December 10, 2023 - Isaiah 40:1-11
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are in our second Sunday in Advent. I welcome you to consider Isaiah Chapter 40 and Mark Chapter 1. “And little did they know, what they were about to consider would change their course of events.” Just for the sake of clarity, and consistency, I’ll remind you of an important fact, Advent, Adventum, means arrival. It is not specifically about Christmas even though we celebrate Christmas at the end of Advent. Christmas happened 2000 years ago. Now, Christmas functions to inform our Advent (he came once, he will come again)… Advent, specifically, is about the second coming of Christ. Come Lord, Jesus, come quickly. I remind you of this because, we are nearing Christmas, and yet I caution you to not jump out of Advent and onto the Christmas train too early. Christmas is great, and we will get to that, but Advent is not over and I ask that you use your time wisely. Why? Because of a voice… a voice that says, “little did they know, what they were about to consider would change their course of events.” Maybe you have recognized the quote. It comes from one of my all-time favorite moves “Stranger than Fiction”. It is a movie about a man named Harold Crick. He behaves less like a man and more like a robot. He calculates his every move, from the time we wakes up in the morning, to the number of times he brushes each tooth, to his steps to work. And it is all according to the precise time of his wrist watch. Every move is timed with mechanical precision. And every day literally is the same as the previous one and the next one after that. Harold Crick is an auditor for the IRS. And it is the perfect job for him because he can add and multiply large numbers in his head like a calculator. Harold Crick is either totally in control of his life or totally out of control of his life… depending on how you look at it. One morning he finds out how he should look at it. One day, just as he is counting the strokes of his tooth brush, he hears a voice, a voice that follows him throughout the day. And he quickly realizes the voice is not talking to him, but about him. And the voice is narrating his life from the vantage point of an author writing the story; and not after the fact, but as it was happening and sometimes just before the events happened. Living with this voice was pretty annoying, but it became more than that, when suddenly the voice said, “little did he know, that the malfunctioning of his wrist watch would set off a chain of events that would lead to his untimely death.” “Death?” He yelled. No not death. Not knowing the author, Harold sought advice from a professor of literature. Harold asked this crucial question “What if it is true. What if it is true that our lives are being narrated by an omniscient author and every day we stand in the crosshairs between life and death and it is not our choice which day is the day.” “Little did he know that going to the grocery store would set off a chain of events leading to his untimely death.” “Little did he know waking up late would lead to a schedule change and setting off a chain of events leading to his untimely death.” As it turns out that movie has quite a bit of application for our lives. Because “little do we know the chain events leading to our death.” Of course, I am certain of this, “All flesh is grass, and all its strength like the flower of the field. The grass becomes dry, the flower withers; because the breath of the Lord goes over it: truly the people is grass. The grass is dry, the flower is dead; but the word of our God is eternal.” Somehow, we too need to speak to the author. That is precisely why the voice crying out in the wilderness merits our attention. Today there is a voice. Can you hear it? The voice on most occasions… we have learned to tune it out, most of the time. But this particular voice I would not tune out… if I were you. Because this voice, “can change your course of events.” Most of us know where we are going, even though we do not know the day or the hour. But in the midst of it, can you hear the voice? “comfort, comfort, to my people,” says your God. Your God, not a god, not someone’s God… Your God. It is personal. This voice might as well have been forgotten; however it was later re-taken-up once again by John the Baptist. A voice of one crying, “Make ready in the waste land the way of the Lord, make level in the lowland a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, and let the rough places become level, and the hilltops become a valley. And the glory of the Lord will be made clear, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has said it.” We find ourselves here this morning and hearing this voice not by accident; it is not a cosmic trick, but because God is really and truly active in the present. Therefore, consider the following… I am here to be the voice telling you… you do not have to live the life that you are living. You do not have to be like you are right now. You can be at peace with God? You can know your sins forgiven… twice over. The voice that told Isaiah to take this message to the people, the voice that told John the Baptist to preach in the wilderness, continues to this day saying “And little did they know, what they were about to consider would change their course of events.” Ok, so we listen to the voice, but what are we to make of it? Even if we take it seriously, when is he coming? How do we prepare for his arrival? Should we give a cry… what is my cry to be? Surely, the proper response lies with the author, and the author of this story is God. And the God that created the heavens and the earth is a God of mercy and love. Oh he is a God of judgement too, let us not forget that sin can lead you on a straight and narrow path directly to death. But the message of God, as we begin this new year, is that God is still writing God’s story and He still wants you to be a part of it. I have no other purpose of being here but to prepare your hearts for the Gospel. I’m here to say do not miss