Thanksgiving Sermon

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Nov 232018
 

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Deuteronomy 8:10-11, 17-18
Dear Friends in Christ
Israel was camped across the Jordan from Jericho, ready to finally enter the Promised Land. God had told Moses that he was not going to be the one to lead Israel across the river into the Promised Land because he had been angry with Israel and made it sound like he was the one who would give them water from the rock. He didn’t give all the glory to God. So, Moses gathered Israel to give them some final instructions before he died, and Joshua would lead them into the land.
Think about their situation. They had wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Yes, God had taken care of them. Their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out. But they lived in tents, and they were getting very tired of eating the same thing day after day, year after year. They tested God’s patience by calling manna “miserable food.” But, as much as they might have detested it, the manna had kept them healthy and strong all the while they were in the wilderness.
How eager they must have been to enter the Promised land! Forty years earlier the spies had told them how fertile it was, a land flowing with milk and honey just as God had promised. To prove it to them the spies had brought back a cluster of grapes that was so big it had to be carried on a pole between two strong men. Moses says, the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land– a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. You won’t live in tents anymore, but in houses that you didn’t even have to build or pay for.
Things were about to change. They were about to get a whole lot better. How thankful this generation of Israelites, the generation that only knew life in the wilderness, how thankful they must have been when they entered the land, the manna stopped, and they ate some of that wonderful real food that they had been dreaming about! I imagine that they must have felt like those who have traveled in third world countries, or who have been held captive overseas. They must have felt like falling down and kissing the ground, while rejoicing and giving thanks to God.
Considering what they had been through, this first Generation would find it easy to give thanks to God. It would be easy for them to remember what God had done for them, that God is the one who gave them everything. They would remember seeing God knock down the walls of Jericho. They would remember the many times that he gave them victory over armies they never could have defeated on their own. It reminds me of the generation that lived through the great depression, who experienced food and gas rationing. As the nation grew and prospered it was easy for them to recognize their blessings because they knew what it was like to live without them. Many from that generation, like the first generation of Israelites in the Promised Land, praised the LORD their God for the good land that he had given them. A great many of that generation remembered the Lord their God, but times have changed.
Think about how great your blessings are by comparison to previous generations. Your standard of living is much higher. You have bigger houses, and so much stuff you don’t know where to put it. You have running hot and cold water and indoor plumbing – most of you don’t know what it is like to live without those things. Think about all the things you have that weren’t even invented a generation ago! What would you do without your cell phone? What would you do if you still had to pick corn by hand! God has showered us with more physical blessings than any other people who have ever lived on earth.
Israel would receive wonderful blessings as they entered the Promised Land, but they would also face a great challenge. It’s a challenge we face too. It’s a temptation that always comes when God richly blesses us. Moses warned about it. He said, when God showers you with blessings, be very careful so that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and ordinances and his statutes that I am commanding you today.
Because of our sinful nature the temptation is very great that as our blessings increase, we set our hearts on them instead of God. When things are going well it’s easy to forget where your blessings come from. And, when you forget the Lord your God you also forget about his commands and begin to do your own thing. When your blessings increase it’s easy for your heart to become proud, to think, my ability and the power of my hand have earned this wealth for me.
It’s understandable that you think that way, after all, you worked hard to bring in the harvest. Maybe you did better than others because you did better planning and worked harder to understand the markets. You put in extra hours at work. You studied and took advantage of some extra classes. You sacrificed to put money away for retirement when others were spending everything they earned. You are doing well because of your wisdom and your hard work, right?
Well, God does say that if you refuse to work you shouldn’t expect to eat. He does expect us to make the best use of the gifts and abilities we have. But, remember that the LORD your God is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth. He’s the one that has given you your mind and all your abilities. He is the one who has seen to it that you have had the opportunity to use them. He is the one who has kept you from suffering from a natural disaster. He is the one who has granted you whatever health you have. Everything comes from him. It’s all about Him, not about you.
How refreshing it is when a gifted athlete is interviewed, and they give praise and thanks to God. Did they work hard and train for years to get where they are? Yes. But they realize it’s not about them, it’s all about God. He is the one who gave them the ability and the opportunity to do what they are doing. They are fighting the temptation to let their hearts become proud. They remember the Lord their God.
Sometime during this busy week take the time to read the next chapter of Deuteronomy. In chapter 9, Moses reminds Israel why their hearts have no reason to be proud. He reminds them that the reason for all their blessings in the Promised Land is not their righteousness or integrity. It wasn’t that they were such great people. They had proven that many times over, from the Golden Calf incident, to the many times they grumbled and complained about food, or water, or the leadership God provided, or you name it. Moses reminds them of how stubborn and hard-hearted they have been. God was not giving them the Land because of their righteousness, but because of the wickedness of those who lived in it. Israel was God’s instrument of judgment on them. He was giving them the Land because he promised Abraham that he would give it to his descendants once the iniquity of the Canaanites was full. Again, it wasn’t about them or anything they had done. If it had been about them, they would have perished in the wilderness long before this. It was all about God and his gracious promise that ultimately led to the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Remember this as you contemplate your many blessings. You don’t have them because of your righteousness or integrity. You don’t have them because you are better, or smarter, or work harder than others. The moment you think that, you have become totally unrighteous in God’s eyes, and instead of showering you with blessings he should shower you with fire and brimstone. If God gave you what you deserve, what you have earned from him, you would not only be physically destitute, you would be suffering in the eternal fires of Hell.
Like Israel, the only reason we have what we have is God’s grace. As Luther taught us to confess, ‘All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in Heaven, not because I have earned or deserved it.’ Like Israel, we are his instruments through whom he wants to bless those around us as we share the good news that he kept his promise and sent Jesus to be their savior, and as we share our physical blessings with them as well. If the good news about Jesus is rejected, we become an instrument of God’s judgment as God’s word testifies against them.
Like Israel, we have the blessing of knowing about God’s promise of a Savior. By God’s grace we have the blessing of knowing that because he kept his promise and sent Jesus, the son of Abraham, to live and die in our place, whether we have much or little on earth, we have the greatest blessing possible. We have a home in the Promised Land of heaven. As we travel there, he is graciously providing for our physical and spiritual needs, and he is defeating our enemies who are stronger than we are for us. Our home in the Promised Land of Heaven is one we didn’t build or pay for. It was purchased for us by Jesus and he is getting it ready for us to live in for all eternity.
Heed the warning God gave through Moses. As you review all your blessings it’s easy to forget where they come from and why. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God who rescued you from the slavery of sin and Satan, and is bringing you to the Promised Land of heaven.

