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Feb. 21, 2021 "Steadfast under Trials"

“Steadfast under Trials” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

First Sunday in Lent Feb. 21, 2021

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            Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text is from James 1:12-18, part of which reads:  Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.  This is our text.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.”  Seems totally backwards, doesn’t it?  We’d say, “Blessed is the guy who never goes through trials in the first place.”  Only in a world of dying sinners there aren’t any of those trouble-free people. 

To understand James’ word, “Blessed is the man who stands steadfast under suffering”, you have to realize that God is smarter than you and knows better than you what He’s working out in your life, and how in the end His hidden will is done. 

One of my shortcomings as a dad is I have a hard time letting my kids struggle through something.  When I say it that way it makes me sound really sweet and loving, but the truth is, I’m grouchy and impatient and nothing’s ever good enough for me, so if I’m watching them tie shoes or sweep the floor, I get impatient and finally, I’ll just jump in.  Let me do that!  You’re doing it all wrong!  But in the long run, I won’t be around to tie those shoes forever.  How much am I really helping if I don’t let them struggle and work and get better? 

Our lives involve struggle and sometimes anguish.  “Only through many troubles do we inherit the Kingdom of God,” Acts 14 says.  If God were loving, we think He’d spare us those trials.  What must Daniel the Prophet have thought when King Darius’ soldiers slid the rock over the lion’s den and it was pitch black; just Daniel listening to growling, hungry lions?  But God heard Daniel’s prayer and sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths. What about the momma and daddy caressing their lifeless baby in a delivery room.  They waited 9 months to meet her only to go home from the hospital with broken hearts and shattered dreams.  The Christian life takes steadfastness.  Blessed is the steadfast… that means a steely courage to trust God when the evidence of His love is hard to find.  Or rather you find that evidence in Jesus’ death. 

Our text makes an important theological point:  God tempts no one.  Evil isn’t God’s fault or God’s will.  Sin, evil, and suffering come from the devil and from us sinful people doing evil things.  We get hurt by our own actions; sometimes the actions of others; and sometimes for reasons we can’t know.  Death is part of the Fallen world we inherited from Adam and Eve, and part of the consequence of having received people and things from God that we love and care about is each will one day slip from our hands.  Only God is big enough to hold them all.   

This is still God’s world.  God is Almighty.  In a year that 491K Americans died of Covid, God is still bigger than Satan.  “God is still our Refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.”  Because of who God is, “We will not fear, though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” 

God doesn’t tempt you as though He secretly roots for your failure, but the testing can be overwhelming to you, not God.  When God allows suffering, sickness, natural disaster or death, one might say, it’s even worse to say God allows it.  Why would God allow or cause pain in my life?  How could He be so careless?  When the truth is a thousand times, He’s beckoned us to run into His arms, up to and including right now.   

            There are times when we feel like Abraham being tested by God: “Take your son to the land I will show you and offer him there as a burnt offering.”  That’s unbelievable.  “How can you ask me to go on without my loved one?  Is this for real?  Do you really want to crush me under this terrible trial?”  I bet Abraham prayed all those things. 

            How did he survive?  We can’t survive the trials and sadness’s of this world if our faith is in our ability to stay positive or our willpower or our ability to find silver linings in every dark cloud.  Faith needs an anchor outside this world to steady our boat when the seas are stormy.  

Grieving Abraham didn’t follow God’s command because he had a naturally positive outlook.  His faith didn’t rest on a flimsy decision at an altar call.  He had God’s sure word that Isaac would be the father of many nations. Hebrews says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead.”  Abraham survived this test by trusting the Word of God, even when he didn’t understand what God was up to.  He closed eyes and ears to the unfairness and believed that somehow – in spite of God’s command – somehow God is good “His mercies endure forever.”  He had God’s promise. 

When the patriarch Job reached the end of his rope, children dead, houses gone, barns burned down, crops destroyed, health shattered, Job cried out against life’s unfairness – the righteous suffer – the scoundrels celebrate. But through bitter tears Job could also cry, “I know that my Redeemer lives; and that in the end He will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.  I myself will see Him with my own eyes – I and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!”   

            Isaiah wrote, “But now this is what the Lord says; He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you O Israel; fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are mine.  When you walk through fire, the flames will not set you ablaze; for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” 

I don’t pretend to understand God’s hidden heart or understand things God hasn’t chosen to reveal.  God is God and doesn’t need me to vindicate Him.  But I know God has issued His verdict, “The soul who sins will die.” And I know when this veil of tears finally lifts, “there remains the crown of life which God has laid up for those who love Him, those called according to His purpose.” 

            So even down here in “the valley of the shadow of death”, God is still in control.  God joined Himself to our journey to empty death of its power.   Hebrews 2 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He Himself shared in our flesh and blood that through death Jesus might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver those who all their lives lived in slavery to the fear of death.” Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

The old song reminds: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”  You’re more than just any old bird.  In Isaiah 49, God says, “I can no more forget you than a mom can forget the little baby sucking at her breast. But though she should forget, I will not forget you.  See I have engraved you in the palms of My hands.”

            So that’s part of the answer to the question of why there’s so much suffering and sadness… 80 or 90 years on this good earth isn’t the end game.  Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace; in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Even evil and suffering, trials and testing, must serve God’s purpose… even the pompous devil who thinks to destroy God’s Kingdom, must fail.  Romans 8 says, “God works all things for the good of those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose.” 

Seldom do we see the sense of suffering… but God knows and God sees and His Word says, “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance; character, and character hope; and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love is poured into our hearts.”  It’s when the lion’s den slams shut, we learn to pray.  Is it pleasant?  God doesn’t say it will be, but God can use suffering to shape me and make me steadfast or even to cause me to stop running away from the God who loved me enough to die for me. 

Part of the answer to “why suffering” is in our Gospel lesson:  “The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe the Good News!”  Jobs, money, friendships, stuff are foolish things to live for.  Repent!  Return to the Lord!  For believers, suffering toughens us and disciplines us.  Hebrews 13 says, “God disciplines those whom He loves as a loving Father disciplines His children.” Life’s crosses teach us to “fear, love and trust in God above all things.” 

Sometimes having everything else stripped away is when, we wake up and realize only one foundation is solid enough to stand for eternity!  The only thing left when everything else is gone will be the God who was there, and with just a word called the world into being.  The God who formed you in your mother’s wombs and breathed into you His breath of life; Who redeemed your body in the death of His Son; who sanctified your body to be His Holy Temple by washing you in Baptisms’ word; He’s the only thing left standing in the end.  But believing in Jesus, Romans 14 says, “You will stand because God is able to make you stand.” 

