be strengthened.

                God gives us good gifts in this life, but they are not there to satisfy us, but rather whet our appetite.  You think you have had a good marriage, just wait until the real bridegroom comes.  You think that you have tasted food.  Nu-uh, not until you feast with Christ in His kingdom.  You think you have lived?  No way, not until you have risen.

                Take all of the good you have received from God, multiply it times one million, and then you are beginning to see the joy of just the first drop of the river of abundant life that Jesus will unleash when He returns.  When you understand that, nothing in this world will truly satisfy you.  

                Yes, we can receive the gifts of marriage, the gifts of a faithful Church, or a good pastor, with joy.  We can appreciate them.  But we will never be satisfied with them.  

Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the desires of every living thing.  And He will. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Armor of Light

  They day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  It will come on quickly as labor pains come upon a woman full with child.  To those who are living in darkness, the return of Jesus will come as a complete and utter shock, mostly because they don’t expect Him to return at all.

                That might seem like a little bit of a “duh” statement.  If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, or you don’t believe that He even existed, then you certainly will be flabbergasted when He returns in glory.  They are not looking for Him to appear so it is really going to freak them out when Jesus shows up out of heaven.

                And what happens when Jesus shows up unannounced?  It will be destruction for those who are not looking for Him.  As we heard from Amos last week, the day of the Lord will be darkness, calamity, death, for those who have no faith in Christ.  

                Jesus will return as the judge of the world.  He will be the vengeance of God, the agent of wrath upon those who persist in rejecting God’s great and abundant mercy.  

This is, of course, all just a fancy way of saying that when Jesus returns, those who have not been waiting for Him, those who are not expecting His return, will go to hell.  They will be separated from the love of God forever.  They will be placed in the land prepared for the devil and his demons, made ready for eternal torment and everlasting death.

But we, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness.  We are not destined for wrath, judgment, or destruction.  The day of Christ’s coming should not, and will not, surprise us at all.  In fact, when Jesus comes pouring over the clouds, our reaction should be, “Hey, there He is, just like we have always hoped!”

We have been destined by Jesus Christ for salvation.  We have been brought, by God’s grace, out of darkness and into the light.  And it happens at the darkest day the world has ever known.

On Good Friday, as the world turned dark, the light had won.  The Sun was eclipsed, but so was the power of death.  And on Sunday morning, when the stone was rolled away, when the Sun broke over the horizon, the Kingdom of Light reigned supreme.  Darkness was destroyed. 

The death and resurrection of Christ has opened the kingdom of the light to us.  His blood erases the sin of those who dwell in the dark, even those who love the dark.  

Jesus brings us into the realm of light by applying his death and resurrection directly to us.  In baptism we are buried into His death and resurrected into His life.  In the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink the sacrifice of Christ in real time.  The body that died, the body that lives, that gives life everlasting, is placed in our mouths. 

Daily, through contrition, the remorse over sin, and through repentance, receiving forgiveness in faith, the Light rules over us.  God forgives us every day for the sake of Christ, and draws us out of darkness and into light.  

The coming of our Lord Jesus should then not catch us off guard.  We are ready.  He has prepared us.  He has given us everything we need to be ready both today and every day.  Every grace, every blessing, is your in Christ Jesus.  You lack no spiritual gift.  You lack not one single ounce of the Light.  So act like it.

Those who dwell in darkness live as drunken fools, aimlessly stumbling from one depraved sin into the next, until they pass out on the doorstep of the wrong house and fall asleep in their own vomit.  

Rather, because we live in the day we are called to sober lives.  Christ has freed us from the nonsense of living in darkness so that we might live in the light, live sober and awake.  

Because we belong to the kingdom of light we wear the armor of light.  And that armor, Paul says, is the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation.  Faith, love, and hope are the pieces of armor we wear as citizens of the light, to protect us from the darkness.

The Spirit of God gives us faith so that we might receive the blessings of the death and resurrection of Christ and trust them fully.  It is nice to say that Jesus died, even that He rose.  But that does me no good without faith.  Faith catches the flaming lies of the devil and snuffs them out. 

By faith, born of Word and Spirit, God gives us repentance.  He gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He gives us all the treasures of heaven.  Faith trusts whole-heartedly the promises of God, that this Christ who has died, who has risen, has done so for you, for me.  

And through that faith God also gives us love and hope.  

Love seeks to serve others.  Love lays down its own life.  It lives for others.

