Last Sunday of the Church Year Sermon

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Matthew 25:1-13
November 24, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

Here we are at the end of all things.  The Church’s year of grace has ploughed through the Incarnation of Christ, His Epiphany and revelation as the Son of God, His passion, death, resurrection and ascension.  From the day of Pentecost, we’ve learned of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives in many and various ways.  Along the way, we’ve paused to ponder angels and the Reformation and the saints.  The last couple of weeks, we’ve turned our thoughts to the last days, and braced ourselves against the dangers and threats that will come upon the Church from outside.

Today on the Last Sunday of the Church Year, we have a parable about the Church itself, and how we Christians may ourselves be prepared for the end of all things.  The parable is divided into two parts: first, the comparison of Christ’s return to a meeting of a bridegroom and his bride; and second, that the wise and foolish bridesmaids teach us that preparation for Christ’s return is a matter of the inner righteousness of faith.  So, therefore,

The Sensible Way to Wait for Jesus’ Return Is To Make Sure You Don’t Think You Have Jesus Figured Out

I.

            Just before starting this parable, Jesus tells His disciples that no one knows the day or the hour of His return, save the Father alone, and then begins this parable with the little word, Then.  The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is about the future return of Christ to judge the quick and the dead, and likens His return to the meeting of a bridegroom with his bride, who is attended by her bridesmaids.

There are a few things to look for in Jesus’ parables, so that you do not end up wandering into fantasies and myths and false belief.  The first thing to look for is the point of comparison—usually only one, but there may be more in longer parables.  There is always a temptation to allegorize a parable and try to find a one-to-one correspondence with every detail in the story, or even to imagine things that you think Jesus should have included in His story.  To find the point of comparison is not difficult—Jesus usually says something like, “The kingdom of heaven is compared to…”—but you should always be careful to discern the grammar.

In this parable the point of comparison for the kingdom of heaven is the meeting of a bridegroom and his bride, who is attended by her bridesmaids.  This metaphor is a common one in Scripture: the Song of Solomon is a picture of Christ’s love for His beloved Church; Hosea’s prophecy (and his own life) depict God’s relationship with His people as a marriage; God often refers to Himself as a husband to His people; St. Paul gives advice to husbands and wives in his letter to the Ephesians, then says that he’s talking about Christ and the Church; and in Revelation, St. John sees the holy city, the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband.

This meeting is seen through the eyes of the bridesmaids, the young women attending to the bride.   They are awaiting a meeting of the bridegroom and the bride, kind of like when a wedding party gets done taking pictures at the church and everyone drives over to the reception hall, and the wedding party meets outside before introductions.  So this is the point of view of the point of comparison.  We are plopped down in the midst of the wedding party awaiting the arrival of the bride and groom, that is we are awaiting the return of Christ and the revealing of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Then the reign of the heavens will be compared to ten virgins who, taking their own lamps, went to a meeting of the bridegroom (v 1).  This is a parable about waiting, about anticipation, and about preparation for the day when Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead.

II.

            While the details of the story don’t have a one-to-one correspondence like an allegory, they do flesh out the story for us and give us a greater understanding of the main point of comparison.  In this parable, the bridesmaids are of two sorts—foolish and sensible.  Many English translations call them foolish and wise, but the wisdom of which this parable speaks isn’t the divine wisdom of God, but rather kind of a common sense wisdom.  And Jesus makes this distinction for a reason.  The foolish and sensible bridesmaids remind us Christians to be concerned not only about the external practice of the Christian religion, but the inner righteousness that is by faith.

Five of them were foolish (morons) and five sensible. For the foolish, although they had taken their lamps, did not take oil with them, but the sensible took oil in the flasks with their lamps.  The bridegroom being delayed, they all grew drowsy and were sleeping.  But at midnight a cry has come, “Behold the bridegroom!  Come out to his meeting.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

And the foolish said to the sensible, “Give us from your oil, because our lamps are extinguished.”  But the sensible answered, saying, “Since there is certainly not enough for us and you, go rather to those selling and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were prepared went in with him into the wedding and the door was shut.

Later, the remaining virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us!” But he answered and said, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

First, the foolish.  What is it that makes them foolish?  They had their lamps, presumably they were dressed for the occasion, had the right address, and the time of the event.  What was it that made them foolish?

They were unprepared for the utter absurdity of the bridegroom—they thought that they had him all figured out.  See, that’s a second thing to look for in the parables—there is normally an aspect that is utterly absurd about Jesus’ stories.  These absurdities illustrate that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.  In this parable, the bridegroom is delayed.  Now, most newlywed couples are fashionably late to the reception, but this bridegroom doesn’t get to the reception until midnight.  Even the most rowdy and raucous wedding receptions start to wind down a bit by midnight.  But this is when the party just gets started in the parable.  It happens at a time that no one was expecting.

The utter absurdity of our Lord Jesus that is wiser than our wisdom is that He weds Himself to human flesh, gives Himself up to the point of death on the cross for His beloved, vows an eternal commitment by His Word, and gives His holy sacraments as pledges and tokens of wedded love and faithfulness.  He makes Himself the perfect Bridegroom, but then He ascends into heaven and delays His return.  Why not get the party started right away?  Why allow this misery to continue?  Why give time to the bridal party to fall asleep?