When a demon-possessed Muslim militia with automatic weapons herded 21 Coptic Christians off their tour bus on the way to an Egyptian monastery, those believers died with the name of Christ on their lips bearing witness that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.  The sand in the shoes of those martyr dead was worth more than the whole murderous group that attacked them, but in God’s wisdom the martyr dead pointed their murderers to Jesus, echoing St. Peter, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  Who knows but that terrible injustice may cause one Muslim to turn from Satan and be saved, because they saw a Christian die at the point of a gun! 

            The only life of joy… the only hope in death comes in Jesus.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”  Jesus is the substitute Lamb God, the beloved Son sent to take the place of Abraham’s beloved son Isaac.  He took the place of this whole world of sinners.  Like the ram caught in the thorn thicket, our Savior Substitute had head crowned with thorns as He laid down His life on the altar of the cross. God the Father made the sacrifice He wouldn’t allow from Abraham. 

When the world and when you and I cry out, “Why God?  How can a loving God allow this?” Remember your God and Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.  When the storm rages, set your anchor in something outside of your own ability to persevere.  Saving faith is extra nos – outside of us – in the eternal God who stepped into time to rescue us timebound sinners to eternal life. 

When life’s troubles rise to meet me, Though their weight May be great, They will not defeat me.  God, my loving Savior sends them;  He who knows All my woes  Knows how best to end them. 

Now in Christ, death cannot slay me, Though it might, Day and night, Trouble and dismay me.  Christ has made my death a portal  From the strife Of this life To His joy immortal!”  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Jan. 24, 2021 "St Timothy, Pastor and Confessor"

“St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

January 24, 2021 

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               Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            My family was having a discussion at the dinner table this week about a comment from one of their teachers that making the sign of the cross is a Catholic ritual. That led to our dinner discussion, because it’s true that making the sign of the cross is catholic.  But it’s wrong to say making the sign of the cross is Roman Catholic; rather, it’s part of the universal practice of God’s Church, centuries before the church split East and West.  The sign of the cross doesn’t make someone a Christian or not a Christian, but it’s an ancient practice.  Already 1800 years ago in the Apostolic Traditions, making the sign of the cross was included in the church orders for Baptism and other services.  And signing with the cross was so common it would be impossible to trace when and where exactly it started. 

            You’ll have to wade through this with me as I try to connect the dots, because this is no criticism.  We appreciate deeply Galesburg Christian School and her teachers.  When the teacher said that in class, it wasn’t meanness.  To say the sign of the cross is catholic is a pretty common misconception in parts of Protestantism, including parts of the Lutheran church. 

Galesburg Christian School is a tremendous blessing to our family.  Still, it was a good reminder to check and talk about the things our kids are taught and learn.  And that’s just as true if your kids are in the public school – and I’d argue even to a greater degree, because at least in the guidance from the state board of education there is an institutional commitment to the worldview of naturalism – and a commitment to downplay morality as coming from a Creator.  I’m thankful that many public-school teachers don’t share what is actually a false religion of naturalistic evolution.  But no matter where kids go to school, you have to talk about the things they hear and correct what needs corrected. 

            I’m not really surprised a non-Lutheran teacher doesn’t know Luther’s Small Catechism teaches us to make the sign of the cross in remembrance of our Baptism.  And that’s much more easily corrected than an evolutionist teaching kids they’re descended from apes with no real value as an individual created in God’s image. 

            And, now in case you’ve been wondering, all this has been a long-winded way to get to our sermon… The reason I was thinking about our family dinner discussion is because some would think it strange that this morning of January 24 is observed in the Church Year as St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor. People would think that’s a very Roman Catholic way to talk, so what gives?  Why this day to commemorate St. Timothy?  It’s certainly not that we pray to St. Timothy, nor that we seek his prayers for us.  We definitely do not kick Christ off his throne today and worship Pastor Timothy. There’s a lot that is idolatrous and wrong about the way some people and churches talk about the saints.  But there’s another extreme to be avoided besides idolizing the saints which God strictly forbids – there’s the danger of cutting ourselves off from the centuries of faithful saints that have gone before us. The primary confessional document of the Lutheran Church, the Augsburg Confession says, “The saints may be remembered in order that we imitate their faith and good works, according to our calling.”

            The Lutheran Church’s take on the saints is that we remember their teachings; their faithfulness in pointing us to Christ; and insofar as we can learn from how they lived out their calling, we ask God to help us be faithful.  So, as a pastor, I pray God help me to serve Mt. Calvary the way Timothy served the churches in Corinth, Philippi and Ephesus. As Christians in a society with many competing ideas about who “god” is, Timothy, stands as an example for you and me of godly courage to confess the truth. 

Leaving aside the steroid era, the greatest home run hitter of all time died on Friday, Henry Aaron.  It would surely be wrong to go the Baseball Hall of Fame and worship before his bronze bust, but baseball fans can go and stand before it remembering all he accomplished.  So, on this day, we don’t worship, pray to or ask intercession from St. Timothy, but we are grateful to God. 

All that God gives is for our good, and in His goodness and blessing, we are thankful for those who have gone before us, including Pastor Timothy or St. Titus whose commemoration is Tuesday.  In the same way, we rejoice in God’s gifts of Christian parents or Sunday school teachers, or perhaps a former pastor now home with the Lord, who shared an important part of our walk and by their words and example pointed us to Christ.  You may even now, remember a grandma or grandpa of Sunday School teacher who cared enough to point you to Christ, who now rests in His bosom.  The body of Christ is one in Jesus.  We aren’t dislocated from our dead.  Their view is better in heaven, but when the Church gathers for her Divine Service we humbly join our voices with all our beloved dead, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”  Hebrews 13 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the Word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of the life, and imitate their faith.” 

Is it possible for someone to make a false god out of a dead loved one – imagining the dead loved one as their angel watching over them?  Sure, it is.  But can we be thankful for faithful men and women who have shared God’s truth with us, including today, St. Timothy.  Certainly, we can.

Today, as we remember St. Timothy, I’d like you to hear again, Paul’s words in our text: “As for you, O man of God, flee these things.”  In case you don’t remember, what Paul is telling Timothy and you to flee or run away from is “the love of money which is the root of all evil.”  Run away from it.  When you and I have a lot, we love our money and what it can do.  When we don’t have any, we fear we don’t have our money god to take care of us.  We turn things into false gods.  Your phone isn’t God, but if you’re like me, a lot of days it gets read more than the Bible. Your spouse or job isn’t God.  “You shall have no gods before the living and true God.”  And if you worship false gods like money, which cannot see and cannot smell and cannot taste and cannot touch; if you worship that kind of God, you’ll end up just like them.  Flee from it. Run away from idolizing stuff. The ads that bombard us with the idea we can’t live without this or that gadget are all lies and distractions.  Jesus said, “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded of you, then who will get what you’ve stored up for yourselves.”

