Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Eve


Thanksgiving Eve 2013
November 27, 2013
Text: Phil. 4:6-20

            (D)o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6; ESV).  It has always been striking to me that St. Paul writes these words from prison.  Don’t be anxious, he says, from prison.  Commend it all to God.  Prayer and supplication.  Let Him deal with it.  Make your requests.  And give thanks.  Give thanks in the midst of things that cause anxiety and distress, things like imprisonment.  Give thanks even for the things that cause anxiety and distress.  Because through them the Lord is working all things together for your good, as He promises always to do for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  He bestows the cross upon you that He wants you to bear, that which is profitable for your salvation.  The things that make for anxiety and distress, believe it or not, are God’s gift.  Some well-meaning Christians say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.  That’s actually not in the Bible.  The point of cross-bearing is that you can’t handle it.  The cross drives you to the only One who can handle it, to God, to Christ.  Recognizing that that is the case… that you can’t handle it, but Jesus can and does… that is what we call faith.  Do not be anxious.  Trust God.  Commend it to God.  Give thanks to God because even this is a gift of His love for you.  And here is the promise: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).  You will have this peace not because the things that cause anxiety and distress have gone away, not because you’re strong and you can handle it (you’re not and you can’t), but because you know that Jesus has handled it.  It doesn’t make sense, this peace.  Not to our fleshly minds.  It is beyond our understanding, because the things that cause us anxiety still there.  But you endure it.  You trust in spite of it.  You are thankful because you look at things from God’s perspective, as He has revealed them in His holy Word.  And what He has revealed is that He works all things, even evil things for your good.  And in the end, when Jesus comes again, all that is wrong will be made right.  So you give thanks. 
            St. Paul certainly lived from this perspective.  Another striking example comes to mind.  Paul, again a prisoner, was on a ship bound for Rome and trial before Caesar.  There was a great storm at sea.  Cargo and tackle were tossed overboard. The wind continued to drive the ship where it would.  Finally, St. Luke, Paul’s travelling companion, records in Acts Chapter 27: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (v. 20).  Anxious?  To say the least!  Hopeless!  But here stand Paul’s words: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  And Paul did exactly that.  In the midst of the crisis he addressed the men of the ship: “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you’” (Acts 27:22-24).  And thus believing in God’s sure promise, he was not anxious.  All who stayed in the ship would be saved.  He commended it all to God.  And he gave thanks.  Quite literally.  He “took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat” (v. 35).  He did this, not because he could handle it (he couldn’t… who could?), or because his problems had magically disappeared.  He did this, he gave thanks when all hope of being saved had been abandoned, he commended it all to God, because God had promised.  He had a peace that surpasses all understanding guarding his heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  It was the peace of that very promise.  The ship did wreck, but all in the ship were saved.  Because God does not lie.  And that is cause for thanks, indeed.
            And isn’t this a description of our life in Christ?  There is much cause to be anxious in this fallen world and in our sin-infested lives.  There is fear.  There is uncertainty.  Politicians fail us.  The nightly news grieves us.  There’s the economy to worry about, and healthcare, and immigration.  There are the family issues that rear their ugly heads especially on holidays.  It can be quite the tempest, this life.  And sometimes, when it seems that neither sun nor stars appear for many days, when there is no proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, it is tempting to give up all hope of our being saved.  Except that God has promised.  We are saved in Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.  Sins forgiven.  Creation redeemed.  We trust not in princes or in politicians, but in the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He hears us.  He hears our petitions, our prayers and supplications.  He promised.  He scoops us up out of the water and puts us in the ship, safe and secure in the ark of the holy Christian Church, and He promises that whoever remains on the ship, in the Church, believers in Christ, will be saved.  Oh, it won’t look pretty.  There is the storm outside, and it is violent, and it beats against the ship.  Certainly, for all practical purposes, it appears the ship is doomed.  But just hang on.  Trust the God to whom you belong.  And do what Paul did.  Take bread, give thanks, and eat.  There’s a meal on board this ship that will give you strength and relieve your anxiety.  It is the Lord’s Supper.  It is His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you.  It is the Bread of Peace that surpasses all understanding.  It will guard your heart and your mind, for it is Christ Jesus. 
