Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve - Deut. 8:1-10

                                                                                                Thanksgiving Eve
                                                                                                Dt. 8:1-10

            It’s not hard to figure out why this text from Deuteronomy was chosen for Thanksgiving.  Near the end, it contains a wonderful description of the land that Yahweh was about to give to Israel.  We hear: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”
            And after describing this amazing place, Moses tells the Israelites how they are to respond to it.  He says, “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”  Indeed, it sounds like directions for you tomorrow afternoon after you have finished your Thanksgiving feast.
            However, there is far more in our text than just the simple message that we should give thanks for God’s blessings.  For starters, there is the reminder that all of these blessings are purely a matter of God’s grace.  In the first verse of our text, Moses says: "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.”
            Yahweh wasn’t giving the land to Israel because they had earned it or deserved it.  Instead, he was going to do so because he had promised their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would do so.  And his promise to them was not based on anything they had done.  Instead this was purely a matter of God’s grace – his undeserved favor.  It was by God’s grace that he had called Abraham in the first place.  And it was by grace that he had promised to give the land to Abraham’s descendants.
            The blessings that God has given to you are no different.  In the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Article of the Creed, Luther reminds us that God has given us everything, that he has given us our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses, and still takes care of them.  Then after mentioning our very body and life, he goes on to describe how God gives us everything else we need and have.  He also gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all we have.  He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.
            God does and gives all of these things.  But it is not because we have deserved or earned them.  Instead, Luther adds, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
            At the same time, most of our text is not about giving thanks for the blessings of the promised land.  Instead, Moses is looking back on what Israel had experienced and us describing how Yahweh was at work to test and teach Israel.  This was preparation that was meant to lead them to be faithful to Yahweh.
            Moses says: “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.” God had humbled Israel, and he had done this in order to lead Israel to the understanding that they needed to rely on God.
            They needed to understand that life was about more than food.  Instead, true life began with faith in Yahweh as they listened to his word.  Life was found in the covenant he had made with Israel.  Moses says in our text: “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.” 
            Israel was God’s son, and Yahweh had dealt with Israel in the same way a father treats his son. We hear, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.”
            This was the goal.  It was necessary because of the very blessings God was about to give Israel.  Yahweh was about to graciously give them this good land. And immediately after our text Moses warns Israel about what they needed to avoid.  He said: “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 
and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
            The same challenge faces us.  We allow the blessings God gives to us to become temptations that insulate us from God.  Secure in the provision of the things we need to live, we cease to think about God as their source.  The Giver is forgotten. Or worse yet, we turn the blessing themselves into false gods.   They become the focus of our lives. They become the source of our security and sense of well being.
            Israel did this.  We do this.  And because this is so, God sent his Son, begotten from eternity, into the world.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, the incarnate Son of God lived in our world.  As true man, he too needed daily bread.  He too received the blessings that God provides for our lives.
            Yet as the sinless Son of God he never ceased to know that the Father was the source. He never allowed the blessings of this world to supplant the Father and his will.  After fasting for forty day in the wilderness, our Lord was indeed hungry.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Jesus had come to serve and carry out the Father’s will, not to use his power to benefit himself.  He would not allow even the need for daily bread to turn him away from faithfulness to the Father.  Instead, he responded using words from our text as he answered: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
            Where Israel was an unfaithful son, Jesus the incarnate Son of God was faithful all the way to the cross.  He was faithful to the Father’s will as he took our sins upon himself – every way that we fail to give thanks and acknowledge God as the source of our blessings; every way that we treat the blessings as false gods.  He took our sins and received the judgment of God that we deserved. By his suffering and death he redeemed us – he freed us from sin and the devil. 
            And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In Jesus the resurrection of the Last Day has begun.  In Jesus the new creation has begun.  And through the work of the Spirit in Holy Baptism we are now a new creation in Christ.
            Christ’s Spirit leads us now to see God as the source of every blessing.  He moves us to give thanks to God who so richly supports us in this bodily life.  He aids us in the struggle to fear, love and trust in God above every blessing that God gives.  For when we give thanks to God; when we see God has our greatest good, then we can receive God’s gifts as true blessings.
            And Christ uses the blessings of creation to give us the spiritual blessing that we need.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  Just as our Lord gave thanks when he instituted the Sacrament, so also we give thanks for the forgiveness he now delivers through his body and blood that we eat and drink.  Here we are forgiven for failing to be thankful.  Here we are forgiven for putting God’s blessings before God. And here Christ nourishes the new man in us so that we can be thankful to the God we fear, love and trust in him above every blessing.
            As we celebrate Thanksgiving our text reminds us about the many blessings that, like Israel in the promised land, God has given to us.  We have received these by Gods’ grace.  Yet there is always the temptation to take them for granted, or to place them before God.  We give thanks that in his Son Jesus Christ, God has acted to forgive us for these failures.  We give thanks that in the holy food of the Sacrament of the Altar we receive forgiveness, and are strengthened in faith to receive God’s blessings with thanksgiving.



Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year - Mt 25:1-13

                                                                                                Last Sunday
                                                                                                Mt 25:1-13

            Amy and I were both raised by our parents to be punctual.  We were taught that you need to be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there.  This is the way our families functioned growing up, and we do our best to make sure that we now do the same.  Naturally, unexpected circumstances can arise that throw plans off, but generally speaking you can count on the Surburg family to be there when we are supposed to be there.
            Most likely, you are the same too.  It’s a matter of good manners and common courtesy to be on time for events.  We recognize that we shouldn’t make people wait for us, and that it doesn’t look good when you walk into something late.
            However … we all know that individual or family that doesn’t work this way. For the sake of illustration, we will call them the “Smith family.”  Everyone knows that the Smith family never gets anywhere on time.  Given a time to be at a certain place, it is very likely that they will arrive thirty minutes after that.  In fact, when making plans, if we really need them there on time, we know it is probably necessary to tell the Smith family to be there thirty minutes earlier than the actual start time.  We know that there is time as everyone else uses it when something starts, and then there is “Smith time.”
            In the parable that Jesus tells this morning, the bridegroom is not on time either.  In fact, he is greatly delayed and ten virgins are forced to wait for him.   But in the waiting, five are wise and five are foolish.  Five are prepared and five are not.  Our Lord teaches us that while from our perspective his return seems to be delayed, we need to be wise by being prepared.
            Our text takes place during Holy Week as Jesus was approaching his Passion.  His disciples had been pointing out to Jesus the buildings of the temple.  They were indeed a sight to see.  When the Judahites returned from exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. they were allowed to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed. They didn’t have the resources to build anything that matched the grandeur of the first temple that King Solomon had built.
            However during his reign, King Herod the Great had undertaken a massive rebuilding project.  This had transformed the temple into one of the wonders of the ancient world.  It was stunning. However, in response to the disciples Jesus said, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
            Needless to say, this is not what the disciples expected.  And talk about the destruction of the temple called to mind God’ end time action.  So when he had passed through the valley and was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
            When it came to the latter subject, our Lord Jesus was absolutely clear that no one knows the day of his return.  He said, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”  And then he used the example of a thief to illustrate this as he added:  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
            Jesus begins our text by saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”
            The virgins were to await the arrival of the bridegroom and then accompany him into the wedding banquet.  However, we learn that the bridegroom’s arrival was delayed late into the night, and all of the virgins fell asleep.
            From our perspective, it certainly seems like Jesus’ return is long overdue.  In fact it seems to be so delayed that we cease to expect it – or at least it ceases to have any real role in the way we think and act as Christians.  But this is very error that our Lord warns us against this morning.
            Jesus begins the parable in our text by saying, “the kingdom of heaven will be like.”  He is describing the consummation of the reign of God, for this reign has already arrived in Jesus and is still present with us now. 
            Jesus himself was the presence of the reign of God.  As spoke during Holy Week, he was about to carry out his work to defeat Satan, sin and death.  On Good Friday he offered himself on the cross, as he fulfilled the Father’s will and received God’s judgment against our sin.  The cost of this atonement was his suffering and death. 
            But on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus as the true Messiah who brings God’s reign that frees us from sin and death. Forty days later he ascended into heaven as he was exalted at the right hand of God.
            Though we no longer see him as the first disciples did, this does not mean that his reign is absent.  Instead, through the Means of Grace the Lord continues to give us forgiveness and sustain us in faith.  In the proclamation of his word; in baptism; in absolution, and in the Sacrament of the Altar the reign of God is present in our midst now.  As Jesus promised, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
            But while God’s reign is present with us now in this way, it has also not yet fully arrived.  We await the consummation when our Lord returns in glory.  Certanly, it’s not here yet. Whether we are awaiting and expecting it - whether we are ready and prepared is the question that confronts us this morning.
            The virgins had fallen asleep.  However we learn: “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”  All of the virgins trimmed their lamps, however the foolish ones who had not brought extra oil realized that they did not have enough.  They asked the wise virgins to share, but the wise ones pointed out that there wouldn’t be enough for all of them.  Instead, the foolish virgins needed to go to the dealers and by more for themselves.
            While they were gone buying more, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Later, the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” And Jesus concluded by saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
            The contrast in our text this morning is between the wise and the foolish.  The wise were prepared.  They had the extra oil they needed. The foolish were not prepared. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had contrasted the wise and the foolish. He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
            To be wise, to be prepared is to be putting Jesus word’s into practice. It is to be living the faith as one who has received the reign of God in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.  Just before our text Jesus says, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” The faithful and wise servant – the one who is ready for Jesus’ return – is the one who is doing what our Lord had told us to do.
            This same emphasis on faithfully doing what our Lord has given us to do is found in the parable of the talents that follows our text.  There the servants given five and two talents, who have used it to gain more are told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”
            We learn from our text this morning that to be ready for Jesus return is to be doing the things Jesus has told us to do.  It is to live the life of faith which receives and cling to the gifts Christ has given us such as Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  It is a life that is fed by the Means of Grace through which Jesus forgives sins and strengthens faith.
            It is also to be living our Lord’s words – putting them into action. As Jesus said, “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.”  It is to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.  It is to resist lust and all the temptations that incite it.  It is to engage in a life of prayer.  It is to trust in God to provide for us, and to serve God not money.  It is to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us.
            This life is ready for our Lord’s return.  And the fact that we know our Lord will return – even if we don’t know when – prompts us to live in these ways.  Our text warns us against the attitude that we can just go along doing things as we want and everything will be fine.  We don’t get to live the Christian life on our terms.  To live in such a way is to be like the foolish virgins who were unprepared. We should not forget the words of our text: “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
            Instead, we listen to our Lord as he says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  To watch and be ready is not to stand out on some hill looking toward the east.  Instead it is to live the life of faith as our Lord has defined it.  It is to receive his Means of Gracie by which he gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in faith.  It is to be striving daily to put his teaching into practice as we live our lives. We do so, because we know what our Lord Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection.  We do so, because we know that our Lord will return in glory and we want him to find us wise and ready, living as his disciples.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary

Today we remember and give thanks for Elizabeth of Hungary.  Born in Pressburg, Hungary, in 1207, Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II and his wife Gertrude. Given as a bride in an arranged political marriage, Elizabeth became the wife of Louis of Thuringia in Germany at the age of 14. She had a spirit of Christian generosity and charity, and the home she established for her husband and three children in the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach was known for its hospitality and family love. Elizabeth often supervised the care of the sick and needy and even gave up her bed to a leper at one time. Widowed at the age of 20, she made provisions for her children and entered into an austere life as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Her self-denial led to failing health and an early death in 1231 at the age of 24. Remembered for her self-sacrificing ways, Elizabeth is commemorated through the many hospitals named for her around the world.

Collect of the Day:
Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary.  She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the thorned one her Savior donned for her sake and ours, that we, too, might live a life of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity - Mic 6:6-8

                                                                                                Trinity 22
                                                                                                Mic. 6:6-8

            What do Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller all have in common?  These NBA basketball players were all stars during the 1990’s. They all played on successful teams.  However, none of them won a championship, and this was largely because of one man: Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships during the 1990’s.  His greatness eclipsed them all, and left them to remembered as really good players who never won a championship ring.
            The prophet Micah is rather like these basketball players.  Micah lived and wrote in the eighth century B.C.  He is unique in that he addressed both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  His book contains great stuff that addresses the conditions of people in his own day in very practical terms.  His prophecy is only seven chapters long, yet this includes two dramatic sections about the Messiah and God’s reign.  Micah can be described as the minor prophet who majors in Messianic prophecies.
            However, Micah worked and wrote at the same time as Isaiah, the Michael Jordan of the prophets.  Micah’s seven chapters are overshadowed by the sixty six chapters of Isaiah.  And of course, it is not just the volume of material that makes Isaiah stand head and shoulders above everyone else.  There is a reason that Isaiah has been called “the fifth evangelist.”
            Micah may be overshadowed by Isaiah, but this morning we have the opportunity to listen to the prophet.  He speaks to us with words that remind us about how the salvation of God received in Christ produces lives that share his love.
            Micah wrote a time when the rich and powerful were oppressing the poor in the land.  He said, “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.”   They cheated and lied, and Yahweh condemned them through Micah as he said, “Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? 
Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.”
            The people did not want to hear the condemnation of the law.  Micah tells us of their response: “’Do not preach’--thus they preach—‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’” And this disease went all the way to the top.  Micah declares: “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, ‘Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.’”
            These basic problems are not foreign to us.  We know the strong pull of money and wealth.  We want a bigger house, a better car, more toys and gadgets, and more travel.  We look around and see others who have all of these things and we covet what they have. Why can’t my life be like that?  We view money and wealth as the way to have security and peace.
            And much like ancient Judah, we want to view God as our “get out of hell free card.”  We want him as the guarantee against the big problem, but really don’t want him taking up time in our daily life. We want our devotional life – if there is one – to take the minimal amount of time necessary.  We are too busy during the week to read and study Scripture on our own.  We certainly aren’t going to come to Bible class, because we are already giving God an hour on Sunday morning at church.