If God has gifted you, use all that you have gifts and talents and dollars to serve Him and His Kingdom.  Next, Paul tells Pastor Timothy and you and me: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”  Maybe Paul is challenging you and me to put our phone away, turn off the tv or get away from unchristian influences and ways of thinking.  Lift your eyes past your little reach to see others in need of your help and love and compassion.  Where you have anger or enemies, see others in need of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Pursue righteousness and faith.  Maybe God’s telling us not to live in terror of the virus or focus our fears on it, or our hopes on medical science, rather to be steadfast in faith, and focus on things that build up rather than some more reportage that only induces anxiety. In Philippians, Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Then and forever there are things worth fighting for.  A year before the Council of Nicaea met in 324 AD, Emperor Constantine tried to get the bishops to stop arguing about how to confess God. Constantine thought it was a useless, harmful distraction, unbecoming of pastors.  “As long as you continue to contend about these small and very insignificant questions,” Constantine chastised, “I believe it to be not merely unbecoming, but positively evil, that so large a portion of God’s people should be divided.”  You cannot compromise with error.  It’s not truth that leads to division in God’s Church, it’s the refusal to confront error and the temptation to quietly look the other way. 

Imagine if Athanasius, a deacon then, and the heroes of Nicaea had listened to Emperor Constantine.  If they had agreed to disagree for the sake of peace, rather than confessing that Jesus is “God of God, light of light, very God of very God; begotten not made.” Imagine if they had been unwilling to fight for God’s truth, and every succeeding generation lost God’s certainty that the hands stretched wide in death on Calvary’s cross were the hands of God who was born to die for the sins of the world.  True Churchman are men of peace, but God’s peace is ever-ready to fight the good fight of the faith. 

Paul’s word to Timothy is true for you when you’re confessing Christ to your neighbor or having to stand up to your son or daughter and tell ‘em they can’t wear that trashy outfit.  On many things, like where you’ll eat dinner, there’s room for compromise.  But God calls you to plant your feet in the truth of His Word and never flinch.  “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus said, “but My Word will never pass away… Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and I will be with you always.” 

Especially, our young people are indoctrinated by the devil and a lying culture to speak in terms of your truth and my truth.  There is no your truth or mine.  There are truths in Jesus and the devil’s lies.  There is a right and a wrong.  Paul told Timothy and us, “Fight the good fight; keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today, as we commemorate young Pastor Timothy, we remember the content of his teaching.  As you fight the good fight of faith and hold on to your hope in Jesus, your victory in battle was once and for all achieved by Christ who lived and died for you and me. For us who too often fail in the fight or fail to flee idolatry, Jesus never failed, in His heaven-appointed task of living a perfect life and dying in your place.  You are redeemed, loved and have a God-given heavenly future because the Lord of Life fought the good fight for you and me.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Dec. 6, 2020 "Hurry up and wait"

“Hurry up and wait” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Second Sunday in Advent Dec. 6, 2020

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            Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son. Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

            The sermon text is from 2 Peter 3:8-14.

            Hurry up and wait.  Everything from phones to cars to computers is super-charged, but it seems all we do is wait.  That’s life at the end of the world, and the Advent call is to be prepared, and make ready your hearts for His coming. Hurry up and wait! 

            Hurry up and wait is frustrating when you’re waiting at a train crossing or worried you’ll be late for church or school or waiting for your order to ship, but waiting’s worse with Judgment Day.  God’s call to preparedness is always there, yet one day seems just about like the last, and every generation of the Church has said, He’s coming! 

Of course, secularists are quick to mock John the Baptist’ Advent call: “Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  It’s a bitter irony that so many who laugh at God’s Church for living in expectation of a Christ who has yet to return… That same group of hecklers are themselves the most apocalyptic among us; warning you the world is going to end every time you drink from a Styrofoam cup or fill your gas tank.  Even in the heart of the atheist or university-trained nature worshiper, God hasn’t left Himself without witness.  You can’t run from God’s Law written on every heart: the days are numbered. Climate activism or animism is a false god and cannot atone or turn away God’s day of wrath.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and “the wages of sin is death.” 

To which we might add: What’s taking so long?  But that’s life in the last days: hurry up and wait.  Already three thousand years ago, King David cried, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?  How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

            To prepare God’s Church to wait with Advent expectancy and anticipation, St. Peter reminds us, “Do not forget with the Lord a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day.” 

            God is eternal.  He exists outside of time.  What may seem to you a long time is a mere moment before the Almighty and timeless God. That’s how it is with God, but it’s sure not that way for us.  For us a day is a day, a year is a year.  Peter makes no room for a fanciful notion that the world and all the living organisms in it evolved through the mechanism of natural selection and death of the un-fittest.  Rather, everything about our world suggests not an upward trajectory toward sophistication and completion but rather a world, once complete, going to the dogs.

            I noted with small satisfaction this week that scientists have seen enough to assure us that the canyons and topography of Mars were formed by catastrophic flooding.  The fancy word for that is catastrophism.  Of course, it’s my opinion that they breathlessly reported that stuff, because water would be important for life on another planet, which they haven’t found. Their atheistic religion has them crusading to prove that we aren’t special creations in God’s universe. While they can’t succeed, federal funds never cease.

            Catastrophism used to be how all scientists understood the geology of the earth.    It’s pretty obvious a lot of water made some pretty big canyons.  Indeed, largescale flooding used to be the accepted way to view the things we see when we look out at our world until the 1830’s or so.  Back then Charles Lyell published a book that did away with catastrophism, in favor of uniformitarianism.  That view says essentially everything is as it’s always been – it’s uniform - and everything you see today you have to explain by means of processes you see happening right now.  And since you don’t see any global flooding today, modern science teaches your children geologic features like the Grand Canyon must be explained by the Colorado River taking a 90* turn at the Kaibab Plateau and flowing uphill through rock over millions of years.  Granted, we’ve all seen erosion and its power but you’ve never seen one flow uphill through rock.  But that’s the kind of foolishness you’ve got to come up with when you don’t believe the Bible. 

So, science sees canyons on Mars this week and says it must have been a global flood, but refuses to say the same thing when scientists vacation in Arizona.  That could only come, they say, from magical rivers that flow uphill.  That’s the way of the world.  St. Peter warned us about the uniformitarians of atheistic science.  One verse before our text,  Peter wrote: “They scoff, ‘Where is this coming Jesus promised?’ Ever since our fathers died everything goes on as it has since the beginning. But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s Word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  And by these waters the world of that time was flooded and destroyed.  By that same Word the present heavens and earth are being … kept for the day of judgment.”   

            God’s creation is not evolving but devolving, “Crying out in anticipation,” Paul said, “waiting for God’s sons to be revealed.”  Jesus is coming again.  Be ready.