November 18, 2018 Sermon

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Nov 182018
 

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

I invite you to turn to 1 Thessalonians 4 either in your Bibles or your service folder as we learn from Paul what will happen when Jesus returns on the last day.

 

Pastor Schultz and I rode together to Pastor’s conference this fall. On the way he talked about how scary it was when a few years ago he slid off the road and rolled his truck. I could identify with him. Even though I didn’t roll a vehicle, I have had that helpless feeling of sliding uncontrollably down the road and ending up in the ditch. Maybe you have too. Maybe your life doesn’t flash before your eyes, but at least this thought flashes by; “This might be it, this might be my last few seconds of life on earth.”

Now, in both cases, neither I, nor Pastor or Mrs. Schultz were seriously injured. But we didn’t know at the time what was going to happen. If we had known everything was going to be fine and no one would be injured, we probably wouldn’t have been quite as frightened.

We can apply that principle to what the Bible tells us about the last day. Some of what the Bible tells us about the last day is pretty frightening. In fact, a lot of people avoid reading Revelation because they think it’s too frightening. It’s frightening to think about the fact that Peter says that everything we know on earth will be destroyed by fire. You’ve seen the pictures of Paradise CA, but what Peter describes is much worse. We hear Paul talk about a man of lawlessness, and about the boastful horn from Daniel’s vision, the Antichrist and how deceptive he is. We hear Jesus talk about persecution, and John talk about beasts. We try to imagine all the dead, from Adam and Eve on, being raised to life, and because of all the Zombie shows and movies, people imagine Zombies chasing them trying to eat their brains. Thinking about what might happen on the last day can be a frightening thing. But, if you know in advance what’s going to happen and how it all ends, it calms your fears.