the author and what He has to say to you. If you want to know who He is and what His plans are for you, I direct you to His words… and in these last days, He has spoken to us through his Son. An important part of the story, (and if you miss it, it will undoubtably lead to an untimely death) is that this voice which belongs to John the Baptist is announcing the coming of Jesus. And more than that, he is announcing a plot twist. In the “Word become flesh” we learn the author is not planning your ultimate demise. No matter what it seems like, your life is not a tragedy. From the very beginning, His plan has been to send his Son, who would die for your sins, and later raise you to eternal life. That is what the author has told us. That is what the Author has done. We can know this, because God has written that ending at your Baptism. The Author has added the resurrection to the end of your story. Just imagine the author writing the words, “little does he know the sprinkling of a little water at his Baptism will set off a course of events leading to eternal life.” The promise, or perhaps I should say the ending, is not death, not for you. Your story is going to end differently. Just wait and see. If you are thinking all this sounds stranger than fiction, I invite you to remember where the movie got it’s name. The author Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction. Because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth Isn’t.” So on this Advent Sunday, rest assured that just as Christ has come once, He will come again. Our Creed affirms that when Jesus comes He will judge the living and the dead. Most importantly, He promises to those with faith that he has wonderful plans of a new creation in which sin will be irradiated. “You will meet your author.” Until that day, we are to wait with an anticipation, with an expectation and with an ever watchful and repentant heart, because Jesus will come again… and He will change your course of events forever. May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
December 6, 2023 - Micah 1:1-5
Brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to our first Wednesday Advent service. I welcome you to our first installment of our Advent Series, Micah’s Hope. In case the title is is ambiguous, I suppose I should clarify. Who’s hope is it? It is not Micah’s hope… It is God’s hope given to Micah for you. Hope is your gift this Advent, given by God and communicated through the Prophet Micah to you. May you use this time wisely… to prepare for the coming of Christ. “Prepare yourselves.” “Jesus is on his way.” Those are just a couple themes of Advent… those are also themes of the Book of Micah. Therefore I can hardly think of a book more appropriate book to study over the next couple of weeks than Micah the prophet. I apologize we only have a couple of weeks to consider the Book, and pretty much it is going to feel a little like skipping stones. Even if we move through it quickly… may you continue in his message of hope. Advent is THE time for preparation, the time of waiting in hopeful expectation for Christ to return. Let’s not begin to celebrate Christmas too early. There will be a time for that, but not now, not during Advent. Micah? Who is Micah? I know several Micahs. We met Micah Wildauer when he came to speak to us about his ministry in Belize. But surely he did not write the Book. Micah was a prophet. He lived in the great eighth century BC. Why was the eighth century so great? Because in the eighth century many prophets were called to begin writing books: Amos, Hosea, Jonah, Isaiah… And also Micah. That was the great eighth century. And 2,800 years later, Micah still has something to say about the Advent of our God. Advent, adventum, means arrival. And the message of Micah is God is going to come to town. He is going to show up and he is going to deal with our desperate pain, or sickness, and sin. Even Micah’s name says a lot. His name is a compound Hebrew word meaning “who is like God”. Who is like God? Answer… no one. And rest assured this God, who is like no other, He is coming to town. And Micah wants you to hope in him. Micah wrote during a time right before the Assyrian army steam-rolled over Israel. Micah talks about that. He sees neighborhoods being dismantled and destroyed. He sees people dying. And he says everything is going to come undone… yet in these last days, the Word of the Lord has arrived. How many of you could say, during the last year, that you have felt alone and or isolated. I can hardly imagine anyone saying they never feel Isolated. Do you ever wonder if you are living on the dark side of the moon. Can you sympathize? Worse of all, can anyone tell me the loneliest month of the year? December. Maybe because it is the cold. Maybe because the darkness sets in early. But December is a lonely month. But into the midst of the social upheaval of the great eighth century, and the social upheaval of the 21th century, the Word of the Lord arrived. And Micah the prophets has come to say, “Hear, you peoples, all of the you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it.” It is one thing to simply say it has arrived. But it is another to say, Hear all you peoples. Pay attention to it all the earth. Micah wants you to hear the promises… and claim the hope for yourself. This Advent know for certain, God is Emmanuel… meaning, God is with us. Micah prophesied, “The Word is coming out of His place, and will come down and tread upon the high placed on the earth.” It is pretty messy down here. It is pretty broken down here. There is all these lonely desperate people down here. Why on earth would you ever come down from heaven to this chaotic mess? But that is the heart of the Gospel. We cannot go up to God… no matter how hard we might try, we try and we fail miserably. However, the operative word is “down”. God comes down into this messy broken planet… our messy broken lives. In the Apostles Creed we confess, “Who for us man and for our salvation come DOWN”. It doesn’t matter how low you are. You