Victory

In 1991 the MN Twins won their second World Series title. I was 13 years old at the time, and I remember the victory parade in Minneapolis. The players all rode to the Metrodome to celebrate their victory over the Atlanta Braves. Crowds of people lines the streets, waving homer hankies in celebration of the championship.

In Revelation 7 St. John is given a vision of a great multitude of people, coming from every corner of humanity. These people have come together to celebrate a great victory. The Lamb of God, the only begotten Son of the Most High God, Jesus was victorious in His battle against the old evil foe. Waving palm branches of victory, this crowd of white robed people gives voice to the song of victory. Jesus, who was slain, has defeated once and for all the great enemy, the devil. Jesus’ death spelled the doom of the tempter, and brought freedom to souls held captive by sin and death.

This victory of Jesus is the focus for All Saints Day. With joy, mixed with the sorrow of loss, we remember those saints who have died in the faith, and now rest from their labors. The hope we have is born of the victory Jesus won when He took our death into His body, suffered pain and torment on the cross, died and was buried. On the third day He rose again in triumph over all His enemies.

God saves a humble people, but the haughty, He casts away. God is a friend to those who know, because of their sin, they have no hope – nothing to offer in and of themselves to God that He would accept them save Christ Jesus alone. Yet – to those who forsake God and His Word, who see no need for a Savior, who think that they are good in and of themselves the Lord will reject. The humble are those who hope in the Lord, the God who shed His own blood that He would be to us a blessing.

It is in this, the hope of Jesus resurrection that we gather as a church to give thanks to God for the faithful who have died in the Lord, and ask our blessed Savior to keep us steadfast in this Word, faith and victory, until we join with all the white robbed saints around the throne of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end.

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The Gospel will be heard

Recently, the state of California issues a lawsuit against an organization called The Little Sisters of the Poor. This is a group of Roman Catholic nuns who have dedicated their lives to the care of poor people who cannot afford end of life care. These women were recently in the news after the federal government sued them, saying that they needed to pay for abortion inducing drugs through their health insurance plan. The U.S. Supreme court rules in favor of the Little Sisters. Now, the state of California is suing them, arguing that in California, this organization, serving the poor at the end of life, needs to include these abortion causing drugs in their health insurance plans.

What this represents is an increase of persecution on the Christian church in North America. More and more, we who confess the Gospel of forgiveness and life in the Name of Jesus are being pushed to the fringes of our society. Religious rights are under siege as Christians are being forced to go against conscience. Even the speech of those who profess Jesus and Him crucified for the salvation of sinners is under attack.

In light of this, it would be easy for us to fear. Our way of life as citizens of the United States is threatened. To be a faithful follower of Jesus will require courage.

Actually, it always did. It always required courage to stand by faith in Jesus, and confess His Word, His saving name.

The good news is, God will always have His Gospel heard. No matter the challenges that the church faces as we live in this world that has fallen to sin and death, you can be sure of this. Jesus will always provide for His Word to be proclaimed. It may not take the forms we are used to. It may be forced underground, like it is in North Korea, or China, or Iran. Even so, God will preserve His church and His Word. The message of hope in the cross and resurrection of Jesus will always be heard.

This week we celebrate the reformation. This event, form 501 years ago reminds us that with God, all things are possible, that Jesus will preserve His Word to us, and will call His people to salvation by the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name.

Seeking Signs

The demand for signs, for proof of the existence of God, or proof that God loves you never has an end. Such is the nature of our brokenness, that we humans are in constant need of reassurance. This is seen in young love. One or both halves of a young couple will play games, to assure themselves that the person they love, will love them back. A wife will ask her husband if he thinks she is beautiful. A husband will seek reassurance from his wife that she will stay by his side.

Eventually, the seeking of signs becomes more then needed reassurance as to the reality of God, and His love in Jesus for sinners. It becomes an excuse to follow the unbelieving heart in spite of the evidence. It dictates the relationship to God, as though the creature can tell the creator how things will be.

This is certainly the case for our Lord Jesus. As He lived here among sinners, the people who had the hardest time believing that He is the Christ, the Savior were the most religious. They heard of Jesus’ acts of healing, and His authority over demons. Many even witnessed His miraculous signs, pointing to the truth that Jesus is God in human flesh, come to save by the forgiveness of sins. Still – many did not believe. Many demanded more and more signs in an effort to validate the religion of their own hearts – the worship of the self. In the face of proof after proof, they still did not believe. This is why our Lord responds as He does to a man seeking help for his dying son. (John 4)

To the one willing to truly see, evidence of the God’s existence is all around. The very creation calls out that there is a God. The beauty and complexity of the created order is such, that it is impossible to believe it all happened randomly, by chance. Yet, the most religious among us do. They see the truth that a creator made all things, yet, in order to justify their desire to worship themselves, they persist in asking for yet another sign. It is a delusion.

The Bible is clear. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” The father of the sick child, when he hears Jesus’ Word, believes. So it is for all people. God’s Word of truth, forgiveness and life in Jesus calls us to faith, that we may receive comfort and hope from the hand of our Savior.

Faith leading to Love

Faith in the saving Work of Jesus, the reality that by His death and resurrection we are forgiven, cleansed, made holy always leads to action.

In fact, all creeds, be they Christian, or another religion, including secular religion always leads to action. Human beings, you included tend to live and act according to what you believe. This in part is why Jesus teaches that we cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6) The faith you hold in your heart – that which you look to as God serves as motivation for how you live your life. This is why some are willing to strap bombs to themselves in the name of their god. This is why some are willing to make death threats, and send graphic images of murder to politicians who hold views different from their own. Faith leads to action.