            In our text this morning, Yahweh is responding to this situation among his people.  He has raised an indictment against them that is grounded in the covenant as he says through Micah: “Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel. ‘O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.’”
            How were the people to respond to this? We hear in our text: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
            Yahweh’s response was very simple.  On the surface it seems to ignore the sacrifices that he had given to Israel. But this was only because sacrifices were never meant to be done apart from true faith in Yahweh – a faith that guided the life of the individual.  And so Micah answer, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” To do justice, and love kindness and to walk humbly with God was to live in the covenant Yahweh had made with this people.
            Our text is framed within setting of the first covenant – the covenant God made with Israel at Mt Sinai. But Micah’s prophecy points to fulfillment that this covenant would have in Yahweh’s end time action – an action that would draw in all peoples.   In chapter four he wrote: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’”
            Micah speaks of a time of peace that Yahweh will bring as he writes, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
            How was this going to happen?  Yahweh was going to fulfill his promise to David – the promise of the Messiah who would rule and bring peace. And so in chapter five we hear words that make us think of Christmas: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  Yahweh promised about the Messiah born in Bethlehem, “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”
            Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem.  He is our peace because he was faithful to the Father’s will as he made his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die on the cross.  He died as the atonement for your sins.  He died to redeem you from sin – to free you from the condemnation it held for you.  And then on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated his Servant as the Messiah who now reigns at God’s right hand.
            Through Holy Baptism God has washed your sins away and caused you to be born again.  The Spirit has worked faith in Christ, and made you a new creation.  You are now included in the new covenant established by Jesus – a fact demonstrated every time you receive the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
            You are part of the new covenant – the covenant of the end times.  But God’s will has not changed, and so what it means to live in this covenant is not different from what it was in the first covenant.  Micah says in our text, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
            Because of faith in Jesus Christ you now seek to do justice.  You are guided by our Lord’s words to do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.  You act in fairness towards others, and work to see that they are treated fairly.
            Because of the kindness you have received from Christ, you now act kindly towards others.  You seek to support and encourage those around you.  The love of Christ moves you to help and assist others.
            And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, you walk humbly with your God. We see the ongoing struggle against sin and the ways we fail.  In humility we confess these before God. But in confidence we also return to our baptism for there we have shared in Jesus’ saving work for us, and have God’s promise of forgiveness.  More than that, when we turn in faith to God’s gift of baptism it is the means by which the Spirit renews and strengthens us so that new man can go forth to live in ways that are true to God’s will.
        We do this while living in the living hope that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ has given to us.  For the Lord, the Messiah, will return in glory on the Last Day.  And he will bring the final and complete peace of which Micah speaks.  On the day of judgment he will destroy all who do evil.  He will raise his saints to live in the new creation where swords will have been beaten into plowshares and nation will never against not lift up sword against nation.  Instead the people of God – the Church – will live forever with our Lord as eternally we do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.




Saturday, November 16, 2019

Funeral sermon for Herb Rowold - 1 Cor 15:50-57

                                                                                    Herb Rowold funeral
                                                                                    1 Cor 15:50-57