Our Lord’s wisdom is the wisdom of the cross, which is incomprehensible to human flesh.  But perhaps this explanation will suffice: He delays because His guest list is not yet finished.  There are yet people to invite, there are yet guests to elect.  Think about this for a moment: you are nearly 2,000 years removed from Jesus.  He has delayed His return for your sake, so that you too might have the invitation, revealed in Holy Baptism, to attend this eternal wedding feast.

Because the foolish were unprepared for the bridegroom’s unexpected behavior, they gave attention to only external things.  This is the warning of the parable.  Being prepared for Christ’s return is not a matter of outward things.  If you are polite, kind, a hard worker; if you watch wholesome television and refrain from using filthy language, if you practice your morals to perfection, that is not what prepares you for Christ’s return.  Both the foolish and the wise bridesmaids had all the externals in place; but the foolish were left in the dark when the bridegroom arrived.

The sensible ones, on the other hand, were concerned not only for outward things, but also for the hidden things.  The brought with them extra oil for their lamps, and were prepared for the bridegroom’s delay.  The sensible bridesmaids teach us that the righteousness that prepares us for Christ’s return is the inner righteousness of faith, the righteousness that’s hidden, the New Man of faith salvaged from the waters of baptism.  This inner righteousness, though, does come from an external source.  It is Christ’s Word of commitment, the pledge and promise He attaches to His body and blood.  These are the things that prepare you for His return, the gifts of the Holy Spirit that enlighten you on your way to the eternal wedding feast.

Watch, therefore, because you do not know the day or the hour.  To watch means first and foremost to be on guard.  And the way to do that is to listen.  Listen to the voice of your Bridegroom.  Trust His commitment to you that extends from heaven to earth.  Believe the signs that He attaches to His vow to you—water, bread, wine.  Our Lord Jesus delays, but He does not delay forever.

Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Trinity 25 Sermon

Trinity 25
Matthew 24:15-28
November 17, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

If you’ve ever driven into Colorado, you know that the eastern part of the state is flat as flat can be.  But then, off in the distance, you see the mountains rising out of the horizon.  It’s some time before you actually get there, so you can take in the sight for a while.  A little closer you see this mass of earth jutting up in front of you, the snow-capped peaks reaching into the sky.

But then when you finally get there, you realize that it’s not just one big mass of earth at all.  There are smaller hills and valleys at first, quickly escalating to the monstrous peaks behind.  Still more is hidden from view.

Approaching biblical prophecy—especially apocalyptic and end-times prophecy—is a bit like approaching the mountains.  The prophet often conflates two events that are separated by a valley of time into one image.  And this is what Jesus does in today’s Gospel.  Luther called this a “telescoping” effect of the text.

3.

            Jesus does get quite apocalyptic here in His final discourse in the last week before His crucifixion.  He even cites the prophet Daniel—himself known for confusing prophecies—as a segue into talking about the Last Days.  To make sense of it all, we must be very discerning to separate the little hills from the big mountains, and so make sure that we don’t fall into error.

The first part of this section deals with immediate events that the disciples and readers of Matthew would encounter, and Daniel’s prophecy sets the stage.  Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation, who was spoken of through the prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains, let the one on the roof not come down to take the things out of his house, and let the one in the field not return back to take his coat. Woe to the women who have [children] their stomachs, and those who are nursing in that day.  Pray for yourselves, that your escape may not be during winter neither during a Sabbath (vv 15-20).

First of all, we must make sense of the term “abomination of desolation.”  An abomination is something that is utterly abhorrent, in this case in the sight of God.  It is the one thing that God hates above all else.  And it’s the one thing that His people Israel continued to return to, again and again.  Idols.  Graven images.  Ever since they first melted down their golden earrings to carve a calf’s image, Israel has continued to chase after the false gods of the nations that surrounded them.  God had made them a unique people, a nation of kings and priests, a peculiar treasure in all the earth, but they just wanted to be like everyone else.

The history of Israel is really a history of them adopting false gods, of God sending a deliverer in the form of a king or a judge or a prophet, of them returning to the right worship of God.  Then rinse and repeat.  Daniel’s prophecy of an abomination of desolation (Dan 9, 12) is a prophecy of an idol being erected in Jerusalem—in the temple.  This prophecy comes to pass when Antiochus Epiphanes sets up an altar to Zeus on top of the altar in the temple, and orders the sacrifice of pigs.  You won’t read about this in your Bible, because the story is included in the books of the Maccabees.  These are a few books written in between the Old and New Testaments that are not entirely on the level of Holy Scripture, but contain histories and other writings that are useful for the Christian.

The first book of the Maccabees reports: Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the 145th year (167 BC), they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of whole burnt offering.  They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets.  The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. (1 Macc 1:54-56 ESV).  These things led to the Maccabean revolt and the cleansing and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem (these are the events that Jews celebrate at Hanukah).

When Jesus tells His disciples that they will see the abomination of desolation, or a desolating sacrilege, standing in the Holy Place, this is what they are thinking of—likewise the early Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel.  They are thinking of the altar to Zeus set up upon the altar in the temple.  But Jesus isn’t talking about the past, He’s talking about something His disciples will see—something that’s yet to come.  The Maccabean revolt was just a little hill in this prophetic picture.