As Paul says elsewhere: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”  As citizens of the light we live in love. 

Faith also gives birth to hope.  If we need to make a distinction between the two, we could say that faith looks back to what Jesus has done for us in the past.  Faith trusts that Jesus has suffered and died for us.  

Hope, then, looks forward to the future.  It trusts the promises of God that Jesus will return, that He will raise the dead, and that He will save us from sin and death forever.  

Hope does not disappoint.  Hope is not the weak, flighty thing we have often thought.  No, hope is certainty.  It is confidence, unwavering firmness, that God will do what He says, what He promises.  

These three remain.  These three protect us as we live as citizens of the Light.  Faith keeps us anchored in Jesus and what He has already accomplished at the cross and empty tomb.  Love keeps our hands busy here and now serving God and our neighbor.  Hope keeps our eyes fixed on the world to come, literally looking forward to the future when Jesus will return and fulfill all His promises.

We are not in darkness brothers and sisters.  We have been drawn by God’s grace into the Light.  Jesus’ return will not catch us off guard.  It will not surprise us.  

Jesus has given us faith, he has taught us to love, he has called us to hope.  He will keep us ready and in the Light until that great day, the day He will return and make all things new. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One Year Later

[Originally preached at the service of thanksgiving following the New Minden tornado in November, 2013.] 

How do you comfort someone who is almost literally going through hell?  That is the pastoral task that was before Jesus Himself as He hung on the cross between two thieves.  “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” begs the one.  

            What do you say to someone like that?  How do you offer them comfort, hope, assurance that everything is going to be ok?  What could even Jesus possibly have to offer this man now?
            What could I possibly say to comfort you?  You who have lost friends and neighbors?  You who have lost homes, buildings, pets, a livelihood?  You who are at times so overwhelmed by the size and the scope of what needs to be done to move forward that you don’t know whether to get started or to run and hide?  You who are begging to be remembered?

            What can one pastor say to another, or one congregation to another, who has lost their sanctuary?  What words are there?  

            The thief, of course, suffers justly.  He even admits as much to Jesus face.  He is a scoundrel, who deserves the punishment he receives, harsh though it may be.

            For you, however, there is no direct cause and effect. The tornado did not come because you missed church on Sunday, or because you fought with your spouse, or even, as one news channel reported, because “Father” Mueller celebrated “Mass” at the Lutheran church Sunday morning.  

            No.  Rather, God sees the sin of the whole world.  He sees us all, sinners through and through, and He wants to warn us.  God sends disaster so that we may know what the world looks like without Him in it.  This storm ripped through our region to give us a glimpse, just a short vision, of hell. He shows us this so that we may repent of sin, large and small, and turn to Him.

            The thief on the cross sees this first hand.  He sees what it is like to go through hell, although he does not experience it.  He sees it, not in his own life, but in the fading life of the man next to him, the Son of God crucified for all men.

            Jesus Christ suffers through a death completely devoid of God’s goodness.  He is forsaken, abandoned upon the cross, to atone for all the sin, all the evil, all awful things that the thief has ever done, that you and I have ever done.

            Because the Son of God suffered hell, the thief does not.  That very day he was in paradise.

            I cannot promise you that today you will be in paradise, at least not in the same way that the thief was.  But I do promise this: because Jesus Christ has suffered hell, you will not.  You are remembered in His kingdom.

            Jesus remembered you at the cross as He prayed, “Father, forgive them…”.  There He wiped away the stain of sin from your conscience.  He remembered you at your baptism.  There He put His name on you.  Jesus claimed you as His own, as a citizen of His kingdom.  He will not forget who belongs to Him.   

He remembers you today, gathering you here to be consoled by His word.  Today He wants you to hear Him: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I am with you always.” This disaster cannot make Him forget you.

            Jesus will remember you on the last day, when He calls you by name from the grave.  “Where O death is thy victory?  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over death through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  You will rise again, immortal, to live in His kingdom forever.

            He remembers you by sending His army to your aid. Normally we think of the angels as “the army of God”.  And certainly they are a great and powerful heavenly host, but that is not who I am talking about tonight.  Those who belong to the kingdom of Jesus are His hands and His feet in this world.  We are the body of Christ.

