Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Sermon for first mid-week Advent service - Gen 18:1-15


Mid-Advent 1

                                                                                      Gen 18:1-15



          How long do you wait, before you give up hope? How long do you wait until you decide it is just impossible?  As I have mentioned in the past my Grandpa Surburg was born in 1909 on the northside of Chicago.  As a boy he lived within a long walk from Wrigley Field – though the Cubs didn’t actually start playing there until he was seven years old.

          The Cubs had won back to back World Series titles in 1907 and 1908 just before he was born.  But then, during his lifetime as a Cubs fan they lost in the World Series in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1937, and 1945.  When he died in 2001, the Cubs had never even made it back to the World Series since the end of World War II.  He saw the famous collapse of 1969, and the 1984 team blow a two games to nothing lead in a best of five series.

          Grandpa Surburg continued to root for the Cubs and watched the games faithfully his entire life.  I don’t know if he actually still believed that he would see them win the World Series at the end of his life.  How could he when all he had experienced in them was failure?

          I mention this because in our text tonight we consider God’s promise that led to the fulfillment of the birth of the Savior - Jesus Christ – at Christmas.  Matthew begins his Gospel by writing: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  He points us to two key figures – David and Abraham – who were used by God to carry out his plan of salvation. 

          Tonight, we focus on Abraham.  God called Abraham – then known as Abram - when he as seventy-five years old.  He told Abraham to leave his country, and family and go to a land that he would show him.  God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. Then he added, “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 he would work through Abraham and his family to bless all people.  We learn from the Scriptures that this descendant of Abraham would be the One who would defeat sin and death that had entered into the world through Adam.

          Abraham was seventy-five when God called him, and Sarah his wife was sixty-five. These are not ages when you expect a couple to have children. Time passed and in chapter fifteen, after some difficult circumstances Yahweh said, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  Abraham responded by pointing out the obvious fact: “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

          Yahweh promised Abraham that his very own son would be his heir. Then he took Abraham outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” God promised Abraham that despite how things looked he would give Abraham not just one son, but a multitude of descendants. Then we learn, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed God’s promise. And because Abraham received God’s Word in faith, God counted him as righteous – he considered him to have a righteous standing before God.

          The apostle Paul holds up Abraham as the example of faith and the fact that our salvation depends on God’s grace and promise, and not on our doing.  He told the Romans, “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

          We believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation.  We also trust and believe in him as we face the circumstances of life. Yet sometimes doubt challenges faith and we waiver. We struggle to believe that God really is in charge.  We are not alone. Scripture is very clear in telling us that Abraham and Sarah stumbled in this way too. 

In Genesis sixteen we learn that ten years after God’s call of Abraham, the couple still had no child. So Sarah proposed that Abraham should take Hagar her servant, and have a child with her.  Abraham listened to Sarah, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Neither Sarah nor Abraham trusted in God, and the result was tension and strife in their family.

In our text from Genesis eighteen we hear about how Sarah laughed when she heard the Lord say that in a year she would have a son.  But what we need to recognize is that in the prior chapter, Abraham had done the exact same thing.  We learn that when Abraham was ninety-nine years old Yahweh said to Abraham, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.”

Then God added, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” And what was Abraham’s reaction?  We are told, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”  Yet God responded by saying, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” God declared his promise again.  He even told Abraham what he would name the son.

In our text we learn about how Yahweh visited Abraham, along with two angels.  Abraham and Sarah hastened to provide the hospitality that was so important in that culture. Then, as Sarah listened from inside the tent at the door, Yahweh said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” In our text, Genesis explicitly states what we have known to be the problem all along as it says, Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.

Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. Sarah had gone through menopause and so there was no way this was possible. And so Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” But Yahweh said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah attempted to deny it, but God told her, “No, but you did laugh.”

Yahweh promises yet again that Sarah will have a son.  This time he provides the exact timing – it will happen within a year.  Some twenty five years after his initial promise, God tells Abraham when it will happen.  God has waited until the time when the event seemed completely impossible. But this is the God who created the world.  He created it from nothing merely by speaking his word.  As he says, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

The answer is that there is nothing too hard for him.  When St. Paul described the One in whom Abraham believed he described God as the One “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  God called Isaac into existence. We learn in chapter twenty one, “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.”

