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Funeral for +George Larsen+

LSB Icon_040The text I have chosen for George’s funeral comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil. 23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Here ends our text.

Ann, Diann, Don, and Dan, here we are gathered again. It just seems like yesterday we were here in remembrance of your mother. It is hard to believe that it’s been seven months. Now we are gathered in remembrance of your father. As hard as it might be after losing both of your parents, we need to focus on the words of St. Paul: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Now you might be wondering how that is even possible. How is it possible to rejoice when you have buried both of your parents? How are you to give thanks at a time like this? It is very difficult on one hand, but very simple on the other. As long as we live in this world, it will be very difficult to rejoice always, especially at times like these. We would be hard pressed, even at the best times of our lives, to give thanks in all circumstances. Because of our sinful nature, it’s just not possible. We are selfish people, especially when it comes to our loved ones. We would do almost anything to have just another day with our loved ones, especially those who have died. However, that is our own selfish nature and not God’s desire. According to Psalm 139, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” We live the exact number of days according to God’s timetable – not one day more and not one day less, and for George, that last day came Friday.

As hard as it may be, now is indeed a good time to rejoice. We rejoice in the fact that George has died and is now with Christ. We rejoice in the fact that George was called to the waters of Holy Baptism where he was given the title, “child of God” and had God’s name placed upon him. We rejoice in knowing that through Holy Baptism, George received the forgiveness of his sins: past, present, and future. We rejoice in the fact that George received the crown of eternal life, won for him by Jesus Christ.

This wonderful gift of Jesus Christ was given to George and he was most grateful for it. This is what he treasured because it was a gift from God. And for this wonderful gift, George gave thanks. He gave thanks for the bountiful richness of life that God granted to him and to you his family. He gave thanks for the times when there was plenty and he gave thanks for the times when there was nothing. He took the words of St. Paul to heart: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

For George, there was never a time when he didn’t give thanks. Even in the last days of his life, he would thank the kitchen staff of Pioneer Manor for the food they served him, even if he couldn’t eat it. He did it not just because it was the nice and polite thing to do, but because it was what the Christian was to do.

Today, all of us gathered here today give thanks to God for George. Some may give thanks because he was a great person or he did great things. I don’t think any of us would question whether or not George was a good person, but that’s not the reason why we give thanks to God. We give thanks to God because God made George His beloved child through Jesus Christ. God made George a saint. Some may have some reservation calling a person a saint, but not us, because we know that George is indeed a saint; not because of the things George said or did in his earthly life. George wasn’t perfect, and neither are we. We know that George is a saint because he was a baptized believer in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. George is a saint not because of what George did but because of what Christ did for George. Christ came into this world to live and to die for George’s sins. George knew that and rejoiced greatly at that fact. That was one thing that George tried to pass on to you, his children. If you learned nothing else from him, he wanted you to know the love that God has for you by sending Jesus to die for you.

What a wonderful thing to hear, time and time again! George heard it every Sunday when he came to church. He heard it every time he heard the pastor say, “I forgive you all of your sins.” If you want to know about rejoicing, there it is. What better thing can a person hear than that their sins have been forgiven!

If there was one thing George was fond of, it was time. He ate at certain times. He liked church to last only for as long as it needed to and not a second longer. He valued his time and if you overstayed your welcome, he would be quick to say, “Ok, thank you for coming.” I heard that a time or two from George myself when visiting him. During a recent visit to the hospital, I went to visit him. I walked in the room and walked over to him and said, “Hello George. It’s Pastor Tucher.” George was very quick to respond with, “Ok, thank you for coming.”

As we prepare to receive Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning, how fitting are George’s words today. Those words of George can just as easily be spoken to Jesus, thanking Jesus for coming into this world, for living and for dying for him and for his lovely bride, Hertha; for living and dying for you, his children; for living and dying for all of you. There was nothing that brought more joy to George than knowing that Christ has forgiven him all of his sins.