            So, what’s the holdup?  Why the hurry up and wait?  Come, Lord Jesus.  We’re tired of seeing loved ones hurt.  Tired of the litany of terror on every evening news broadcast.  We’re tired of a broken world and broken relationships, aches and pains, treatments and tests, and so much frustration and anxiety that we sometimes lose sight of all the good blessings that God does give us every day in a million ways.  “How long, O Lord?” 

            If we’re a little impatient, Peter gives us reason to pause, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance.”  The Church will go on amid the convulsions of a dying world.  The Church will carry out her mission of preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified until the last soul is added unto salvation through faith in Jesus. And when that day comes, so will Christ take His Bride the Church home. 

            Until that day, do not grow weary.  Your God has you and this world in His hands.  The One who called this world into being and formed our first parents from the dust of the earth.  The God who “knit you together in your mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made”… The One who was born for you in Bethlehem and stepped alive from Easter’s tomb, that Jesus is at the right hand of God and holds in His hands all of human history.  “All power in heaven and earth has been given to Him” who promises to “work all things for the good of those who love Him.” On those days when life in this world seems a weary slog, I love the words of that great hymn: “And when the fight is fierce the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Alleluia!  Alleluia!”

            Christ the Lamb is victorious for you.  From Mary’s womb to Calvary’s death, Jesus lived in perfect righteousness the whole cycle of our lives, redeeming every step of our journey by His sinless satisfaction.  Jesus’ resurrection has put an end to death for us who have died with Him in Baptism and been raised with Him through faith.  Your salvation is assured because nothing about Jesus is uncertain.  The Song of Triumph that thunders around God’s throne in heaven, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of His glory” is the same triumph song that resounds in this little chapel where we wounded saints gather to receive God’s medicine of immortality in the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

            So, hurry up and wait.  God’s Church lives with an eye for eternity, waiting for the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness.  As Hebrews 11 puts it, “We are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one, the city that has foundations whose Designer and Builder is God.”  But our text won’t let us be idle spectators, watching the world pass us by.  “What sort of people ought you to be?” Peter writes, “In holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Day of God.” 

 Because we know Jesus died for the world and heaven is our future, we have today to get busy and serve God with joy.  Hurry up!  Talk to your unchurched neighbor.  Disabuse your child or spouse of the idea that it’s more important for them to make money than get to church.  Talk to your friends about Jesus and invite them along to hear the Word. Pray for Dennis and Lorna and for our churches so devastated by Covid.  Pray for our children mis-educated by atheism and secularism and materialism.  We hasten the coming of His Kingdom by spreading the Gospel of Christ for Whose sake the world endures.  We live out our callings in holiness, because God put us here to be His lights in the darkness.  Plant your feet in God’s Word and take your stand.  Don’t be the nice, useless, easily pushed fake Christian.  Have God’s courage to put on your big boy pants and walk in the Last Days like God’s man and God’s woman! 

            Hurry up and wait!  Hurry up to be bold and truthful and faithful.  Stop cowering .  Stop worrying about being a hater.  God’s Word is always truthful and always loving, because God always wants what’s best. Don’t be an activist in the sense of people who have taken positions to win approval from people who are mostly wrong. Be active.  Do what God’s giving you to do, and hurry up about it, even as you wait for the day of Jesus’ coming.  You and I won’t solve all that’s wrong with ourselves much less this world, but Jesus already has, when He carried those sins to the cross and buried them in His tomb. 

            For just such as we are, Jesus lived and died to redeem and love the unlovable. His forgiveness is for you, spoken into your ears, poured over your head and given into your lips.  Faith rests in Jesus’ work.  “It is finished.”  And one day these bodies fed and forgiven in Jesus will stand up from the dust of death.  These bodies washed and fed will be raised imperishable, strong resurrection bodies, and reunited with our souls inherit that new heavens and new earth God has prepared for those who love Him.  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus. 

            And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.   

                                

              

Nov. 22, 2020 "Receive your Inheritance"

“Receive your Inheritance: The Sheep and Goats” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Last Sunday of the Church Year Nov. 22, 2020

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            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text is from Matthew chapter 25:31-46 previously read.

            On Judgment Day, the judgment has already happened in a certain sense.  The sheep are on the right; the goats, the left.  You’re either one or the other from the moment you come to faith.  The sheep are God’s believers.  Jesus the Good Shepherd said, “My sheep hear My voice. I know them and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.”  Jesus said about His sheep: “I am the Door of the sheep… whoever enters by Me will be saved.”  The goats are also judged before that final, public reckoning on Judgment Day.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 

            So the faith by which you are saved is hidden. I can’t see if you believe.  No one but God knows perfectly who really trusts in Christ as the Savior.  On Judgment Day there is a public, final recognition of your status – were you a sheep or a goat, a believer or unbeliever?  And the evidence of your status will be the good works that God the Holy Spirit worked through you in your life.  “By their fruits you will know,” Jesus said.

First, notice there are only two camps, saved or damned, heaven or hell.  There’s no purgatory line 3 for the undecided voter. But note also:  God doesn’t desire, nor did He ever intend that hell should be for people.  Our text says hell was “prepared for the devil and his evil angels.”  Those who go to hell are lost eternally through unbelief having rejected Christ. Jesus said, “How I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings – but you were not willing!”  Dear ones, let this be a reminder that you and I should always share the Gospel of Jesus and pray for God to destroy the devil’s will and work and let His Kingdom come. 

            Now, listen to Jesus’ word to His sheep:  “The King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed by My Father;  take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  He calls them blessed.  Your good works are evidence of a living faith, but they do not save you.  Blessed is a word in Scripture that emphasizes receiving a free gift from God.  The inheritance wasn’t owed them for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, or clothing the naked.  If they had earned salvation, it would have been a wage earned and owed.  But He calls them “blessed.” 

Wonderful too: Not a word is said about the sins of the sheep.  You are a sinner.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans says. But on Judgment Day for the believer, the sheep, they are no more, Jesus carried them and washed them away in His blood. Psalm 32 says: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against Him.”  In Jeremiah, God promises, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”  For the sheep who followed the Good Shepherd on Judgment Day the sins have been banished as far as the east from the west. 

            The King also says to His sheep, “Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared before the creation of the world.”  Eternal life with the Lord is an inheritance. But how do we receive an inheritance? The one who receives it must be an heir a member of the family.  Apart from Christ, you aren’t part of God’s family.  He took real, human flesh in Mary’s womb so that He could be your true Brother, one with you in every way except without sin.   Galatians 4 says, “God sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law; that we might receive the adoption of sons.” That’s how you are an heir with an inheritance.  You were adopted in Jesus through faith.   Romans says, “The Holy Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if we are children we are heirs.” 

            The King continues:  “For I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me to drink, in prison and you came to visit me.”  “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you?’”  The sheep at Jesus’ right hand are honestly humble.  They have no realization of doing anything worthy of God’s kingdom. Their trust was totally in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They take no credit for themselves, only clinging to the cross.  These our text calls “righteous.”