            The neighbors who called to see if you were ok; they are the body of Christ.  The woman who put her arms around you and prayed; she is the body of Christ.  The strangers who stopped by and picked up scrap metal for hours on end; they are the body of Christ.  Those who cooked meals, offered shelter, gave hugs, prayed without ceasing; they are the love and compassion of Jesus Christ in action.
            Jesus remembered you in His kingdom.  He remembered that He cleansed you at the cross, that He claimed you in baptism, that He will call you by name on the last day.  And He sent His kingdom, His body, to your aid. And He will continue to do so.

            Jesus Christ never forgets His people.  He came into this world to make for Himself a holy people.  He will always remember them.  He will always remember you.

            Like the thief on the cross, you have come as close to hell as you ever hope to get.  And tonight you also have a glimpse of paradise.  You have seen the kingdom of God gathered to help and serve.  Now you see them gathered to receive His Word, and to await from His great and abundant mercy.

            Keep praying, “Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.”  And have confidence, because He will never forget. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Your Spouse IS Your Soul Mate


Soul Mates

These days young people want to marry their soul mate.  They believe that there is one person, one prefect person out there, whose spirit was cut from the same cloth as their own.  And when they find that will be AWESOME, a match made in heaven.

So a young man searches and searches.  He does not marry his high school sweetheart because he is just not sure about her.  He dates around in college, but no one hits that spot.  Then one day he sees her.  She is sitting in a coffee shop, drinking the same latte as he, wearing a t-shirt advertising his favorite band, and she is reading his favorite book.  A match destined in the stars.

So he approaches her, asks her out, and the rest is history.  They are married 2 years later.  The wedding is beautiful and filled with emotion.  Both man and wife feel that this is ordained by heaven.  They rush off into the honeymoon, and even when they return from their tropical location the bliss continues for months.

Then it happens.  Hubby comes home to find the little woman agitated because he left his cereal bowl on the kitchen table that morning.  An epic battle ensues where he says mean things, she retaliates, and both go to bed angry.  In the morning she gets up and leaves for work before they can have a good talk about it.

While he is at lunch, explaining to his co-worker how obvious it is that his wife overreacted, he lays eyes on a new spirit.  Drinking his latte, wearing his band t-shirt, reading his book, and she is wearing glasses.  He has always loved a woman in glasses.

That must be it.  This woman is his soul mate, not his wife.  How could he have missed it?  How could he have been so blind?  Now it all made sense.  His wife had always been a little different.  Now that he really thought about it, there were all sorts of things wrong with her.

There is only one course of action.  Approach this woman.  Grab hold of this new soul mate and divorce his wife.  After all, it is fate.  Destiny has brought them together.  How can he do otherwise.

The problem with looking for a soul mate, with searching for that one person whose soul is cut from the same cloth as yours, is that they do not exist.  Just as no two bodies are exactly the same, no two souls are alike.  Each is uniquely created by God.  Each is fouled up by the fall into sin.

If you are looking for "the one" then you need to stop, because they are not out there.  If you are married, however, there is good news.  Your soul mate sleeps next to you every night.

Here is how it happens.  On your wedding day God takes two different people, two unique individuals, and He quilts them together.  He sews them into one garment, into one flesh.  Their individual souls are mated, united until death.

"But what about divorce?"  Well, that is a good point.  Divorces happen.  But if you ask any person who has gone through that event they will tell you it feels like their heart was torn in two.  Their soul was ripped apart.  And it was.  What God had joined together someone has rent asunder.

Once you are married, that is it.  There is no one else, no one more perfect.  All men are flawed.  All women are imperfect.  All people are sinners.  You can stop looking for your "real" soul mate.  They are probably right in front of you.

Your spouse is your soul mate.  How can you know for sure?  God said so.  Go back to those wedding vows.  Go back to that pronouncement of "husband and wife".  What is it that God has joined together?  Two souls in one flesh.

So husbands, go home tonight and tell your lady that she is indeed your soul mate.  God told you so.  Wives, let your man know that God has destined you to be together.  God has done it, and that makes it meant to be.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Be Prepared


There is a big move these days for people to be prepared, believe it or not, for the “zombie apocalypse”.  It is not that they really believe in zombies, but they are preparing themselves to live in a world devoid of electricity, government assistance, and general modern convenience.  

                They call these people “preppers”.  They are prepared, prepped, for a dark and unknown future.  They have a year’s supply of canned food and bottled water in their basement and enough guns and ammunition to defend their home indefinitely. 

