Monday, November 30, 2015

Sermon on Deuteronomy 8:1-20, for Thanksgiving, "In a position to give thanks"

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. If we asked the question, “Have I been put in a position to give thanks?” What answer might God’s Word give us? God’s Word gives us a clear and simple answer: Yes. Every one of us is in a position to give thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Give thanks in all circumstances. God teaches that we should be thankful in all circumstances. The question was, “Have I been put in a position to say thanks?” And if we answer Yes, together with Scripture, then we rightly acknowledge that we are always in a position to give thanks, no matter what our circumstances are.
But if “No” is our answer, what does that say? Our “No” might come consciously, if we are openly ungrateful toward God or are grumbling about our circumstances. Or the “No” might come unconsciously, as we forget or ignore God, and simply don’t give thanks to Him. All too often we let our circumstances drive how thankful we are. If things are going well, maybe we think that that’s our reason to be thankful. But if things are not going so well, should we be less thankful? How can you possibly be thankful when circumstances are really bad? The Bible gives many examples of thankfulness, and it’s related attitude of contentment. Joseph, the Israelites, Job, the apostle Paul, and others, all show good or bad examples of how to learn thankfulness and contentment, even under times of great difficulty.
Thankfulness is an attitude, and it’s born out of something much deeper than our circumstances, which are bound to change daily, for better or worse throughout our lives. The circumstances of every person here varies greatly, and so also the circumstances of everyone beyond these doors. Many people endure a life filled with suffering. Others seem to face very little trouble. But the Bible leads us away from the conclusion that suffering is directly related to how much we have sinned or not. God doesn’t work quite like that. Even the righteous suffer. But God wills us to be thankful in all circumstances. So thankfulness should never be dependent on all those different factors that we pay so much attention to in life—our income, our living circumstances, our health, the weather, the neighbors we have, our looks or intelligence, or anything else we might think we need to be happy. Worldliness places the highest priority on these material things. Godliness turns our attention up to God, the Giver. The attitude of thankfulness flows from God.
Thankfulness is also partly a learned habit. The practice of continually giving thanks (not just once a year, but every day), actually helps create a habit and attitude of thankfulness. The more we take time to see and realize what we have to be thankful for, the more our eyes are opened to the multitude of blessings God has given.
Deuteronomy 8 relates the many ways that God provided for Israel. They were in difficult circumstances, and took plenty of opportunities to grumble and complain about it. They were at the tail end of 40 years of hard discipline. They were given an unprecedented opportunity to walk into the promised land of Canaan and enjoy its goodness, but from fear, doubt, ingratitude, grumbling, and unbelief, they decided not to trust in God. An entire adult generation, who had seen God’s miracles in Egypt and the Red Sea, didn’t believe He could bring them into the Promised Land. And so for 40 years God made them wander in the desert. They faced hardship and difficulty, and never came into the promised land. In the reading, God says the discipline they endured was to humble them and to do them good, so they wouldn’t forget who it was who blessed them.
But now Moses was urging on a new generation who followed them; urging them on to remember what God had done for them. To believe that God would be faithful and continue to bless them. He urged them to remember, to not become proud or self-sufficient, but to remember that God had given them all this, and that it was by His providing. This generation would take possession of the land that God was giving them, but they were to be conscious never to forget that it was by God’s strength and not theirs, that they received it. They were also not to think that it was because they were more righteous than the inhabitants of the land, that God would drive out before them. Instead, they were to be humble, and again, remember God.
Remembering God is such a huge part of the attitude of thankfulness. When our eyes are lifted up to Him, and we remember, in whatever circumstances, to thank Him—then our eyes are taken off of our passing troubles. We look back to Him who provides all things. The simple act of providing, or what we call “providence”, reminds us that God desires life. When God gives food, shelter, and clothing, the basic necessities of life, or the shining sun or falling rain, it tells us that God wills for life to continue. He supplies life, as long as we draw breath. Every lungful of air, and pulsing of your heart to send blood, is a quiet, monotonous reminder that God is supplying your life. He is good to the thankful and the unthankful alike. God continues to be Good, because that is who He is, and He is the Giver. But God’s will for us in Christ Jesus, is that we would “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” His will for us is to realize that He is the Giver, and thank Him for all things.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to realizing what we are thankful for, we begin with the gifts of creation. Our physical blessings—job, family, life, etc. And we should be thankful for these. But God would also have us look deeper into His blessings. Yes, thank Him for our daily bread—but God reminds us, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” God provides more than our physical needs, He teaches and instructs us through His Word as well. All through history, God has rescued and delivered His people. He calls generation after generation to remember His mighty deeds.