During this season of Advent, we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – the Savior and Son of God.  As we reflect tonight upon the first great step towards Jesus, we learn three things.  First, God’s salvation is a matter of his grace and promise.  God called Abraham and made the promise that in him and his offspring all nations would be blessed purely out of grace. There was nothing about Abraham that deserved this. There was nothing about Abraham and Sarah that even suggested it was possible.  Instead, it was based purely on God’s promise, for God’s grace and promise go hand in hand. 

Second, we learn that God does things according to his timing.  Twenty-five years passed between God’s promise and fulfilment.  This time provided opportunity to doubt God.  But God’s timing is always right, just as it was true of the incarnation of Jesus Christ himself, for Paul tells us that “in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son.”

Finally, we see that the life of God’s people is one of faith – faith in God’s Word; faith in God’s promise.  Abraham believed God’s promise and it was counted to him as righteousness.  We now believe in the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.  We believe in the baby born in Bethlehem who grew up to be the man who died on the cross. Just like it seemed impossible that Sarah could have a Son, on Good Friday it seemed impossible that Jesus could be the Christ – the Savior. 

But nothing is too hard for the Lord when it comes to his promise and saving work. The One who worked the miracle of giving life in the dead womb of Sarah, worked the even greater miracle of giving life to the dead body of Jesus in the tomb.  He raised Jesus from the dead on Easter and vindicated him as the One who has won forgiveness for us and resurrection life. We live by faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord, and in God’s timing, we will share in his resurrection on the Last Day. 


Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

 Today is the Feast of St. Andrew, ApostleSt. Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter and was from the Galilean village of Bethsaida.  Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist.  After John called Jesus “the Lamb of God,” Andrew became a follower of Jesus and also brought his brother to Jesus (John 1:35-42).  Andrew and Peter were then called by Jesus to be disciples while they were engaged in their work of being fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20).  Andrew became one of the twelve apostles chosen by Christ (Matthew 10:1-4).  According to Church tradition, Andrew was martyred when he was crucified on a cross in the form of an X.  St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the Western Church Year, since the First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St Andrew.

Scripture reading:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter) (John 1:35-42).


Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple.  Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 969; Concordia Publishing House)



Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve - Phil 4:6-20


Thanksgiving Eve

                                                                                       Phil 4:6-20



          When I hear the word “prison,” the word “thanksgiving” is not the first thing that comes mind. Nobody wants to be in prison. No one wants their freedom to be restricted.  It is not a setting in which we expect to find people giving thanks.

          And so, there is some irony in the fact that the epistle lesson for Thanksgiving is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians – a letter he wrote from prison.  In Bible class we are currently looking at the apostle’s letter to the Colossians – another letter that he wrote from prison. What we have said about Colossians is the same thing we can say about Philippians. We aren’t sure exactly where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter. 

          While the letters to the Colossians and Philippians are similar in this way, they are very different when we compare the people to whom Paul was writing.  Paul had not founded the church at Colossae, and did not know them personally.  On the other hand, he knew the Philippians very well.  He had been the one who first preached the Gospel to them as they became believers in Jesus Christ. Paul had developed a very close relationship with the Philippians. 

          We hear this in the first verses of the letter as Paul gives thanks to God for them.  He writes, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

          Paul refers to their partnership in the Gospel.  And this isn’t just rhetoric meant to ingratiate him to the congregation.  The Philippians had supported Paul with money on several occasions – in fact they had been the only congregation to do this.  Paul says in our text, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”

          Now, the Philippians had done it again. And so, Paul gives thanks to them. He writes, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”  Apparently, circumstances had not allowed the Philippians to send the support to Paul as they wanted.  However, now they had been able provide aid and so Paul says in our text:I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

          In this letter from prison, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians and their partnership in the work of the Gospel.  He gives thanks for the gift that they have sent to Paul in prison via Epaphroditus. And he also tells the Philippians that they should give thanks. He says in our text, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

          Paul tells the Philippians that they are not to be anxious and worried. Instead, they are to approach God in prayer and let their requests be made known. Yet he also says that this prayer is to include thanksgiving.  It is to include thanksgiving, because there is indeed much for which they should give thanks.

          Thanksgiving is the purpose of the holiday we are about to observe.  Yet if you pause to consider it, the manner in which we celebrate this time of thanksgiving raises some questions that are worth pondering.