might feel you are in a creepy dark basement. But your God who treads on the high places comes down to you. He is coming, coming to address the problem, coming to address the sin, all the things that leave us feeling empty and deserted. One might say, surely this will be something to see. Like a bull in a china shop. He is going to be like a lean mean fighting machine. He is going to clean house and be a mighty warrior. Micah says “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans[b] of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son How can it be? A young mother, a baby, some shepherds, and some magi… this is hardly treading on the high places of the earth. You mean to tell me God is going to come down and sleep, and burp, and poop, like me? Swaddling clothes… I was expecting something more like a superman cape. But just consider perhaps that is what we need most. What we need most is not a military messiah that would defeat our every enemy. What we need most is not scientist that can develop a vaccine for all our diseases. What we need most is for God to come down and to be a savior with a plan. And that is exactly what we were given. More than that, if a manger were not low enough, surely the cross would scandalize everyone. Why would God fill a crib only to empty it? Well, it took Jesus a little time to get there, but from the cradle to the cross, finally there’s the crown. Our Savior has arrived to swallow up our sin and death forever. The world as we know it has melted away. And Now, as Micah prophesied, He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be our peace even as the Assyrians invade our land. Understand the promise, God never promised the Assyrians would never invade. He never said, none of us would get sick or none of my loved ones would die. Surely God knows we need putting back together. Just like humpty Dumpty. Who I’m sure his mother and grandmother said, don’t sit on that wall. He was probably 14 year old and wanted to do what Humpty Dumpty wanted to do. And we know the story, because we sat on the wall, had a great fall, and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty dumpty together again. When we feel like our lives are in a million pieces, Micah brings to us a word from the Lord and the WORD is on His way to take our broken lives and put them back together again in Jesus. Let God be your peace and hope this Advent. I know people who have died because they lost hope. They said, life is simply not worth living anymore. But Micah says this life is not all there is. But even now, we can live in God’s lasting hope. Advent, adventum, the Word of the Lord has arrived. Listen to it. Press it deeply within you, pay attention to it. And get prepared.
December 3, 2023 - Isaiah 64:1-9
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the first Sunday of Advent, and more than that… happy New Year. Today is indeed the first Sunday of a brand-new Christian year. Sometimes you look back on the year and wish you could put many behind you. But how. First, consider what not to do. Imagine a dad. Dad is in the garage. He is preparing for the family vacation. And being a conscientious father, he wants to make sure everything is left at the house just the way it ought to be. So he walks into his garage and he unplugged what he thought was his sons electric power-wheel that is constantly being charged. But inadvertently, he actually unplugged the family freezer. Unaware of what he had done, he got in his car and went on the family vacation. Did I mention the freezer was full of meat and that this was a summer family vacation? For seven sweltering summer days, the freezer sat unplugged in a hot garage. Then when the family got home, dad said, I think it is time for a Barbeque. When he went to the freezer and opened it up, you can imagine what he found… but dads always know what to do. He got a rag and a bucket of warm water and began cleaning the outside of the freezer. He cleaned it so well the freezer never looked better. It could have passed a bootcamp inspection. However, on the inside nothing had changed… it was still rancid meat. So he decided, I would stink too if I had the social life of a freezer in a garage, so he decided to move the freezer into the house and into the kitchen, to be around other appliances so they can mix it up and have a good time. But when the dad opened up the freezer, it was still a putrid mess. So the dad said, I know what this freezer needs, it needs some status. So the dad gives the freezer magnates and family pictures. He maked it look like it is part of the family. Like it’s been there forever and it belongs in the kitchen. Dare I say it, this freezer looked cool. But it still has a problem on the inside. Alright, enough of this… who would be crazy enough to focus on the outside, when the problem is the inside. Do you really want to know? Isaiah is bold enough to tell us what we already know. Isaiah says our sinful nature addresses the outside and ignores the inside. Example, I know someone who was going through marital problems. Her solution, buy her husband a Maserati. Want to know what her husband did? He look the keys drove away and applied for a divorce. That is an example of addressing the outside and ignoring the inside. Into the midst of this, Isaiah is calling for us to make a change. He is calling for us to consider the inside. Isaiah says in chapter 64 Verse 6, “All of us…” Full stop. All of us. That means me. That means you… We. Are you willing to own those words? We all have filth in the freezer. “We have become like one who is unclean.” And understand this, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” This is when you are being your very best. This is when you are trying your hardest. You could be in the midst of a spiritual fervor and Isaiah says, even your righteous acts are filthy rags. “We all shrivel up like a leaf”. You know what that is like. We have seen several of those these days. And how many leaves have you seen say I’m staying on the tree this winter. I’m going