Even greater than the physical blessings, are God’s spiritual blessings, of forgiveness, life, and salvation. When Jesus came as the Redeemer—first for Israel, and then for the whole world—He came and lived by every word that comes from the Lord’s mouth. Jesus came, nourished, strengthened, and drawing every breath by God’s Word. It was truly His delight, day and night. Jesus lived and died by God’s Word, in a way that is so complete, we cannot fathom it. But He was richly blessed by it. And those blessings overflow to us as well. Jesus came to deliver His people, to perform mighty acts of deliverance, through His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. He sends out forgiveness of sins to the whole world, through the preaching and teaching of His disciples. He sends His blessings far beyond Israel, to the very ends of the earth.
You are a recipient of these blessings. Your life, your salvation, is found in Jesus Christ. He has poured it out richly upon you. Whatever your position in life—rich or poor, healthy or not, great or small—you have received such blessings in Christ Jesus, that you have every reason to give thanks—in any and all circumstances. With eyes on Jesus, and what He has done, we can begin to reflect on our life as seen from His perspective, rather than whether we think we have enough or not. With eyes on Jesus, we can begin to transcend our lowly circumstances, and to develop the heart and mind of Christ.  Let your thankfulness pour forth from Him! Amen.

Sermon on Luke19:28-40, for the 1st Sunday in Advent, "Enter the King"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The city of Jerusalem has been a formidable stronghold for thousands of years. Even before King David captured it for the Israelites, over 3,000 years ago, it was an ancient fortress of the Jebusites. A city on a hill, it resisted the invasions and attacks of countless armies through history. Many kings mounted their forces against it and failed. Many also succeeded, as the city has fallen just as many times throughout history. It’s been a scene of warfare, of defense and offense, of siege, victory, and defeat, for thousands of years. Still today it’s contested land, and the Temple site that once was Jewish, is now covered by a Muslim mosque. But in the middle of all that tumultuous history, one king entered the city like none before or after Him. He came riding in on a borrowed donkey.
But it wasn’t the donkey that made His entrance unique. Kings had ridden into Jerusalem on royal mules before, to be crowned. Some kings had even had robes and garments laid down before them, to honor their royalty. These were royal actions, no doubt, but they were not unique to Jesus. But what made this King different was the goal and final outcome of His entrance into Jerusalem, and the kind of rule or reign He was coming to bring. It was marked by humility and lowliness. Jesus marched with no army, He carried no weapons, He planned no siege nor fight. In fact, it would be a short week until He would die on the cross. Jesus did not come for any political rule or goal, nor did He concern Himself with winning the popular vote. He was not there to please the people, nor to anger them. He was there on a mission to save them, and not from any earthly power, army, or threat, but from their sins and the power of death.
Today begins the season of Advent. It’s odd that the season begins with a reading from Palm Sunday. But in another way, it is fitting because it shows us the goal and purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. To die on the cross. By coincidence, this time of year is also prime season for political campaigning. Our nation looks for a leader, who can fulfill the impossible, and please everyone, and bring together a divided nation. Our hopes are raised by earthly leaders, who are limited and can bring no real salvation. But here in the church, we wait for King Jesus. The same king who rode into Jerusalem on the borrowed donkey, the king with no weapons to fight, but who was crowned with thorns to die on the cross. Advent fills us with the expectation of Jesus our King—of His gracious and peaceful rule, that isn’t driven by the private interests of political parties, that isn’t concerned with territory or wealth, but a kingdom that expands and grows in the hearts of men, women, and children. In Advent we celebrate a kingdom that grows by believing in Jesus Christ, that humble, yet mighty King. The kingdom that began with the Prince of Peace, born in the straw bed of a manger in Bethlehem. A kingdom that was not wrapped in earthly power or glory, but heavenly glory.
The crowds sang and praised His arrival in Jerusalem: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” When He was born, the angels had sung, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” His kingdom was wrapped in a heavenly glory, sung by men and angles alike. And the peace of His kingdom extends from heaven to earth. We desperately need this kind of kingdom, and Jesus as our King. There is no end to the fighting and wars on this earth. Our sinfulness provokes us to wars, to power struggles, and perpetual discontentment. Earthly leaders cannot bring us true peace. But Jesus can. His peace transcends from heaven to earth, and it is a peace with God. The peace of sins forgiven. Jesus fought His battle against sin, not against earthly armies or rulers.