Paul concludes the text by saying, Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has sanctified George and now he is blameless, standing before God the Father, united with Hertha and all who have gone before him in the faith. God has been faithful to George in the promises He has made to him and God is faithful to the promises He has made to you as well. He has promised to George and to you forgiveness that comes through His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Funeral, Sermons

 

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Advent 3–“Who are you?” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

B-6 Advent 3 (Jn 1.6-8,19-28)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

In a popular song by The Who called “Who Are You”, the chorus repeats a line time and time again: “Who are you?” That is the question that is asked to John the Baptist in our Gospel reading for today. As we see in the text, it tells us who John the Baptist is: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” Even though John the Baptist is not Jesus, there seems to be an identity crisis on behalf of the priests and Levites. There were those who thought that John the Baptist was the promised Messiah. They went to him to be baptized, seeking something more than he could provide. They expected him to be more than who he was; they expected him to do more than he was capable of doing. But he had a single mission: “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

There are many times where we confuse the messenger with the message. If we receive bad news from a doctor, we often blame the doctor for the illness, even though he has nothing to do with. John the Baptist clearly understood that his purpose was not bearing witness to himself and his own greatness, but glorifying the Savior. The great privilege of his calling was expressed in the life of John, for he was true to his conviction: “He must become greater; I must become less.” But for the priests and Levities, they wanted to know exactly who he claimed to be and what it was that he was going to do.

For the Jews, they needed an answer to who this John was. They sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him who he was – not trying to trap John in what he says but instead merely wanting to know who he is and what he is about. John took no pleasure in pretending to be someone whom he was not. He very easily could have said that he was the promised Messiah and no one would have been the wiser, at least for a while. John did what he was called to do: proclaim Christ. He’s not the Christ. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the prophet Moses promised back in Deuteronomy 18, the prophet who would, in fact, be one and the same as the Christ. John was content simply to announce the coming Lamb of God.

In John, we see a prophet doing what he is supposed to do. A prophet is supposed to confess the Christ. When the priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked him, “Who are you?” he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” A true prophet is a true prophet because he proclaims the truth. He proclaims the truth because that is what God gave him to proclaim. The truth might make people sad. The truth might terrify people. The truth might make people angry. In fact, the truth might make people angry enough to kill the prophet. Nevertheless, the prophet tells the truth that he received from God. What is that truth that John received from God? “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

The sad thing in today’s Gospel is that the men in the delegations wanted to know who John was, but they didn’t want to hear his message. When John told them that the Lord was in the crowd standing among the people, they weren’t impressed. As far as they were concerned, no one in the crowd looked especially Messianic. Jesus has no special form or comeliness that makes Him stand out; apparently, there is no beauty about Him that makes Him attractive or desirable. Jesus is just another face in the crowd, and a face in the crowd simply couldn’t be the Messiah. Their problem was that they had preconceived notions of who the Messiah was to be and Jesus didn’t fit the bill. John, the forerunner of Christ wasn’t who they thought the herald of the Messiah would be. Here stood before them a man eating wild honey and locusts. He probably was more unkempt than others were. He didn’t exactly shout forerunner of Christ. Their preconceived notions blinded them to John and his message of Jesus. Their preconceived notions blinded them to Jesus, the one who would save them from their sins.

Nothing has changed in 2000 years. There are still those today whose preconceived notions dictate to them who Jesus is and what He has come to do. People see Jesus as a great moral teacher, but nothing more. People see Jesus as just one of the many ways to heaven. People see Jesus as an example to live by. People see Jesus as their personal life coach. Jesus is not a moral teacher. Jesus is not one of the many ways to heaven. He is not an example to live by. Jesus is not a life coach. Jesus is the Babe in the manger, come to live a sinless life for you. Jesus is the Babe in the manger, come to die on the cross on behalf of you to forgive you all of your sins. That is who Jesus is and that is what John the Baptist came proclaiming.

Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John’s message is about the One who’s infinitely greater than we, because He was before us all, for we are the work of His hands, even as we are also the creatures of His own redeeming. He came among us as one of us precisely so that He could serve all of us. He shouldered our sins as He carried His cross, and He died our death and shattered our hell, and by overcoming the sharpness of death He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Truly, the Son of Man did not come among us to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the ransom for many.