The hill that rises above is the desolating sacrilege of Gaius Caligula, the Roman Emperor who fancied himself a god and erected a statue of himself in the temple.  This happened around the year 40 AD, just a few years after Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel, about ten years before Matthew’s Gospel was finished.  So the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel knew exactly what He was talking about—the pagan Roman symbols that were popping up in the temple.

Jesus says that this is the harbinger of the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.  And indeed, in the year 70 AD, the temple was destroyed, and even today all that’s left of it is one foundation wall.  When you see these things happening, Jesus warns, get out of town.  This abomination is the sign of the desolation that’s to come.

2.

            But again, the Jerusalem abomination of desolation is another small hill in the big prophetic picture.  Jesus goes on from there: For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not happened from the beginning of the world until now, neither will ever happen. And unless those days were not shortened, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the elect those days will be shortened. Then, if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ,” or, “Here,” do not begin to believe them. For false christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so that they might lead astray, if they are able, also the elect. Behold, I have told you this beforehand. Therefore, if they are saying to you, “Behold, he is in the desert,” do not go out there, or, “Look in the secret place,” do not believe. For just as the lightning comes out from the east and flashes until the west, in this way will be the coming of the Son of Man (vv 21-27). 

The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem is only the beginning of a new age, which is filled with its own troubles.  The Jews suffered greatly at that time for their idolatries, but God cut those days short for the sake of the elect, that is, the believing Christians.  We are now living in those last days, the times of the Gentiles, as Luke calls them, when the Gospel has gone out from Jerusalem to all nations.  The temple remains destroyed, and what’s more, where it once stood now stands the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim house of worship.

So what about you?  Where are you painted in this prophetic picture?  You are one of the elect, which was revealed to you with water and God’s Word.  You are the one whom Jesus warns to be on guard, because the tribulation of this time is the constant danger of false prophets pointing to false christs.  “Look, here he is!  Over there, look!”  If I were to give even a brief history of the people who have predicted Christ’s return or the different ways in which He has been said to return, we’d be here for another four hours.

It is a temptation for the elect to follow after these false prophets because they perform great signs and wonders.  And I’m not necessarily talking about healings and miracles and magic.  The elect see things like the size of a congregation, the beauty of a building, the execution of a music team to be signs that Christ is there.  The moguls of false Christianity build empires like Joyce Meyer Ministries and Faith Church StL, which are a wonder to behold.  These false prophets point to false christs—christs of better living, of success, of power, of wealth, of self-justification.  It is the old idolatry wrapped up in a shiny, new, contemporary Christian façade.  The new idol is not a cow, the new image is not an Emperor.  The idol is our own selves.  I am the one I fear, love, and trust above all things.  The definite sign of the end of this age is the abundance of false prophets pointing to false christs.

1.

            This prophetic picture is frightening, and even ends with a proverb that would be better suited a few weeks ago at Halloween.  Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will be gathered, Jesus says (v 28). Only, the word translated as “vultures” really means eagles.  The eagle was the insignia of the Roman soldier.  Could it be that Jesus is turning a phrase here and referring to the soldiers of Rome surrounding Jerusalem before its downfall?

But Jerusalem and the temple wasn’t the only Holy Place surrounded by Roman soldiers.  There was one corpse that gathered the Roman eagles around it—the body of Jesus hanging on the cross.  So this prophecy isn’t only about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but the cross of Jesus Christ looms large above this prophetic picture.

He is the new and better Temple, who was torn down in death, but rebuilt in three days in resurrection.  He is the icon and the image of the Father engraved in human flesh, who became the abominable image of sin, to suffer the punishment for the sins of mankind.

The cross of Christ looms large over this prophetic picture to remind us that He did not take on human flesh, suffer, die, and rise again in order to make our lives marginally better each day.  We shouldn’t expect the Christian faith to be a triumphant ascent up the ladder of success.  Rather, we should expect the opposite.  For the true Christ, the One who is revealed by prophets and evangelists is the One who tears down in order to rebuild, who kills in order to make alive.

The troubles, trials, and tribulations of this present age are increasing.  Look around you—it’s not getting any easier to be a Christian.  And when you do, rejoice.  Because for your sake, for the sake of all the elect, Christ will cut short this time of trouble and return—just as the lightning flashes across the night sky—in order to rebuild what was torn down, to raise what was dead, and to restore what was corrupted.

After the Troubles of This World, Christ Will Return To Rebuild this Broken Creation

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

VD+MA
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard

Trinity 24 Sermon

Trinity 24
Matthew 9:18-26
November 10, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

2.

            There’s something to Jesus’ touch.  The ruler that came to Jesus—Mark and Luke name him as Jairus—asked for Him to come and lay His hand on his sick daughter.  On the way there, there’s an old woman who thinks that if she could only touch Jesus’ cloak, she’d get well.  Then when He finally reaches the young girl (who’s already died), Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her from death.  There’s something to Jesus’ touch.

And it’s not just these two ladies from different generations, either.  Virtually everyone who’s cured by Jesus is touched in some physical way.  Yes, there are exceptions (the official from Capernaum, for example), but there’s clearly something to Jesus’ touch.  Mark even reports that wherever Jesus was going during the height of His public ministry—in towns or in the country—people would bring the sick out to the public places so that they might even touch the hems of His cloak.  And they were all made well.