One of the hot buzzwords in the news these days is “dictator.” We’ve seen countless countries ruled by ruthless dictators, who rule by suppression, by keeping their people from the truth, by fear or tyranny. Politicians and armchair philosophers debate whether or not we should be involved—whether the present dictator is better or worse than whoever might rise to power after them. We look for earthly solutions. But there seems to be no shortage of wicked men, to sieze and abuse power across the earth.
But in every one of us, there is a little dictator of sin. A little tyrant, a little suppressor of the truth, one who uses power or manipulation to gain control. He goes by different names: the Old Adam, our old sinful nature, or the flesh. In each of us, there is a stubborn old donkey that kicks and fights against God’s will and His truth. And when human beings give that little dictator, or that old stubborn donkey free reign in our lives, then pretty soon we are at strife with each other. We will allow no peace unless we are in control.
Jesus could have come and toppled some tyrants and oppressive rulers. Some of the crowds looked to Him to do just that. But Jesus comes as our King. Righteous and having salvation is He. Humble, mount on a colt, on the foal of a donkey; coming in the name of the Lord. He comes, not to exert His power over people, nor to manipulate them. Rather He rides into what must have seemed very much like a trap. Betrayal, arrest, abuse, mock trial, and death. And He put up no resistance. He went peacefully, even forgiving His enemies. But in His death, unseen to us, He disarmed the real enemies. Colossians 2:13–15 tells us, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
This passage tells us what Jesus was doing. He was forgiving our sins, and God was making us alive, from the death and tyranny of our sins. And Jesus nailed our debt to the cross and disarmed the rulers and authorities. Disarmed who? The Romans were fully armed when Jesus died. The centurion pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to confirm He was dead. The Jewish Temple guards never laid down their clubs and weapons, when they arrested Jesus. What enemies did Jesus disarm? Paul explains that the real enemies are the spiritual forces of darkness. These are the rulers and authorities Jesus disarmed. He didn’t fear the soldiers spear or the Roman cross when He went to His death, nor did He fear the forces of Satan, marshalled behind them. Jesus came as King, to stand against our real enemies, and disarm them. Take away the weapons of sin, to attack, to accuse, to condemn us. Jesus unseated the power of sin, and therefore took away the sting of death.
And so Jesus deposes the little dictator of our sinful flesh too. He comes to crucify our old sinful self, bringing sin down with Him to His grave. When the Holy Spirit works repentance in a person’s heart, Jesus puts our sinful nature to death, drowning it in baptismal waters, so that He can raise up a new person, a new nature, a spiritual person after His own image. He is the King we need so badly, because only by His rule of repentance and forgiveness, and humility and sacrifice, can we begin to be free of this tyrannical rule of sin. We know it affects us all. The whole human race is bound under that power of sin. But Jesus’ brings the reign that breaks the power of sin. He brings the rule that replaces sin with love and the fruits of the Spirit. He creates a kingdom and a people all His own, and establishes His people as a new city, a city on a hill.
The old city of Jerusalem embodies warfare and death, and the continued warring of sin. But Jesus spoke of a city on a hill. He said of His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus’ disciples, His church, become a beacon to the world, a lighthouse reflecting His light out to the world, to glorify God the Father. The light that shines is the light of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel of life and salvation. The church proclaims that message out to the world.
The kingdom of Jesus is His church, spread through every nation. And this city on a hill, is to show the new life of Christ, in forgiveness and in good works. Just as the power of Jesus’ kingdom was expressed through humility, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness, so also we, as disciples of that kingdom, are to practice the same. The kingdom to which we belong does not come by power or force or violence. It comes through love, service, and the free gift of the Gospel of Jesus. The saving news of His death on the cross and resurrection, and His eternal, just and true reign as King. The kingdom to which we belong comes through forgiveness, which we are to freely give and extend to all—the deserving and undeserving alike. For even our forgiveness came undeserved.
Truly Jesus’ entered Jerusalem unlike any other king or general before or after. His goal was to die on the cross and secure for us an eternal kingdom. As we enter the season of Advent, may we learn and love His humble kingship, and praise Him with the same unstoppable joy that His disciples had, when they welcomed Him to the streets of Jerusalem. Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord! Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sermon on Isaiah 51:4-6, for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, "God's Justice"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Do you see or experience a deep, human longing for peace, and for justice? Whether it’s from the common prayers of 5th graders for world peace, to the hopes and aspirations of adults and even our national leaders, there certainly seems to be a longing for things to be better, to be different. We praise peace and justice, with our words at least. Whether we live that out or not, is another story.