            And you will reach the shore, eternal life with Christ.  He promised.  And He doesn’t lie.  Therefore you give thanks.  Do not be anxious.  Commend it all to God in prayer and supplication.  Give thanks.  For the fruits of the earth and the bountiful harvest.  For friends and family near and far.  For your job and your house and all the stuff the Lord has provided for your comfort and enjoyment.  Or for the lack of these things, because whatever your situation, with St. Paul, you can be content (Phil. 4:11), and you can give thanks.  Because you have Christ.  And having Christ, you have everything.  You can do all things through Him who strengthens you (v. 13).  You can even bear the holy cross which the Lord, who bore the cross for your salvation, has bestowed upon you for your good.  You are not sufficient to bear it of yourself.  But He is.  He bears you.  You can’t handle it, but He can.  Trust Him.  And again the promise: the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will, in fact, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.  For God does not lie.  Praise and thanks be to Him.  Blessed Thanksgiving.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Last Sunday in the Church Year


Last Sunday in the Church Year (C—Proper 29)
November 24, 2013
Text: Luke 23:27-43

            There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’” (Luke 23:38; ESV).  Pilate, who famously quipped, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), here speaks the truth.  If you want to know what Christ as King looks like, behold Him here on His cross.  Here He is enthroned.  Here He rules.  Behold His thorny crown.  Behold Him lifted up on high.  Behold Him, arms outstretched to receive the sins of the whole world, your sins and mine, in tribute.  Behold Him, arms outstretched, to receive you as His own, purchased by His blood, to live under Him in His Kingdom, to shelter you and protect you under the branches of the tree.  Behold Him waging war against your enemies and former slave drivers, death and hell and their prince, the devil.  Our King’s feet are fixed, nailed to the spot.  He will not back down until it is finished.  And when it is, the spoils of war He pours out on all who belong to Him. 
            This may strike you as a strange reading for the Last Sunday in the Church Year, as our attention turns to the End Times and the Final Judgment.  Sometimes this Sunday is called “Christ the King,” in which case this reading is especially appropriate.  Jesus is our King precisely in His death on the cross.  But as it relates to the Final Judgment, there could not be a more important image than Christ crucified.  Because understand, here, on the cross, is your judgment.  All the wrath of God against your sin and the sin of the whole world is poured out here, on Christ.  When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day, and He declares you righteous and says to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34), this will not be because God is a nice guy and wants to give you a break, or because He’s pretending your sins never happened, shrugging His shoulders and saying “Oh, those kids,” or in any way excusing you.  That would make God an unjust judge.  No, He will say it because His wrath is already spent.  He will say it because your sins have already been dealt with, already punished in the Person of His Son.  A great exchange has taken place, and it happened in Jesus’ Baptism and in yours.  Your Lord Jesus took all your sins upon Himself.  In exchange He has given you all His righteousness.  For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  In Christ, God has made you who were once dead in trespasses and sins, alive with the life of Christ, having forgiven you all your trespasses and, as St. Paul writes, “cancelling the record of debt” that stood against you with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).  So the verdict in the judgment is that you are innocent, debt free, righteous with the righteousness of Another, even Jesus Christ.  For your debt has been paid in full, not with silver or gold, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus.  Well, who wouldn’t want to serve a King that does all that?  Of course, Jesus is coming again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and the Christian ought to keep that in mind.  But you live and serve as those who already know the verdict because of what Jesus has done for you in His first coming.