As the season of Advent approaches its midway point, John the Baptist does the Church the service of focusing all the joy of the Church entirely on Christ. John’s words remind us that the joy of the coming days isn’t found in presents and a jolly man in a red suit, but the unspeakable joy is found in the One who came into this world through a manger to meager parents, to be our Immanuel, God with us. It is this Jesus who was the unexpected Messiah, who came to give you life in His name. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 2 – “The Way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Old Testament which was read earlier.
The prophecy was told of long ago in Isaiah: a Savior was coming. Today is about John the Baptist. Today is about the message that he is proclaiming: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The message that John the Baptist is one “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John is the one who is coming to herald the coming of Christ. As you can imagine, this must be a daunting task. Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of John, proclaiming the coming of Christ. You are the forerunner to the Christ. You are the opening act with Jesus as the headliner. The message that you proclaim is one that needs to be less about you and more about Christ. That is exactly what John the Baptist did.
For the Israelites of old, they were in exile in Babylon. They were displaced and unhappy. Many of them were without hope. They recognized that God was punishing them but believed this was only temporary. Everything that God had promised to them now lay in ruins. Surely God would not allow this to go on forever. But as one generation passed, and then another, the Israelites’ hope dwindled. Some argued that God cannot keep His promises. Others said that it was even worse than that, that God had cast them off forever. Ultimately, there was little hope that God would take action and rescue them.
What the Israelites failed to realize was that everything happened on God’s timetable and not theirs. Isaiah records, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” Not only did God not abandon them, God continued to provide and care for them. And to make things all the richer for the Israelites, God is giving them double for the sins they have committed!
Now if you’re an Israelite, then this is very good news for you. It means that God has not forsaken them as they had thought. It means that not only has God forgiven them of their sins, He grants to them double. How strange that must sound. For every sin that they had committed, God grants to them twice the blessing. Things can’t get any better for them, or can they?
This message of Isaiah to the Israelites is also a message of hope and comfort to you as well. This tiny Baby who will be born in a manger has come for you. He has come to pardon your iniquity. He has come to give to you double for all of your sins. That message is what John the Baptist came preaching.
God did not want His people Israel in exile to despair. He sent His prophet with a message of great hope and comfort to them. The prophet called for Israel to look forward eagerly, to expect God to return them from exile and set up His rule and glory for all to see. What a remarkable message – if you could dare to belief it!
Why couldn’t they belief it? This was what had been promised for so long. When did God ever go back on His promise? When did God ever totally abandon His people? There was no reason why they should doubt it. Isaiah’s message was a message to remind them of God’s promises.
What was the message that Isaiah preached? It was the message of Jesus. It was the message of a Savior. As Isaiah records, “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” These weren’t just foolish dreams and wild musings on the part of Isaiah. These were the prophecies that God revealed to him. It can’t be foolish dreams and wild musings if they come from God. God gave Israel a new lease on life, and vindicated His prophet who dared Israel to hope.
John the Baptist took these words to heart. Actually, John reinforced these ideas for the people. He proclaimed that he was himself “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD,” not by making himself the focus but by turning to the Lord, by turning to the One whom the Lord had spoken of, Jesus Christ. John the Baptist came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Then, the glory of God came in the person of Jesus. God sent to us His Son to live and to die a criminal’s death. Does that sound like God’s glory to you? Yes it is! It is the glorious suffering that Isaiah speaks of in chapter 53: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” This is what Christ came to do. This was what John the Baptist came preaching and this is what Isaiah prophesied.
God called on His people in exile to take comfort and hope in His impending rescue. Today, He calls on us as well to take heart, for He is taking over and caring for His people throughout history since the promise was made in the Garden.
When we are a people in exile, where God’s promises and power seem far from us, where shall we find hope? The answer is in God, of course. In the hints of His glory that is breaking through, one sees the face of Jesus. In Him, God’s glory is breaking in, setting up God’s rule. God’s love pours through the lives of His people in the promised Savior, Jesus.
The Gospel is our hope and our comfort, and the changing winds of time cannot touch it. People come and go, but God’s Word is true, His promises are unchanging, just as Isaiah says: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Our salvation is sure because God is guaranteeing it. Our sins have been forgiven. This comfort doesn’t rest upon us or our opinions. It isn’t a fad or a fashion or some other creature of time. It is the Word of God. It is the truth of God. It is the gift of God. It is the Gospel, and it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!
It cannot be changed. Don’t get me wrong, people are always trying to change it. But, if we change it, it is no longer the Gospel! It doesn’t need to be improved. It cannot be destroyed. We can abandon it, but it will not abandon us. We can mess it up, and proclaim something else much more in keeping with the times – but that ‘something else’ won’t have the power to save. It won’t have God’s promise of salvation. It won’t have the power to comfort anyone. And God calls to us through the centuries, through His unchanging Word, to proclaim His Comfort. The Comfort we are looking for, the Comfort that we need comes to us in Jesus, heralded by John the Baptist, prophesied by Isaiah, given to you in a manger. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2011 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 1–“Hosanna in the Highest” (Mark 11:1-10)