          We all know what we can expect tomorrow to be like.  But what if, wherever you are going to have Thanksgiving dinner, you were told: “Well, this year we are going to have hot dogs and potato chips.”  What would your reaction be? I highly doubt that it would be one of thanksgiving.  We know what Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be: turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes and gravy, and pie.  It is one of the most sumptuous meals of the year in which we eat until we are full, and then many of us fall asleep watching football.

          If we are honest, the holiday of Thanksgiving and the traditions associated with it are almost the antithesis of what thanksgiving should be about. We “give thanks” by gorging ourselves on a meal about which we have very specific expectations. We “give thanks” by eating a meal that if it is not what we expect – how about spaghetti for Thanksgiving? – leaves us feeling disappointed and let down.

          Now I have to be honest with you.  I find Thanksgiving to be the most difficult occasion for preaching. And the reason is that every year you already know exactly what I am going to say.  I am going to tell you that we have much for which we should be thankful. This is, of course, absolutely true. We are blessed with a standard of that living that billions of people would love to have. We do not lack for food and clean drinking water. We live in a setting where we have peace and security. We have the freedom to gather to worship our Lord Jesus and receive his gifts in the Divine Service.

          Then, I am going to tell you that we are not thankful as we should be. You also know that this is true. We all take for granted these many blessings. We just assume that they are part of life, and very often we forget that God is the source of all of them. He is the One who gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, and all our possessions. He is the One who richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.

          The world around us will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow as well. It will do all the same things we do with the big expected meal.  No doubt there will be people who reflect upon all the good things they have, and they will give thanks.

          However, there is a statement in our text that distinguishes Christian thanksgiving from what the world does.  Immediately after telling the Philippians to let their requests be made known God with thanksgiving, Paul adds, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

          Paul says that peace that comes from God surpasses all understanding – it goes beyond anything we can imagine.  This peace guards our heart and minds in Christ Jesus. When Paul says “in Christ Jesus” he means the saving work of Christ into which we have been incorporated through baptism and faith.

          It is true that we fail to acknowledge God as the giver of every good gift.  We certainly fail to give thanks as we should.  In chapter two Paul had written that although Christ is God, he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

          Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God submitted himself to the shameful death of the cross in order to receive the punishment for our sin of thanklessness. Yet then, on the third day, God raised him from the dead.  Because of this we are forgiven before God.

          In the prior chapter St. Paul had described all of the reasons he had for confidence and pride as a Jew before he became a Christian. Yet he told the Philippians that now, “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-- 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.”

          Note that being found “in him” – being “in Christ” means having a righteous standing before God. It means that we look forward to sharing in the resurrection of the dead.  Here we find both forgiveness for thanklessness, and the ultimate reason to give thanks!  Our thanksgiving includes earthly blessings of this life, but it goes so far beyond that. Because of Jesus Christ it includes forgiveness, eternal life, and resurrection.

What is more, Paul says that when life is lived in Christ, we have the means by which we are content in all circumstances. And this contentment certainly includes thankfulness.  Paul writes in our text, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

Then Paul adds, “I am able with respect to all things through him who strengthens me.” Though this is commonly translated as “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” this translation misses the point that the “things” to which Paul refers are the things he has just mentioned: being brought low and abounding; facing plenty and hunger; facing abundance and need. Paul means that he is able handle these things – both the good and the bad – through God who strengthens him as he is in Christ.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, the apostle Paul teaches us that the most important truth of our life is that we are in Christ. Through baptism and faith we have been joined to the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.  For this we give thanks. When this is the focus of our life, we are enabled by the Spirit to recognize the blessings God has given us and to give thanks for them. And we are also able to be content in all circumstances – both the good and the bad.  As those in Christ we are able with respect to all things through him who strengthens us.


Funeral sermon for Chuck Cohoon 1 Jn 3:-12


Chuck Cohoon funeral

                                                                                      1 Jn 3:1-2



          Faith, family, and country.  If I had to choose three words to summarize Chuck Cohoon’s life, those are the obvious choices. We will, of course speak about the first of these at more length in this sermon.  But it must be noted that until Chuck’s health prevented him from attending the Divine Service, Chuck and Wanda were here at church every Sunday.  What’s more, this building itself – the nave in which his funeral service takes place – is a witness to his faith since he helped to build it, and stained the wood of the chancel area.

