Monday, November 29, 2010

November 28, 2010 - Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1) - St. Matthew 21:1-9

It may seem strange to begin the season of Advent with Palm Sunday. After all, Advent is the waiting-for-Christmas season. But there is a reason that the Church Year starts with Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday means Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and death. Just as Palm Sunday precedes Holy Week and our celebration of Christ's death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter. Palm Sunday teaches us that Christ is coming AND that the reason He is coming is to die for our sins. No matter how white or green or red our Christmas gets, we never lose sight of the true reason for the season. Not just “Jesus” but “Jesus coming and being born to die for our sins.” So by beginning the Advent season with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we are reminded of what sets the Christian faith completely apart from every other religion on earth. It is that God is the One who comes to us to save us.

That is Good News to a world that has no hope in itself. Every year as we like to complain, it gets earlier and earlier. Now Christmas has appeared before Halloween was even over! Once Black Friday hits, Christmas will really be ON! The music. The lights. The sales. The parties. The overeating. The stress. The depression. All of it will come charging together into another whirlwind Christmas season. The fights will break about between the atheists who demand that no nativity scenes be put on the courthouse lawns and the groups that shout “Keep Christ in Christmas!” We know the drill. A mass of holiday “cheer” and then the day after nothing but extra garbage at the curb and standing in line to return the stuff that doesn't work or fit. That's the world's expectation of Christmas. The world seeks to have some sort of holiday something or other completely without Christ. Just consider one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, “I'm dreaming of a White Christmas,” a song that has not a single reference to the birth of our Lord! That's the world. A world that finds its peace and hope in empty things. A world that doesn't even know it needs a Savior but which desperately does.

And so the Son of God comes. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, He is born on Christmas. Baptized for sinners, He is tempted in the wilderness. Mocked by evil men, He is sentenced to death. Crucified on Calvary, He blots our our sins. Dead, He rises again on Easter. God did this. Jesus who is the Son of God, true God and true man. Jesus who is Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus whom the prophets foretold and who fulfilled those promises of God the day He rode into Jerusalem on the way to suffering and death. God did it. God has come to us. He hasn't called us to come to Him, to fix ourselves and our lives and take away our own sins. We could never do it. And He doesn't come to die for what we think. He isn't here because we eat too much or stretch our wallets to buy some presents. He isn't here because we drank too much spiked egg nog or lay too long in front of the TV watching football. He's here because we live as if we have no God. So God comes to save us. He comes because we live as if all of this stuff is it, and we don't think all we have is from God. He comes because we need a Savior from having turned away from God. He comes because His Father sends Him to pay the price for our neither loving Him nor caring about those around us. Christ is lifted up on the tree of the cross because we love to put up trees at Christmas without a second thought for the God who made us. In short, He comes to save us because we need saving. We need forgiveness. We need the Lord to come and do it for us.

Now when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, the crowds went crazy. They sang “Hosanna!” They threw down their cloaks and their palm branches. But what about five days later? They were shouting “Crucify!” When Jesus is an occasion for a party, even the world will celebrate. Oh, sure, they forget that Jesus was born at Christmas but it doesn't stop them from putting up trees and lights and blaring Christmas music all over the place. But just as soon as Christmas is over, so is the celebration. We are fickle. We like God when He is popular and fun and interesting. Riding into Jerusalem like a king? They love Him! Despised and mocked and wearing thorns? Not so much. But it's the same for us. We get excited and active as we celebrate Christ's birth and then...not so much. Same ol' same ol'. Week in and week out. Here is our repentance, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we live as if the reason Jesus comes is to give us an excuse for a holiday rather than to suffer and die for our sins. Our lives show that we recognize our Lord on holidays, but not so much afterwards. On Sundays, but not so much the rest of the week. And that is why He comes. He comes to us because we would drag our feet and not go to Him.

And He still comes to us. The crowds shouted “Hosanna” when He appeared riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. We still sing that song, “Hosanna!” When? Right before He comes in His Holy Supper. Again, why does He come? To take our sins away. When our Lord comes to us, He comes to us now not on a donkey but by water and the word at the font; by the preaching and teaching of His Word; by the absolution spoken to take away our sins; by His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Again, being a Christian isn't somehow about figuring out how to get to God. He has come to us in the flesh. He now comes to us in His church. And He does so in order to give us the forgiveness of sins. To save us. To give us eternal life. Again, this is what sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion. Here, in Christ's church, the message isn't about how to save yourself and get to God. The Good News that we preach is that the Lord Himself has come to us and still comes to us.

This is what Advent points us to. It reminds us that even as we head toward celebrating Jesus' birth, it isn't a birth just so we can have a holiday. It's the Savior's birth who comes to take away our sins by His suffering and death. Advent is the reminder that it is the Lord who comes to us. He came in the flesh. He still comes in His means of grace. And when He comes again, that too will be for our salvation and eternal happiness. So let us sing our “Hosannas!” today. For Christ comes to fulfill all of God's promises. He comes to be born in the flesh and give that flesh into death for our salvation. He comes to us to wash and absolve and feed us by His Word and Sacraments. And He will come again with glory to give us everlasting life. Always when your Lord comes, He comes for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

November 23, 2010 - Thanksgiving Eve - Philippians 4:6-20

St. Paul knows what it is to be content in any circumstance. Contentment is not a virtue praised by our society. The world we live in doesn't want you to be content but to always want more. The latest. The greatest. The newest. The next model. Think about it. Every ad we see on TV is aimed to stir up in us the thought that we don't really have everything we need and so there is more we have to get. Whether its more accessories for the Harley, more boardgames for the collection, more channels of football to watch, more minutes on your phone or just more money in the bank, we all know that all we need is “just a little more” than we have right now. Then we'll be content. But that's not true. We'll never be content. We're restless. We save and scrape or buy on credit to get the things we want and then either regret what we spent or look eagerly for the next version coming out. Even our government measures the strength of the economy on how much money we spend and not save. Bad economy. How do you know? People aren't buying things! No contentment here. Only discontent. Wanting more. Wishing for more. Trying to get more. And then, once a year, take a day off to think about all the stuff we have and act thankful!