But even if you agree that most Americans, long for certain ideals of peace or justice—we cannot escape the brutal reality that not everyone shares this longing. We’re daily confronted with the ugly and horrendous violence of mankind. Acts of terror on innocent people, bombings, shootings, and all kinds of violence. Not just internationally, either, but in our own nation and in our communities as well. Even though we find it incredibly hard to believe, we face the painful reality that many human beings have their hearts set on bloodshed and violence. And it’s easy enough to blame wicked men as the only obstacle to obtaining true peace and justice.
 But even when left to our own devices, even without the outside influence of terrorists or criminals, we cannot create a man-made peace or utopia. When John Lennon wrote his famous song Imagine, he thought that getting rid of religion would be part of the solution for a man-made peace. But in reality, the communist, political regimes of the 20th century that explicitly rejected religion, and were atheistic, or denied God, have been by far the bloodiest regimes in history. Getting rid of religion proved to be a false hope for solving the world’s problems. Peace and justice seem elusive, out of reach, despite all man’s efforts.
The reading from Isaiah points us in a different direction, and calls us to listen to God’s plan. It begins: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” If the justice of worldly men has disappointed and failed us, then what about God’s justice? How does it enlighten the peoples—change our darkness into light? First He says He will send out a law, and in parallel, His justice. These are two crucial words, that we must understand from the Old Testament. The word “law” here is torah. Torah means much more than just a commandment, or the civil laws of a nation. Torah in the Bible, means God’s command, His instruction, His teaching. In other words, it’s a broad word, that includes God’s Word of Law, and Gospel. It means the whole of God’s teaching. So God is going to send His Word, His teaching out to the world.
The second big word is justice, and this is a justice that is unknown to man. God’s justice stands apart from worldly definitions of justice, even if they sometimes agree in punishing evildoers, and rewarding good. God’s justice is perfect and holy, and not bound by any earthly standard—but quite the opposite, our justice, if it is to mean anything, must mirror His justice. God’s justice is far reaching, in that it surveys not only our outward actions, but also our inward thoughts, desires, as well as our words and deeds. Human justice can be escaped or avoided. Human justice is far too often corrupted or not even delivered. But God’s justice is unavoidable and it is perfect.
But far more important than these similarities and differences, is another way in which God’s justice is unknown to man. While the judgment of God’s law is unerring and leaves us all condemned, God’s justice is further realized through His mercy. Let me explain. In Isaiah chapter 42, God introduces His plan to bring justice to the nations—and says that He is going to send His own chosen servant to bring it. He describes the justice that His Servant will bring, in this way: Isaiah 42:1–4,  
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Here, God is prophetically describing Jesus. Jesus would be God’s agent, or God’s chosen servant to bring justice to the nations. But it wasn’t a strong-arm justice or a cold and unforgiving sentencing to the punishments we deserved under the law. Rather it is a justice that is tempered by mercy.
            The justice of Jesus who didn’t cry foul or demand His rights, when He was mocked, insulted, and mistreated through the streets of Jerusalem. The justice of Jesus didn’t forsake the cross that He unjustly bore. And the justice of Jesus didn’t “break the bruised reed” or “quench the dimly burning wick.” In other words, He did not extinguish the life or hope of those who were crushed or weighed down in soul or spirit, under the judgments of God’s law. But rather, Jesus shows tenderness and mercy to the weak, the burdened, those bearing the spiritual chains of sin, or dwelling in darkness. By receiving all the ugliness and injustice of mankind into Himself, He delivers back to us mercy instead. By receiving the judgment of the law, or the justice of God, that we rightly deserved, He delivers us God’s justice—the acquittal that Jesus deserved. He extends to us the innocence that belongs to Jesus.
            God’s justice is truly unknown to the world, because it is so astonishing and unlike our own. This is why His light shines brightly for the nations. This is why the coastlands hope for Him, and wait for His arm. The true longing for peace and justice that cannot be filled by our earthly attempts at justice, is only truly filled by the justice of God, revealed by Jesus, God’s chosen servant. His verdicts alone are just, right and true. God alone can rightly and justly condemn the evildoer. God alone can rightly and justly justify the sinner. Declare the sinner righteous. If the world even wants to glimpse what God’s peace and justice will be like, they can only find it in Jesus. In the Torah, or teaching that God sends out to the people. This is a light, a beacon, and our only true hope.