            Not everyone receives Jesus as their King, however.  There are the people and the Jewish rulers who stand by watching and scoffing.  He saved others,” they cry, in devilish disdain; “let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35).  They echo here the doubt introduced by Satan in the wilderness temptation: “If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3, 6).  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’” (Luke 23:36-37).  Pilate doubted Jesus’ kingship, too, and yet, again, there was the proclamation nailed to the cross with Jesus: “This is the King of the Jews” (v. 38).  What I have written I have written,” John records him as saying in answer to the Jews who questioned him (19:22).  We see in Pilate a caricature of the agnostic, one who is not sure there’s anything to all this Jesus stuff, but one who’s not sure there isn’t either.  If only such a one could come to know that Jesus is his King, too… that what is happening here on Golgotha is for his redemption, that he, too, may enjoy the riches of the Kingdom. 
            Then there are the criminals, one on Jesus’ right, and the other on His left, as He comes into His Kingdom (remember the request of John and James?  They didn’t know what they were asking).  One of the criminals rejects Jesus’ kingship outright.  He rails at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).  But then there is the other criminal.  He may have joined in the mockery at the beginning.  But hearing the gracious words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v. 34), and beholding His Savior patiently enduring the Father’s wrath, hell itself, for the sins of the world, this hardened criminal’s heart is broken in repentance.  Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds,” he confesses; “but this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41).  The criminals eyes are opened by the Spirit, to see the reality behind the gruesome sight of this pitiful Potentate.  This Jesus is the Savior.  He is dying for me.  So the prayer of faith: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).  Take me with you.  Let me be your subject.  Take possession of me now, in my hour of death.  And then the promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). 
            What accounts for the difference in these two criminals?  I don’t know.  Both were brazen sinners who deserved their condemnation.  Both heard the gracious words from the Savior’s parched lips.  Both saw Him in action for their salvation.  One, in the hardness of His heart, would not give heed, and so died in hopelessness.  The other heard and believed, and so died in the promise that though he died, yet he lived, because of Christ who died, but would not stay dead. 
            Beloved, do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And you, indeed, justly for such is the due reward for your sins.  If you don’t understand that, if you don’t believe it, then you are the first criminal who has no confession of sin and no prayer of faith, who does not believe Jesus is King and therefore mocks Him for His ignominious death, who therefore dies without forgiveness for a sin he will not acknowledge.  But if you do understand this, if you do believe it, if this is your confession, if you understand that you are dying and death in your trespasses and sins, there is a word of hope.  Jesus has come to be your King, to make you His own, to raise you to new life, and to bring you into His Kingdom to live with Him eternally, and to serve Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  You have the same promise as the second criminal.  Jesus remembers you.  He remembered you on the cross.  He remembered you when He burst forth from the tomb.  He remembers you even now as He sits at the right hand of His Father, on His glorious throne, ruling all things for your benefit, and interceding for you, praying for you, that you persevere in the faith.  And on the day of your death, or Judgment Day, whichever comes first, you can be confident, you can rest secure, you can even rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus remembers you.  And He will speak the same words to you that He spoke to the criminal on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” 
            Do you see what God has done here in the crucifixion and death of Jesus?  He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).  Precisely in His death, Jesus is your King.  And that makes all the difference in the day of your death and on the Day of Judgment.  And let me close by saying this with regard to my announcement at the beginning.  That Jesus is our King makes all the difference in times of uncertainty, as well.  Because we know this by faith, even if not by sight, that Jesus is ruling all things for our good.  I don’t know what will happen here, and you don’t either.  But Jesus does.  And isn’t that the case with all things in life?  Our Lord is faithful.  He will take care of us.  He will.  And He will provide for the preaching of His Word and for His holy Sacraments no matter who bears the yoke of Office in this place.  Beloved, pray for us.  Pray for the Church.  Commend it all into the pierced hands of the King who remembers us.  His will be done.  It will.  And it will be good.  For our Lord Jesus lives and reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.         