The fear that the Thessalonians had wasn’t so much what was going to happen on the last day. Their fear was that they thought that if you died before Jesus returned, somehow you would miss out, and they had people they loved who had died. How sad it would be to have a loved one die and to think that you would never see them again, and even worse, that they had missed out on living with Jesus forever! You have seen how people try to cope today when because of Atheism or Evolution or other forms of unbelief, they think that when someone dies that’s it. They have a celebration of life- not of eternal life like we do, but of the person’s past life, because they believe, or at least act, as if that’s all there is. That’s why Paul tells them, and us, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope.  A knowledge of what will happen on the last day comforts you in your grief and gives real hope.

What happens to those who die, fall asleep, trusting in Jesus as their savior? We heard the answer we few weeks ago as we celebrated All Saints Day. Their souls go to live and reign with Christ. They have not gone out of existence. And what happens on the last day? They appear with Jesus, like Moses and Elijah did on the Mount of Transfiguration. How can you be sure of this? If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then in the same way we also believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.

You can’t say you believe that Jesus died and rose again for your salvation and at the same time deny that all the dead will be raised. They go together. If you believe one you have to believe the other. If you deny one you are denying the other. Jesus did die for our sins and he did rise for our justification. Because he lives, we too will live. He is the first fruits of those who sleep. That means that, just as you believe God’s promise that when you give him the first fruits of your crops the rest of the harvest will be brought in; so just as Jesus was raised from the dead as a first fruit, all the rest of the dead will be raised. That’s the comfort Paul gave the Thessalonians and that we still have today.

But, Paul sensed that the Thessalonians were still confused about how all this would happen. Would anyone who was alive on the last day have some advantage over those who had died? Paul says, “No.” In fact, we tell you this by the word of the Lord: We who are alive and left until the coming of the Lord will certainly not go on ahead of those who have fallen asleep.

Now I need to mention this because some of you may have read the “Left Behind” books, or seen the movie. That series is based on a false teaching about these verses that says that, sometime before the last day, believers who are alive will be snatched up to heaven, and others, unbelievers, will be left behind.  So, notice that Paul makes it very clear that believers don’t go to be with Jesus before the dead are raised on the last day. And, also notice that the word translated “left”, or sometimes “left behind” simply means that they “remain”. They, believers, are still living on earth when Jesus comes. It’s interesting that those who teach a rapture of believers happening before the last day choose a verse to back them up that actually teaches the opposite of what they are saying. Satan is very good at twisting Scripture, as he tried to do with Jesus.

So, what is going to happen on the last day, the day that Jesus returns in glory, in the clouds just as the disciples saw him go into heaven? Verses 16-17 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together, not before not after, but together, with them, to meet the Lord in the air.

On a day and at a time that no one will know except the father; at a time when all those except believers who have been watching for the signs Jesus gave, will be caught by surprise; the last day will come. All this will happen in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, just a matter of seconds. Jesus will appear in the clouds of the sky as the angel armies receive the command “GO! Gather everyone and have them stand before God’s throne.” As was the case at Mt. Sinai when God came down to speak the ten commandments, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, so the coming of Jesus will be announced by the trumpet of God. At that moment, all the dead will be raised, their bodies united with their souls. Then, the resurrected dead who trusted in Jesus, who are now glorified as Jesus was after his resurrection, will be united with those who are still alive and who trust in Jesus, all believers of all time, souls united with glorified bodies, will be caught up, all at once, to meet the Lord in the air.

Why would Jesus want them to meet him in the air? He doesn’t tell us that exactly, but considering that Peter tells us that the earth and everything on it will be destroyed by fire and replaced with a new heaven and a new earth, it seems that it would be to keep us safe until that new heaven and new earth is established. The final result is, we will always be with the Lord.

  Did the Thessalonians have to worry that those who had died would miss out on being with Jesus? No. Their souls were with Jesus and on the last day they would be raised body and soul from the dead and together with believers who are still alive, at the same time, they would all be with Jesus.

Do we have to be frightened when we think about the last day? There will be some frightening things happening on that day. It’s hard for us to imagine dead people coming to life all around us. It’s hard to imagine how we might feel as we see everything destroyed by fire. But it is a comfort to know how it will all end up. Because of Jesus, because he died and rose again, and because the Holy Spirit graciously brought us to trust in him as our savior, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we will be brought to safety at his side in the clouds.