nowhere. “But like the wind our sins sweep us (off the tree). What does Isaiah mean when he says all of us are “unclean”? In the Book of Leviticus 13 is says, “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkept, cover the lower part of his face and cry our ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” Biblically speaking, being unclean and being sinful is equated to having an infectious decease. It is equated to lepers. Closer to home, earlier this week, I had been sick with a stomach virus. Even back then, when you had an infectious disease you were sent into quarantine. (And did you notice the part about covering the lower part of your face?) So when Isaiah says I’m unclean in Isaiah Chapter 6, and when Isaiah says, all of us are unclean in Chapter 64, he is saying we have a contagious disease called sin. Isaiah is saying, “We have been infected with a disease what will kill us all. It is a pandemic and we all need to be quarantined for longer than 14 days. We need to be quarantined for the rest of our lives. But what are we going to do about it. Some of us will pretend like there is no problem at all. “I’m fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” I’m showing no symptoms. I am as fit as a fiddle and tough as a mule. Some of us will play the blame game. It is not my fault. It is my spouse’s fault. It is my church’s fault. It is my president’s fault. Pick your poison… but the key is to not own it. This is as old as Adam and Eve… “It is the woman’s fault. She gave me the fruit.” Here’s another way to deal with it, you could let this sermon go in one ear and out the other. You could say, I’m not going there. I have come to church to feel good and talking about my sin does not make me feel good. Advent is all about Christmas, right? Let’s skip all this sin stuff and let’s talk about Christmas! But after all an angel appeared to Joseph and said “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.” I recently had an acquaintance on Facebook write “Pastors! We need you and respect your work but you have got to STOP guilt tripping everybody for every little thing as sin. There is a difference between Sin and a Weakness. Guilt tripping is a form of causing one to stumble and Weakness is our gift if we learn to keep in check with discipline and maturity.” Regardless of what you call it, sin, weakness, or anything less than the will of God, the real paradox and or the tension, is we cannot obtain this perfection on our own. We cannot clean our interior, no more than we can give ourselves a new hearts. If you bury it, sooner or later it will bubble up and infect and destroy everything. There is a better way. Isaiah confessed it. (which is by the way my advice for my Facebook acquaintance) Isaiah lays it all out on the table and says, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.” Lord, you need to do something. We need you to do something. We have an infection. People are dying. We have fallen very very low. God come down and do something. Isaiah is recalling the Exodus. In the Book of Exodus Israel was stuck in Egypt. They could not free themselves. And they confessed it. They cried out to God. And in Exodus 3 Verse 8 God comes down. There was a burning bush, later 10 plagues, and finally Moses with his staff and all of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. Isaiah said, “you came down and did awesome things. Lord, that you might do it again.” Isaiah’s name means God saves. Interestingly enough, Jesus’ name also means God saves. The Book of Isaiah is pointing us to Jesus. How do I know? Because the Book of Isaiah is quoted more than any other book, where? In the Christmas story. Earlier in the service we said, “Who for us man and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit by the virgin Mary.” The cry of Advent is “come down and save Your people”. God send your perfect unblemished Son to come clean my freezer. What do you think, is it too much to ask? Why would He do that? Hear Isaiah’s confession, “O Lord, you are our Father.” “Behold, and look, we are your children.” And we are stuck in a mess. My parents came to my house last week for Thanksgiving, the first thing my father said when he saw my office was I’m going to hang your pictures that are sitting on the floor. Because that’s what dads do. One time Adeline was playing with scissors. She had cut a bunch of chunks off her dress. She came to me and said daddy look what I have done. I said what does daddy do when he catches you playing with scissors? She said, you get angry and yell at me. I said, “So what should daddy do now.” She said “love me.” Isn’t that what we need, a father who picks us up, cleans up our mess, and loves us even when we are at our weakest? Isn’t that what we have received? Paul says, “In the fullness of time God sent his Son, born of woman born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That is the Father you have. Therefore, don’t focus on the outside when the problem is on the inside. Don’t blame it on someone else or deny it or suppress it. Like Isaiah, confess it. Because it is clear today that God is inviting us to look into our unclean hearts and bring it to him. And how do I know God will forgive? How do I know God will save? By definition, God saves… because of Jesus. Isaiah said in Chapter 1 “Although your sins are like scarlet you shall be white as snow.” Isaiah said in Chapter 7 “We shall call him Immanuel, God with us. He will be our prince of peace.” Isaiah said in Chapter 25, “He will swallow death forever.” Isaiah said in Chapter 53 “He was lead like a lamb to the slaughter and like a sheep before his shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth.” This Jesus, who lived and died, and rose again, is returning. And this Jesus says, in Isaiah chapter 65 says I will create a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more filth in any freezer. All of this and so much more is God’s gift for you. Don’t blame it, deny it, or suppress it. Claim it, celebrate it, and live it. Happy new year. Happy Advent.