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost


 

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 28)
November 17, 2013
Text: Luke 21:5-36

            Judgment Day, the Day of our Lord Christ’s second coming, His coming to judge the living and the dead, is understandably scary to most people. Books and movies from Ghostbusters to Left Behind capitalize on the sinner’s natural fear of the end of the world and the notion of standing before the judgment seat of a righteous and holy God. And so our Gospel lesson this morning can be one of the scarier readings of the Holy Scriptures. To complicate matters, many of us don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. And so to the fears already mentioned, we add the fear of the unknown. What does all of this mean? How should we regard the Judgment Day? What will happen on that Day? Should we be afraid? How do we prepare? These questions are imperative, for our Lord Jesus is coming again, and He is coming to judge. That Day will be the end of this fallen creation and the full manifestation of the new. On that Day, which will come when we are not expecting it, like a thief in the night, in the twinkling of an eye, everything will be changed. The books will be opened, and all will have to give an account of themselves to God. Those who have believed in Jesus need not fear this Day, however. For their sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. They have been forgiven. In Christ, they have the sure and certain hope of eternal life. None of their sins will count against them, but the perfect righteousness of Christ alone will be counted as their own. But those who have not believed in Christ should indeed fear a great fear. For they have rejected their Savior’s salvation. They have refused His blood and death as their atonement. And so even though Jesus died for them also on the cross, His death cannot benefit them. They will be cast into hell with the devil and his demons to suffer the wrath of God for all eternity.
            It’s not a nice thought. And so there is good reason for many people to be scared of this impending Day of Judgment. But again, how should we as Christians regard this Day, and how should we prepare for it? For the Christian, Judgment Day is not a Day of dread, but a Day of rejoicing. Jesus tells us how we should regard this Day in our Gospel this morning: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28; ESV). Yes, “your redemption is drawing near.” As strange as it may seem, the Christian looks forward to the Day of our Lord’s visible returning. We even pray that it may come quickly. Why? Because it is the Day of our deliverance. It is the Day of our deliverance from our old Adam, the sinful, fallen flesh. It is the Day of our deliverance from this fallen creation that groans under the weight of our sin. It is the Day of our deliverance from sin and death, from pain and sadness, from suffering and persecution, from the crafts and assaults of the evil one, and from any possibility of spiritually perishing. And it is the ushering in of the full manifestation of the new creation brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the Day of our own resurrection from the dead, to enjoy eternal life with Jesus Christ in a new heaven and a new earth with all believers in Christ, including all of our loved ones who have died in the faith. It is the Day of a new order. The old order of things has passed away. No more hunger and thirst. No more anger and malice. No more suffering and sighing. We will have come out of the great tribulation. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 7:17).
            That we may keep the joy and hope of this Day before our eyes, it is helpful to understand Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel lesson. There are actually three things Jesus speaks of in His prophecy, all related. To begin with, Jesus is speaking of the actual siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Jewish Temple that would, and did, take place in AD 70, at the hands of the Romans under emperor Titus, to punish the Jewish zealots who had taken control of the city. Thus a little less than 40 years after Jesus spoke the words concerning the Temple, “the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down”(Luke 21:6), His prophecy came true. Many of the things Jesus speaks of in our Gospel this morning have to do, not first and foremost with the end of the world, but with the siege of Jerusalem, including Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (that’s the Romans!), the people of Judea fleeing to the mountains (again, from the Romans!), and the woes to the women who are pregnant and nursing (because fleeing from the Romans would be harder for pregnant women and those who had little children to worry about!). Thus the Jewish Temple was destroyed, and has not been rebuilt since. This was God’s judgment against the Jews who had rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Nor need we Christians be concerned with any rebuilding of the Temple, for the Temple, the dwelling place of God with men, is no longer a temple built by human hands, but the Temple that is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Emmanuel, God with us, God in human flesh, and He dwells in His Church in His Word and Holy Sacraments.
