Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sermon for Thankgiving Eve - Deut 8:1-10

                                                                                                Thanksgiving Eve
                                                                                                Deut 8:1-10

            Why do we have Thanksgiving?  A shallow answer is that we have the holiday of Thanksgiving so that we can get together with family, eat of bunch of good food, watch football and do some shopping.  If we were to go a little deeper, I think most people recognize that it is a time to “count their blessings.”  There is a sense that Thanksgiving is associated with a general appreciation for the good things that we have.  People change the frame on their Facebook profile picture to say, “Thankful.”
            No doubt, you are going to do all the things I just mentioned.  You will get together with family, eat a bunch of good food, watch football and do some shopping.  However, before you do those things, you have chosen first to come to the Divine Service tonight.  You decided to come to church.  This indicates that at some level, you recognize that what I have just described isn’t good enough. 
            If thanksgiving is to be biblical thanksgiving, then it can’t be merely a recognition of how good you have it.  It can’t be a vague sense of thankfulness that the cosmic forces of chance and fate have treated you pretty well.
            Instead, our text tonight from Deuteronomy teaches us that real thanksgiving must be focused on God.  And when we use the term “God” we have a very particular referent in mind.  We are referring to the God who has revealed himself and has acted in history.  We are talking about the God who has acted to save you.
            Our text from Deuteronomy gives us one of the sermons that Moses preached to the people of Israel when they were about to cross over the Jordan into the promised land.  This was the second time that Israel was in the position to do this. The first time, forty years ago, had not gone so well. 
            Spies sent across the Jordan River had brought back a wonderful report – the land was great – it flowed with milk and honey.  However, there was also very bad news.  The people who already lived there were no pushover.  They were strong and presented a serious challenge.
            Instead of trusting in Yahweh, the people of Israel refused to enter the land that God had promised to give to them. They said their children would just end up slaves when they were defeated.  Yahweh punished their disobedience.  He said that instead, only their children would enter the land.  Israel was forced then to wander and live in the wilderness for forty years.  God fed them with manna until now it was once again time to enter the land.  Moses himself would not be allowed to do so.  In Deuteronomy we hear Moses’ final words to Israel as he recounts what had happened in the past for those who had often been too young to remember it.  He exhorted Israel to be faithful to Yahweh and to trust him.
            The first part of Deuteronomy chapter 8 is one of the texts for Thanksgiving.  On close inspection, this may seem surprising.  After all, most of what Moses describes in our text are not things for which we usually give thanks.
            It begins well enough.  We hear: “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.”  The starting point was Gospel.  The goal was the land that Yahweh promised to give to their fathers – to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
            That land was God’s gift.  As Israel had already recognized forty years earlier, they had no chance to go in and take it by their own powers.  Instead, it was God who had promised to give it to Abraham’s descendants.  All that there was for Israel to do was to walk in faith as the people God had taken to be his own.  This response of faith had been defined by the Torah that Yahweh had given to Israel at Mt. Sinai and was now being repeated for them.
            But then, Moses went on to say, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”  We learn that God had humbled Israel.  He had tested them to know what was in their heart – whether they would walk in faith and keep his commandments.
            And then Moses added, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”  Yet again Moses says that God acted to humble Israel.  He had allowed them to know hunger and had then fed them with manna just as he had said he would.  This experience had a purpose.  It was meant to teach them that life occurs by trusting in the word that comes from God.  Bread is necessary, but not bread alone.  Instead, what really matters is living by faith in what God says.
            Moses had spoken about humbling and testing.  And then he added, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”  What is interesting about our text for Thanksgiving is that the majority of it talks about things for which we don’t give thanks.  I don’t know about you, but being humbled, tested and disciplined does not make me feel thankful.  Instead, it makes me want to complain.  The old Adam in me sees these all as negative things.  Amy’s brain tumor, surgery, and now lengthy process of recovery have all been occasions that generate these kinds of thoughts. I have no doubt that you experience things that do the same.
            Yet our text tonight reminds us that we live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  God’s Word tells us how things really are.  He tells us that those things for which we do not give thanks are in fact still God at work for our good.  In fact … dare I say it … they too are things for which we need to give thanks.  Not that we give thanks for bad experiences. But we give thanks for the way God is using them.
            The only thing that can enable to maintain this perspective is the Gospel. Moses begins our text by referring to “the land that Yahweh swore to give to your fathers.”  The promise of the land was rooted in God’s call of Abraham when he said: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
            Yahweh promised that in the seed of Abraham – in his offspring – all families of the earth would be blessed.  His words were fulfilled in Jesus Christ who was, as Matthew tells us, “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  The blessing that God has given to us in Jesus is forgiveness and salvation. 
            On one occasion Yahweh tested Abraham by commanding him to offer his only son Isaac whom he loved as a sacrifice.  Abraham trusted God and was willing to do this, and ultimately God provided a ram as the sacrifice in the place of Isaac.  However God the Father did not spare his only begotten Son whom he loved.  Instead he offered him as the sacrifice in your place on the cross.  Jesus Christ received God’s judgment against your sin.  But then, on the third day God raised him from the dead.  Through the incarnate Son of God, the Father has forgiven your sins and defeated death.
            God the Father has done this for you.  God’s action in Jesus Christ is the reason that we now are able to trust God when as a man disciplines his son, the LORD our God disciplines us.  He is the reason we are able to live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Jesus Christ – the crucified and risen Lord - is the reason that we are able to walk by faith.
            This walk of faith is one of thanksgiving.  We give thanks to God for the forgiveness and salvation we have received in Jesus Christ.  Because of Jesus, we are able to be thankful for the way God uses times of humbling, testing and disciplining for our good.
            God’s action in Christ is the reason that we now are able to see all of our blessings as coming from God – blessing for which we give God thanks.  At the end of our text Moses says, “So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land.” The Israelites needed to walk in faith because God is the One who keeps his promises.  He was about to give them a good land – a land flowing with milk and honey.
            God is the One who blesses us with everything that we need to support this body and life.  In fact, he is the One who provides us with far more than just that.  Our response is one of thanksgiving.  But this is not the “Thankful” of the world.  This is thanks given to the God who has saved us - real thanksgiving.  As Moses says in the last verse of our text, “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”
            By faith we do give thanks.  We bless the Lord our God – we give thanks – because of the forgiveness and salvation he has given us through Jesus Christ.  We give thanks to God for the way he is at work for our good, even when he humbles, tests and disciplines us.  We give thanks to God for all of the blessings that he richly bestows upon us.    