            These verses are so important for us.  Here we see that not only is our forgiveness or our justification by God’s grace alone, but so is our sanctification – our life of good works.  Philippians 2 says, “God works in you to will and to act.”  Don’t ever listen to the devil’s lie that because Jesus saves you through faith you can live in unrepentant sin.  Not so!  That’s a lie straight from hell, from the devil: people start to think since Jesus died for me I can be a Christian and hate church or live in sexual sin or work every Sunday and live for the false god of Money. 

God wants you to do good works, and if you don’t care about that: don’t fool yourself that you’re still a Christian.  Repent!  Why should you be damned?  Turn from your wicked ways and live. 

To be a sheep is God’s saving gift and work.  Righteousness or justification is God’s grace, His undeserved love. Jesus took all that is ugly and hateful, all that is sinful and damning, He took all your sin, and, though He was perfect, died for your sins.  Through faith in Christ, God declares you to be what you aren’t in and of yourselves. Christ took the filthy rags of your unrighteousness to the cross.  Through faith He clothes you in His righteousness and forgiveness. 

            Good works play no part in your salvation.  Heaven isn’t 99.9% a gift from God and 1/10% what you do.  It is totally God’s gift.  Clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, whatever the good deeds.  Never hope in your actions.  Hope in God’s promises through Christ.  Even good works are God’s work in you.  Galatians says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.” 

The faith through which you were saved and covered in Jesus is already known to God.  It will be publicly recognized on Judgment Day by your works.  Like a spring bubbles up and the stream of water flows many miles downstream.  The faith-filled heart bubbles up and the stream of works flow – but it’s not the stream that makes the spring, rather the living, flowing spring produces a stream. God doesn’t need your good works. Don’t aim them into heaven as though you’re buying God off.  Leave your good works down here.  God doesn’t need them.  Let God’s love bubble up in you and flow to your neighbor. 

The Holy Spirit enables you and works through you to feed the hungry, to reach out with God’s love for the poor.  The Holy Spirit empowers you to serve God in the place He puts you in life, but never trust in your works!  And when you get selfish and lazy, cry out: “Dear God, forgive me!”  And get back to work.  Don’t waste your life.  Use the gifts God gives you.  God made you you, for a reason – use your gifts to live for Him.  Pray God give you eyes to see the opportunities and courage to act and strength to persist.  Live each moment of your life knowing that you are saved by God’s grace, but spend your energies in doing good as though it all depends on you! 

Think about the places God puts you.  That’s where God has you to serve Him by serving your neighbor.  God feeds the hungry through the hands of the farmer, the grocer, and the momma over the stove.  God clothes the naked through moms and dads with their babies, the Rescue Mission with our Galesburg needy families.  God uses bosses and jobs to feed the hungry.  This is God’s world and He has woven the connections in your life in such a way that He wants you to bear fruit to His glory.  If you aren’t; if your life is a lazy, useless dodge of serving yourself; you better wake up.  When that spring of faith that is the Holy Spirit bubbles up… it won’t go underground. 

            For those goats, those damned because they rejected Christ, their lack of good works – the dry stream bed of their lives – is evidence the spring was stopped up, choked out by unbelief.  When you turn on a light, it casts its rays in every direction. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  These hear the chilling word, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

            A normal Graduation Day is a public celebration of the grades and homework and classes that a student did over the course of years. The public bestowal of the diploma is a public recognition of a judgment made earlier.  When the graduate walks the stage and the tassel is flipped, the family and friends celebrate something already achieved.  When God publicly celebrates the works the Holy Spirit did through His sheep on Judgment Day, He simply recognizes a reality that has been true since the Sheep heard the Shepherd’s voice and entered through the door of faith. 

May you and I always rejoice that God makes us His sheep – not because of how good we are, but how gracious and loving He is.  But as His sheep, blessed beyond imagination, serve Him.  Make your life worthy.  Young people.  Don’t just aim to make a career and money.  Ask God to help you to make a difference and be a blessing to your neighbor. Young or old, let your life bring glory to the God who loves you so completely in Jesus.  “Shine as lights in this world, holding fast to the word of life.” 

            And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Nov. 15, 2020 "Something for Thee"

“Something for Thee” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

24th Sunday after Pentecost Nov. 15, 2020

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          Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

          The sermon text is from Matthew 25:14-30 previously read.

          40 days after Easter Jesus ascended into heaven, but He’s coming again.  Our parable says, “[Jesus] the Master… entrusted to His slaves His belongings.”  The talents entrusted belonged to Christ, our Great Lord and Master.  We manage God’s belongings to His glory for whatever the span of our earthly lives, and the church word we typically think of is: stewardship.  A steward manages what belongs to another.  Two of these stewards in our text did it with joy.  One of the stewards was damned because his laziness and carelessness of the trust and its Giver.  So, knowing Jesus is coming soon, how should you steward so as to hear the Master’s voice: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  How you’ll serve seems to flow from how you appraise the Giver. 

We often think of stewardship in terms of God giving us the gifts of time, our talents, and our dollars, our treasure.  It’s so much bigger than just how many dollars you put in the offering plate, though money too is a trust.  Your time is a gift from God, if your church gets none of your time, you’re shirking a God-given calling; if your family gets none of your time, you are abusing a calling God has given you.  Your talents are gifts that you manage.  If you horde your talent or refuse to use your gifts, except for your own benefit, you are a miserable manager of God’s gifts. 

Our time, talents and dollars are gifts that, if used selfishly, can be taken away.  Why should God continue to bless and multiply your wealth if it makes you so stingy you don’t give to those in need or to support God’s Church?  In that case, God’s grace would be enabling your greed and theft. But if God’s gifts are used in gratitude to the Giver and trust that He gives all things well, then those gifts – yes, even dollars, can be multiplied.  To be a good and faithful servant, focus on the Giver – not the gifts themselves.   

One danger here is the devil wants us to notice those more blessed than we.  The devil wants us resentful against God and jealous of our neighbor.  In earthly life, we are equally loved children of God, but differently gifted.  I couldn’t be a doctor or a mechanic.  It’s not my gift.  To live out our callings faithfully in church and family, community and workplace, we are in awe of some people’s smarts; others perhaps wisdom.  Some are muscular and strong; some musical; some more industrious and energetic, more stamina; some are more social, Paul calls that hospitality, some more nurturing with gifts of healing and compassion.

In our parable, the Master gives different gifts to His servants.  5 talents doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually a tremendous amount of money.  Yet, here’s the point:  God gives to each one according to God’s will – to some 5; to some 2; to some 1 talent.  You are differently gifted than your neighbor.  Don’t resent or begrudge your neighbor if they have more or different gifts. Each child of God is uniquely special with diverse gifts.  1 Corinthians 6 says, “You were bought at a price; therefore, honor God with your bodies.”