So what's the answer? What do we do in a world in which we're overloaded with “stuff?” It's simple, isn't it? You stop buying more and you start getting rid of what you have. You try to live a simpler life. Pare down your material goods. Give your junk away to the poor. Cancel the cable, sell the boat, and skip the new flavor of Starbucks when it comes out. Is that it? Just stop trying to get all this stuff and you'll feel better? The truth is, that's not the answer at all. Doing things like that assumes the problem is the stuff. And it's not. Our discontent isn't because we don't have the latest and greatest whatever. Our discontent, our lack of contentment is just a symptom of our greater problem: our unbelief. It's that we don't believe God's promises for us in Christ. And it's not even really that we don't believe He won't provide, though if we did, we'd never WORRY about things. No, what we really don't believe, what we really don't trust in, is that the greatest gifts the Lord gives us are not things but His Son and the forgiveness of sins. The reason we try to find so much fulfillment in so much stuff is that we forget that Jesus Christ and His salvation is a far more important and lasting treasure than what we have in this life. So the answer isn't to stop buying stuff and live in a tent in the woods. It's to repent of not loving and being thankful for the truly greatest blessings we have in our Lord and His gifts!

The first gift is this: the forgiveness of sins. That forgiveness comes because Jesus, when He lived His earthly life, was content. He never complained about what He didn't have. He never worried about how to get more. He never worried about anything like that. He was content to preach and teach, to be provided for by His disciples and to carry out His Father's will of saving sinners. Think about it. Did you ever read in the Gospels about Jesus complaining that there wasn't enough to eat? Or that He needed to stop off at the tailor for the latest robe and pair of sandals? Our Lord taught from borrowed boats and had no home of His own. The last thing on His mind was collecting any treasure on earth! But here's the thing we need to remember: Jesus' contentment is what counts for you. It's not simply that His being content is and example for you to follow. It's that, in the sight of God the Father, Jesus' living contentedly is put to your account. That is, His being content counts for your and covers your discontent so that God doesn't see it. But more than that, Jesus was content even to suffer death for sinners. So not only does Jesus live wit the contentment you should have, He died for your unbelief which breeds discontent. In other words, the answer to our discontent isn't to become hippies on some “let's all share” commune. The answer to the sin of our unbelief and lack of contentment is the Savior who suffered to take away our sins and forgives us and gives us eternal life.

So we learn that true contentment comes in Christ. How so? By your Baptism. What do I mean? Do I mean that now that you're baptized you're never going to worry about money or try to figure out how to get the latest and greatest? No, I mean that because in Baptism you are clothed with Christ so that when the Lord looks at you He doesn't see your discontent but Christ's contentment. He doesn't see your faithlessness but Christ's faithfulness. True contentment is worked in us by the Holy Spirit who teaches us by His Word and gifts that our real problem, our sinfulness has been overcome by our Savior. It is a cross and struggle and battle that the Holy Spirit fights in us to teach us to love and trust in our heavenly Father above all things. This is a battle and struggle for which we need constant forgiveness in Holy Absolution and the constant strengthening of our faith by Jesus' Body and Blood. It is by those very gifts that the Spirit promises to work in you to peel your fingers away from hanging on to the stuff of this world and instead clinging to Christ and His holy gifts. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us a true thankfulness and gratitude to God our Father for all of His gifts. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us a true love of our neighbor by which we learn to pursue the things of this world for the benefit of others instead of always ourselves. That is the power of the forgiveness of sins which Christ won for us and bestows on us by His Word and preaching and Supper in His church. Brothers and sisters in Christ: You have Christ! Forgiveness of sins! Eternal life! And you have all the rest too! For in Christ God Himself gives you true contentment.

And so now we live in the freedom of Christ! That freedoms means we don't have to combat our covetousness with our own willpower but with Christ's cross. It means on the one hand that you don't have to live in a leaky tent in the woods and convince yourself, “This is the life!” But it also means that if you miss that great item at that awesome price on Black Friday it's not the end of the world either. This Thanksgiving, enjoy the gifts your heavenly Father gives you: all of them. Turkey. Football. The opportunity to serve your neighbor and save on your Christmas shopping. Give thanks most of all that Christ has set you free from the guilt of covetousness and that in Him you have true contentment. For the treasures that Christ gives never run out. Forgiveness. Life. Salvation. There is always more. They always get better. And they are always given for free by your Savior who won them for you on GOOD Friday. Happy Thanksgiving in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

November 17, 2010 - Wednesday of the Second-Last Sunday - Daniel 7:9-14

This vision of God that the prophet Daniel sees is awesome! The Ancient of Days, God the Father seated on His throne with bright splendor and glory and fire coming forth. The Beast and other beasts cast into the fire. The coming of the Son of Man in glory to take His kingdom. It's a reminder to us that there WILL be a Last Day. There will be a Day in which the Lord returns and this world will end. The world is full of preachers who want to use these visions and frighten people into sending them money to tell them how to be saved from these awful events. But you, dear Christians, don't fear. Don't fear as the world should fear. For on the day that the court is seated and the books are opened, the kingdom that is given to Jesus the Son of Man will be given to you too, as Jesus says to His sheep in the Gospel lesson today: “Come, you blessed of my Father and receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!”