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity - Phil 3:17-21

                                                                                                            Trinity 23
                                                                                                            Phil 3:17-21

            You have the status of being a citizen of the United States of America.  Now living here in the U.S. we probably take that for granted. In fact, we may only think of it in negative terms as we get our taxes prepared for April 15.
            However, if you go on vacation, or even if you go and live overseas, you are still a United States citizen.  And that status really does mean something.  When there is civil unrest or a natural disaster, the United States government makes arrangements to get U.S. citizens out of a country.
            And if things really go wrong, people who don’t even know you will risk their lives to save you – just because you are an American.  Jessica Buchanan experienced this.  Buchanan was involved in a humanitarian demining project in Somalia when she was kidnapped by pirates. Attempts to negotiate her release failed and because her health was worsening, U.S. Special Operations forces launched a raid to free her. On Jan. 25, 2012, twenty-four Navy Seals parachuted into Somalia and attacked the compound where Buchanan was being held.  They killed all the pirates and rescued her.  They did all of this, just because Buchanan had the status of being a citizen of the United States.
            In our text today, St. Paul reminds us about the status that we have.  Our citizenship is in heaven because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.  He has given us this status and it now shapes the way we live in the present, and gives us hope for the future.
            Paul begins our text this morning by saying, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”  What are the Philippians supposed to be imitating in Paul?  It is the attitude that he has just described.
            The apostle has warned the Philippians about those who are pushing the Torah and circumcision upon them.  It was an ongoing struggle in the first century Church as some Jewish Christians said that in order for Gentiles to be part of God’s people they had to do something – they had to observe some part of the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
            Paul has just said that if being Jewish was the big thing, then he could outdo all of the opponents.  He wrote, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
            It was an impressive resume.  But then Paul went on to say that none of it meant anything.  He said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
            Compared to the gift of righteousness which Paul had received in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, it all meant nothing.  In fact, Paul calls it garbage and he says that nothing else matters when compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.  Through faith in Christ he had received God’s righteousness – his saving action to put all things right.
            Paul’s goal was to gain Christ and be found in the righteousness that God provided through him.  But that wasn’t all.  He went on to add that his goal was that, “I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
            Jesus Christ had passed through suffering and death on the way to resurrection.  Paul says it is the same for those who have faith in Jesus.  As Christians, sharing in Jesus’ sufferings and being conformed to his death is part of our life. But this is done in the assurance that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and that the power of his resurrection is already at work in us through the Holy Spirit.
            That is how it is supposed to be.  That is the pattern that Paul wanted the Philippians to imitate in him and other mature Christians among them.  But in our text the apostle also acknowledges that not all do this.  He says, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
            We need to pay attention to Paul’s words here because he is talking about people who identified themselves as being Christians.  None of them said, “Oh yes, I am an enemy of the cross!”  However their way of looking at life was all messed up.  Paul says that their god was their belly and they gloried in their shame with minds set on earthly things. 
            Paul doesn’t give us any specifics, but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what this looks like in our own time.  Think about all the things where the world places the emphasis: money, possessions, vacations, sports, success, fame, prestige and sex.  How often do these things shape your thought and goals?  How often do they determine your behavior and your judgment about what is important, good and desirable instead of Jesus Christ and his Word?
            The apostle knew that these challenges are out there. That’s why he writes these words.  He has said, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”  And then he goes on to remind us about what we are – the status we have.  Paul says at the end of our text, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