            Jesus says that the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the earthly Temple were signs, however, of the Last Day and the coming of the Son of Man. And this is the second thing He speaks of, His coming to judge. He points to other signs as well: nation against nation, earthquakes, famines and pestilences, persecution of Christians, great fear and foreboding. These are all signs of the end, and beloved, they have always been a part of this creation since the fall of man into sin. These are not terrible signs that will happen just before the Last Day. They have always been happening. And they are always a sign of the end. 9/11 was a sign of the end, and a call to repentance. Hurricane Katrina was a sign of the end and a call to repentance. The typhoon in the Philippines was a sign of the end and a call to repentance. Every tragedy, every natural disaster, every sickness, is a reminder to us from God Himself that our death, and the end of the world, is immanent. Therefore we should repent of our sins, confess them to God, and believe that on account of His Son’s suffering and death on the cross, all our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life. For the Day is coming. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). But this is a Day for which Christians long. We pray for it to come quickly. We greet it with joy. “Now when these things begin to take place,” when you see the signs, “straighten up and raise your heads.” Do not be overcome by fear and despair. The Lord who is coming is gracious to you. He became flesh for you. He fulfilled the Law for you. He suffered and died for you. He is risen and lives for you. He gives you His righteousness. He loves you. So straighten up. Raise your heads. For “your redemption is drawing near.”
            Finally, when Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple, He is looking forward to the destruction of the true Temple that is His body. He would be surrounded by armies, arrested, mocked, spit upon, tortured, and destroyed on the cross. And His disciples would flee. These things had to take place. It was divinely necessary. It was as Jesus said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He was speaking of the temple of His body, of His death, and His victorious resurrection on the third day. And beloved, it is because of this destruction of the Temple of Jesus’ body, and His resurrection on the third day, that we can approach the Day of Judgment with every confidence. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are already judged. Our sins have already been punished on the cross. The resurrection is God’s verdict upon the whole world that we are justified, righteous, with the righteousness of Jesus.
            So we need not fear. But we do need to be prepared. For no man knows when Jesus will return. It will come unexpectedly, at any moment, perhaps even today. So how do we prepare? We prepare by remaining in Christ, by remaining in His presence by continual use of His gifts in His Word and Sacraments. We remain with Him by remaining in the Holy Church. By remaining with Jesus and His gifts, we are able with the Spirit’s help to watch ourselves, lest our hearts be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the cares of this life. In other words, when we are separated from the gifts of Christ, we begin to be distracted by the affairs and concerns of this earthly life, as if this is what is all-important. And so our eyes are taken off of Jesus and His redemption and salvation, as well as the impending judgment. But when we come to the place Christ has promised to be, His Church, gathered around His gifts, He Himself firmly fixes our eyes upon Himself. And He opens our ears and hearts to hear His Word. And this is so important, because the Word is the only thing that lasts. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “(T)he word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:25). And this eternal Word conveys to us the righteousness of Christ in which we can confidently face the Day of Judgment.
            Finally, let us avoid all false teachers, for Jesus says “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them” (Luke 21:8). Let’s not give credence to the half-baked notions of the Millennialist crowd about the so-called rapture and the 1,000 year reign of Christ. For these are precisely the false teachers Jesus speaks of. They neither understand the imagery of the Scriptures nor the use of numbers like 1,000 in the Book of Revelation. Beloved, Christ will come once to judge the living and the dead. He will be visible to all. Every eye will see Him. And those who believe in Christ will be raised to eternal life, but the unbelievers to eternal death in hell. No, let us not be deceived, but believe only the simple Word of God, and this will be our comfort. For those who are in Christ, those who believe in Him, will be caught up with Him in the clouds to meet Him in the air. And so they will always be with the Lord. We will always be with the Lord. Let us then believe this firmly, and be comforted by these words, even as we eagerly look for our Lord to come again. And let us join Him where He comes among us even now, in the Supper of His body and blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

                                                                                            

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Memoriam +Peter Haverfield Mogg+


In Memoriam +Peter Haverfield Mogg+
November 10, 2013
Text: John 14:1-7
            Beloved in the Lord, Jesus says to us this afternoon, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1; ESV).  Really?  And how can we do that?  This is, after all, a very troubling situation.  We knew it was coming.  But that doesn’t really make it any better.  A dear husband, a dear father, a dear brother in Christ has been snatched away from us.  We’re hurting here. 