So what are these books that are opened? The Book of Revelation tell us that there are two books: One Book has everything you've done in it. The other Book has your name written in it. But here's the thing: you can't be in both books! The Book of Judgment is the Book of those who have rejected Christ. For them there is the fearful expectation of judgment based upon their works. Their unbelief and rejection of Christ means that they are judged on the basis of the Law and Commandments. Did they love God with their whole heart? Did they love their neighbors as themselves? No. They didn't. Not perfectly as the Lord demands. The have lived as if their good works could save them. They have lived as if their piety and religion could save them. They have lived as if their being a name on a church list could save them while never desiring to hear God's Word or confess their sins or feast upon Christ's body and blood. Those who have rejected Christ will share the fate of the devil and his angels, to be cast into the everlasting fire. For apart from Christ, they cannot save themselves and escape the judgment of this Last Day. Frightening indeed!

But the other Book is the Lamb's Book of Life. And your name is written in there with the blood of Christ by Holy Baptism. To be baptized is to be in this Book and to therefore be in Christ. We escape the Judgment of God on the Last Day because of Christ. Because on the cross, the Last Day fell on Jesus. On the cross, the judgment for your sins and the wrath stored up for your iniquities was unloaded on Jesus. There, on Calvary, Judgment Day already happened for you by happening to Jesus. When the Son of Man comes on the clouds in glory, it will not be a day of fear and punishment for you because that has already been done to Christ. When Christ the Son of Man comes in all His glory, that is the Day of your salvation. The day to lift up your head and rejoice. When you see the Son of Man in glory on the clouds, don't think, “Judgment” think “Salvation.” The triumphant Son of Man is the same Savior who died for you on the cross so that your sins are taken away, never to be brought up again, not even on the Last Day. Did you catch that? Judgment Day is not a day in which you have to face all your sins again. It is the Day in which you are declared “not guilty” in Christ through whom all your works are good because of Whom you are welcomed into this eternal kingdom.

So the question is, how do you know which Book you are in? When you sin, the Beast is right there to accuse you that you must be holy and you are not holy and so you are no Christian and have nothing but the everlasting fire to look forward to. But he lies! Your name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life by Holy Baptism. That promise of water, Word and Spirit at the font is the promise that the Judgment that fell on Christ for your sins won't fall on you. That promise of Holy Absolution is that the sins the Devil whispers will keep you cut off from God can't. The Body and Blood of Christ are your Savior's promise that death itself cannot have you but you will be raised up on the Last Day and death will be thrown into the lake of fire with all of the rest of God's enemies. If you look at your life, your good works and your sins, you intentions and how hard you try to be religious, there is no hope there. Nothing but despair. Nothing there but the reminder that you deserve that everlasting fire. So don't look at YOU. Look to Christ. Look to the Son of God nailed to the tree, to the empty tomb, to the font, altar and pulpit for the certain promise that you are the Lord's. That your name is in the Lamb's Book of Life. That your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life. His promises are true and cannot be broken for they are the promises of the Son of Man who has been given this kingdom by the Ancient of Days. They are the promises of Jesus who has saved you from the wrath of God and stands you before you heavenly Father.

And since Christ has freed us from hell and judgment, you no longer need live as if you have to keep yourself right with God. It's taken care of in Christ. Now you don't have to worry about YOU. But, rather, you are free to live for the good and benefit of those around you. For after all, Christ didn't save you from judgment and hell just for you, but so that you would be a light in this dark world, living, as St. Peter says, blameless in Christ and in peace with others. The Day IS surely drawing near. But you don't need to fear it as the world. Rather, rejoice for it's coming. Cry out for it's fulfillment. Look forward to it. For that Day is not a Day of Judgment for your, but the Day of your salvation when Christ comes to raise you from the dead and give you everlasting life in a kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

November 21, 2010 - The Last Sunday in The Church Year - St. Matthew 25:1-13

I want you to think about the words from our Introit this morning. Look at them again in your bulletin. “Lord, make me to know my end and what is the measure of my days.” Do you know what that's asking? It's saying, “Lord, teach me that I could die at any moment and so don't let me die apart from Jesus Christ.” You parents with older children already know and you parents with young children will know, but it's something I've just found out: When your kids get their drivers licenses, you have a whole new perspective on “Lord, make me to know my end and the measure of my days.” What parent doesn't worry that something will happen to their children? And I don't have to tell you who are a part of this congregation what a sudden death is all about. It doesn't matter if it comes quickly and unexpectedly, or after a long battle with illness. Our days will end if our Lord does not come back first. Since our days could end at any moment, how then will we be ready? What does it mean to know the measure of your days? Jesus teaches us this with the story of the ten virgins. He can come at any moment. When the cry goes out, do you have oil in your lamp or do you run around trying to find some? Put another way: When the Lord returns, when death takes you, are you ready? Prepared?