            The language about “citizenship” would have been very meaningful to the Philippians.  Though located in Greece, Philippi was a Roman colony. There were several different statuses that a city outside of Italy in the Roman Empire could have. The best was to be a Roman colony.  The residents of Philippi were Roman citizens.  They had the all the rights that went along with that status.  Now to be clear, they didn’t live in Rome. That wasn’t home. Their home was Philippi.  However, their status was one of being Roman citizens. This defined who they were.
            Your status has been defined by your baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Because of this, your citizenship is in heaven.  You have the status being God’s people – his saints.  This is something that has been won by Jesus Christ who is now the ascended and exalted Lord. 
            Already now, Jesus has won. He has defeated sin.  He has defeated death.  His reign as the victorious king has already started. He is the One who gives you the status of having citizenship in heaven.
            Paul says that because of this we are not to live as those whose god is their belly and who glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things.  After all, our citizenship is in heaven. That’s who we are.  That’s what God has made us to be. 
            Paul calls us to join in being imitators of him.  Immediately before our text he has said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
            We have the status now of being saints.  In the resurrection of Jesus we have the guarantee that death has been defeated.  But Paul reminds us that we must live as those who have their eye on the prize. We are to live as those who want to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. We are to live as those who seek to know him and the power of his resurrection as we share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, so that by any means possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead.
            This goal of sharing fully in Jesus’ resurrection is the thing that gives us hope and encouragement.  Paul says at the end of our text that while our citizenship is in heaven, “from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
            Uncertainty about the future makes us nervous and saps our strength.  Paul reminds us that we know what the future holds.  We may not know the timing, but we know what will happen.  We are awaiting our Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will return and change our bodies to be like his glorious body.
            God made our bodies to be good as we lived in his very good creation.  It is only sin that made them mortal – able to die.  Jesus Christ is the second Adam who has reversed what the first Adam did. His resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection.  He is the first fruits.
            People in Philippi had Roman citizenship.  But their home was Philippi.  In the same way, your citizenship is in heaven, but this world is your home. That’s why Paul says that we eagerly await from heaven a Savior who will transform our bodies.  The Lord Jesus will return and transform your body to be like his glorious body. 
            This isn’t some kind of escape from our physical, bodily existence.  Instead, we learn that Jesus Christ is the model and pattern for our resurrection.  At Jesus’ resurrection he invited his disciples to “touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  His was a physical and bodily resurrection. But it is a body that is imperishable and can never die again.  That is the transformation that Jesus will work upon you when he returns on the Last Day.
            In our text, Paul reminds us about the status that we have now – we are the people of God and our citizenship is in heaven with our Lord.  He also points us to the future – to the day when Jesus Christ will return in glory and transform our bodies to be like his so that we can live forever in his renewed creation.  The Holy Spirit will use this present and future to aid each one of us in being imitators of the apostle Paul as we walk in faith.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Commemoration of Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ

Today we remember and give thanks to God for Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ.  Justinian was emperor of the East from A.D. 527 to 565 when the Roman Empire was in decline. With his beautiful and capable wife, Theodora, he restored splendor and majesty to the Byzantine court. During his reign the Empire experienced a renaissance, due in large part to his ambition, intelligence, and strong religious convictions. Justinian also attempted to bring unity to a divided church. He was a champion of orthodox Christianity and sought agreement among the parties in the Christological controversies of the day who were disputing the relation between the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in A.D. 533 was held during his reign and addressed this dispute. Justinian died in his eighties, not accomplishing his desire for an empire that was firmly Christian and orthodox. 

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the governance of Christian leaders such as Emperor Justinian, Your name is freely confessed in our nation and throughout the world.  Grant that we may continue to choose trustworthy leaders who serve You faithfully in our generation and make wise decisions that contribute to the general welfare of Your people; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.