          Chuck and Wanda were married for forty one years.  This was a loving marriage in which they enjoyed sharing life together.  The loving nature of their marriage was exemplified by the faithful care that Wanda provided to Chuck during the last few years when he was at home.  And of course, there is the remarkable fact that Chuck lived to see six children, thirteen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.  They were a source of joy and pride for him – just take a look at those pictures that were shown during the visitation.

          And finally, service to his country was a defining feature of Chuck’s life.  Chuck served in the U.S. Navy on a fleet oiler during World War II. Then, after entering civilian life in the drawdown after the war, he re-enlisted in the Navy in a second round of the service on the fleet oiler USS Allagash.  The U.S. Navy is able to maintain a constant worldwide presence because of a sophisticated logistical support system.  The USS Allagash was part of that support as it refueled ships at sea – a challenging task that requires great skill. 

Chuck was very proud of his service on the Allagash and had a picture of her prominently displayed at home. Then, in his post-Navy career Chuck continued to serve his country as he worked for the Veterans Administration, finishing as Foreman of Maintenance and Operations in Engineering Service here in Marion.

As we gather at his funeral service this morning, we give thanks for the second and third characteristics that I have described.  But in death, only the first one really matters.  Our text this morning makes that point as it begins by saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” 

The Greek phrase “what kind of love” conveys the meaning, “how great a love.”  John is emphasizing the incredible love God has shown by making Christians to be the children of God.  He has given us the status of living in a relationship with him – a relationship of belonging to him as those who have received salvation.   And then the apostle adds the affirmation that this is in fact true of each Christian as he says, “And so we are.”

Why is this fact a demonstration of God’s great love?  Well, if you want an explanation, take a look right in front of you at the casket lying there with Chuck’s body.  Sunday after Sunday Chuck heard these words from 1 John chapter one spoken at the beginning of the Divine Service: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Chuck was a sinner, and he confessed this every time he came to the Divine Service.  Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  The flesh – sinful fallen nature – produces more flesh, more sinful fallen nature. That is why Chuck confessed that he was by nature sinful and unclean.  And then he went on to confess that he had sinned in thought, word, and deed against God and against his neighbor.

We do not begin life as children of God, because we are conceived and born as sinners.  We are sinners who then start sinning from the moment we enter the world.  And sin brings death.  Chuck died, not because he was ninety five years old.  He died because he was a sinner. Unless Christ returns first, one day you will die because you are a sinner.

And Sunday after Sunday upon hearing the statement from First John that he was a sinner, Chuck responded by speaking the next verse of the letter: “But if we confess our sins, God is who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Just after our text, John goes on to say about Jesus Christ, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”

The Son of God entered into this world as he, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he came to bear our sins – to be the sacrifice that gives us forgiveness.  This is what great love the Father has shown to us.  He loved us so much that he sent his own Son to suffer and die for our sins.  John says in the next chapter, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

He did this for Chuck, and then he called him to faith in Jesus Christ.  Fallen, sinful humans cannot become children of God by their own powers.  John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” 

The Father drew Chuck to himself as he was born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.  He gave him new life through water and the Word. And so Chuck was indeed a child of God.  He was sustained as a child of God as he received the Means of Grace.  He heard God’s Word read and preached.  He received Holy Absolution.  He received the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.

In our text, John goes on to add, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  Jesus Christ died on the cross to win forgiveness.  But he did not remain dead. Instead, his death was just one part of God’s saving action to defeat sin and death.  Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The risen Lord Jesus has defeated death.  And then, having fulfilled the Father’s will, he returned to the Father in the ascension.  He has sent forth the Spirit who takes what Jesus has done and makes it know to us; the Spirit who gives us new life; the Spirit through whom the Father draws us to the Son. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus says that all who believe in him shall never die. Chuck was a child of God during his life.  And he is still a child of God right now. Because of Christ, death has changed nothing.  He is with the Lord, and for that we give thanks.

Death is always the enemy – the intruder brought by sin into this world that will not finally be defeated until Christ returns.  But in Chuck’s case I was praying each day that the Lord would take him. His long, slow decline – “the withering away” he experienced – is something I have never seen before.  We are thankful that in his time, the Lord has brought this to an end and has taken Chuck to be with himself.  We are thankful that the vocation – the calling - that Wanda so faithfully and lovingly carried out as spouse for so long has come to end. It was an act of love she gladly did, but it was also a heavy burden for her.