The first three Gospels all tell this story of the young girl and the old woman being healed by Jesus, but Matthew uncharacteristically tells the story with the least amount of detail.  Mark and Luke give some more details.  Both of them state that Jesus was not only aware that He was touched by the woman with the hemorrhage, but that He actually felt power go out from Him.

What is it about Jesus’ touch?  It almost seems as if His divine power is something like an electrical current, like when you have the jumper cables hooked up to the battery and you touch the two ends together.  Is that all it takes?  And, if so, how do you tap into it, since Jesus is ascended into heaven?  You can’t sneak up behind Him in a crowd and try to catch a fold of His clothing.

Jesus heals the old woman and the young girl with His touch, but it’s not His touch only.  Let me read the story to you again, and listen for what’s added to His touch.

While He was saying this to them, behold, a ruler came and knelt before Him, saying, “My daughter just now died.  But come and place Your hand upon her and she will live.” And rising, Jesus began to follow him—also His disciples.

And behold, a woman who suffered hemorrhaging for twelve years came from behind and took hold of the hem of His cloak, for she said to herself, “If only I touch His cloak, I will be saved.” But turning around and seeing her, He said, “Have courage, daughter, your faith has saved you.”  And the woman was saved from that hour.

And when He came into the house of the ruler, and saw the flute players and that the crowd was distressed, He said, “Go away, for the little girl is not dead, but she is sleeping.”  And they were laughing at Him.

When the crowd had been moved out, He went in and took a hold of her hands, and the little girl was raised.

And this story went out into all of that land (vv 18-26).

Ok.  What is it?  What is it that Jesus adds to His touch?

His Word.

Mark and Luke make it more explicit by reporting what Jesus said when He took the little girl’s hands (Mark even records Jesus in His original language, which means he’s really drawing attention to His word).  Talitha cumi.  Little girl, I say to you, arise (Mk 5:41; Lk 8:54).  Not just the touch, but the Word of Jesus combined with His touch.

But there is yet a third aspect, something that combines with the Word and touch of Jesus to make these healings more than just healings.  They are divine acts of salvation.  “Have courage, daughter, your faith has saved you.”  Faith is what receives Jesus touch and trusts His Word to do what it promises.  In fact, this is the fourth time in the last two chapters, Jesus has tied one of His healings or miracles to faith.  Faith is what receives and believes the promises of Christ.

The old woman and the young girl were both saved not just by the touch of Jesus, but by the Word of Jesus combined with His touch, along with the faith that trusts this Word with His touch.

1.

            There’s a reason why faith is continually connected to healing and salvation in chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew.  If you remember, last week I explained how Matthew’s Gospel is organized into five discourses, or extended teachings, of Jesus, each of them interspersed with narratives that reveal something about Jesus.  All of these stories of healing, salvation, and faith are the narratives that follow the first discourse, which is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount.  This first discourse is a commentary on the Law, redefining the natural understanding of religion, heightening and intensifying the requirements of the Law that man had watered down, describing true good deeds and sanctified living.

And by the time you get to the end, you wonder if there is any way you could ever do it all.  Yes you can fulfill some of the external requirements that Jesus lays out, but He never stops at externals.  He goes to the heart of the issue, and that’s when you discover that your heart is really the problem.

The Law of God reveals a disease more deadly that the leprosies, the fevers, the paralyses, the demons, the hemorrhages, the blindnesses that Jesus encounters at the beginning of His public ministry.  Jairus’ daughter is the only one who even comes close to the disease that the Law reveals.  The little girl was dead on her bed—everyone knew it.  But Jesus calls this kind of death “only sleeping.”  The greater and more permanent death is being separated from Him who is the Life.

This is your disease, with which you have been infected from conception.  It’s an inherited disease, a genetic defect whose mortality rate is 100%.  But thanks be to God that He has not left you entirely.  He even gives you things to touch and feel, and thus receive His healing and salvation.

Water is the touch of Jesus.  But not just any water—specific water.  Water that has God’s name stirred in with it.  Holy Baptism is where Jesus buries you with Him in His grave, and takes you by the hands to raise you to new life.  Therefore, we have been buried together with Him, through baptism, into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, in this way, we too would be walking in newness of life (Rom 6:4).

Certainly not just water does these things, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water.  For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism.  But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus gives you His touch (the water), adds His Word (His name and promise), and your faith receives these to your benefit.

I cannot praise Holy Baptism too highly.  It is a sure, tangible pledge of what Jesus did at the cross, what He continues to do each day with forgiveness, and what He will do on the Last Day.  It’s a pledge and promise of healing, of renewal, of resurrection.  It means that the day when your body lies breathless in its final bed, that death will be like the little girl’s death—only sleeping.  Because the Last Day is coming when Christ will return to raise the dead from their graves.  That day is coming when your body will be glorified as His is glorified, that is, revealed to be what God intended it to be, free from that original disease.

There is a new hymn in the new hymnal—actually an old hymn, written by Erdmann Neumeister, a Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, Germany from 1715-1755.  It was only recently translated in 1991 and first printed in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s hymn book in 1996, and in our Hymnal Supplement of 1998 and again in Lutheran Service Book.  And what a rediscovery it is.  Listen to the last two verses.