Faith in Jesus always leads to acts of love. For the baptized people of God, we who abide in the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord, we have received great mercy and grace in love. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…..” (John 3:16)

This love we have from Jesus received by faith must transform us. It changes a sinner into a saint, a thief into a productive member of society, and a wretch into a joyful, praised filled child of God.

“Look carefully then how you walk” is how St. Paul puts it in Ephesians 5. Your walk is the manner in which you live your life. For you who trust in Jesus, how you live is filled with the love you have in Jesus. Filled by the Word of Christ, you know that time here is limited, therefore live and love as though each day will be your last. Reconcile with those with whom you have been in conflict. Forgive, as you have been forgiven in Jesus. Give with a generous heart, for God has abundantly given to you all you need in this life.

The shocking truth of the Gospel is that the full goodness of God comes, not by works, not because we have in anyway deserved what our Lord Jesus gives, but only by grace. Let us live then as a people who have received all that we have, praising God with our lips, and loving our neighbor with the same love we have in Jesus.

Authority

The chief work that Jesus has given to His church here on earth is the delivery of the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation hat He won for all when He died and rose again. All that we do as the church, and as Christians is to serve the work of the Gospel. This is what Jesus meant when He said that to find your life, you must lose it to Him. (Matthew 10:39; 16:25) As Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) As a child, baptized into the most Holy Name of God you have been called to surrender your life – all of your life to Christ.

This means, that whatever you do, whatever work you do in your vocations and daily life, they are made holy by Jesus, and done for His glory. We have been given a mission, and are called to walk with Christ in spreading the news of forgiveness of sins. Today we celebrate and remember the work of the LWML and our own St. Mark Ladies Aid as they walk as disciples of Jesus – taking up the cross and seeking to share the light of truth, as the Lord gives opportunity to do so.

The very word forgiveness implies that it is all gift. Forgiveness is not earned, but freely given.

Yet, by nature we act as though forgiveness is a thing to be earned. When others wrong us, or hurt us, especially those we love, we sometimes hold or forgiveness over the head of the one who has sinned against us. We demand they make up for the wrong they have done to us, and then we will forgive them.

This spills over into how we think God brings us forgiveness, that somehow, we have to clean up a bit, before we can come back into the presence of the almighty.

This attitude is born of the Law, and encouraged in our hearts and minds by the devil. The Law demands we do before we receive.

Not so the Gospel. This is the good news that Jesus forgives us as a gift. His acceptance of us, His cleansing of us is not born of any change we do, but from the love God pours into us by His Word. We do not have to wait to return to the Lord, to make up for our wrong doing. Rather, the blood of Jesus, poured our richly on us by faith, delivers to us the pure comforts of sins forgiven. “Fear the Lord, you His saints,” for in Jesus does God forgive.

Wanderer

Love is the selfless expression of care and concern for another. The word selfless in this definition is critical. Love is always outward focused, not in. Love thinks only of the other, not of the self. Love means to sacrifice for someone else.

This is not what the world tells us is love. To the world, love is about self-fulfillment. Love is inner feelings, and the need to indulge them. You see, the world and the devil have played a cruel trick on us. They have convinced us that what is in fact lust, is true love. A start picture playing out before our eyes right now are the scenes of those who claim to champion love and acceptance and tolerance shout hate filled words and false accusations to those who see things differently then they do. When love is nothing more than feelings, what is lost is actual love. Love that puts others before the self. Love that seeks to understand, rather than tear down.

Scripture is replete with warnings against indulging the desires of our flesh, for to do what feels good is nothing short of putting yourself above all things. It destroys true love.

In these Words are the clue as to why it is so hard for us to love the stranger. The one who thinks differently than we do. We are caught up in self-love, and so only those like us are worthy of love.

The ultimate sojourner, the complete stranger, and alien is He who made the heavens and the earth, and by His providence, still sustains them. This is of course Jesus, who, forsaking the glory of His throne on high becomes a stranger in human flesh and blood to save those who shout at, and destroy this bringing of peace. Jesus, the Son of God, and Son of David comes to love us, for we cannot love unless God first loves us. This love we have in Christ, and in no other. In Jesus all that divides us is healed. Our needs met by God, we now love in truth and in action in Jesus Name.

God Desires Mercy

 There is a tension in our lives born of the Law, in relation to the freedom offered and received in Christ by faith. The Law encourages us to do many things that can be called good, but they are always done for selfish reasons. This alone explains why our flesh, that old Adam in each of us delights in the Law. Not as a reflection of the truth of who God is, and what His will is for His creation, but as a list of things to do. So we let ourselves off the hook so to speak for our sinful desires, and selfish motivations if we simply check of the to do list of the Law. Like the fig leaves used by Adam and Eve, the bare letter of the Law is used to cover the inner reality of sin in each of our hearts.

Christ Jesus came, not to hand us a list of what to do, but rather to set us free from the death born of sin, uncovered in the Law. This is the Gospel of God, that our Lord, because of His great love and mercy for us, took upon Himself to save us. He faced the full reality of sin. He climbed upon the wooded beams of our own destruction, and on the cross Jesus shed His blood, that we may have life in His Name. God is a God of mercy, who desires mercy from His people.

This tension of Gospel freedom by the forgiveness of God and the delight of the sinful flesh for the Law is on full display as Jesus comes to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. On the Sabbath day no less, these religious leaders, exemplars of legal piety test the mercy of Jesus by purposely hiring a sick man to serve our Lord his meal. Would Jesus have mercy and heal this man, or would He follow the letter of the Sabbath laws, and refrain from doing any work, even a work of love toward the neighbor in favor of the law?

Of course, Jesus heals the man, then, by His Word shows that mercy is greater than the selfish works of following man made regulations of the law. Faith in this Jesus always leads to acts of mercy. Acts of compassion by which you share the mercy you received with the neighbor you have been given.