And to confirm that, to show that real hope is found only in the One True God, and His salvation, verse 6 ends our reading: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” God invites us to survey creation. Look all around—at the universe above, and the earth beneath—and even at all living things on earth. These things may appear permanent and lasting. But they are not. Even the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, an accepted scientific law, affirms this Biblical truth—that everything in the universe is proceeding to disorder and decay. The universe as it exists, can’t last. Everything is wearing down and wearing out to its final end. The earth is wearing out like old clothes, and won’t sustain life forever. And if the earth and the universe seem too long lasting for us to gain that perspective, than we only need look at the shortness of our own lives.
What does all of this tell us? It tells us not to put our hope in things that are temporary, that are mortal, that are not permanent, but must come to an end. Where then must we place our hope? God says, “My salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” By nature we are linked to the old, dying creation. By nature we will go the way of all flesh, to the grave. But by God’s Spirit and by His chosen servant Jesus, we are linked to an eternal salvation. Jesus rescues us from our frailty and sin, and gives us an eternal salvation. He wraps us in His everlasting righteousness that will never be dismayed.
Hopes in this world, and in the promises of manmade peace or justice will surely be dismayed. Hopes in any religion or righteousness that we try to manufacture on our own, will surely be dismayed. Nothing can last, nothing is eternal, but God’s salvation and His Word. This is lasting hope and glory that will not disappoint us. This is lasting hope and glory that lifts us up to God. So do not be dismayed by the darkness of this world—lift up your eyes to the One who brings justice. Lift up your eyes to the servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      God says in Isaiah 51:4 that He will “set [His] justice for a light to the peoples.” Who is God saying will be a “light for the nations” in Isaiah 42:1, 6? (clue: John 8:12). What is this “light for the nations” going to bring? Isaiah 49:6
2.      Describe the way in which the Lord’s chosen servant will bring justice for the peoples: Isaiah 42:1-4; cf. 1:16-17. What is the difference between God’s justice and evil and oppression? Isaiah 59:8-21. How does God bring justice to the evildoer and forgiveness to the repentant?
3.      Reread Isaiah 51:4-6. List all the phrases that begin with “my”, starting with “my people.” To whom do they all belong? Who is going to show and exercise true justice and righteousness by His coming?
4.      How does the justice of God contrast to the justice of the world? Why are our nations in such tumult and war, and even in times of peace, there is so much domestic violence and bloodshed? How does this contrast between God’s justice and the justice of the nations, present a reason for the nations to hope in Him?
5.      Isaiah 51:6 invites us to survey the universe and all creation. What are we to see and realize is happening to them? Psalm 102:25-27; Romans 8:20-25. Why is earth subject to this decay? Which scientific law affirms this Biblical truth about the decay of the universe?
6.      Since both we and the universe itself, face our own “mortality”, where should we turn our hope, and why? Isaiah 51:6b; 45:17; 40:6-8. Hebrews 13:8.
So be it Lord! Thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away; Thy kingdom stands and grows forever, till all Thy creatures own Thy sway. LSB 886:5, “The Day Thou Gavest”

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sermon talking points on Daniel 12:1-3, 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Aloha, there is no written manuscript for the sermon this week. You can still find the audio on 

Sermon Talking Points
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1.       Reread Daniel 12:1-3. If you have time, read the entire 12 chapter book, and notice how it begins with historical narratives, the well-known stories, and gradually shifts into more and more prophetic visions. Look at chapter 9 in particular, how Daniel lead his people in prayer and confession to God. How does chapter 12 expand the vision and prophecy of the book for all peoples, not only Israel?
2.       From an earthly perspective, the people of Israel were caught in the middle of massive empires competing for dominance of the Middle East. The Babylonians, Persians and Medes, Greeks, etc all had their turn ruling over Israel. But who was in control of all of this? Who gave Daniel the clear vision of what lay ahead? Who is in control today when our world is in turmoil, and we are not in control of events around us?
3.       There was much in the prophecies Daniel was given, that he didn’t understand himself. How did he respond? Daniel 8:27; 12:8-13.
4.       Who is the angel Michael? Jude 9, Revelation 12, Daniel 10:13, 21. What is his role in God’s service, and in spiritual battle? Who sets himself against Michael and the angels? How do they have victory? Revelation 12:10-11.
5.       In Daniel 12:1, what is the “book” in which people’s names are written? Philippians 4:3, Revelation 20:12; 21:27
6.       How does Daniel 12:2-3 speak to the resurrection of the body? How does it explain the resurrection of the “just” and the “unjust”? What will be their destiny? John 5:29
7.       What is the glory of believers, and how will they share in God’s joy? To whom do we owe all this great salvation? Revelation 7:10