B-1 Advent 1 (LHP) (Mk 11.1-10)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Welcome to the beginning of a new year. I know it’s only November 27. I know January is still over a month away. I’m not talking about the normal calendar year, but we have come to the beginning of a new Church Year. And what better way to start the Church Year than with the story of Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, we hear of Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem, marking His impending death. Today, when we read our text, we read it in light of the new Church Year and its beginning, pointing us to the manger which will point us to Calvary.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “appearing” or “coming,” referring to the appearing of a great king or even a god. In Christian usage, it refers to the appearing of Jesus Christ in two ways – His first appearing as the Child born of the Virgin Mary and His second appearing in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. You see, Advent isn’t only about getting ready for Christmas; it’s also about getting ready for Jesus’ final appearing in glory only the Last Day.

The prophet Jeremiah writes, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” But there’s a problem: we don’t like to wait. With the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas, waiting is the last thing that we want to do. And so, the day after Thanksgiving, the trees go up and the Christmas music begins playing, officially, until Christmas Day. But once the sun sets on December 25, so does Christmas and its true meaning, if we even focus on its meaning.

So what do we mean when we speak of Advent as a season for waiting? In a sense, the weeks leading up to Christmas are intended as a training ground. Yes, we are preparing for another commemoration of our Savior’s birth. But it’s much more than that. In one sense, we join with the ancient Israelites who waited for centuries for God’s light to shine forth in the person of His Son. But our waiting also focuses on Christ’s promise that He will return. Our Lord gives us neither the day nor the hour, but only His sure and certain promise. And He commands us to be watchful and ready.

For us, we need the season of Advent. We are acutely aware of the busyness of the Christmas season, even though we haven’t gotten there yet, as these few weeks speed away ever so quickly. With preparations for holiday celebrations, the pace of an already hectic life tends to accelerate as we rush from one thing to the next. There are projects to complete, appointments to keep, and commitments to honor. There are parties to plan, gifts to buy, and cards to send. We need Advent as somewhat of a liturgical speed bump to slow us down so that we do not miss what Christmas is truly about, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, our Lord arrives in Jerusalem ready to celebrate Passover. The streets are littered with people celebrating this great festival. Then, Jesus arrives and things begin to get interesting.

When Jesus arrives, it’s not with pomp and circumstance, but instead, He arrives on a lowly beast of burden. As Jesus makes His way down the streets of Jerusalem, the crowd erupts in a wonderful chorus of words they don’t understand: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Like most people, those on the streets of Jerusalem had no idea what it was they were saying. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Not only is this the one “who comes in the name of the Lord,” this is the Lord! This is the one that the people have been waiting for since Adam and Eve received that promise from God so long ago, the promise of a Savior. This is the one who was promised to come and crush Satan’s head. The worst part of it: most of them don’t even know it! They quite rightly called Jesus their Messiah, but they would not know what that meant until the coming week was over. For Jesus, God in the flesh, had come to die. He had come to Jerusalem to offer Himself up as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.

What is even worse is that most people today don’t even know it. They think of Christmas as the time where they receive presents from Santa Claus and sip on eggnog at Christmas parties. Christmas is more than presents and parties. Christmas is the celebration of God taking the form of human flesh in order to live and die for your sins. That is made clear to us in our text as Jesus comes to Jerusalem to experience once and for all the full guilt of our sin and take the punishment for that guilt. He had come to remove the guilt that caused our terror at His coming. He had come to grant us the gift of His righteous life. Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so that on that Friday He could suffer and die on a Roman cross and so make the full payment for the sins of the world.

Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us.  He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table. 

Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Sermons

 

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Thanksgiving Eve–“Thanksgiving” (Luke 17:11-19)

F-30b ThanksgivingGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

What is it that you’re thankful for? Off the top of your head, you might not be able to think of anything. Then again, you might think of many things to be grateful for. In just a few minutes, we’ll say together the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed and its Explanation. There, Luther elaborates on everything that God grants to us “to support this body and life.” If there is anything to be thankful for, Luther does a good job summing it up for us: body and soul, eyes, ears, members, reason, senses, clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, wife, children, land, animals, and all that we have. So I ask the question again: what is it that you’re thankful for?

Now let me ask you another question. Have you ever done something for someone else, whether it be big or small, and the person showed no appreciation? I imagine that you were probably disappointed, possibly even angered by it. Luke records for us an instance of that same kind that happened to Jesus: ten leprous men who were healed, but only one returns and gives thanks. Jesus asks the man, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?”

How often are we like the nine instead of the one? How often are we too busy to say thanks for the many blessings that God has granted to us? As we celebrate Thanksgiving, it is only fitting to remember to give thanks and praise to God for His wonderful gifts.

In looking at our text, we see the ten lepers and they cry out to Jesus from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” This was their faith in action, crying out to Jesus for mercy, compassion, healing. It was a cry that fulfilled all of their needs and not just leprosy. If a person was a leper, they were ceremonially unclean and they were ostracized from the community until they were ceremonially clean again. This meant separation from their family, their home, everything. Seeing Jesus, they knew what they needed. For them, Jesus was their only means of being made clean once again.

Jesus sends them to the priests, the one place where they would be cleared clean and able to return to normal living once again. As they went to the priests, they were cleansed of their leprosy. What a cause for thanksgiving and rejoicing! However, there was one problem: only one came back to Jesus, only one remembering who it was that had healed him. Only one of the ten showed any sort of signs of thanksgiving and rejoicing. This one man, a Samaritan, was thankful for what Jesus had shown to him.

Now after all of that, you might be asking yourself what does this account have to do with Thanksgiving. What does it have to do with turkey and all the fixings, with pumpkin pie and football? The answer is that it has nothing to do with turkey, pie, and football. What it does have to do with is true thanksgiving to God.

Today, many people give thanks for the material blessings that they have. Even people who normally have little or nothing to do with God will invoke His name and say, “Thank you.” But once Thanksgiving Day is over, will they continue thanking God? Better yet, will you continue thanking God?

We tend to do better at asking God rather than thanking God. At times, it seems we put God on a string, like a puppet. We want God to do this and do that for us. We ask God for our daily bread, but often forget to thank God when we get it.

You and I have many reasons to be thankful. Consider again the ten lepers from our text. Jesus healed all ten, yet only one recognized the Healer behind the healing; only one recognized the Giver behind the gift. He believed not only that God had healed him, but also that this God was Jesus. The foreigner believed and returned to thank and praise Jesus for the gift of healing.

Jesus has not healed you from leprosy, but He has healed you from something infinitely greater than leprosy: your sin. Jesus died on the cross to deliver you from the diseases of sins, death, and the devil. You and I have been healed from this disease. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the forgiveness won by Christ on His cross was applied to each of us. There, God called us by name, placed His name upon us and forgave us all of our sins. That is more than enough reason to give thanks and praise to God!

So again I’ll ask you: what are you thankful for? There is almost too much to count. We have all of our material blessings. We have the privilege of being called children of God. We have the wonderful gift of the forgiveness of our sins. For all this and more, we cry out with the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Sermons

 

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All Saints’ Day–“For All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

F-29b All SaintsGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the First Reading which was read earlier.

Today we observe All Saints’ Day, the day on which we remember those who have died in the faith. Saints are all those who are knit together as one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ. The saints are blessed in Christ, who is the Blessed One. They serve as an example of faith and virtuous and godly living to those who still struggle in this world.

While all believers in Christ in heaven and on earth are His saints, on this day the Church remembers all of God’s saints who have died and now participate in the “unspeakable joys” of heaven. These saints, who trusted in the Lord in their earthly life, as members of the Church Militant, live now in His eternal peace, the Church Triumphant. They exalt and magnify His Name, look to Him, and are radiant, reflecting His glory.