It is Jesus who prepares you for death and the Last Day. There isn't some tricky religious thing you need to figure out in order to make yourself ready. It's not a matter of knowing He's coming so getting busy trying to look like you're trying to be ready. Where we like to avoid thinking about death, Jesus knew that's why He had come: to die. To carry your sins to Calvary and be crushed by the weight of judgment and wrath against them. We avoid death. Jesus takes it head on. Did He like it? Did He want to? He did it because He loves His Father and by dying for us He is rescuing His church, His bride. The fact is, we don't number our days. We don't think death is near. We ignore it and we act like the Last Day is just some vague notion that won't every really happen. But Jesus knows. That's why He comes. That's why He suffers. That's why He dies. And that's why He rises from the dead. Jesus goes to die and rise to take death's power away. To make sure that when our time comes, death can't keep us down forever. By defeating sin and death, Jesus makes it OK to die. He makes it safe. He makes sure we are His. By His death and resurrection, Jesus prepares you for death and the day of His coming.

And He prepares you by giving you oil for your lamp. So what's the oil? It's the forgiveness of sins. Faith. The Holy Spirit. All of those things together. The faith that clings to Jesus and knows that because He has died, our sins are forgiven. This is the faith worked by the Holy Spirit which trusts in Jesus and not ourselves to be ready on the Last Day. The faith that trusts His death for us and not in our own attempts to save ourselves by our good works or anything else. The faith that clings to Christ in the confidence that our sins are forgiven for His sake. Jesus dies and rises for your and pours that salvation into your lamp by the gifts which create and nurture our faith: by water and Word in Baptism, by preaching and absolution, by His own Body and Blood. All of these things are the gifts that make us ready to meet Him no matter when He shows up. It may be that you perish tomorrow! It may be that you live a long life before you die. Either way, the Lord has made you ready by giving you the oil of forgiveness and faith in Jesus so that no matter what happens, you will be ready to meet the Bridegroom when He shows up.

So what about the foolish virgins that had no oil? Well the simple fact is this: You can't be ready to meet Jesus with someone else's faith. Those who reject Christ, who despise Him and His gifts are on their own. Some may THINK they are part of the church; they're with the other five virgins, after all. But when it comes to forgiveness and faith, they have none, for they are foolish. The foolish virgins are those who don't want to know the number and measure of their days. They don't care that death will come. And on the Day the Lord returns, they'll be scrambling to find oil. Because what makes us ready to receive Christ isn't some notion of faith or some feeling that we believe something. It is Christ and His gifts. Those who cut themselves off from the church and the means of grace can talk all they want about believing, but they are not where Christ is filling their jars with oil. On the Last Day, when Christ returns, you can't say, “Well Grandma went to church, doesn't that count for me?” or “Well, I got confirmed in that church, even though I stopped going.” When you die, you can't just have your family roll you into church when you haven't been there in fifty years and expect that there is the comfort of a Christian burial waiting. Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is serious stuff! Those foolish virgins were running around trying to find oil and when they finally got back to the wedding feast, the door was already shut and the Lord says, “I don't know you!” This is a warning. It's a warning that on the Last Day, those who have lived without Christ's gifts and faith will be locked out. Those who live trying to find their own oil instead of using the oil Christ has given them will be left in the dark.

So when Jesus says “watch! Because you don't know when,” how do we watch? How do we wait and watch for Christ? You watch by having oil ready to go. But that's not you getting the oil. It's Christ's oil. It's the oil He gives you in His church: Your Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Lord's Supper. Cut yourself off from that and you will NOT be ready on that day. There's repentance there. Repentance for thinking lightly that the things Christ gives us in church aren't really the big deal. And parents, I cannot emphasize this enough—and perhaps it's on my mind as I watch my kids cut more and more apron strings—parents, you are charged with bringing your children to the Lord's house so that He may fill their jars with oil. Don't neglect this duty! Don't let your kids grow up foolish where they don't learn to number their days and live in the gifts of Christ. Don't let your kids cut themselves off or be cut off from their Baptism, from preaching and God's Word, and from the Holy Supper. Teach them, as they grow, that Christ has prepared them and He has given them the oil of His gifts to make them ready. And if they're older, sit down and have an adult talk with them about having the oil of Christ in their lamps! Otherwise, do you want them to be wandering around at Christ's return, trying to find some faith? God forbid! And not just parents but all of us Christians: let us not despise Christ and His gifts but gladly receive the oil of His Word and Sacraments, forgiveness and faith so that when He comes we will be ready!

Lord teach us to know our end and to see the measure of our days. We are asking that the Lord make us ready for death and His return. He has answered that prayer in the sending of His Son to face down death for us and to be the first of those who rise from the dead. He has baptized you, absolved you, preached to you and fed you. Your jar is brimming with His oil so that when He comes again, you will be ready. For the world, Jesus' return is like a thief in the night. Unexpected! But when He comes, we will be ready. For He Himself has made us ready. So come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 14, 2010 - The Installation of The Reverend George F. Borghardt, III at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, McHenry, Illinois - Daniel 7:9-14; Colossians 1:9-14; Matthew 25:31-46

Wow! The End of the world. The seating of God's court. The earth and heavens burned up with fire. Sheep and goats separated. The Last Day is coming quickly, dear Christians. It will soon be upon us. But don't worry! Don't be frightened by these awful images of judgment. Don't worry. Because the Lord has given you a pastor. And he gives you this pastor for this purpose: that in these Last Days, you may know the comfort of Christ in whom you have escaped God's judgment and instead, as children of God, now have eternal life. Today, your Lord is making sure that you are not caught unprepared for that day. Today He makes sure that you do not fear that day as the world should fear it. Today, by giving you a pastor, the Lord is keeping His promise to preserve you in His Word and faith until the end. That's why George Borghardt, III is here today. So that you will always have that comfort against despair. Pastor Borghardt is given to you this day so that you will have the constant reminder of your Baptism into Christ. So that when your sins trouble you, he may absolve you. To preach Christ crucified and risen to you. To give to you the Body and Blood of Jesus to eat and drink. To remind you, in a world filled with false preachers who get all worked up that the End is near, that Christ is your Savior and that in Him the Last Day is a day to rejoice in.