                That is a little bit to the extreme, but we are a society of people who like to be prepared.  How many of you have been prepared for the next great stock market crash since the 1940’s?  How many have a little nest egg saved up for the next dust bowl?  

I’m not judging you.  There is nothing wrong with that.  In fact I hope you are prepared for the proverbial rainy day, that like Joseph in Egypt you have stored up during the plentiful years to make your way through the lean years.  

You might be preparing for retirement, or to open a business, or build a house.  You might be preparing to have a baby, or go on a trip, or to go off to college, or to find your first real job.  Preparation is a good thing.

Jesus even warns his disciples to be prepared for His second coming with the parable of the 10 virgins.  I know the final verse says that they should “watch”.  But it is just as acceptable to translate this word as “be prepared”.  

You see, the problem with the 5 foolish virgins was not that they fell asleep.  In fact, all ten slept.  The difference between them was that the 5 wise young women were prepared for the long night.  They carried extra oil in their lamps.  The foolish ones were not prepared, and so they miss the coming of the bridegroom and they miss out on the party entirely.

The message to us is the same: be prepared for the coming of the Christ, for you do not know the day or the hour.  Keep oil in your lamps.  If you must sleep between now and His certain coming, then sleep in preparedness.  Sleep in the comfort that all will be well because your heart is prepared to see Him.

Trust me, you do not want to miss out on this wedding feast.  When I was a kid, and even up through my time in college, I did not really give much thought to what comes after death.  I just assumed it would be sort of boring.  I figured we died, got our halo and our harp and our wings, lost our feet, and floated around the golden streets in the clouds singing “Kumbaya”. 

But the feast that is to come at the return of Jesus is nothing like that.  It will be the party of the millennium, and more.  The entire universe will celebrate the victory of God over evil.  There will be food and music and dancing and resurrection.  New heavens, new earth, new bodies.  There will be bliss, and joy, and ecstasy as we have never imagined could exist.  So be prepared for when the bridegroom returns.  It is going to be great!

To be prepared, we must keep our lamps burning indefinitely with extra oil.  But what does that mean?  What is this oil of which we speak? 

The light of the lamp is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, His death and Resurrection.  And the fuel that this faith runs upon is the Word of God: the Gospel, Baptism, and Communion.

Apart from Christ there is no light, no oil, no hope.  Those who have not the flame of faith cannot hope to ignite even the tiniest spark of trust that God will recognize.  We need Jesus to give oil in our lamps, to keep the flame burning, to make our hearts prepared. 

To be prepared for the return of Christ is to keep the flame of faith alive by storing up the Word of God in our hearts.  It means that we are constantly and consistently on the receiving end of His grace and mercy in the fellowship of the Church.

The danger with skipping worship services is not that God will be angry with you, but that your oil will run low and your faith will burn out.  And then, Christ will not recognize you.

The light of faith is God’s gift to us so that on the day of Christ’s return we would be fully visible to Him.  Jesus will see us, not as creatures of the night, but as His chosen ones who have been eagerly awaiting His arrival.  

Here in the divine service we receive the oil of the Gospel.  Our sins are absolved.  The Scriptures enlighten our minds.  The sacraments bring Christ to us.  God blesses us.  Our lamp runneth over.  And because of that the flame of faith will burn all the brighter.

For your unpreparedness, for your lack of enthusiasm about the gifts of God, His oil for your lamp, repent.  Throw your sin on the funeral pyre.  And rejoice that Jesus has bled, died, and risen for sinners just like you. 

Jesus died to clean out the muck of sin that was clogging up our lamps.  He rose to fill us with the oil of His grace, His word, His righteousness.  And He sent His Spirit to keep that flame well fueled and burning bright.

Here, in this Christian Church, that same Spirit daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers in Christ.  That is how Jesus keeps you prepared.  He fills you here with His Word and Spirit, and the fire rages on.

When Christ returns there will be a party, a feast like the universe has never seen.  And the Christ who has invited us will also welcome us.  He will open the door, more than that, He will lead us through.  He will be the chief celebrator.  Jesus will be dancing as King David before the Ark of the Covenant.  And we will follow suit.

Jesus Christ has invited you to partake of His wedding banquet.  He ignites your flame of faith.  In this Christian Church He keeps you prepared to receive Him.  The bridegroom is coming soon to open the door and get this party started.

Do not grow tired or weary my friends.  The day is coming.  The darkness will soon give way to the dawn.  And those whom Christ has prepared will follow Him into the everlasting feast.