            First of all, understand that it’s okay to hurt.  Even as a Christian.  We grieve.  Death is not how it is supposed to be.  This is a fallen world, full of sin and heartache.  Beloved, your Lord understands your hurt.  When He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” He’s not saying, “Now, quit your crying… no hurting allowed.”  No, quite the contrary, your Lord Jesus knows your hurt.  He knows it very intimately.  So much so that He took it, that very hurt that you now bear in your heart and soul, He took it into Himself and bore it all the way to the cross to nail it there in His flesh.  What does the Prophet Isaiah say?  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4).  That means the very pain you are now experiencing.  He has borne it.  And that is why He can say, even on such an occasion as this, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  It is not a command, but a gracious invitation to commend your sorrows, your grief, to One who knows it already, to One who, in the end, will turn your mourning into dancing.  That’s what He says in Psalm 30:11: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing.”  You know how He will do that?  He will do it when you see Pete Mogg again in heaven, and particularly when He makes you and Pete dance on your own two feet on the Day of Resurrection.
            Yes, beloved, this body will rise from the dead, and so will yours.  Jesus has promised.  And as He says in the Gospel lesson, just trust Him.  Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).  Grieve, certainly.  But as St. Paul writes, do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).  You know your Savior, that He always makes good on His promises.  And what does He promise here?  In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2).  And “I go and prepare a place for you,” and “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (v. 3).  This is not a promise of some temporary visitation, like a hotel stay or a stint in the heavenly guest room.  Nor, more importantly, is the fulfillment of this promise some sort of spiritual, ethereal, not-really-real state of existence as it is so often popularized in movies and on television.  Pete does not now live in your heart.  He is not looking down from some distant star you’ve picked out in the heavens.  No, he really lives!  For real.  His soul is with Jesus in heaven, in the place the Savior has prepared for him, while here his body rests.  And then it gets even more real, if we can put it that way.  Because on the Last Day, when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead, He will raise Pete’s body from the grave.  He’ll pull it all back together.  He’ll reunite Pete’s body and soul and breathe His Spirit into him, and Pete will live forever, risen, as Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  You’ll see it on that Day.  Just wait.  Go ahead and grieve now, of course.  But know that on that Day Jesus will turn for you your mourning into dancing.  So, knowing the end of the story, Jesus is right on the money.  Let not your hearts be troubled.”
            How could it be?  It’s almost too good to be true.  Well, it is too good to be true if we’re counting on it all happening because Pete has deserved it, or we’ve deserved it, or we’ve done anything to bring it about.  You have to understand something about the biblical faith that Pete confessed with his own mouth every time he came to Church here and every time I visited him with the Lord’s Supper at his house or in the hospital.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  That is how St. Paul puts it.  That means you and me and even Pete.  That’s why we die.  That’s why there is death in the world.  And that’s what Pete confessed.  But he also confessed (and through this service he’s confessing it to you right now) that Jesus has not left us in sin and death.  He’s done something about it.  He became a man, born of the Virgin Mary.  True God, He took on flesh.  He lived among us.  He became one with us.  He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  He was perfectly obedient to the Father.  But He who knew no sin of His own became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), in order to put our sin and our death to death in His death on the cross.
            But He didn’t stay dead.  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!  And His resurrection means that God has accepted His sacrifice of atonement for all your sins and Pete’s sins and the sins of the whole world.  And now you have eternal life.  Our Lord’s obedience counts as your obedience.  Our Lord’s righteousness is your righteousness.  And so it is for Pete.  Pete is baptized into that reality, baptized into Christ Jesus.  That’s why we know death doesn’t have the last word here.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And He’ll raise Pete, and He’ll raise you.  Let not your hearts be troubled.”