1 Timothy 6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”  Be content with what you have and who you are. Live from the hands of the One who gives each day your daily bread.  Don’t worry if you have fewer gifts in one area.  Be the best you, you can be.  And never forget, God’s greatest gift – His grace in Jesus is equally and freely spread to all His children.

I’ll add just a word about the unequal distribution of gifts… How boring life would be if we were all clones.  There’s no surer path to a miserable life than to live yours wishing ill of others.  Politicians and universities and media thrive on grievance and envy culture.  The new Marxist movement makes no one’s life better, only working to punish the so-called privileged. 

Some other servant of God may indeed have been entrusted with 5 talents to your one, but trust that God knows how best to save you. Don’t do your job lazily because you think you deserve a better job; pray and serve as though you’re the owner not the worker… Don’t gripe about your husband or wife, pray for them and encourage them.  Your children are God’s gifts, teach them and form them by God’s Word. Pray for contentment and faithfulness and energy to devote yourselves to your God-given calling, in your marriage and family, your church and your jobs.  The Psalmist wrote, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord; Serve the Lord with gladness.” 

And remember: God’s blessings aren’t static things, you may start out with little and find that as you use your gifts in His service, He multiplies His blessings in your life, however He chooses.  You may start out in a job and find God has other plans for your gifts.  You may spend a career in the same place.  Certainly, marriage and family is not a place God wants you to try to trade up. Galatians 6 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” 

Don’t serve God or live for God or give to God so that you get more… that’s just religiously veiled selfishness…  But at the same time God’s Law is the good expression of God’s will for your life.  God’s Law is good; and God blesses those who live by His pattern and to His glory. Ephesians teaches us that God gives this-worldly rewards to good and faithful servants: “Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” That’s true about all the areas God calls you to steward: time, talents and dollars.  In Malachi, God said, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”    

On the flip side, if you are a faithless manager - don’t be surprised if it’s all taken away.  But note: The 1 Talent Servant wasn’t damned for bad money management. His terrible stewardship was a symptom of a faithless contempt for his Master.  Our sins do not damn us or no one would be saved.  Mark 16 says, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Neither were the good and faithful servants saved by their good performance.  The 5 and 2 Talent Servant’s works flowed from a faith and love for the Master.  

So God’s Law is good and that’s a fact. Your best life will seek to follow it, not trusting in your performance, but in Jesus’ performance for you in His perfect life, death and resurrection.  But that good Law of God also tells it straight: you and I are greedy and selfish to the core.  You need a Savior.  So, don’t look within yourself to measure your favor with God, and don’t judge by the cash in your wallet or how well you score on your annual physical.  The 100% infallible indicator of how you stand before God is the thorned-crowned head of your crucified Savior.  1 Timothy reminds us, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God loved you as His creation, He redeemed you in Jesus’ blood, and you the Holy Spirit sanctifies to use your life to His glory.

Mike Trout can hit a 100 mph fastball 500 feet. That’s a gift.  A baby born with Downs Syndrome may not grow up to do any of the things we think are impressive or important.  But the Master holds all His precious children alike in His arms. There is not another you anywhere in the world.  You are each vessels of Jesus’ care, equally redeemed in Jesus’ blood and called to be saved by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake.   Uniquely loved and precious to the God who “knit you together in your mother’s womb.”  You aren’t an accident, and no part of your life escapes His attention.  Even the hairs of your head, be they many or few, aren’t beneath God’s concern.  Your Savior adored each of you from least to greatest and made His highest good preparing a place for you in His heavenly home through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Heaven has no higher treasure than the sacred blood from our Savior’s veins, and that’s the price He willingly paid to have you as a dearly loved servant in His household. 

Each of you is gifted.  1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”  Everything you have, from your families, to your mental ability, to your musical talent, to your money is a gift.  Nothing you have belongs to you.  Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” 

Your little ones, children or grandchildren, are treasured gifts from God.  Your highest responsibility isn’t getting them on a cell phone plan or having the nicest clothes… it’s worshiping and praying and teaching them that their life in Christ is the most important thing.  Teaching them to “Store up for themselves treasures in heaven.”

Each person God puts in your life, each breath you draw, each dollar in your wallet is an opportunity to use God’s gifts so that His name be praised and souls saved on the day of Jesus’ coming.  1 Corinthians 6 says, “You are not your own.  You were bought at a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your bodies.”  Wretched condemned servants resent anything that doesn’t serve their own end.  Good and faithful servants rejoice to give their lives in service to such a Generous, grace-filled Master. 

These words of an old hymn are a good prayer for us richly blessed and dearly loved servants of God: “Give me a faithful heart, Likeness to Thee, That each departing day Henceforth may see Some work of love begun, Some deed of kindness done, Some wand’rer sought and won, Something for Thee.  All that I am and have Thy gifts so free, In joy, in grief, through life, Dear Lord, for Thee!  And when Thy face I see, My ransomed soul shall be Thro’ all eternity Something for Thee.  Amen.” (TLH, 403, stanzas 3 &4)

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Nov. 8, 2020 "Keep you lamp and oil ready"

“Keep you lamp and oil ready for the Bridegroom” 

By Pastor Steve Sommerer

23rd Sunday after Pentecost Nov. 8th, 2020

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           Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

          The sermon text is from Matthew 25:1-13.

          Florence was the daughter of a Lutheran teacher from one of the founding congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  I don’t know how old she was, but she was living at the nursing home near me, so a friend asked me to visit her when I was doing my other calls. I sat with her a few times and read some passages and had prayers.  I talked – most anything I could think of because the quiet made me uncomfortable. I don’t know if it did her– and then it just got too hard so I’d pray and go home.  I don’t really remember her ever saying anything to me.  She would say amen to a prayer, but not hello. Didn’t answer my attempts to get her to talk.  I don’t really even think she looked at me much.  Her lower lip just hung open while she sunk into her wheelchair.  Whatever her full life had been and whoever she had been during that long life, Alzheimer’s had stolen away.  She was wheeled out into the hallway each day to sit seeming hours waiting to get pushed here or there, a cracked, empty vessel – or at least I thought the vessel was empty.

          One visit I had along my pocket hymnal, and I pulled it out to sing “Amazing Grace” or something like that, and to my astonishment Florence sang along.  I’m sure it wasn’t the beautiful voice of Florence as the young student in Lutheran school, but it was quiet and she knew the words.  I did a few more and left and then did the same every time I visited: Abide with Me; Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness; My Hope is Built on Nothing Less; I Know that My Redeemer Lives.  And Florence didn’t only know parts of the first verse or so, she knew deep into many of the hymns, all 4 verses of A Mighty Fortress.  I got tired of singing Soul Adorn Thyself with Gladness before her memory gave out. 

