Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent Sanctus

Isaiah 6:1-7, Matthew 21:1-11
Advent 1 Midweek - November 30, 2016
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
“It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to Thee, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”  It is meet.  This means it is proper and fitting, because God is in all places and fills all time and is worthy of our constant praise.  It is right, because we have every good reason to be grateful to him, since he rules all things as our Savior.  It is salutary, that is, beneficial to us, because God commands us to and because he promises to receive our thanksgiving and accept it.  “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and saying …”
And here we come to the words of our canticle that we consider this evening.  It is a song of both angels and men, of both those in heaven and of those on earth, of saints who have lived in ages past and of all those who still contend with death here today.  In fact, even as it is meet, right, and salutary that we give thanks at all times and in all places, our canticle represents and confesses a joining of all times and all places.  It begins with the song that we learn from the angels in Isaiah 6 who gather around God’s kingly throne in heaven.  It ends with a song that we learn from those in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who met Jesus on his way into Jerusalem to ascend his kingly throne on earth.  Concluding both songs, we sing, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1 Invocavit

Matthew21:1-9 - Advent 1 - November 27, 2016
The Christian’s Crown of Righteousness
In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah forsook God, lost their glory, and were destroyed and scattered by heathen armies.  God had punished them.  But in the midst of this punishment was a wonderful promise. 
Through the same prophet, Jeremiah, God said behold.  In the midst of all this calamity that your sins have brought upon you, look at this.  Look at what I will do.  The days are coming, says the Lord, that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness – that is, I will send a son of David to bring you honor as you have never seen before.  For what will this Branch be?  He will be a king – like his father David was.  He shall reign and prosper.  That is, his reign will be successful.  It won’t crumble like an earthly kingdom – like the one that I gave you, which you stained with idolatry, and which I therefore now take away from you.  No, his kingdom will be spiritual, and it shall last forever.  He will execute judgment and righteousness.  That is, he will not neglect the poor and lowly or deny justice to the victims of crime.  No enemy will prevail against him with either bribe or threat.  His reign will be fair and good.  And in his day Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell safely.  This means that the salvation he promises will not be able to fail, but will guarantee security to all his subjects.  And his name, this King, this Branch of David, is the Lord, our Righteousness.  “Behold the days are coming,” says the Lord.  “The days are coming when I will demonstrate that I myself am your righteousness.” 
What an awesome prophecy!  It’s just as St. Paul wrote in Romans 3,

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Luke 12:13-21 - Thanksgiving/Harvest - November 24, 2016
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Why does God give us so much?  In order to answer this question, we must also be able to answer the question of why God permits us to go without.  No matter how much wealth we have, our sinful flesh would present this latter question as the most pressing: Why God?  How could God let me suffer so much?  Why do you take so much away?  Well, could it be, perhaps, that we don’t deserve even that which he lets us keep?  Are we not sinners at the constant mercy of God who gives and takes according to his own inscrutable wisdom?  Yes.  We are.  It is as Job confessed, the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). 
So how is it that Job was able to confess this so plainly and confidently?  How is it that we might learn to live with much as well as with little – to be, with St. Paul, content in whatever state we find ourselves?  It comes down to knowing the character of God – that is, getting a glimpse into this inscrutable wisdom of his – whether he is giving or taking.  This glimpse is graciously afforded where God reveals his favor and regard for you.  In fact, he shows you where it is always found, so it is more than a glimpse.  The face of God that shines upon you is found in Christ his Son who suffered and died for you.  It is found where this same Christ continues to serve you with his blood-bought forgiveness, teaching you to accept all God’s goodness with a clean conscience as free gifts from a loving Father. 
We interpret all things that God permits through the lens of the cross.  Through the cross of Jesus that gains our salvation, we are able to see the hardships and pain we endure not as the crushing heel of an aloof or vengeful deity, but as the gentle hand of our Father who lays crosses on us in order to sharpen our gaze on Christ his beloved Son, our Brother, who is our all and all. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trinity 27

Matthew 25:1-13Trinity Twenty-Seven – November 20, 2016
Ten Virgins  ♫♫♫

Five virgins went to heaven.  Five virgins went to hell.  All ten washed their sins away and received eternal life in the water of Holy Baptism that clothed them in Christ and made them pure.  All ten heard and learned the promises of the gospel, and in our day would have been confirmed.  All ten belonged to a good and respectable church.  All ten knew how a Christian should behave and look.  But only five of them believed the gospel.  The other five did not.  Those who believed the gospel went into the eternal wedding feast.  Those who did not believe were sent away forever. 

Last week, with the parable of the sheep and the goats, we learned how God distinguishes those who believe from those who don’t believe by how they treated and served Christ’s Christians here on earth.  Those who did not show love to Christ’s brothers did not show love to Christ.  This pertains to the second table of the law: “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Of all neighbors most worthy of our service, and of the greatest concern to our Lord, it is those who are of the household of faith – those who worship with us, confess with us, preach to us, correct us when no one else will, and care for our souls by the commission and command of our Savior.  It is those who receive with us the forgiveness of sins – our brothers and sisters in Christ.  God distinguishes his sheep from the goats by what they do and leave undone towards the least of his brothers.
This week, with the parable of the ten virgins, we learn how God distinguishes those who believe from those who don’t believe in another way: by how they treated the word of God here on earth.  Those who did not gladly hear and learn it did not love Christ.  This pertains to the first table of the law: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

All Saints'

Revelation 7:9-17 - All Saints' Day - November 6, 2016
Looking Forward to Heaven

What will heaven be like?  How will we enjoy ourselves?  I recall reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was young.  Mark Twain, a clever observer of human behavior and custom, assigned to his character a common misunderstanding of heaven.  In his attempt to justify why he would rather remain a naughty and precocious boy, Tom Sawyer said that he would rather not spend eternity sitting on a cloud and playing a harp anyway.  Is that what heaven is like?  Watching Loony Toons as a kid filled me with the same kind of apprehension.  It looks like heaven will be awfully boring … and lonely.  Of course, this caricature of heaven is untrue.  But many modern replacements of this uninspiring image actually fall even further from the truth. 
Nearly every morning I take a walk through the Springdale Cemetery.  It’s beautiful in there, especially this time of year.  Many faithful Christians are buried there including some of our own departed members and some of your dear loved-ones.  It always strikes me, though, to see some of the memorials that are erected in honor of the dead – whether it be some little banner that describes heaven as a never-ending fishing trip or just a Hawkeye flag in place of flowers.  Some of them are permanent too – like the image of golf clubs on the headstone or an engraved poem about how one has become an angel in heaven.  But how are these images of heaven any closer to the truth than the imagination of Tom Sawyer and Elmer Fudd?  These are fantasies.  They are unspiritual fantasies too, that turn heaven into an extension of earth.  In reality, the life we live on earth should be regarded as an extension of the life we will live in heaven.