            You should hear those words as you would hear them from your dad when something has gone terribly wrong, whether you’re a little kid who has just fallen off your bike, or a grownup who has suffered some great defeat or heartache.  Your dad takes you in his arms and he says, “It’s all gonna be okay,” and you believe him, because he’s dad.  When Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” He’s speaking the very Words of your Father in heaven.  For in hearing Jesus, you hear the Father.  Knowing Jesus, you know the Father.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the revelation of the Father’s heart.  And that’s why Jesus says that you know the way to the place He has prepared.  You know the way to the Father.  You know the way to eternal life.  It’s Jesus.  It’s only Jesus.  Jesus says to you, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  Pete knew that.  He knew it by faith.  Now he knows it by sight, for he stands before the Father’s throne with the Son and the Holy Spirit, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  And by the way, that gives us a little clue about where we meet Pete even now… He’s not some distant star smiling down on us.  He’s here at the Lord’s Table, around the Body and Blood of Christ, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  He communes with us here, only now he joins us from the other side of the veil.  But he lives.  And he stands before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and God our Father is even now wiping every tear from Pete’s eyes.  Beloved, He’ll dry your tears, too.  Let not your hearts be troubled.”  It’s all gonna be okay.  It will.  And it is.  Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And so it will be for Pete Mogg.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Sunday, November 03, 2013

All Saints' Day


All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Nov. 3, 2013
Text: 1 John 3:1-3

            Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; ESV).  In St. John’s proclamation this morning, you get a sense of what Luther called the “Already/Not Yet” of the Christian life in this world.  It is a paradox.  You are God’s child now.  That is already the case.  St. John proclaims the great love of the Father, that He has called you God’s own child.  He does that in Baptism, puts His own Name on you, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  And He not only calls you His child, but by virtue of His calling, that is what you really are.  Remember how God’s Word works.  When He speaks, it is.  The Word does what it says.  So if He calls you His child (and He does), then you are.  Period.  And yet… it doesn’t appear that you are God’s child.  Not to the eyes.  The world certainly doesn’t recognize this fact.  If it did, the citizens of the world would bow down in homage to one so holy, holy not in and of yourself, certainly, but holy because you have been washed clean and pure by the blood of the Lamb.  If the world had eyes to see, they would see that you shine with the radiant glory of your Lord Jesus Christ.  All your sins are forgiven.  All of them, past, present, and future, whatever they are, covered by the blood of Christ and washed away forever.  But the world doesn’t see it, and that shouldn’t surprise you, because the world doesn’t see Christ as anything more than a man who lived and was crucified about 2,000 years ago, at best a great teacher, at worst, a lunatic who got what He had coming to Him.  If they don’t recognize Him as the very Son of God, they are not going to recognize you as the child of God that you are.  They’ll only see your flesh, your sin, your ordinariness, your weakness.  So “already/not yet.”  You are already God’s child by faith.  But what you know and believe to be the case already does not yet appear to the eyes. 
            And frankly, sometimes you wonder yourself.  For when you look at yourself in the mirror, you don’t look like a child of God .  You recognize that you don’t even begin to measure up to God’s will.  You are still in the flesh.  You continue to carry within yourself the passions of the flesh, greed and lust and covetousness, a selfishness that is impossible to tame.  The flesh cannot be tamed.  The only way to deal with it is to plunge it into a watery grave.  Daily.  Daily repentance, which is to say, a daily return to your Baptism, where God first killed you and raised you in Christ to new life and called you to be His own child.  So now you live in the paradox that is the Christian’s life in this world.  Already/not yet.  Now/yet later.  Being/yet becoming.  Saint/yet sinner.  Your old Adam, the flesh, has been put to death, yet the flesh is all you see.  The new creation in Christ has been raised out of the baptismal water to new life, yet you can’t see that at all.  You just have to believe it.  Faith, not sight.  You are God’s own child.  But what you will be has not yet appeared.  So you wait, and you believe, in spite of all appearances, that God’s promise is true.