The prophet Daniel sees the vision of the kingdom given to Christ. Christ, the Son of Man, is given a kingdom which is an everlasting dominion. It shall not pass away. It is a kingdom that shall not be destroyed. He has this kingdom because He has won this kingdom. This is the kingdom of the Son of God who became man for our salvation. The Son of Man who was tempted and was without sin. The Son of Man who nevertheless took on your sin as His own and carried it through suffering and mockery to the cross of Calvary and there disposed of it once for all by the shedding of His holy blood and His innocent death. The Son of Man who was alive on the third day whose empty tomb is the sign that death is done for. This kingdom, Christ's church, is a kingdom into which the Savior Himself has brought you at the font by the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism, as Pastor Borghardt will remind you and do for those to come. It is in this kingdom that the Judge and King constantly declares to you the “not guilty” verdict of Holy Absolution, spoken by His man, Pastor Borghardt. It is in this Kingdom that you hear the Son of Man's proclamation proclaimed by His herald, Pastor Borghardt, that declares that while heaven and earth pass away, you cannot pass away because you are in Christ. It is the Kingdom in which the Son of Man gives you Himself as food, faithfully administered by His servant Pastor Borghardt.

And the Good News about this Kingdom is that it is Christ's. And it cannot pass away and it cannot be destroyed. That's Good News! It's Good News for you, Pastor Borghardt. It means when you make a mistake, when you sin against the Lord and against His people, His kingdom does not cease. And because it does not cease, because it exists by His Word, your sins are forgiven in this kingdom. That's right, people of God, your pastor is a sinner who lives in the forgiveness won for Him by Christ. As do you. This is not your kingdom and it's not your church. And know that when you succumb to the temptation to think that it IS yours, that you are forgiven. Pastor Borghardt will remind you of that too. And both of you—pastor and people—when things are difficult and you are tempted to despair over this congregation—remember that this is Christ's kingdom. It cannot pass away and it cannot be destroyed. Pastor Borghardt, carry out your calling: when the saints of God despair because of their sins or their illnesses or their troubles, remind them by Christ's Word and gifts that they have a Savior whose kingdom will not pass away and will not be destroyed. And you, saints of God at Zion, when your pastor despairs, or is troubled by his faults and sins, or worries about anything, comfort him by reminding him of the same thing: He is a servant in a kingdom that will not pass away and will not be destroyed! Because this is Christ's kingdom!

Now St. Peter says the scoffers are going to come. They're going to make fun of you and ask, “Where's the Lord? I thought He was coming back? What's taking Him so long?” In other words, being a Christian in this dying world is not easy. It is hard. You are surrounded by those who mock you and mock your trust in Christ. The world around you hates Jesus and so it hates you. It can be tough to live in such a world. It raises doubts and causes despair. So when it does, then you know what to do: run to the pastor whom the Lord has given you to hear again those promises of God: your Baptism, forgiveness, body and blood, the preaching of Christ crucified. Those promises throw down the doubts and despairs and mockery of a world that doesn't want Jesus and reminds you of what you are in Christ. Those promises are your sure and certain hope against a world of doubt and unbelief. Those promises are why the Lord's pastor is here: to faithfully deliver them to you for your forgiveness and comfort. Peter reminds us that the world which will one day be destroyed is yet preserved by the Word of God. That Word, delivered by your pastor, is the Word that is your life. That Word of Christ crucified and risen for you is your life, your preservation against judgment and death and hell. Your promise of everlasting life. And your pastor will always remind you of that. It's his job.

And here is some more Good News. On the Last Day, Pastor Borghardt and saints of Zion, you will be given the kingdom forever. It's been prepared for you from the foundation of the world. It isn't given to you because you did anything. The Lord prepared it for you because you are His people in Christ. This is Good News, Pastor Borghardt because it means you are rescued from counting, measuring, and any sort of thinking that it is GEORGE BORGHARDT who can fix or preserve this congregation. It's all Christ's kingdom! And you, saints of Zion, you are rescued from thinking that it is what good works you do or don't do that make you true Christians and a true congregation of God. In fact, Pastor Borghardt and saints of Zion, on the Last Day, the Lord will list all of those good works you've done, most of which you don't even have a clue you've done! And you'll say, “What? When did we do all that?” And He will say, “You did it because you are my lambs. And because you are my lambs there's a kingdom waiting for you.” Christ has won this kingdom for you. And that means nothing can tear it down, wreck it or take it away from you!