November 26, 2023 - Matthew 25:31-46
Today we are about to discuss what is arguably some of the most sobering words that ever left the lips of Jesus. Together we pray, Lord, have mercy on us, for we are sinners. By your grace, oh God, redeem us. And open our hearts and minds to receive your word. Amen. Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is, in fact, the last Sunday in the Church year... Next weekend, we will make our way into the season of Advent. Although we have already decorated, we are not quite there yet. Let us not jump prematurely into Christmas, we must first deal with the implications of "the closing of this age." By way of application, it is in fact the “end of the world as we know it”… only thing is, not everyone will be “just fine.” If you are anything like me, you feel beaten down by Matthew Chapter 25. I’ve had enough of the repetitious scary stories… thank you very much. It is time that it ends. Understand it will end, everything will end, but not without one last warning. Why does Jesus repeat himself so much? Well, consider the example. Between the years of 1804 and 1808 four musical notes were being penned repeatedly on sheet music. It was just four notes again and again and again. I did not count but it was repeated well over 100 times. One might think that the repetition would produce boredom, but instead it changed musical composition forever. What were the four notes? You know them, don’t you. Three quarter notes and a half note. Remarkably they are only two notes (one note is repeated three times followed by one just a couple steps down). Beethoven literally wrote those two notes over and over again, over a hundred times in the first movement of his 5th symphony in Cm. And instead of giving the impression of repetition, it literally altered music forever. Ultimately, Jesus repeated himself to alter your view of the end of time. Yes, the end of times is about judgement, it's about the Second Coming, the new creation, and the resurrection of the dead... in only a couple words Jesus reaffirms, YOU MUST PRE-PARE. All things considered, this news should alter the way you live. The lesson this morning is the last public teaching of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus told a lot of lessons, to be sure, but this being the last of a series, this one should remain etched into our minds. Before you I say anything more, I would like to say I do look forward to this time of year. Self-deprecating as it sounds, the end of the church year and Lent are my two favorite church seasons. I like them because they are a time when the return of Jesus never feels closer, and in that sense, my relationship with him never seems stronger. I love this time of the year for that reason. William Willimon, Methodist Bishop and former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, once said, “This text is not a parable, it is an apocalyptic vision. A vision of the future where God judges the heavens and the earth, and this includes you and me.” Bishop Willimon speaks the truth. It is a vision of the future, but it is one that is meant to inform our present. You see, in the present Jesus Christ is hidden from us. Where He is hidden ought to be of the utmost importance. Did you notice where He is hidden in this text? He is hidden in our midst. He is hidden right here in Wildwood, MO. The irony of it all is that God the creator of the universe has chosen to cloak himself among the lowly and the downtrodden. If we are not careful to recognize this, we might fail to recognize Him. The fact that He does these things should be surprise us. For we will partake of the Lord’s Super later in the service and although it tastes just like bread and looks like wine, and it is, it is also by God’s holy Word, and more than that, it is also His most holy Son, because Jesus Christ chooses to be in with and under that meal. All of this is presupposed in the Gospel of Matthew but the point of this parable is to remind us, especially during the holiday season, that Jesus is genuinely and really present among the hungry, the thirst, the naked, the sick, and the jailed. He calls them brothers and sisters and He calls us to tend to them. This parable proclaims that we help our Sovereign Lord when we help someone on the side of the street. You may not see it that way, sometimes I don’t, yet agreement with Jesus will be non-negotiable on judgement day. I’ve said so many times, and Stephanie can affirm this, I will be full of sin on judgement day and I’d be the first to admit it, but I do not want to be that guy who failed to see Jesus in the face of a bum sitting on the side of the road. Mother Teresa once said the reason why she went to Calcutta, India to minister to the poor was because, “she could see the face of Jesus in every human being. She would remind herself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. I must tend to him. This one is Jesus with leprosy and gangreen; I must wash him and give him a hug. I serve because I love Jesus.” The scary thing about this parable, and the other two that proceeded it, is that you can be so spiritual all the while failing to be a Christ follower. The Scripture teaches that we are to be spiritual, but to be a Christ follower, you must engage in your community. The Jesus revealed in Matthew 25 is both concerned with and affected by the pains of the world. What is the point of all the worship, the teaching, the preaching, and the music other than to point us away from ourselves and onto the hidden things of Christ… today Christ points us to the lowly and the afflicted. Did you notice the element of surprise in this parable? Astonishingly so, everyone is surprised in this parable. Those on the left and those on the right, we are all surprised. Are you surprised? Do you suppose the telling of this parable takes away your element of surprise? Maybe that is precisely the point. What do I mean? Well, now you are without excise. Some might say, “they did it to themselves”, maybe they did. “They need to work for their pay.” Maybe they do. “It is their own fault.” If it is they will have theirs on judgement day, but you see they are not ours to judge. Jesus says they are His and He is with them. What that means, like it or not, for this church not to be engaged in the lives of the little ones, the least of these, that would mean our witness be it ever so doctrinally correct or ever so thoughtful, it will remain ever so useless. To be deep in Jesus Christ is to be deeply concerned about the people that Jesus is deeply concerned about. In this passage Jesus knows us and he knows the inside of us and the outside of us, He knows that we will fail to wait patiently in the ways we have talked about these pasts weeks. But hear this: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Jesus calls himself