          Over long years someone had prayed, sung and taught Jesus to Florence, like a musical library the songs of Jesus’ love poured from her expressionless lips. When it seemed nothing else remained of her long life but 80 pounds of gray hair, skin and bones, those long years of learning Jesus caused nurses and passing visitors to look on in shock as the incredible library of her mind poured out the love of Christ – though quietly. She never seemed to notice the nurses who noticed her.  Those words and hymns and her quiet amens were the only indication that Florence was there, but even as she seemed to sleepwalk through those last years of her life, her lamp was filled with oil waiting for Christ her Bridegroom.

Hymns are good for that.  Top 40 music doesn’t have quite the same comfort for the aging or dying saint. There’s an immaturity about it.  A childishness that doesn’t fit with the deathbed.  It lacks the sturdiness of pouring wonderful old hymns and Scriptures into your hearts. If you spend everything in you to give your children stuff in this world, but don’t give them the strong and solid foundation of Christ, you aren’t preparing them to live in Christ or die with Him.

As we drift deep into the dark night of this world, I beg you for Jesus’ sake: Don’t be foolish.  To be foolish is to be without the oil required to trim the lamps of faith and meet our Savior.  Even we sometimes feel as though Jesus will never come, yet what seems so long a wait is but a moment before the eternal God.  Peter wrote, “He is not slow in keeping His promises as some understand slowness, but He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth.”   Jesus said, “Keep watch. The Son of Man comes at a day or an hour you do not expect.”

          Still there are signs of Christ’s coming.  Wake up calls, you might say.  There are moments in time that alarm us and remind us the days of these our lives and the days of this our world swiftly pass, “Wake, awake, for night is flyingWith Bridal care, yourselves prepare, To meet the Bridegroom who is near.” 

          The foolish and the wise in our text look similarly.  Both carry lamps.  Both fall asleep and remain sleeping until the cry goes up, “Here comes Jesus, come out to meet Him.  The Bridegroom cometh.”  Both appear at least at one time to have known Christ, because even the foolish ones end up pounding to get into the wedding.  But the wise Virgins brought oil for their lamps; the foolish didn’t. 

          What do you make of that?  What’s so important about oil that it’s absence should disqualify one from heaven – from entering God’s Wedding Feast?  Well, I’m glad you asked, in the Bible oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” Jesus said, “for He has anointed me to preach Good News to the pour.”  Some think perhaps the oil is faith rather than the Holy Spirit Himself.  Doesn’t matter much, really!  You can’t have one without the other.  No Holy Spirit, no trust in Jesus.  “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  Ezekiel said, “I [the Lord] will give them a new heart and a right spirit within them.”  The Psalmist prayed for a living faith, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

          Faith is God’s gift and the Holy Spirit’s work.  If you abide in that faith until you die or Jesus returns: it’s God’s grace and to Him be the glory.  If your lamp runs dry, you can’t get into heaven.  It won’t help you that your parents were Christians or that your spouse believed.  It won’t help that mom made you go through confirmation but then you stopped hearing God’s Word.  On Judgment Day no one can take from their supply to fill you - can’t make up for you rejecting the Holy Spirit, and if you do, you will go to a horrible hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  So don’t put it off for yourselves.  You must have your own Spirit-given faith to be saved.  

          Let’s be honest, raising children is a little frightening.  Grandchildren are probably a little different, but I’m certain grandparents also care deeply for the salvation of their children.  Children are a living, breathing reminder of how time flies.  In the lives of our young people, we can remember the breaking dawn of their lives and see how quickly the hands of time turn.  And I think part of the scary thing about Christian parenting, and also why we daily commend them into God’s hands, is because so much in our children’s future is beyond our control.  It’s so important to hear and love Jesus and never to miss out on God’s Word on Sunday morning and in home devotions and to crave Christ’s body and blood.  It’s the oil the Holy Spirit uses to fuel our lamp of faith. But once they get out of our houses, we don’t get to make that call.  If job and money and school and whatever else comes before God, we can’t give them our faith to make up for them foolishly starving their own.  

Remember two things for your family and for yourself.  Nothing is more important, not even earthly life, nothing more important than God’s Word and Sacraments that bring Jesus.  And remember the time is coming quickly.  “Wake up!” our text says. “You know neither the day nor the hour.” 

          Faith is not something you can borrow someone else.  You either trust in Jesus or you don’t, love Him or not, and I can’t do it for you, nor you for anyone else.  When you see Jesus coming it’s too late.  That’s why real pastors and parents and churches aren’t just happy, feel-good places.  They warn and speak against sin.  They don’t excuse it or pretend it away, because only real sinners care about a real Savior. 

You don’t really know your child will live till 80, so the time to speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel to them isn’t when they’re 79, but now, in the heat of life’s struggles and temptation, to call to repentance and to point to Jesus.  Same for pastors and friends.  To ignore sin and fail to invite to Christ’s wedding feast through faith is to fall asleep without securing your oil for the lamp. 

Faith is created, fed, strengthened and sustained from beginning to end by the Holy Spirit.  “Faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ,” Romans 10 says.  That’s how the Holy Spirit keeps faith’s lamp burning.  The Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and the heavenly food of Christ’s real flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper sustains us and nourishes us to live everlasting.  Faith isn’t your super-human effort to storm heaven’s gates.  It’s hearing and following the Bridegroom. 

          Only one thing can bring you God’s glorious guarantee that you will be welcomed into that end times wedding feast of the Lamb.  Only one thing guarantees that you and yours will receive God’s gracious gift of eternal life.  It’s that Jesus came first in Bethlehem to make it so.  In the Last Weeks of the Church Year our thoughts bend toward Jesus’ return and we pray for that day, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  With our lamps burning and jars filled, you don’t need to fear His coming.  You don’t need to fear death.  You don’t need to grieve over your loved ones who sleep in Jesus as those who have no hope.  Jesus came in Bethlehem to live and die for you.  You were so precious to Him that the Almighty God, through whom all things were made, emptied Himself of His power to become obedient unto death for you.

          I couldn’t have the foggiest idea what Florence thought about me.  Until the day she died, the only thing I heard pass her lips was the faith poured into her heart by loving parents who sang hymns and prayed in the home.  I don’t know how she felt about sitting for years in a wheelchair; about how she felt as her mind slipped away and a great shadow fell over the life she had known. But the oil of the Spirit sang out of her dry cracked lips.  Her amens were the voice of a faith formed over decades and a deep flowing reservoir of God’s love.  For people like her, or like your own dead who fall asleep in Jesus, the best is yet to come.  One day you who have the oil of faith are going to hear Christ the Bridegroom’s call and all the faithful will stand with glorious, strong, perfect resurrection bodies to sing again before God’s throne.  Your Bridegroom is coming soon.  He engraved your invitation in His blood.  Be ready.  Don’t be distracted.  Do not be afraid.  He is coming soon!  Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen. 