Paul says that we are to comfort and encourage each other with these facts of Scripture. Take note that he says each other. It’s wonderful to gather here and hear these words and promises of God. That gives us encouragement. But, that encouragement needs to continue every day. We need to encourage each other with the word each day as family members. And what about those who don’t have families or who are separated from family for one reason or another? Look for others who may be feeling alone or left out, especially during the holiday season. Make the effort to get to know them so that you can encourage them with God’s word. And, what usually happens when you do that? You receive encouragement yourself. After all, the New Testament passage that gives us the reason for gathering as fellow believers says that the number one reason for doing that isn’t to hear the word only for ourselves, it’s to encourage one another, and that’s especially important as we see the signs that we are getting closer to the last day.  If you are not getting to know and talking with your fellow church members you are not doing everything God would have you do.

Be reminded that Jesus died and rose again, not just for us, but for our fellow church members, and for our unbelieving neighbor. As we are reminded that the last day is coming and there are plenty of scary things that are happening and will happen, be encouraged by these words of God. Jesus paid for your sins. Because of what he did, even though you deserve to be thrown with Satan into the lake of burning sulfur, you know what will happen on the last day. You, together with all believers, will be taken to meet Jesus in the clouds so that you can live and reign with him for all eternity. Trust God’s promise to you in Jesus. Encourage everyone, especially your fellow church members, with that promise of God.

 

 

November 11, 2018 Sermon

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Nov 112018
 

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Matthew 24:3-14

 

I invite you to turn to Matthew 24 either in your Bibles or the service folder as we study the signs that Jesus gave us to help us be prepared for the last day.

 

The disciples had just called Jesus’ attention to the temple. They were likely commenting on how grand and beautiful everything was. They were still in good spirits because it was the week of Passover and just a few days earlier Jesus had been welcomed by the crowds as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. They must have been taken aback by Jesus’ response. He told them that those grand and beautiful buildings they were pointing to would all be torn down and completely destroyed.

As we hear Jesus explain what he meant to them we too might be taken aback. What he tells us seems so negative, such a downer. But hold on. There is good news at the end.

Jesus must have stopped for a rest as he headed east out of the city on his way back to Bethany for the evening. His disciples took the opportunity to ask Jesus to give them some more details about his surprising statement that the temple and the beautiful buildings of Jerusalem would all be destroyed. They asked, Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?”

It’s important for us to take note of the questions Jesus is answering in the verses that follow so that we understand that he starts with things that would happen during the disciples’ life time, the destruction of the temple; but then also speaks of the more distant future, the time of his Parousia, his second coming, when not just Jerusalem, but everything on the earth will be destroyed.

Look at verses 4-8. Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Because many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will deceive many people. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because all these things must happen; but that is not yet the end.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are only the beginning of birth pains.

Jesus doesn’t give them the day or the hour when these things will happen, but he gives them, and us, things that are constant reminders that this world as it now stands will come to an end. Nations at war with each other are a constant reminder of the result of sin. Sinful man lets jealousy, anger, greed for power, and hatred rule in his heart the way Cain did, and that only leads to evil actions and destruction. It was hoped that WWI would be the end of wars and rumors of wars. Today is the 100th anniversary of its end, but the fact that even worse conflicts followed and continue today is a sign, a constant reminder that this world will not cleanse itself. It will need to be cleansed by God.  This is only a surprise to those who deny the Biblical account of the fall into sin and the doctrine of original sin.

Another constant reminder that this world as it now stands will come to an end is the fact that there have been and always will be famines and earthquakes here and there around the globe. As Paul says, the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

The evil that people do to each other and the reporting of natural disasters are the beginning of birth pains. They let us know something is about to happen, that it’s sure to come, there is not stopping it, so be ready. If it were the birth of a child, you would get the hot water and the towels. Since it’s the end of the earth as we know it and the birth of a new heaven and a new earth, make sure you get your heart ready.

Jesus points out how important it is that your heart is ready. It’s important because there will be false Christs who will be very persuasive, even doing things that seem to be miraculous. They will be able to deceive those who have not kept in close contact with God’s word because it is only through the word that their deception will be evident.

It is important that your heart is ready, that your faith is constantly strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace because verses 9-11 They will hand you over to be persecuted, and they will put you to death. You will be hated by all nations because of my name.  Then many will fall away from faith. They will betray each other and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.