Death, you cannot end my gladness:
         I am baptized into Christ!
      When I die, I leave all sadness
         To inherit paradise!
      Though I lie in dust and ashes
         Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
      Baptism has the strength divine
         To make life immortal mine.

      There is nothing worth comparing
         To this life-long comfort sure!
      Open-eyed my grave is staring:
         Even there I’ll sleep secure.
      Though my flesh awaits its raising,
         Still my soul continues praising:
      I am baptized into Christ;
         I’m a child of paradise. 

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

[Faith Saves when It Receives Jesus’ Healing Touch]

 

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

All Saints’ Day Sermon

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

The book of Matthew is divided up into five discourses, or extended teachings, of Jesus, interspersed with narratives the reveal who Jesus is.  The five discourses echo the five books of Moses—the Penteteuch—which is to say that Jesus is a new but better Moses, who brings not the Law of condemnation, but the Good News of God’s grace and salvation.

Matthew’s Gospel was one of, if not the first book of the New Testament, written as a catechism for new believers in Jesus to introduce them to the new life of faith in Christ through Holy Baptism.  The book begins with Jesus’ lineage and birth narratives to connect Him to the promise of the Old Testament.  Then He is introduced as the Christ at His baptism, when the Father identifies Him as His beloved Son.  Following His baptism, He endures His temptation in the wilderness as a foreshadowing of His final victory over Satan at the cross.  After His temptation, there is a short interlude where Jesus calls His first disciples and a summary of the beginning of His public ministry of healing and teaching.

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of the first discourse, the first real encounter with an in-depth teaching of Jesus.  Most of us here, if we’ve even approached Matthew’s Gospel other than in decontextualized snippets and disembodied proof texts, haven’t done so with fresh eyes. So if you will, put yourself in the shoes of a first-century Jew or pagan for a moment, who’s reading this Gospel for the first time.  You’re first met with the radical claim that this man from Nazareth is the fulfillment of thousands of years of messianic prophecy, that He’s the Son of God, and that He’s come to do battle with Satan and thus deliver salvation to mankind.

And the first thing He says when He opens His mouth to teach turns on its head everything you ever thought you knew about religion and spirituality.

Today is All Saints’ Day, when we often turn our attention to those who have died in the faith.  It’s good to give thanks for those who have preceded us in the faith.  But not all saints are dead.  You are a saint, having been washed by the water of regeneration and renewal.  And

The Blessing for All the Saints Is Hidden Under the Cross But Revealed by the Word of Jesus

I.

            The healings and miracles Jesus performed at the outset of His public ministry drew quite a crowd, which is probably why He retreated into the mountains for His first lecture series.  But it’s His disciples that He’s talking to.  Beholding the crowds, He went up into the mountains, and when He sat down His disciples came to Him (v 1).  What Jesus is about to say is for the disciples.  In other words, it’s for the saints—those who have been washed with water and the Spirit, who are sanctified and cleansed and set on the path that follows Jesus.

The first part of the so-called Sermon on the Mount is a reprogramming of the natural man’s religion.  From birth, man’s pursuit of God and religion is a strategy by which he attempts improve his life immediately.  If you need any proof, take a listen to a sermon in one of those stadium style churches.  You’ll most likely hear as the main thesis of the sermon, a method or a technique by which you can make your life just a little bit better.  Hence, your blessings.  But Jesus teaches the true disciple that blessings don’t work that way in the Christian faith.  The blessing for all the saints is hidden under the cross.

I’m going to omit the second part of each beatitude, so that you can listen to the list of who is blessed according to Jesus.  And opening His mouth, He began teaching them, saying, “Blessed be the poor in spirit…Blessed be the mourners…Blessed be the meek…Blessed be they who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness…Blessed be merciful…Blessed be the pure in heart…Blessed be those who do peace…Blessed be those who have been persecuted on account of righteousness…Blessed are you whenever they should insult you, and persecute and speak every evil upon you falsely on account of Me” (vv 2-11).

Poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, those who do peace, those who have been persecuted, you whenever you’re insulted.  There’s a couple of nice sounding ones in there, but in general this sounds like the complete opposite of what it means to be blessed.  The natural religion of man is the find blessings in being rich in spirit (and in pocket), in happiness, in power, in getting things their own way, in rising to the top, through conflict, in squashing any opponents who would hinder his blessings.

Steven Furtick is a preacher of the prosperity gospel in Charlotte, NC, which just happens to be down the street from my friend’s LCMS church.  Recently, he’s come under scrutiny for the $1.7 million mansion he’s building.  In response, here’s what he had to say: “In his comments, he thanked God for his blessings and described the big, beautiful house as a gift from God. The Charlotte Observer reports that he told his congregation, “It’s a big house, and it’s a beautiful house, and we thank God for it …. We understand everything we have comes from God.”

            I bring up Furtick’s house as an extreme example, not because I begrudge some other preacher’s success, but to highlight the false view of what a blessing from God is.  The natural man thinks God blesses by bigger, better, and more.  The one who is blessed by God is the last, the lost, and the least.  The blessing of God is hidden under the cross, which is to say that God’s work is fully comprehended only under suffering.  Because it’s through suffering and death that He delivered His greatest blessing to the world.