So, saints of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of McHenry, Illinois, rejoice today! Rejoice because you have a pastor. I'd love to tell you what a great guy he is, but that won't save you. What I will tell you is that he will give you the one and only thing you need: Jesus. Jesus who was crucified for you and risen from the dead. Jesus who washed you at the font. Jesus who says your sins are forgiven. Jesus whose Body and Blood are a feast that will give forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. And Pastor Borghardt, know this: those same gifts of Jesus that you give to God's people here, are the same gifts—water, word, Body and Blood—that make you fit for this holy Office and will let you stand with these saints on the Last Day, rejoicing together to see your names written in the Book of Life. On this day, saints of Zion, know this: the Lord's giving you a pastor is His unshakable promise to be among you and with you by His Word and gifts. And where He is, you can never pass away even though heaven and earth will pass away. For Christ's kingdom will not pass away and will not be destroyed! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

November 10, 2010 - All Saints Day (observed Wednesday) - Revelation 7:2-17

St. John's vision of the throne of God and the saints around it is written for our comfort. This world and this life are full of suffering. From illness to sadness to suffering and pain to persecution and hatred by those who hate Christ, Christians suffer in this life. But there is a hope of better things to come. Our hope as Christians is that our Lord has secured for us a blessed and happy eternity with Him. Because Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death, there is the hope and expectation of better things beyond this life. It doesn't mean we give up on this life. It doesn't mean we ignore what needs to be done in the here and now. But it does mean that when the troubles of this life wear heavily upon us, we have the comfort that there are truly better things to come. That's what All Saints Day is about: To celebrate that God has taken His people in the faith from their suffering and yet they are still united with us together in His holy church of all times and places.

But it when it comes to speaking about death and the life to come, we need to be careful. The world is full of ridiculous and wrong notions about the life to come. People turning into angels. People dying because “the Lord needs another angel.” Dead loved ones “being at peace” or “in a better place” because people just want them to be. Loved ones looking down or being there with us or whatever. There are lots of wrong notions about death and the life to come and Christians are not immune from picking them up and saying them too. So All Saints Day is an opportunity for repentance for thinking wrongly about death and instead learning to believe and confess what the Lord's Word teaches us about it. Most of all, All Saints Day is a reminder that if we are going to talk about death and heaven and the resurrection of all flesh and eternal life, we cannot do so rightly without speaking of the Lamb of God. That's where St. John's vision points us. We're anxious to read it and grab some details about what it's like after we die. But it was not revealed and written for that purpose. Rather, it was given to show us that at the center of everything is the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who has taken away the sins of the world and triumphed over our enemies.

From earliest times, when people made sacrifices, they used lambs. Those lambs and the Passover lamb and the lambs of the temple sacrifices all pointed ahead to Jesus, the Lamb of God. They taught that the lamb dies instead of the sinner. When John the Baptist came, he saw Jesus and preached, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus is that Lamb who was sacrificed for our sins on the altar of the cross. Every time a sacrifice of a lamb was offered in faith, the person knew, “This lamb is dying because of my sins. But it is dying instead of me.” So it is with Jesus. When He sheds His blood on the cross, the Lamb of God truly takes away our sins. He dies in our place. He dies because of our sins. He dies instead of us so that our sins don't kill us. This is why the saints in John's vision shout and sing, “Salvation belongs to the Lamb!” Those words are echoed in our song “This is the Feast.” Whatever blessings of eternal life there are, they are ours because the Lamb has paid the price for our sins and rescued us from death and the devil. That's why when we stand in eternal life, we too will sing the praises of the Lamb. And it's why everything until that time is all about that Lamb, all about Jesus who is our salvation.

But it's not just the Lamb back then. The Lamb is still saving us by giving us His blood. The blood of the Passover Lamb was painted on the door frames of the houses to cause the Angel of Death to pass over. We have been given the blood of the Lamb of God too. Who are those people in white robes? Those who have suffered and yet washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That's Baptism language. At the holy font, by water and the Word, the blood of the Lamb washes us clean of our sins. All the guilt we have because of our sins is canceled, removed, wiped out and deleted. That same body and blood of the Lamb of God are given to us in His feast of salvation, the Holy Supper of His body and blood. It is the Lamb's blood that makes a person a saint. A saint is a “holy person.” And anyone who has been washed in Baptism with the Lamb's blood is a holy person in God's sight. That's the Lamb's doing. He not only is sacrificed, but His blood is also put upon us to save us. Just as the Passover Lamb was killed and its blood put on the doors and then it was eaten, so Jesus, the Lamb of God is sacrificed for us and then His blood put upon us in Holy Baptism and drunk along with eating His body in the Sacrament.

And now here is the great joy and hope and comfort of the life to come: that the same Lamb who was sacrificed for us and who washed us, is our light and life for all eternity. I know that when our loved ones pass away, we often think about seeing them again in heaven. There is a comfort in knowing that we will see those who have died in the faith again one day. But that is a small and tiny comfort compared to this one: We shall see the Lamb! When we die, we are at peace in Him. When He comes again and raises us from the dead, we shall be with Him eternally. He will be our sun and light and he will give us everlasting waters. The greatest comfort we ought to have about those who have died in Christ is that they are with Christ. The greatest comfort we have for ourselves is that we shall be with Christ forever. The Lamb who gives life. The Lamb whose salvation we sing. The Lamb whose throne shines with glory because He has thrown down sin, death, hell, Satan and all our enemies. From life to death to life again, it's all about the Lamb and what He has done for us!