            The last time I spoke to Herb Rowold was at the elders’ meeting on Tuesday last week.  He was seated at his usual place, at the end of the conference table – the same place he sat every time during the thirteen years that I have been pastor here at Good Shepherd. 
            The possibility that I would never speak to him again didn’t even cross my mind that night.  On Sunday last week at church he had just described to my wife Amy how thankful he was that he was not having any real side effects from the treatment he was receiving.  Given what he had been through, I thought he looked quite good, and all of the conversation was looking forward towards his ongoing treatment.
            As it turned out, in the last week of his life, Herb attended the Divine Service at Good Shepherd on Sunday and the elders’ meeting on Tuesday.  There could not have been a more appropriate way for Herb to spend his last week, because Jesus Christ and his saving work through the Means of Grace in the midst of this Lutheran congregation was the center his life.
            Herb became a child of God as he received Holy Baptism at St. John’s Lutheran in Red Bud.  Raised in the faith at St. John’s, he learned the teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church from the Small Catechism, and the confession that he made on the day of his Confirmation was the confession that he continued to live his entire life.
            His career with Kroger brought him to the Marion area in the early 1980’s, and he became involved with the effort to establish a Lutheran congregation here.  You won’t find Herb’s name on the plaque that lists the charter members of Good Shepherd, but that is only because his transfer from St. John’s did not arrive in time.  Herb was here from the beginning.
            And now we are here because for Herb, the end has arrived.  From our point of view, it makes no sense.  Herb was too young to die. There was still so much living to be done.  Having enjoyed sports in the lives of Matthew, Katheryn and Michelle, there were six grandchildren to watch as they grew up.  The dear friendship with Julia had set the stage for even more blessings. We ask why the Lord saw fit to take Herb to himself, when there was still so much living to be done.
            However, there is no doubt about why he died. And I’m not talking about multiple myeloma, or kidney or heart problems.  Herb died because he was a sinner. Paul told the Romans that “the wages of sin is death.” Like you and I, Herb was conceived and born as a fallen descendant of Adam. He sinned in thought, word and deed. He didn’t fear, love and trust in God above all things.  He did not love his neighbor as himself.
            I am not speaking out of turn when I say this. Herb himself confessed this publically every Sunday at the beginning of the Divine Service.  He confessed his sin, but he did so as he asked for forgiveness – the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ.
            In our text from 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul is addressing yet another problem that had arisen in the congregation at Corinth.  Some in their midst were denying the resurrection of body.  They seemed to think that they had it made spiritually – they had it all and certainly did not need a resurrection of the body.
            Paul’s response was to take them back to the Gospel he had delivered to them – the same one that had been delivered to him.  He wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
            Paul wants us to know that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”  In saying that Christ “died for our sins,” Paul quotes the teaching of the apostolic Church.  The Church confessed that Jesus Christ was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53. He was the One about whom Isaiah had written: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
            God the Father laid Herb’s sin upon Jesus as he hung on the cross.  He laid your sin upon him.  Jesus Christ bore the sin of all and received God’s judgment against sin as he suffered and died. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
            Jesus died and was buried.  But on the third day - on Easter - God raised him from the dead. As Paul says in this chapter, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
            Through his sin, Adam brought sin and death. This is why Herb died.  Unless Jesus returns first, that is why you and I will die.  But Jesus Christ was the second Adam who came to undo all that Adam had done.  By his death on the cross he received the judgment against sin. And then in his resurrection he defeated death.
            This is the victory in which Herb and all the saints share.  However, notice that Paul adds, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”  Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection.  It is a resurrection that Herb and all Christians will receive on the Last Day when Christ returns in glory.
            We know that Herb will share in Christ’s resurrection because he was baptized.  In Romans chapter 6 Paul says, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
            Through baptism Herb shared in Jesus’ saving death.  His sins were forgiven.  His sins were washed away and he became a saint.  For this reason we know that he is with the Lord now.  He is with Christ and no longer faces the struggle against sin and illness. 
            After this service we will take Herb’s body back to Red Bud, IL and bury him there.  In our text Paul says, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  Jesus Chris is the first fruits of the resurrection.  Flesh and blood – fallen, perishable bodies – cannot inherit the eternal kingdom of God.
            What Herb needs – what we need – is what Jesus Christ already possesses. Paul told the Philippians, “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.”
            We need the change that the Lord Jesus will bring about when he returns in glory.  Paul says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
            We will bury Herb’s body. But Christ is not done with it.  We know this because Jesus rose from the dead.  We know this because Herb was baptized into Jesus’ death. The Lord Jesus will change it to be imperishable and immortal.
            Paul goes on to say, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            The victory already is Herb’s now.  He is a saint with the Lord – a forgiven sinner because of Jesus’ death and resurrection – and nothing can change that.  But the final victory is also not yet his.  That is why we will make the trip to a cemetery.  However, because Herb was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, there is no doubt about what will happen to Herb – about what will happen to us. The risen and exalted Lord will return in glory on the Last Day and raise up Herb’s body.  He will transform it to be like his own, and Herb and all the saints will live with Christ in the new creation. And so we say with Paul, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”