So, saint, take a look at your life.  Count your blessings.  Where are they?  If you say it’s your house, or your job, or your happy family, or your good reputation, you might want to visit Furtick’s church—he’ll tell you how you can get more of that stuff.  Look instead to where you suffer, where you hunger, where you lack, where you’re least.  That’s where God is blessing you.  A broken spirit and a contrite heart are the sacrifices He desires and even rewards.

 

II.

            So the natural religion of man is turned on its head by the first thing to come out of Jesus mouth to His disciples.  But Jesus isn’t simply trying to be provocative in order to gain a bigger following.  There’s a reason why He is redefining what it means to be blessed.  In Greek, there are two words that we translate as “bless.”  The first is the word used in today’s reading, makarios, which means a transcendent happiness of a life beyond care.  The other word is the act of blessing—eulogein—which literally means to speak a good word.

If you noticed, in my translation I read just a few minutes ago, I didn’t say, “Blessed are,” but rather, “Blessed be,” because there’s a particular way to come into that transcendent happiness when it looks like life’s in the gutter.  The blessing for all the saints in hidden in the cross, but it’s revealed in the Word of Christ.  At the moment that Jesus speaks, though His Word, you are blessed.

Here’s the whole set of beatitudes with the reasons for the blessings included this time:

Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the reign of the heavens. Blessed be the mourners, for they will be comforted. Blessed be the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed be they who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed be merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed be the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed be those who do peace, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed be those who have been persecuted on account of righteousness, for theirs is the reign of the heavens. Blessed are you whenever they should insult you, and persecute and speak every evil upon you falsely on account of Me. Rejoice and rejoice greatly, for your reward is great in the heavens, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (vv 3-12).

Today we especially emphasize the saints who have gone before us and are now enjoying their reward.  They are under the reign of the heavens, they are comforted, the earth is their inheritance, they are satisfied, they are shown mercy, they see God, they are called sons of God.  They are enjoying their reward and their reward is great.  The Good Word of Jesus Christ is now fulfilled for them.

But the blessing of Jesus is also revealed for the saints here on earth.  His blessing is also revealed for you because His Word is also for you.  You are under the reign of the Son of God, you are comforted by the Spirit of God, the new earth is your inheritance, you are satisfied with the righteousness of God when you see Him face to face in the Holy Sacrament.  He shows you mercy, and you are called a son of God by virtue of your baptism.  Your reward is very great.

I really think that next year for All Saints’ Sunday, we need to have the Sacrament.  Because that’s the place where you saints on earth join together with the saints in heaven.  Have you ever thought about that prayer before communion: with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.  That means that when you kneel at the altar, you are kneeling with Sts. Michael and Gabriel, Moses and David, Isaiah and Habakkuk, Peter and Paul, John and Bartholomew, Mary and Joseph; with Polycarp and Athanasius and Gregory and Patrick and Luther and Chemnitz and Walther and Pieper, and Sasse; with grandma and grandpa and mom and dad and aunts and uncles and the children that God took before us.  You don’t even know all their names.  But Jesus does.  They are the saints, those whose names are written in the book of life, just a few pages away from your name.  Blessed are you, because of the Good Word and promise of Christ.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard

VD+MA

Reformation Sermon

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

2.

             The Law is common to all religious endeavors and experiences.  The reason why is because the Law is written on the hearts of men.  Every man, woman, and child is born knowing that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and even has a general sense as to what’s right and wrong.

You know this because you have a conscience.  You know that nagging feeling you get when you do something that isn’t right, or when someone tries to goad you into doing something you know you shouldn’t do.  Conscience is simply the awakening of the Law of God that’s written on your heart.  You might think of it as sort of a failsafe that God has installed within humanity to keep it from falling into gross, destructive sins.  Even the steadfastly wicked have a limit as to how far they will indulge their sinful nature before the Law that is in nature will curb his behavior.

The only thing about the Law that’s written on your heart is that it’s vague and unclear.  It’s like looking into a cloudy mirror—you get a general sense of what’s there, but there’s really no detail.  You know that the Law demands something, but it’s hard to tell exactly what it demands.

Which is why the Law is common to all religious endeavors and experiences.  It doesn’t matter the religion—every one of them is concerned with what is right and what is wrong, and how to act according to it.  Even those who claim no religion at all are concerned with what’s right and what’s wrong.  This week as I was driving through St. Louis on my way to a hospital visit, I came across a building whose sign identified them as the ethical society, a humanist congregation (have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous?); even if you don’t claim a god at all, you can still gather to ruminate about what the Law tells you to do.

The only real way to know the Law, however, is by way of revelation.  You can know the Law in some sense through nature, but it only comes into full focus with crystal-clear resolution through God’s Word.  The Law of God as revealed in the Ten Commandments polishes the mirror to high definition.  And when you look in this mirror, every little imperfection, every little transgression is reflected back at you.

St. Paul writes to the Romans: We know that whatever the Law is saying, it is speaking to those in the Law, so that every mouth may be shut and all the world come under the judgment of God (v 19).  The Law speaks to everyone because everyone is under the Law, ever person born of woman was born into the Law.  The Law of God speaks to every person, whether that person believes that the Law is from God or not.  Sure there are some who may manage to dull their consciences, or rationalize their wicked behavior, but they can never fully escape the Law—the entire world is under the judgment of God.