            You do know one thing, though.  You know that when He appears, Jesus Christ, to judge the living and the dead, He will raise you from the sleep of death.  And then you will be like Him.  And knowing that is enough.  You cannot say yet, what it will be like to be like Him, but that’s okay.  You know that He is risen from the dead, never to die again, and therefore you will be raised from the dead, never to die again.  You know that He has been glorified, and therefore you will be glorified with Him.  You know that He no longer suffers, and therefore you will no longer suffer.  As St. John writes in our first lesson of the blessed ones in heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).  So it is enough.  You will be like Him.  And the reason is that you will see Him as He is.  The veil will be removed.  What you now know only by faith, you will behold with your own eyes.  And in beholding Him, you will be transformed into the image of God once again, as Paul writes, transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).  The image lost in the Garden is now restored in the face of Jesus Christ.  Just as when you stand in the sun, your eyes are enlightened, your face brightens, and your skin begins to glisten, so on a much greater plane will it be when you stand before God’s Son, Jesus, and see Him as He is, in His glory.  Moses had to cover himself with a veil when he came down from the mountain, having been in the presence of the Lord.   So you, when you see Him, will be like Him, reflecting the glory of the very Son of God.  That’s a really good thing, guys.  And it’s enough.  It’s enough for you now, though you do not yet see it.  You will.  That will be you.  It is you now, in a hidden way.  Then it will be manifest.  Just wait.  Wait on the Lord.  He never breaks His promises.  He will deliver. 
            In the meantime, St. John writes that you who have this hope purify yourself as He is pure (1 John 3:3).  The hope is certain, as biblical hope always is.  It’s not something we have to wonder about, whether it will happen or not.  We know it will.  It just hasn’t yet appeared.  Nevertheless, we live from the perspective of those who know what’s coming.  So you purify yourself, as He is pure.  What does that mean?  It cannot mean that you make yourself sinless, as He is sinless, by trying really hard not to sin, by your own effort or satisfaction for sin.  Of course, you should struggle against sin, but that isn’t what makes you pure.  What makes you pure is Jesus.  Jesus makes you pure as He Himself is pure.  So to do what St. John here entreats you means, simply, to receive Jesus, as He comes to you for forgiveness, to wipe away your sin.  John is telling you to go to Church.  This is where Jesus purifies you.  Hear and believe the Absolution.  Your sins are gone.  You’re clean.  You’re pure.  Jesus took all your sins away.  Hear and believe the Scriptures and the preaching.  Jesus took your sin upon Himself and put it to death on the cross in His body.  And He’s risen and living, giving you new life, here and now, clean and pure, as He is.  Remember your Baptism, that cleansing bath in which God washed away all your sins and made you His own.  Taste and see that the Lord is good here in His Supper.  His holy and sinless flesh and blood touches your lips and is taken into you to take possession of you.  Christ is in you in a very real sense.  The very same body and blood given and shed for you on the cross now courses through your veins.  You don’t purify yourself as He is pure by trying really hard to be like Him.  That will never work.  You purify yourself as He is pure by undergoing the purifying He does upon you here in His gifts, forgiving your sins, covering you with His righteousness.  He does it.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9).
            The Day is coming, though, when the cleansing will be clear for all to see, when finally the world will see Jesus for who He is, and you for who you are.  On that Day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).  And on that Day everyone will know that God has called you His child, and that that is what you are.  There you’ll stand, you and Ted Steffens and Deadre Nemec and Pete Mogg and all the saints, on your own two feet, in your bodies, risen from the dead.  And with your own eyes, you’ll see that it’s all true.  The paradox will be resolved.  No more “already/not yet.”  Only the eternal “now.”  See what kind of love the Father has given to us.”  You will see it.  God’s own child.  You’ll be like Jesus, because on that Day, you will see Him as He is.  And that is enough.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.