Once upon a time, this world was sinless, without death and all that is harmful and takes away from the goodness that God made. Things could not have been better. Adam and Eve had an entire garden at their fingertips. Everything that they could ever need was theirs. God even walked alongside with them and they could see God and talk to Him face to face. But as we all know, paradise didn’t last for long. Satan managed to get himself into the garden and tempted Adam and Eve, causing them to fall into sin. However, prior to this, we were perfect, without sin.

As John writes in his Revelation, 144,000 Israelites were sealed, 12,000 each from every tribe of the sons of Israel. Upon seeing all these people, John says that, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”” The people whom St. John saw were indeed saints.

We need to ask ourselves this one question: what makes a saint a saint? For the Roman Catholic Church, it is a detailed process. First, the person has to be dead for at least five years; that counts any of us out! Then, once the person has been dead for the requisite period, the bishop can begin an investigation to see just how virtuous the hoped-to-be saint actually was. If the investigation turns out favorably, the documentation is turned over to Rome, where, after investigation by select theologians, the cardinals and bishops specifically assigned to handle saints take a vote on whether to proceed or not. Finally, there must be at least one miracle performed by the dead saint-to-be before the examination is completed, and one miracle performed after. As you can see, it takes quite a bit of effort to become a saint according to Rome. You can’t stop working at it even after you’re dead!

That is too much work. A saint is one called by the Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ, forgiven, and made holy in the sight of God. Thus each Christian, whether on earth or in heaven, is a saint. The Church is a communion of saints – a group of diverse people united by what they share in common: Jesus Christ and His heavenward calling.

If you are like many, you may wonder whether or not the Gospel is indeed working. While the effects of the Gospel may not always be visible to us, as it wasn’t to John’s readers during persecution, Jesus’ revelation assures us it is still God’s power to save. We trust in the words of God, recorded by the prophet Isaiah, who says, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We do not always see the Gospel’s work. As a pastor, that is the most apparent. We want to see the Gospel working, doing something in a person’s life, but we don’t always see it. It may not happen during our ministry. It may not even happen during our lifetime, but the Word of God will accomplish what it was intended for.

The Word of God did accomplish what it was intended for. The Word of God caused Jesus Christ to come to this earth, to be born, to live a sinless life and to die, so that you and I may have eternal life. While we have eternal life, we still die a physical death here on earth. The Word of God made you a saint on account of Christ.

The saints, who are clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, are those who have already departed this life to be with the Lord forever and ever. They are our sainted dead today, our loved ones and all others who have gone before us, who have fallen asleep in the faith. But we also think of ourselves and other members of the body of Christ on this earth as the “saints alive.” We remember the saints now, at the end of the Church Year, as an anticipation of the coming kingdom.

Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, has given His life for us and called us His own. Our sinful name is washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. Being baptized into Christ, we have received the Father’s family name, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Now our names and the names of all God’s saints are written in the Lamb’s book of life. When we are brought into Christ through Baptism, nothing can keep us separated from Him because He has bridged the gap of separation with His own body and blood. Because of what Christ has done, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The fact that the saints are wearing white robes shows that this righteousness is not their doing but is imputed to them for Christ’s sake.

As St. John writes, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore…” This is because they are in the saving, protecting arms of Christ Jesus. They no longer suffer from sin in this life because they have been made perfect. All of their needs have been provided for, because “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

As John ends our text, he paints for us a picture of the complete joy of believers in eternal glory. Verse 15 indicates that part of their joy is being in God’s presence. Verse 16 describes the freedom of God’s people from the effects of sin, while verse 17 again points to the source of the believers’ joy in God’s personal presence.

When we are brought into Christ, we receive the gifts that are given to those who are in Christ, the gifts that belong to the sons and daughters of God. We are given the waters of new life, Holy Baptism which gives new life to those who come to it. The tree of life is Christ Himself who provides the food which nourishes us, His own body and blood. We will once again be able to see God face to face like we were meant to before, to be able to walk and talk with God and to be His own. Those in Christ will live forever with Him.