People who hate God, who despise the name of Jesus and anyone who confesses his name, who think that Christianity is the cause of all the world’s problems, will put pressure on you. That’s what the word persecute means. They will put pressure on you to deny your faith, or at least to keep quiet about it. And if you don’t, as has happened in many communist and Muslim countries, Christians will be put to death just because they confess the name Jesus. Those who have not had their faith constantly strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace will give in to the pressure and turn against even family and friends betraying them to those who are seeking to silence or kill them.

But what’s even worse than death? Being deceived by a false prophet. As one commentator wrote about these verses, “seducers are more dangerous than persecutors.” Jesus says we are not to be afraid of those who can take our physical lives. The one we are to fear, in the sense of respect and honor above even our lives, is the one who decides where we spend eternity. False prophets may not harm your body, but they can rob you of spending eternity with Jesus. The same commentator wrote, and he lived well before the time of televangelists and mega churches, “neither miracles nor multitudes are signs of the true church.”

As we get closer and closer to the last day more and more people will fall away. They will choose the idol of personal comfort and safety over God, and more and more will be deceived by false Christs, false teachers, and the Antichrist Paul warned about in our second reading today. Because of this we can expect what we see today, the increase of lawlessness, and the love of many growing cold. If God is not Lord and you reject Scripture as truth, then your sinful nature rules. Then you will be turned in on yourself and willing to justify any sin, any lawless act, just to get your way.

Do you feel like the disciples must have felt as they sat on the Mount of Olives and listened to Jesus? Were you thinking today that your life was going pretty well?  Were you hopeful that now that the midterm elections are over some sort of peace and civility would return? Are you thinking, “I thought being a Christian would help me have a positive outlook on life? But, these words of Jesus are so negative!” He’s saying it’s only going to get worse, in fact, you might even be persecuted or killed for your faith! So why continue to follow Jesus?

Watch out that no one deceives you… whoever endures to the end will be saved. Whoever endures the pressure of the trouble caused by sin and the persecution that comes because of Jesus; whoever is not deceived by those who say that if your life isn’t all you want it to be it must be that you are not a true believer; whoever stands their ground like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, Abednego, Peter, Paul, John and many others who didn’t love their lives more than Jesus; whoever continues to be strengthened daily by the Holy Spirit through the word and sacrament so that they realize that eternal life with Jesus is the most important thing; whoever endures to the end will be saved. They will stand before God in the judgment clothed with the white robe purchased by and given to them by Jesus. They will hear the best words that could ever be heard, come blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. It’s in this promise of Jesus that we have hope and peace in the midst of a world that is literally falling apart before our eyes. It’s in the promise of Jesus that we find the strength and determination to endure anything, even death, rather than lose what he has purchased for us.

Jesus’ promise of salvation is good news, but there is even more good news at the end of what seems so negative. This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. In spite of all the attempts to silence the proclamation of the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation only in Jesus; in spite of all the hatred and persecution his followers will face; in spite of all the worries that people have about their children and grandchildren being able to hear the gospel in its truth and purity; God will see to it that the gospel of the kingdom reaches the entire inhabited world. The gospel of the kingdom will continue to be proclaimed until Jesus returns in glory.

This is a great comfort. It’s also a great reminder of our responsibility. God uses us, believers, to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. He has given us much, not only spiritually in that we have the treasure of the pure gospel, but physically. He has given us more ability, more money and more tools to us to spread the gospel than any group of Christians who have ever lived. Yet the desire and support of mission work among us pales in comparison to what was seen in the 1700 and 1800s. God wants all to be saved and, as his witnesses, so do we. How can we fail to do all we can to make sure the gospel is proclaimed to all nations!

Watch out, Jesus says. The signs are fulfilled. You live in the last days. You live in trying times. You live at a time when false teaching abounds, when there is lawlessness and hatred of Christians, and persecution is increasing. Look at yourself closely every day. Confess that there are times when your love has grown cold, toward God and toward your neighbor. Confess that there have been times when you have given in to pressure and failed to stand firm. Then listen to Jesus. Listen to him remind you that he loves the unlovable- that’s you with all your sins and shortcomings. Listen to him remind you that he stood firm in your place, that he paid for your lack of love and your fears. Listen to him remind you that, even though you don’t deserve it, he is preparing a place for you with him in glory. And, strengthened by his gracious promises, give witness to the gospel of the kingdom no matter what. Endure to the end and rejoice in his salvation.

 

 

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