Yet at the same time our text encourages us with the knowledge that the best is yet to come.  The Chuck we saw at the end is not what he will yet be. The Chuck on the best day during his life is not what he will yet be.  Instead, the risen Lord Jesus is the model and pattern for what we will be. Jesus promised, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus Christ will return in glory on the Last Day.  John says in our text “what we will be has not yet appeared.” We don’t know yet what the resurrection life will be like for Chuck and for those who believe in Christ. We don’t know because we can’t yet understand fully what the risen Lord Jesus is like.  But John tells us, “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  In Revelation Jesus is described as “the firstborn of the dead.”  Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection.  His resurrection is what we will be as our bodies – our flesh – are transformed so that they can never die again.  It is what we will be when there is no sin and no death – when all is very good once again as we live in the renewed creation.

Chuck Cohoon was a child of God because Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins, and rose from the dead.  He was a child of God because the Spirit of God gave him new life as he was born again in Holy Baptism.  He was a child of God because the Spirit of Christ sustained him until the end through his Means of Grace.

Because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, even in death, Chuck is still a child of God.  We don’t know yet exactly what Chuck or any Christian is going to be like when Jesus Christ returns.  But we know that we will be like Christ the risen Lord, because we shall see him as he is.


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Last Sunday of the Church Year - 1 Thess 5:1-11


Last Sunday

                                                                                      1 Thess 5:1-11



          On Sunday morning I am the first person up at the Surburg house as I get ready for the 8:00 a.m. service.  My normal routine is the same each Sunday.  I shower and get dressed, and of course the great thing is that I don’t have to think about what I am going to wear to church.  Then I go downstairs and let let the dogs out before eating breakfast.  After that I go down to the basement and practice my sermon before heading over to church. 

However, about a month ago I let the dogs out, and as I looked out the door I saw something that was not normal. The large tree in front of our house had been toilet papered.  And this had been a very thorough job.

Now I am probably starting to show my age, I because I find this venerable prank to be incredibly annoying.  It makes a huge mess that has to be cleaned up. And often, you can’t get all of it down.  There are still pieces of toilet paper hanging from our tree.

I learned later that this was not a random event, but rather part of recurring competition between a group of high school boys and girls. The girls had been toilet papered, and they were responding in turn.  Since then, they have moved on to more creative actions.  I laughed out loud recently when on Sunday morning I saw that Matthew’s car had been wrapped in plastic like a Christmas gift with accompanying writing on the windows.

None of these things were done during the day. Instead, they were done at night, in the very early hours of the morning after everyone had gone to bed.  Of course, that’s when people usually do things when they want an action to be unexpected. They do it under the cover of darkness when people are asleep.

In the epistle lesson today, St. Paul uses this theme to talk about the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day.  He says that for those who are not prepared – those who are in the dark – it will be surprising and destructive event.  However, he encourages us with the knowledge that we are not in the dark. And so he reminds us to live in ways that are prepared for our Lord’s return.

Just before our text, the apostle has addressed a concern that had arisen among the Thessalonians.  Paul had preached the Gospel to them on his second missionary journey. They had been called to faith in Christ by the Spirit.  However, as time passed some of the believers had died before the return of Jesus. What did this mean for them? Would they miss out on God’s final salvation?

Paul had replied by saying, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”  He assured them: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Jesus Christ’s return will be a dramatic event in which the dead will be raised and the living believers will be transformed. Paul assured the Thessalonians about all believers: “so we will always be with the Lord.”

That’s what will happen. In our text St. Paul takes up the matter of when it will happen. He says, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” The Thessalonians knew that Christ’s return would be sudden.  Paul describes the event using language that goes back to Jesus himself.  The thief comes in the darkness at night when nobody is ready – nobody is looking for him. So also, Jesus’ return will occur abruptly and without prior notice.

However, Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that while Christ’s return will be sudden and without notice, for us it will not be unexpected. He says, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”

          The apostle says that you are not in darkness because you know Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord.  He writes at the end of our text, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

          Paul mentions two alternatives: wrath or salvation. He has made a similar statement at the beginning of the letter when he referred to “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

          The wrath of God is not something the world wants to talk about.  But Paul certainly does.  He does because God is the holy and just God.  Sin evokes his wrath and judgment against sinners.  This is true of every sinner – including you.  On your own, you are a person who does not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Instead, you have your own idols.  They are not gold or silver statues like in the ancient world, but gold and silver, in the form of money and possessions, the trips, and the sense of security wealth provides, are certainly among them. You love yourself more than your neighbor, and this shows through in selfish actions and hurtful words.

          The wrath of God is what we deserve. It is what we should receive. Yet Paul says in our text that Jesus Christ died for us. Elsewhere, in Second Corinthians, the apostle explains in more depth what this means. There he says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Though sinless and holy, Christ became sin by taking ours as if they were his own.  God poured out his wrath on Jesus, and justly punished sin.  Jesus died for us on the cross to rescue us from the wrath and punishment that we deserve.

          The wrath of God brings judgment and death. It did for Christ on Good Friday.  But death that simply ended in death could not be salvation for us.  Adam had brought sin and death. Jesus suffered death for our sin in order to bring us life.  Paul wrote in First Corinthians, “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.”

          On the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead. He began the resurrection life that will be ours.  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus Christ was exalted as he ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father.  But his promise is that he will return. Our Lord said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

          On the Last Sunday of the Church year we focus on this truth.  The risen and ascended Lord will return in glory.  In our text Paul tells us that this event will be sudden and surprising. However, as Christians it will not be unexpected.  In fact quite the opposite, Paul tells us how we are to live because we expect it.

          Paul writes in our text, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” Those around us who do not believe in Jesus Christ are in the dark. The devil is their lord, and they don’t even realize it. That’s exactly how he wants it to be.

But because the Holy Spirit has called us to faith in Christ, we have been born again.  We are children of the light, children of the day.  We know that the devil, sin, and death are darkness, and that we have been freed from them.  We know Jesus Christ the risen and ascended One is our Lord. We know God’s love and what he has done in Christ to save us. We live in this light because for us the day forgiveness and life has dawned.

This makes all the difference. Paul says that those who are in the dark – those who in the night of the devil’s power – sleep and get drunk. These are metaphors for the life of sin.  Those who say there is no truth – not even the truth that a man is man, and a woman is a woman; those who use sex outside of marriage; those who engage in homosexuality; those who kill the unborn are all sleep walking. They are in a drunken stupor.  Paul says that they will receive destruction when Christ returns if they do not repent

However, we who know Christ are different. Paul says in our text, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”  To keep awake and be sober is to be ready for Christ’s return.  The apostle explains this further when he adds, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Paul says that we are to be sober – a word that means well balanced or self-controlled. He describes how this is done by using the metaphor of armor. The apostle refers to the breastplate of faith.  To be ready for Christ’s return we need to place faith in Jesus Christ at the center of all that we are. Faith in Jesus as our Lord who died and rose from the dead to give us forgiveness and to defeat death must be the focus that runs throughout our life.

In order for this to be the case, this faith must continue to be nourished by receiving the Means of Grace.  We need to return to our baptism through which we have shared in Christ’s saving death and have the guarantee of sharing in his resurrection on the Last Day. We need to hear and read God’s Word. We need to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar since this is food for the new man.  We keep ourselves ready for the Last Day by receiving the gifts that deliver forgiveness and sustain faith.

          Not surprisingly, Paul places love right next to faith as he speaks of the “breastplate of faith and love.”  Faith acts in love, and this is life that is lived in the light; lived in the day.  Just after our text the apostles writes, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”  Because we have received God’s love in Christ, we seek to live lives that act in love towards others.

Finally, Paul mentions “for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  This hope of salvation is not a mere wish.  It is instead the confident assurance of what will be ours because of what Jesus Christ has already done. For Paul, salvation usually refers to the final outcome of the Last Day, but in his statement at the end of our text he leaves no doubt that it includes those who have died.  He says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

We are children of the day; we are children of the light because the Spirit has called us to faith in Jesus Christ.  We are therefore people who live each day by faith in Christ our Lord.  We are people who act in love, because of the love God has given to us in his Son Jesus. We live with the hope of salvation as we pray “Come Lord Jesus!” and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.