          And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen. 

           

Nov. 1, 2020 "Gathering for God's Feast

“Gathering for God’s Feast” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

All Saints’ Day November 1, 2020

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            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text for All Saints’ Day is from Rev. 7:9-17 

            Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes - who are they, and where did they come from?”  I answered, “Sir, you know.”  And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation;  they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them.  Never again will they hunger;  never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  So far the text.

            All Saints’ Day is a day of remembrance and a day of celebration.  It binds us together in hope with our loved ones whose souls are with Christ, yet whose bodies rest in the earth, awaiting the day of Christ’s coming.  Not only the blessed dead in Christ are saints.  Scripture calls all who believe part of the great congregation of God’s saints, because they are justified through faith, declared to be holy, in the blood of Jesus.  Romans 1 speaks to you also when Paul writes, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”, that is holy ones in Jesus.  

So today we rejoice in the blessed dead who are with Christ, we remember the blessing they have been to our lives.  And for those touched with sadness and grief, we find hope in the victory of faith. Isaiah proclaimed:  “Your dead will live;  their bodies will rise.”  1 Thessalonians 4 promises, “You who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who fallen asleep… we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

            In our sermon text from Revelation 7, John gets a glimpse, a vision, of those who have died in Christ gathered around the throne of God before Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  He says it was a multitude “No one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” singing praises to our Risen Redeemer.

            Those whom John sees “have come out of the great tribulation.”  The Church of John’s day, as it is in many parts of the world today, endured terrible persecution and often cruel death for their faith. Life wasn’t easy.  Yet, today when we endure suffering and hardship, when we experience the loss of a loved one or dire sickness, when pandemic strikes, when things don’t go the way we think they ought, we sometimes imagine God has failed us, that I shouldn’t have to suffer pain and loss.

            We’d prefer an exemption from the trials of the world.  But that’s a false theology seeking good things apart from the cross of Christ.  While God promises to watch over and protect His people and that “all things will work together for the good of those who love Him”, we aren’t promised lives free of sorrow and pain.  It wasn’t so for the apostles, nor will it be for you.  

            The way of the cross, of suffering and death is the way for all who are conceived and born in sin, even God’s saints.  Things won’t get better but worse, “the old order of things is passing away.”  Jesus never promised a bed of roses in this life.  Instead He said, “Anyone who would come after me must take up His cross and follow me.” Jesus cautioned the disciples, “I have told you these things that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.” 

So, why do bad things happen to Christians?  Why is there suffering?  Why doesn’t an invisible wall shut Covid out of our churches?   The answer rests in sin’s corruption of what God created perfect and holy.  Evil is an alien intrusion into God’s created order and is not part of His will for His people.  Yet, Scripture reminds us, even as we walk through “the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil, for He is with us.”  The God whom we praise this day didn’t remain a spectator, amusing Himself with our struggles.  God sent His perfect Son to be “born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”  The crosses we bear in life, we are only able to bear with hope, comfort, and peace because the God-man bore the cross before us.  Isaiah called Jesus a “man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, yet He has borne our iniquities and carried our diseases.” 

All Saints’ Day can only be possible, because Jesus bore our shame and covers us in His righteousness.  2 Corinthians 5 says:  “God made Him who had no sin, to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus was judged and died for your sins, and through faith in Him you are covered in His radiant and blessed robes of righteousness. You have been baptized into Christ’s death.  Paul wrote:  “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Through faith you share in Jesus’ victory – His work and His gift, and only in Him are you saints, holy in Him. 

The songs of All Saints’ Day as the song of our text before heaven isn’t a song of defeat and despair.  Our Lord Christ has raised the curtain of eternity for all who are His own.  This beautiful picture in our sermon text of the saints who departed this life in faith is for us a word of comfort, for there they gather around the throne of God and praise His holy name.  “Your dead will live.  Their bodies will rise.” 

Revelation describes the glorious heavenly city prepared for the children of God, a place of no more tears, no more pain, where we walk in the presence of the God who redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son.  Just as the disciples saw the glory of Jesus’ face on the Mount of Transfiguration, so in that city His radiance will be its light.

The books of Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation all describe a banquet feast that God will throw for His Son on the last day.  John calls it the wedding feast of the Lamb.  On that day, Christ’s beautiful bride the Church adorned in the splendid, glistening purity of His forgiveness will be given to her husband our Lord Jesus.  At this wedding feast the saints will be welcomed into the salvation God has prepared for us. 

As you baptized believers gather around the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, you participate here in the blessings that will one day be yours in Paradise. In the Lord’s Supper, heaven touches earth.  The ancient liturgy admonishes those who celebrate the Sacrament: Lift up your hearts; and we join to respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord.”  At each celebration, heaven joins earth, eternity breaks into time.

The body and blood of Christ received here is food for the weary traveler.  As you wind the unpredictable path of life toward your home with Jesus, you receive in His meal strength.  Like the Israelites nourished with manna from heaven during their wilderness wanderings, this blessed bread is eaten by the Church on her way from this world to God’s heavenly Promised Land.  The flesh of the true Lamb of God is eaten, as the first Passover lamb was eaten by the children of Israel.  This blessed bread is the manna, the life-giving bread from heaven. 

  In the Lord’s Supper, we look in two directions - back to the great sacrifice Jesus offered for us and for our salvation at the cross and forward to the Messianic meal in heaven, the wedding feast of the future, when Christ as bridegroom and the Church as Bride will be united at the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”  This meal is truly a “foretaste of the feast to come” for just as one day we will see God face to face;  so in this meal the timeless and eternal God-man Jesus Christ enters into our time and gives Himself to us, His very body and blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The blessed dead in Christ are “with the Lord.”  So also, we cling to God’s promise that He is not distant from us, hiding at an undisclosed location called God’s right hand.  Rather, we celebrate the God in our midst, Who never tires of bestowing His gifts.  Our first parents Adam and Eve fell into sin and were banished from God’s presence in Eden’s Garden, but in the Lord’s Supper God invites us back into His presence to give us Himself.   

In the midst of strife and struggles, God’s Church on earth gathers in simplicity and longing for Her feast.  So our believing dead gather at Christ’s table with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the faithful for that final blessed banquet of salvation.  Even now, they sing, “Blessing, honor, glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever.”  In the Holy Sacrament we join their adoration, bound together with them by the One who gathers His family here and in heaven:  “This is the feast of victory for our God.”  To the end of time the feast goes on, until finally we take our place before God’s throne, even so forgiven in Jesus, we join our voices with prophets and apostles and all our departed dead with “angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify His glorious name saying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabbaoth, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’.”  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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