On All Saints Day, we remember those who have died in the faith. We give thanks to God for bringing them to faith and keeping them in the faith so that they would be with Him forever. And as we remember them, we hold fast ourselves to the same promise of God: that He will keep us in the true faith unto life everlasting. But that faith and that eternal life are all because of the Lamb. For where our Lamb, Jesus Christ is, there is forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. So as we gaze with St. John at the saints around the Lamb's throne, we see that Lamb in all His glory, the same Lamb who gave His life for us. He is why we are saints of God now and forever. In the Name of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Happy All Saints. Amen.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

November 7, 2010 - All Saints Day (observed) - St. Matthew 5:1-12

A lot of people throw this accusation at Christians: “You just say there's life after death so you don't have to face reality here and now. You just think about the life to come all the time because you can't deal with life right now.” They accuse Christians of being unrealistic. Escapist. How do we answer that? How do we respond to such a charge? Jesus tells us: “Rejoice when they persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of Me, for great is your reward in heaven.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, the hope of better things to come that Jesus gives us is itself the Good News against the mockery we face for trusting in Christ from a world that can't see anything past the next few minutes. The comfort of All Saints Day is that we know the Lord has taken His saints in every time and place out of this veil of tears to Himself in heaven and that He will return on the Last Day and raise us from the dead. Is that clinging to some future hope? You bet it is!

Jesus makes it clear in the Beatitudes we heard in the Gospel Reading that the great blessings which Christians have are not in the here and now. St. John, standing in heaven, sees the saints in white robes who have come through tribulation. Tribulation is suffering. Struggling. Bearing a cross. Being hounded and persecuted as Jesus says His disciples will be. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the world is full of preachers who will tell you all about how God wants you to be happy and have everything your heart desires in this life. One such preacher even wrote a book about it: “Your Best Life Now.” And I guarantee anyone that reads that book, this life will be their best one because the life that comes after such false teaching ain't gonna be better! But there is Good News in the fact that we shall suffer as God's people. That things won't be the way we think they should be. That the world won't be fixed. The Good News is that we have a Savior who has overcome this fallen world and given to us the promise of everlasting life with Him. It's a comfort because as much as we'd like to see things get better in this world, we know they won't. Therefore ask yourself: Who has the delusions and false hope now? Is it the Christians who have the certainty of life everlasting in Christ or is it the world which keeps stupidly thinking things are always going to get better when they never do?

The Son of God did not come into this world to fix it or stop it from getting worse. He came to save sinners. He came to give them a new life as a new creation and to promise them that death has no power over them. He came to achieve for you a salvation which is not just a rescue from your sins but from death and the devil too. His cross and empty tomb are your promise and certainty of a better life to come. They are the promise which makes the loss of our loved ones easier to endure. Of course we mourn and weep and cry at those whom the Lord has taken from us. But Christ, by His resurrection has made sure we don't mourn as those who have no hope but as those who know there will be a resurrection on the Last Day and we will see not only our loved ones who have died in the faith but also our Lord Himself. Oh, wouldn't the Devil like you to believe that this life is it! Better live while the living is good! And don't pin your hopes on what comes next! But Christ destroys those lies by showing us exactly what will happen: Death and then resurrection. Death and then life everlasting. Death and then dying no more. Death defeated. No more sting for death. No more victory for death because Jesus has thrown it down.

And more Good News! We don't have to overcome these things ourselves. We don't have the hope of eternal life because we somehow worked it out. It's been accomplished by our Savior. Look at the saints in heaven: They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. That's Baptism! That's the Lord giving His life for you and washing you to make you holy. It is your Baptism which sets you to stand solid through every trial and tribulation and suffering and persecution you will have in this life. It is your Baptism that is God giving you Christ by which to stand in this life and to stand before Him in glory in the life to come. The Good News about our future hope is that it is sure because Jesus has secured it. Earned it. Achieved it. For us it's a gift, eternal life. This also rescues us, as we remember the saints who have gone before us—it rescues us from that nonsense way of talking about the dearly departed: “He lived a good life. She really was a saint.” And all that. We have joy for our loved ones in Christ because HE has gained them the victory. He has taken them to be with Himself. He will raise us all up on the Last Day. That's what Baptism promises us in Christ.

And so we celebrate All Saints Day to remind us that this life is NOT about ease and lack of suffering. We celebrate All Saints Day to be reminded that our only hope for this life and the life to come is always Jesus Christ. He has given His life for the world. And now He joins us together in the holy communion of His church. I say Holy Communion because that's what we have in Christ. Joined together with the church of the ages, those who have come before and will come after and who are His people now, joined together by His Body and Blood. That is why I say that if you miss your loved ones, if you want to be near them, then don't go to the cemetery where they are sleeping but here to the altar of God where we are joined with them at the rail, with the “angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven.” And the great joy is not that we will see our parents and children and spouses again some day, though that is a happy thought. Our greatest joy is that they are with their Lord. They have been set free from the tribulation of this world. They rest in the true peace of the presence of Christ until He comes again to raise us from the dead. They are saints for Christ has made them so and so we celebrate because of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

So let the world laugh at us. Let the world mock us. Let the world speak evil of us and hate us and even persecute and kill us. Our Lord said it would happen. Let the world live as if this life is it. We know better. We have God's promises in Christ. All that Jesus promises—His kingdom, mercy, righteousness, and comfort—all these things are yours in Jesus Christ. As they are the blessing of all the saints who have been and will be in Christ. Rest eternal grant them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. God grant it also to us for Jesus' sake. Happy All Saints! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