a lot of things in this text: Son of man, king, judge, the poor, the lowly, the imprisoned, but the most striking one of all, is that he also describes himself as a shepherd. QUESTION? Why did he call himself shepherd now? Why not just Lord? Why not as Revelation 19:11 calls him Faithful and True with a double-edged sword coming from his mouth. I’d like to suggest that Jesus does have a holy indignation, but He also has a shepherd like attention. He chose this metaphor because He has used it repeatedly in the Gospels. Matthew 2:6, “Jesus will be a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus intends to be your shepherd, but more than that, Jesus is wanting us to know that He knows us like a shepherd knows his sheep. In the context, there will be no second appeal to His judgement, because all things considered, He knows us better than we know ourselves. Knowing this, I’d like to remind you that this good shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. That the good shepherd has compassion, that the good shepherd seeks the lost, and that this is not just a New Testament metaphor. God revealed this to Ezekiel and before that to David. Remember Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psa 23:1-6 ESV) Jesus is the good shepherd. And in Him the hungry are fed, the thirsty are quenched, strangers welcomed, the sick comforted, the imprisoned visited, and the sinners forgiven. In verse 36 alone He uses I 6xs and me 6 times. In verse 46 He does it all again. The repetition continues but it changes… this time it is 3 I’s and 5 me’s. Beethoven take note. Understand the confusion for us in Matthew 25 is not so much with His decision. Truth be told, we know exactly why He decided what He decided. The problem for us is not the decision but the Mission. I pray that the Lord might be a shepherd and guide us, lead us, motivate us… do whatever it takes. Because like sheep many things are hidden from my understanding. Like I said earlier, Jesus himself is hidden among us and too many times I have missed it. Countless times I have looked into the face of an elderly bag-woman who was searching for cans in a dumpster and I did not see Jesus’ face. Lord, forgive me. Give me the lenses through which I can see You clearly. Bonhoeffer, once said, “To be conformed to Jesus Christ is the goal. It is Christ’s own form which manifests itself in us and he does not stop working until he changes us into himself, the incarnate crucified one. The striking things is that He became a human being like us so that in his lowliness we might recognize him. He became a human being so that we could become like him.” How do you hear the parable? Is this parable a challenging word of judgement? For some it is? Does this parable push you into greater adventures of faithfulness? For some it will. Some of you might hear these words as encouragement. Understand, there are many commands that are simply beyond our reach. The entire Sermon on the Mount is an example of this. It is full of things we should strive to do but will never achieve it. But most importantly, all of it reveals to us the person of Jesus. On this day, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the end, and yet his words talk about a new beginning. Notice how Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven in verse 34. He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). In contrast, as Jesus speaks to the wicked, He does NOT say, “Inherit the punishment prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Instead, He says, “Depart… into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). God never prepared hell for His human creatures. No, from the very beginning, God’s intentions are for all of humanity to live in eternal fellowship with Him. The mission of Jesus Christ was to bring all people into God’s kingdom. By repeating the metaphor of the good shepherd in this apocalyptic oracle, Jesus is giving us hope in whatever situation you might find yourself. Hope is when the Lord says to his people, “I will seek out my sheep. Hope is when the Lord says “I will gather them from the countries.” I will feed them and I, myself, will be their shepherd. I will find the lost. I will bring back the stray. I will set over them one shepherd. I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, this has been fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the good shepherd. He is your Good Shepherd. Your suffering servant, Your gatherer, protector. Your Savior. In this shepherd, we can have righteousness and his innocence and his blessedness. I’m sure you can see, the repetition of this metaphor at this time changes everything.
November 22, 2023 - Thanksgiving Psalm 67:1-7
Grace, mercy, and peace, be to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was Thanksgiving season in a nursing home and the small population gathered in the dining hall. Each one of them was asked what are you thankful for. The typical answer was family and friends. One elderly women replied, “I’m thankful for two perfectly good teeth. One on top and one on the bottom that match so that I can chew my food.” What are you thankful for? It might seem a little silly that we have to have a holiday to encourage us to pause and be thankful, but if we are honest, sometimes we need the reminder. And even with the holiday, it is getting harder… stores are now open all Thursday. It is hard to take the time to be thankful, when before we even digest our food, some are already rushing to the stores hoping to get their hands on a really good deal. You may know the story from your childhood years… the Pilgrims had a difficult time in the new world. Out of the 16 new mothers that had given birth, 12 of them had died. Over half the colony had disease or was suffering from malnutrition, the first harvest was horrible, they were barely surviving. And into the midst of this, Governor Bradford said and I quote, “We are going to proclaim three days of worship” and he read from Psalm 67 Verses 5-7 5 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. 6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. 7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him. That first Thanksgiving among the pilgrims and indians became the basis for the national holiday that would follow. What was once called Thanksgiving, some people today call Turkey Day. To many, it has become a day of food, family, football, parades, and deals… It is not less than that, but it is a whole lot more than that. And so, I’m here to remind you it is called Thanksgiving. And thanks and praise are to be given to God because all things come from Him and you are but a temporary steward of all that you have. Are you using His gifts wisely and to His glory? Maybe the problem is that we have become too blessed or entitled. I think we experience so many blessings from God that we take them for granted. It is so easy to fall into the 90 percent that fail to return to give thanks. As we look around the church wondering why so few have gathered, understand it’s nothing new. It’s human nature. I do not know what is on your Thanksgiving list this year, but here are a couple things that ought to be at the top. We ought to be thankful we have a savior. John writes, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin (and we will), we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” We have a Lord and savior who died for us, and He is worthy of giving thanks. And we have His very Word. Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in all righteousness.” We ought to be thankful we have God’s Word that is trustworthy and true. It has survived the ages, the criticisms, the false teachers, and the philosophers. God has given us his rock solid Word. And it can reach the unreachable, love and unlovable, pierce and heart, heal the hurt, and uplift the soul. And the Bible gives us the “Good News” which is “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.” Thanks be to God! Do you understand that you have the greatest gift anyone could ever have? Some of us have more stuff than others, and some of us have better health, or larger families, but we all have been offered Salvation in Jesus Christ. And that is our hope even when things don’t go our way. Someone once said, “Man can live about fourteen days without food, about four days without water, about four minutes without air...but only four second without hope.” In Jesus we have hope. Thanks be to God. Psalm 67 makes the case we have a God worthy of glorifying. And maybe some of us take that as assumed, some take it for granted. Let me just say, if it were so obvious, than where are all the other nine?! All seven verses of Psalm 67 takes up the concern that all people should know and acknowledge, and respond in prayer and praise for the blessing of God’s salvation. I love Psalm 67 because it begins with a universal word of blessing, a prayer for universal praise to be made, and a final declaration for GOD to be FAITHFUL to his promises. Of course the truth of the matter is we live an a world where people are hell bent to glorifying themselves. Just watch where people spend their money, or hide where they spend their money. That is a huge indication of where your heart is. Let me just say to you this evening, God is the only one worthy of our praise and glory. Of course, that is why you’re here. None the less, I’m saying all of this so that as you gather tomorrow that you will make Him the focus of your Thanksgiving. That brothers and sisters in Christ is what Thanksgiving is all about. Let us not be conformed to this world that so readily forgets about giving thanks. Let us rather be transformed by the Word of God and by the Salvation He has achieved for us, and may we always give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; and His steadfast love endures forever! In the grace of God, what surpasses all understanding, trust your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus amen.
November 19, 2023 - Matthew 25:14-30
Much like last week’s Parable, which was on the wise and the foolish virgins, this one can function as another scary story. In fact, it is the second of three scary parables that Jesus tells all in a row. Why? Why is Jesus trying to scare us? Well, why would anyone tell a scary story other than to keep you awake and to keep your mind on what is important. Make no mistake this one is about you. Like all great story tellers Jesus invites you to find your place in this story. This particular parable is kind of like a riddle in which he intends to tease you into thought. Consider that on the one hand we know that salvation is completely by God’s grace. We know that salvation is by faith and that means there is nothing we can do to help us gain salvation. We know on the final Day, at the end of life, that we will be judged not by our works but by the works of Christ on our behalf. That being said, consider the parable. In this parable it seems to say the exact opposite. For the master, who represents Christ, He promises to return and to judge his followers precisely by their works... therefore, the inescapable conclusion must follow from this that we too will be judged by what we do. Like I said, it is a riddle, a terrifying riddle, A riddle that Jesus is not only inviting us into this morning, but it also does not end well for at least one of the servants. Let me ask you this, if salvation is all by grace, does that mean how you spend your life no longer matters? Will we not be held accountable like these servants for the choices we have made with the resources we have been given? What will he said you me, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant” or “depart from me, you wicked sloth”. I must admit I have a fear about this sermon. I fear that it could fall into the wrong hands. Surely, there are people here this morning that are tired, weak, frail, and afraid. Surely, you want to please God, you worked hard for Him for many years. You read yourself into the parable and you are worried that you may not have done enough. You are not sure of what God thinks of you, and truth be told, you are not sure of where you stand with God. You are trying to follow Jesus as best as you are able, but you are worn out. You barely made it to church. You want to hear the Gospel but all Jesus and the pastor want to do is adding to that long list of things that are required of you but you can’t do even if you wanted to. If this is you, please bear with me because there is grace in this parable and it is for you. That being said, the challenge of this parable is for those who have heard the Grace of God so many times but it is just simply not the center of their life. For so many, too many, Jesus is just an accessory. Sure, on occasion, you think about seeking the lost or helping the poor or inviting someone to church, but for the most part you leave that to be someone else’s concern. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope Verse 26 is shocking to your ears. When Jesus said “you wicked… and lazy servant”, I found that shocking. I understand wicked and lude. Sure, sure. I get wicked and lawless. Wicked and vindictive, wicked and naughty, but wicked and lazy? Wicked and passive? Wicked and inactive? This is not normally how I have understood wickedness, and given this, getting rid of my passivity and indifference, has not been part of my preparation for His return. Well, from now on maybe it should be; because here is the point of the parable, that the master calls us, Christians, to be stewards with hearts that are moved by his generous favor so that we might have a life investing courage to do his mission. Verse 19 indicates the master returned after a long time and what Jesus is saying is that during this undisclosed amount of time I want you to prepare for my return by engaging in the work of the Father. So, how should we wait? We should do so with a stewardship that is risky yet confident. Listen to verse 14-15, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Understand, it was a choice of the master to give anything at all. To be sure, God gives us all different levels of talents and abilities, but I’d like for us to recall, what a talent was in the parable. A talent was the equivalent of about 20 years of earned wages for an average person. If you consider how short the average person lived back then, it is probably safe to assume 1 talent was roughly 1 lifetime of working income. I looked it up, the 2023 Census Bureau reported that the average salary of a full-time working American is 59,428. That means a talent in today’s standards would be roughly 1,188,560. 2 talents is 2 times that amount and 5 talents is 5 times that amount, and that’s a lot. God’s grace would fill your wheel barrel with Gold. It is wallet bulging, pocket tearing, and mind baffling. And Jesus begins here, because he is not teaching that we work for our salvation. And if that is not what he is teaching, what is he teaching? Well, he is teaching that when grace is given work follows. He is teaching we don’t work to move God but we work because He is graciously moving us. The reason why Jesus tells us this parable is because He wants to wake you up. He wants to rescue you from a wasted life. The reality is that you can sit at church for years and you can do nothing with your talent. Jesus did not give you talents so that you could sit and do nothing for the Kingdom. The Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Eve is from Luke Chapter 17. The message is of the cleansing of 10 lepers where only one returned to give thanks. “Jesus did not heal them of their sin sickness, He did not go to the cross for you, so that we could go on your merry way and not return to do kingdom work.” I say all of this with internal trepidation of my own. For I truly believe that to not be intentionally engaged in mission work is to be disobedient to Christ. To be a Christian not in mission is to negate the purpose of your very calling. I don’t know about you but I want to repent because this idea is nonnegotiable. This is not someone else’s burden. But I fear that we have been rocked to sleep by our lifestyles, that we have become complacent by the grace of God (the very thing that is supposed to motivate us). Therefore, enter into the parable and be woken up. You might fairly say, but I’m just one person and what could God possibly expect of me. Well, notice that is precisely the issue Jesus answered. Jesus take one person and compares him to two others. And notice, because this is important, that He does not compare the initial gift nor the end gain, but rather the way it was invested. In Bible study I continually hear people discount their abilities to do things such as understand Scripture. I do not expect everyone to be a gifted theologian. I do not expect everyone to be a gifted missionary. But I do believe “competency” is a function of time. I have heard it said that to become an expert in anything one must invest 10 years and 10,000 hours of time. I assure you I’ll never be in the NBA basketball Hall of Famer, but I assure you that if I devoted 10,000 hours to basketball, even I with my 5’7 stature could become undeniably proficient. Jesus is not telling you to disengage with the real world or that you must enter into full time ministry in order to follow Him. This story says just the opposite. This story praises worldly philanthrope, hard work, and it even approves of the desire to make a profit. Jesus wants for us to trade and do business. But in the midst of it all, the question is, whose kingdom are you working to build? Whose name are you wanting to be known? In Verse 20, he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more. He said, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ In other words, you entrusted me with 5 talents and I did what I did for you. He understood that everything he had and everything he did was from and for his master. Is that how you understand your resources. Do you see yourself as a manager of God’s resources? Have you ever asked yourself, what would God want me to do with this? For instance, I used to be a teacher, what would God want me to do with my gifts now that I’m retired? God has given you a lot of land or a pool, (and put yourself in the parable) How might you use your resources for the betterment of his kingdom. Understand, God intends for his kingdom to expand, to get better, to get bigger. Yet if you are like me, you’re probably thinking are you kidding me? I drink soda a for breakfast and I eat Doritos and a microwave dinner for lunch. What could God possibly expect from me? I would like to return to something I said in the beginning. Maybe you are tired. Maybe you are weak and even though just getting out of bed is doing a lot, you are yet worried that you have not done enough. That is a normal feeling, one that even Luther was well acquainted with. Luther reminds us that you cannot do enough, you could never repay God for what he did for you. There is only one person who ever truly deserved the words, “Well-done, good and faithful servant.” And the good news, the Gospel, is that He is the master and we are only here today because of his completed work. You must understand this parable is not a command towards busyness. For some of you it might be risky to rest because all these years you have been trusting more in yourself then in Him. How do you know if this is you? Here is my suggestion, when the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness) begin to pass away it is probably a good time to sabbath, rest. I have to tell myself this, because the Lord, and I know, the Work of God is never over. There is never a time when everything is done. There is never a time when I think I have done enough, or practiced enough, or I’m well prepared. Although I never think that, sometimes you must take the time to rest in order to honor him. If you take anything from this sermon, know this, that God did so much for us that now we GET to live our lives for Him. Yet all things considered, if this parable does not scare you, if it does not continue to worry you, if it does not motivate you to live for God, then you are not reading it right and you should read it again. Works do not save you, but grace does not take you out of the race either. Run the race, walk the race, do whatever you can do, but do it to the best of your ability… and do it to glorify God.
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