You, O Lutheran, know the Law better than 99% of the people who have ever lived.  You have the catechism, which teaches the Law of God in beautifully detailed simplicity.  You have been taught how the Law puts a curb to wicked behavior (for fear of punishment), how it reveals your own sin and your need for a savior, how it informs you as to what a holy life is.  Even though you know the Law of God, you are intent upon using it for a fourth purpose—to justify yourself.

The justifying use of the Law is an appeal to good works, good behavior, being an upstanding citizen, being a good worker, being a faithful husband, being a straight-A student, being a respected member of this congregation, and so forth, as proof of your righteousness.  And when you look into the vague, fuzzy reflection of the Law in nature, the Law written on your heart, it’s very easy to do.  Before the world, you can claim perfect righteousness.  But before God, things are different.  The crystal clear resolution of the Law as revealed in His Holy Word puts all under condemnation.  And there is no justification for your flesh under the Law. Therefore, from works of the Law no flesh will be justified before Him, for through the Law is knowledge of sin (v 20).

1.

            The justifying use of the Law always originates from within.  What works I do, my behavior.  There is no righteousness before God within yourself.  If you are to be righteous before God, you need a righteousness that is apart from yourself—an alien righteousness.  This is the foundational (re)discovery of the Reformation.  The righteousness that counts before God is a righteousness that comes outside of yourself and apart from the Law.

But now apart from the Law a righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets, a righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ unto all who are believing.  For there is not a distinction, for all sinned and have come short of the glory of God, and are justified giftedly by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. whom God set forth as a mercy seat, through faith, in His blood, for a proof of His righteousness, through the passing over of sins that had come before in the forbearance of God, toward the proof of His righteousness in the present fullness of time, to be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus (vv 21-26).

Christ is the Righteousness that is revealed apart from the Law; faith is what receives Him and makes His righteousness your own.

The Righteousness of Christ is a gift.  It comes to you by way of grace.  It requires no work, no worth, no quality, no status.  Grace is gift freely given.

This grace is a redemption in Christ Jesus.  Redemption is to trade one for another.  Christ traded His righteousness for your unrighteousness.  This exchange was made in Holy Baptism.  You were washed clean of your trespasses when you were baptized, but He was covered with them when He was baptized.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and dies for it on the cross.

He is the Mercy Seat, the hilasterion, the place where the God and man meet, the place where the blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled.  Where the blood of the Lamb is sprinkled, there death passes over.  Through faith He is your Mercy Seat, in His blood you are covered, He is the proof of your righteousness before God, because in His divine forbearance, God passed over your sins for the sake of Christ.

God is just, and He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  The proof of your righteousness is not in your works, nor your position before men, nor in your righteous behavior.  The proof of your righteousness is the blood of Christ, which He also gives to you freely as a gift, under wine, as a token and pledge of His mercy.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded.  Through what law—a law of works?  No, but through a law of faith.  For we regard a man to be justified by faith apart from works of the Law (vv 27-28).

Human nature is always drawn to boasting in the Law.  But the righteousness of God that is given freely as a gift renews your nature.  There is a new you that stands before God righteous, and the only Law in which the righteous you may boast is the law of faith.  And that’s really no law at all—at least not for you to follow.  It’s the Law that God follows on your behalf.  It’s the Law with which He binds Himself to you on account of the blood of Jesus.  It’s the Law of His promise to you.  The Law of Faith is simply to receive God’s good gifts, to believe that His righteousness is for you.

God Regards You To Be Justified apart from Works of the Law, through Faith in Jesus Christ

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard

VDTMA

Trinity 19 Sermon

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Ephesians 4:[20-21]22-28
6 October, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

This morning the divine, sublime mystery of the Holy Trinity was distilled down to one simple sentence that makes sense to even the youngest of children: Adian, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Three distinct persons, one shared name from one divine Essence.  Three in one.  One in three.

Although, Baptism doesn’t end with the divine name.  Jesus’ mandate for Holy Baptism goes on.  While you are going from here, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have taught you.  Baptism and teaching go hand in hand, and is the way of making disciples.

In the first three chapters of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, he plumbs the depths of the divine mystery of salvation as a work of the Holy Trinity.  And the more you read through Ephesians, the more you realize that when you wring it, that divine mystery is water-logged with baptismal waters.  There is a constant echo in this letter: in Christ, in Him, in the Beloved, in Jesus.  Salvation is in Jesus, and the way to get in Jesus is to be baptized into Jesus, into His name.

After exploring this divine mystery, St. Paul then tells you what it is to be a participant in it.   Today’s Epistle begins at verse 22, but you really need the three previous verses to set the stage. But you did not learn Christ this way, if indeed you heard Him and were taught in Him, since there is truth in Jesus, (4:20-21).  St. Paul makes a distinction between the way of the Gentile—the way of the unbeliever, and what you have learned in Christ.  This truth in Jesus is that

Baptism Is the Place Where You Are Stripped of an Old Man and Clothed in a New Man

I.

            So, what did you learn of Christ, what did you hear from Him and what were you taught in Him?  The teaching that goes hand in hand with Holy Baptism is the unfolding of baptism, like the blooming of a flower in spring.  What does it mean to be baptized into Jesus?  The first part of baptism is that the Old Man is stripped from you when the Holy Spirit drives you to repent of your natural lusts and deceits.