November 3, 2010 - Reformation (Observed/Wednesday) - Romans 3:19-28

Most people today probably aren't very troubled about how they stand with God. Probably most people don't even give it a second thought. But we ought to think about it. We ought to be concerned that God sets forth the standard by which we should live and we don't even come close to measuring up. As St. Paul says in the epistle, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That should bother us terribly, that we don't measure up in God's sight. It bothered Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago. In fact, his sins bothered him so much, he joined a monastery because he figured if he prayed all the time and did lots of chores and things, he could work off his sins. That is until he began to study the scriptures and learned that you CAN'T work off your sins. You CAN'T do enough good things to overcome the bad. You CAN'T just keep the commandments and everything will be OK. Rather, what Martin Luther learned, as he read the Bible, was that God's Word reveals to us a different way to be holy. We don't get holy, we don't get right with God, we don't get rid of our sins by any means at all. Rather, it is GOD who gets rid of our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. For Martin Luther, and the Lutherans who have come since, it's all about the forgiveness of sins we have in Jesus that makes us right with God and able to stand before Him.

Even though our standing with God may not be on our minds at every minute, we tend, like the world, to drift into a sort of “scorecard” religion. If you do something good, like go to church or give to charity, you get points. If you do something bad, like lose your temper or skip church, you get a penalty that takes off points. Then, on the Last Day, you hope like crazy that your points are on the plus side! That's pretty much how the world thinks. It measures things out in terms of “what do I have to do to pay for what I've done.” Or it just avoids the question altogether. As Christians, we're not immune from these bad ideas creeping into our way of thinking. When we feel bad about something we've done, instead of confessing it and being absolved, we try to hide it or work it off. Instead of admitting how doomed we are because of our sins, we instead try to reason out how we can get away with it. Sometimes, in our deeper, darker, innermost thoughts, we might try to make a deal with the Lord or even begin to despair that we can every truly get rid of our sins. What if, in the end, we have to stand before God and answer for every little thing we've thought or said or done! That though SHOULD terrify us. Apart from Christ.

But St. Paul has told us clearly: There's a way of righteousness that isn't about the Law any more. You can't get holy that way. Instead, the Bible—the Law and the Prophets—reveal a different kind of righteousness, through Jesus Christ. Your standing with God isn't based on YOU. It's on Jesus. Paul says that Christ is our redemption. He's the price paid to bring us back from our sins to being God's children. He's our propitiation. Propitiation! Awesome word! Use that at your next party. A “propitiation” is a mercy place, the place where you go to grab a hold of and then God can't strike you down. The propitiation is the place where the blood gets poured out so that you don't die for your sins. Jesus is our propitiation on the cross. The cross of Christ is where God says our sins don't count against us. Where they are not held against us. Where they are removed and washed away and wiped out. Christ's holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death are the price paid for your release from the slavery of sin. His body and blood, crucified and risen for you, are the place to go to be safe from God's judgment against sin. That's a righteousness that doesn't come from what we do but from what Christ has already done for you!

And how do we know about this salvation? Where is this righteousness given? St. Paul tells us it is revealed in the Law and the Prophets, that is, in the Scriptures, in the Word. Jesus doesn't pay this price and then leave it for you to figure out how to get a hold of it! He doesn't set it before you and await your choice! No, He reveals it and gives it out in His Word and gifts. He gives it in Baptism before you even know what's going on. He gives it in Holy Absolution when you can't even remember all your sins. He gives it in His Body and Blood where we know that He is present as our propitiation, our blood-covering, our mercy seat. When we stand in Christ's church, all deal-making and worrying is done for. There is no more keeping score, trying to overcome our sins with our good works or anything else like that. No thinking God is going to pay you back. The water, the Word, the Body and the Blood are declare that you are justified, that you are declared righteous, that your standing with God is a perfect done deal in Christ.

So what to brag about? Nothing! Paul says, “Where is boasting? It's gone. Left out. Because of the Law of faith.” Here's where our salvation matters in our day to day lives. Not because we think about it all the time but because how we are saved affects how we treat our neighbor. If getting right with God is about what you do, and how much you do, then the way you live toward others is just going to always be a display of how holy you are and how godly you are. If being right with God is based on you keeping the commandments, then your life will be a constant effort to show others that's exactly what you are doing. And who does that benefit? No one. But if you have nothing to boast about, if your standing with God is all on Christ, then it doesn't matter what the world says or what others think. You can serve your neighbor with no thought for yourself. No worries about whether doing good is canceling out your sins. No messing with the scorecard. Just loving and serving your neighbor—husbands and wives and parents and children and bosses and employees and friends and family and so on—is all you need to worry about. Not for your sake. You're in with God! But for their sake, because you already in with God and the things you do aren't for Him but for those who need them done. No boasting there. Nobody likes a braggart. It's just those redeemed by Jesus' blood doing what others need done to help them out.

It should matter to you how you stand with God. But it should matter because your standing is on account of Christ. It is on Christ so that you are saved from it being on you. You are saved from it being on you so that you can be something useful for those around you. You don't get squared up with the Lord by what you can try to do. You are already squared up with the Lord by Jesus Christ, His Son whom He sent for that very purpose: to redeem you, be your propitiation, and justify you. All just fancy words that mean that because of the blood of Jesus, you are in. That's what Martin Luther discovered in God's Word. And that Word is for you too. Happy Reformation in the Name of Jesus. Amen.