Today we remember those who have gone on before us, who continue to worship with us, just on the other side of heaven. We know this because it is in our liturgy that we speak: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven…” They are the ones who confessed the name of Jesus Christ. We too who confess the name of Jesus Christ will one day be reunited with those saints who have gone on before, but more importantly, we will be reunited with the One who allowed us to enter heaven by His sacrificial death, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Sermons

 

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Last Sunday of the Church Year–“The Resurrection of the Dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Contrary to popular belief, Christian congregations are not perfect. Just because one calls themselves Christian doesn’t mean that they are perfect. This was made very clear at the Church at Corinth. For being Christians, they had an awful lot wrong with them. Their basic beliefs were often skewed at best and completely wrong at its worst. As we see in our text for today, the Corinthians got the resurrection from the dead wrong. Paul writes prior to our text, Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” As Paul records for us, it does not appear that Christ’s resurrection necessarily was being denied. As one scholar put it, “The doubters in Corinth declared the resurrection to be impossible for this reason, that it is contrary to nature, and they considered the resurrection of Christ an isolated occurrence with which they could connect no consequences for anyone else.”

Paul sets off to correct any misconceptions that the Corinthians may have. He says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” What more conclusive word can be spoken than that Christ has been raised from the dead? That’s what Christianity hinges upon, the resurrection. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Christianity means absolutely nothing. Once you die, you’re dead and that’s all there is to it. But if Christ did rise from the dead, then that means something very important: it means that you too will rise from the dead. It means that death is not all that there is. It means that everlasting life is granted to you. This is what the Corinthians missed and unfortunately, this is what Christians sometimes miss as well.

As we come to the end of the Church Year, we focus on the second coming of Christ, when “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” We look at what the second coming of Christ means for us. It means that those who have died in the faith will be resurrected and body and soul be reunited in a body that is perfect and without sin. For those still living in the faith when Christ comes, it means that we shall not see death, but instead be granted that everlasting life as have the saints of old. But what about those outside of the faith? It means that they will be raised to everlasting hell and torment. The second coming of Christ will indeed be a joyous event for those who have the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed upon them. However, it will also be a terrifying event for those who do not confess the name of Christ.

For you, God’s saints on earth, rejoice in the words of St. Paul: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” You have already been resurrected from the dead because you have God’s name placed upon you. In your Baptism, you died to sin and you received new life in Christ. That new life gave to you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The best part of it: you didn’t have to do anything to earn it; it was freely given to you.

That is the power of Christ’s resurrection. Because Christ was raised from the dead, you too shall be raised from the dead. That was the message that Paul was trying to get across to the Corinthians. Just earlier, Paul told the Corinthians, And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” It truly is that simple, yet that’s what the Corinthians were missing. There were those who did not believe in the resurrection of Christ, yet alone the resurrection of the dead as a whole. They were missing the boat on what Christ had been preaching during His life and what Paul had tried to remind the church of.

Paul’s words are words of encouragement for the Corinthians to be patient. The end is not yet; their loved ones must still rest in the grave for a time. But everything will surely happen in its proper order. Christ’s resurrection is the great first step, the firstfruits holding the promise of everything else. Then His resurrection will work through the whole Church, as those who belong to Him will be raised when He descends from heaven on the Last Day.

That same message of Paul is relevant to you and I as well, for the resurrection of Christ speaks of our resurrection as well. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated All Saints’ Day, the day where we remember those who died in the faith. Their faith was centered on Christ and what He has done for them. Their faith was focused on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who won for them forgiveness of all of their sins and gained for them everlasting life. They trusted in Christ’s promises for them and for all who believe. They trusted in Christ’s resurrection, and because Christ was raised from the dead, they knew that they too would be raised from the dead.

We too rejoice because Christ’s resurrection means our resurrection. Everything that Christ endured on this earth: His birth, His life, His passion, His death, and ultimately His resurrection were for you so that you would have everything that He comes to give, free of charge. He gives it to you without your asking, without merit or worth on your part, without you having to do anything except receive this wonderful gift of Christ for you.

What greater comfort can one have knowing that Christ has died for them, in order to redeem them from their sins! Luther had these words to say regarding our text: “For a Christian has no joy or comfort except alone in the life hereafter, as he hears this article, that Christ is risen from the dead, that he also will raise him and bring him from death and all unhappiness to eternal joy.”

Christ has come. He has given to you the gift of forgiveness so that you may be raised from the dead, just as He was raised from the dead. Christ promises to you resurrection, a resurrection on the Last Day when all believers in Christ shall be raised and body and soul reunited and where we will be with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our joy, our comfort, lies in Christ and His resurrection and the resurrection earned for us by Jesus. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Sermons

 

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