St. Paul writes that to learn of Christ is to be taught to be stripped of the former manner of life, the Old Man who is being corrupted according to lusts and deceits (v 22).  Who, or what, is the Old Man?  The Old Man is your natural, sinful nature in Adam.  St. Paul describes it thusly: Therefore, this I am saying and bearing witness to you in the Lord, to no longer walk, just as the Gentiles are walking in the aimlessness of their understanding, having been darkened in their thinking, having been alienated of the life of God through their ignorance of hearing among them, on account of the callousness of their hearts, every one of them having ceased to feel guilt and giving themselves over to debauchery toward the working of impurity in lust (4:17-19).

The Old Man is aimless in understanding, following any teaching that sounds vaguely spiritual.  His thinking and understanding is darkened because He is alienated from the life of God, in whom is light.  He is alienated because his heart is callous to the Word of God, he is ignorant of hearing.  Because he shuts his ears to God’s Word, he ceases to even feel the guilt that is upon him, and gives himself over to lawless living, which is his natural lust and desire.

The Old You, however, is not your essence.  You are not your sin.  But your sinful nature clings to you tenaciously.  It adheres and inheres to you—body and soul.  It’s not as if you can simple strip the Old You as you would strip off sweaty workout clothes.  You need something stronger.

Water is called the universal solvent because it has the unique dissolves so many things.  But water alone cannot strip off the Old You, nor can anything you can find on this earth.  But when the Word of God is added to the water, it takes on a caustic nature for the Old Man in Adam.  Baptismal waters strip the Old Man from you more thoroughly than any earthly solvent, because the Word of God penetrates to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

You cannot strip yourself of the Old You; it’s a work of the Holy Spirit.  You cannot rehabilitate, reform, or modify his behavior.  He must be stripped from you and drowned in baptismal waters.  This is the first part of the teaching of Holy Baptism: that your old manner of life, your natural lusts and sins are to be drowned in the font.

II.

            Though Holy Baptism strips you of the Old Man in Adam, the Holy Spirit does not leave you spiritually bare and exposed before God.  There is a second part of the washing of regeneration and renewal: and to be clothed with the New Man, who in conformity with God is being created in righteousness and piety of the truth (v 24).

If the Old Man is your sinful nature in Adam, who is this New Man?  He is not something you generate from within yourself, far from it.  St. Paul addressed who the New Man is earlier in His epistle.  But now in Christ Jesus, you who were at one time far off have become near in the blood of Christ.  For He is our peace, who has made both one, and the dividing wall of separation He has pulled down, the hostility in His flesh, the Law of commandments in dogma being rendered ineffective in order that He would create in Himself the two into one New Man, making peace, and reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, putting to death the hostility in Him (2:13-16).

The New Man is in Christ, who became man to reconcile man to God.  He is the One who tore down the dividing wall of hostility—which is your sin—by accepting the hostility of the Law in His flesh.  The New Man is when you are joined to Christ, the two becoming one.

You are clothed with the New Man by Holy Baptism.  In Christ means that you are baptized into Christ.  St. Paul speaks of the New Man as if he is a new suit of clothes.  A perfectly tailored suit of clothes conforms to your body.  The sleeves are the perfect length, the waist just right, the collar a perfect two fingers; the clothes move with you.  But after a long football season of too many hot wings and salty pretzels, you might have to get the waist let out a bit, or get one of those collar extenders.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a perfectly tailored suit of clothes which conformed your body to it when you put them on?

That is the New Man in Christ.  You are conformed to the Son of God by virtue of Holy Baptism.  Your righteousness is because of His righteousness.  Your piety is because of His perfect submission to the Law.  Your good works are His good works that He has provided for you—before the foundation of the world, in order that you would walk in them, in Him.

Just as stripping the Old Man is the work of the Holy Spirit, so also is putting on the New Man.  He does so by delivering to you the Word of Absolution, your forgiveness for the sake of Christ.  Forgiveness is what makes you right with God.  Forgiveness is what makes you fit for the body of Christ.  Forgiveness is what makes you holy and blameless.

III.

            In between the stripping of the Old Man and putting on the New Man, St. Paul also includes this: to be continually renewed by the Spirit of your understanding (v 23).  Holy Baptism isn’t a one-time event in your history.  It’s the continual renewing of your mind, of your understanding.  It’s the Spirit’s continual work on you, stripping off the Old Man, and clothing you with the New Man.

How is this accomplished?  Through daily contrition and repentance that drowns your old, sinful nature in confession, and the forgiveness and absolution that raises you up again to new life in the body of Christ, the Church.  Therefore, having been stripped of the lie, continue speaking this truth with your neighbors, because we are members of one another (v 25).

And so St. Paul returns to the Psalms:  Be angry and sin not.  Do not let the sun set on your angry mood, neither give a place for the devil (vv 26-27).  His quotation of Psalm 4 shows that the life of the baptized is an ongoing, continual stripping off of the Old Man, an ongoing continual clothing of the New Man.  At the same time, you exist in these two natures.  Be angry and sin not.  Even when the Old You takes hold again, return to your baptism.  Confess your sins, rejoice that you are a new creation in Christ.

Today a new Adian was raised from the font, because He was baptized into the name of Jesus.  Today a New You is being recreated by the working of the Holy Spirit, who strips off the Old You to clothe you again in the one New Man, the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA