Great Things in Humble Form

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Luke 19:28-40

Dear crowd singing “Hosanna”: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why are you here? Why did you get up on Sunday morning on a winter day to gather here this morning? If you came here for entertainment, you’d be better off spending your time at a show or concert. If you came here to hang out with people you like, you’d be better off spending your time at a coffee shop or a bar. If you came here to praise God, well you can do that anywhere – you might as well praise God in the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, or on a Caribbean beach. So why are you here?

Is it because you recognize that what happens here doesn’t happen in any other place? Jesus is here in ways He is not elsewhere. Jesus promised that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He is (Matt. 18:20). Jesus promised that where His ministers speak His Absolution, there He is, absolving. Jesus promised that He is truly present in His body and blood which He gives us to eat and drink (Matt. 26:26-28). Jesus is here in this church in Melville. Sure we’re aging and looking more grey than in previous times. Sure our numbers aren’t what they used to be; our numbers are a little humble. But Jesus is here.

Does the humility of our numbers bother Jesus? Jesus knows humility better than we can ever wrap our heads around the concept. Jesus left the perfect joys of heaven to become a man. He put Himself under the Law that He has written. He came to serve the people whom He has created. He sacrificed His own life to save sinful rebels. Jesus is the definition of humble.

On His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He did not choose a noble steed on which to ride. He didn’t gather the leaders of the nation and the richest noblemen to sing His praises. He rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey’s colt. Not a majestic beast of war, but a humble beast of burden. The crowds who happened to be on the streets sung His praises. If the crowds would have been silent, Jesus said the stones would have cried out. It was a rather humble entry into Jerusalem, even though it was to shouts of “Hosanna”.

Did the Palm Sunday crowd even recognize who was there among them? Why was the Palm Sunday crowd shouting “Hosanna”? Luke tells us it was because they had seen Jesus perform miracles (v. 37). Thus they said, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowd wanted to make Jesus king, as they had wanted to do earlier when Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:15). They were looking for an earthly king; a king that would save them from under Roman rule. They wanted to be free from paying taxes to Caesar. They sought the benefits of a victorious king who could miraculously feed them with food for which they did not have to pay, and heal those suffering in their midst. They missed the point. They did not understand that this was God in their midst, riding into Jerusalem. They misunderstood the King and His Kingdom.

It wasn’t just the humility of the donkey that they missed. This King also did not come to be crowned with a golden crown but a crown of thorns. This King would not ascend an earthly throne but a cursed wooden cross. This King would have not have the many royal privileges of kings except burial in a tomb in which no one had before been laid.

This King was humiliated by what was said of Him. He was spat on and mocked. He was whipped and beaten. He was stripped of his clothes and crucified, lifted high for all to see. He suffered all this pain and humiliation for you, His creation who has fallen into sin. Jesus came so humbly, that He could be rejected and despised. Jesus came so humbly that He could be even further humiliated.

Nothing has changed. Jesus still comes so humbly that He can be rejected and despised. He comes in His Word which is neglected, mocked, and twisted by many. In Holy Communion He comes in His body and blood which can be scorned and taken for granted. In Baptism He comes with forgiveness which can be forgotten before the child even grows up.

Why does God come so humbly? Why doesn’t God come to us in His might and power, with His mighty angel hosts baring their swords? Why doesn’t He come with vengeance and justice to punish the wicked? Well, rest assured, God will do exactly that. He will come in glory, power, and might. When Jesus returns He will show His strength and punish all those who reject Him and send them away to eternal punishment in hell (Matt. 25; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

But Jesus did not come in glory, power, and might the first time. If He would have, we would have been those wicked people He came to punish. If Jesus would not have come humbly to pay for our sin, then we would have had to pay for them by suffering eternally in hell. Jesus came humbly for us, to save us.

And now, just as when He came to earth through the Virgin Mary, He comes humbly. He comes humbly for you. Not with force or violence.

We see the effects of those who bring their religion through force and violence: millions of refugees seeking shelter, bombs blowing up and murdering scores of people, countries in civil war and turmoil. In the end they’re going to lose the battle anyway when Christ returns in His glory because they reject Him and His free gift of salvation. But Jesus does not come now with force or violence. The only violence in His coming is the violence He suffered at our hands.

Jesus still comes humbly to us for our benefit. He gives us the benefits of His humble suffering and death in humble form. A little wafer of bread and sip of wine combined with God’s Word give the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. A word of Absolution absolves sin as if Jesus pronounces you innocent Himself. A little water sprinkled over the head in the name of the Triune God gives eternal life. Yes, we just witnessed little Navy receive the promise of eternal life in the humble-looking rite of Baptism, as God put His name on her, adopting her as His child.

As humble as these means of grace appear, what they give you is by no means humble. These means of grace give you the forgiveness of all your sins. Not one sin is left unforgiven. No sin is too great. No sin has been too frequent. Yes, because these means of grace give you the forgiveness of sins, they give you eternal life. You will live forever. Not here in this world of sickness, sin, force, and violence, but in the new heavens and the new earth which will be revealed when Jesus returns in His glory.

What happens here, in this church, is truly amazing! Jesus is here with His forgiveness. So don’t be disappointed if our we’re looking a little grey. Don’t be too upset if our numbers are few. Jesus is here for your benefit, to give you great gifts even though they are wrapped in humble form. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Keep Watch!

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Mark 13:24-37

Dear people keeping watch for Christ’s return: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Be on guard and keep watch because you don’t know when Jesus will return. Jesus gives us some signs which indicate that His second coming is near, but He says we cannot know the day or the hour. In fact, Jesus says that even He does not know the day or the hour; only God the Father knows.

However, it’s not just the signs of the end times for which we are to keep watch. If we’re just keeping watch for the signs of the end times we will be inclined to fear. In last week’s Gospel lesson Jesus spoke of wars and rumours of wars as a sign of the end times. Nation rising against nation; kingdom against kingdom. Earthquakes. Famines. Today we heard that the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and stars will be falling from heaven. Scary stuff.

Nevertheless, keeping watch for signs of the end times has become a pursuit for many. There are those who try and fit biblical prophecies with events going on in the world. They look for prophecies concerning Israel, not understanding that very often when the Bible speaks of Israel, it is speaking of the spiritual Israel – the Church – not the nation of Israel (cf. John 8:39; Rom. 2:28; 9:6-8; 11:25-27; Gal. 3:7). Some even dare to make predictions on the date of the end of the world even though Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour.

But the point isn’t that we keep watch for signs of the end times, but that we keep watch for Jesus and His return. Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, the Church has been waiting for Him to return. Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, and famines have been taking place for two thousand years. Trying to calculate meanings of every war and earthquake and famine will not only drive you crazy, but will also drive you to fear. And in the end, Jesus says you can’t figure it out anyway. So don’t watch for all the awful events unfolding in the world in fear. Rather keep watch for Jesus.

We don’t know when Jesus will return. That’s why we are always keeping watch. He may return for us tonight if we die in our sleep, so we must always be ready. The signs of the end times are constant recurring reminders to believers that the world is dying and assures us that Jesus is coming soon. Keep watch. Be alert and ready at all times.

To fall asleep means to not be keeping watch and thus to be unprepared for the return of Jesus. This can happen through following false teachers and false prophets, concerning whom Jesus gives many warnings. Such false teachers and false prophets may even seem like pious and humble servants but they don’t point you to Jesus and Him crucified for your sins. They may often even quote Scripture but their purpose is to twist it. Jesus says that false teachers will even perform signs and wonders and that they will lead many people astray (Mark 13:22).

Falling asleep can also be through being lulled into complacency and indifference or being preoccupied with the things of this world. When the cares and worries of this life take over and spiritual matters become secondary, there is great danger of falling asleep. When God’s Word is not valued and studied and the Sacraments are despised, there is great danger of falling asleep.

Finally, falling asleep can also take place through sin. Those who have fallen into temptation and have not turned away from sin have fallen asleep. Those who do not repent of their sin but rather remain in their sin in spite of what God’s Word says about such sin have fallen asleep. Hebrews chapter 10 warns us, “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (vv. 26-27) Those who go on sinning deliberately need to fear the wrath of God. They need to fear the return of Jesus.

But there is no fear for us as we keep watch for the return of Jesus. For us there is nothing scary or fearful about Jesus’ return. Since we are in Christ, there is no fear of punishment, no fear of hell, no fear of judgment. So keep watch.

Keep watch for Jesus who has purchased and won you for Himself with His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Keep watch for Jesus, whose promises to you will not pass away even though heaven and earth will pass away. This is not keeping watch in fear for someone who is coming to do you harm or hurt you. It is keeping watch for Jesus who has done every good imaginable for you.

When He returns, Jesus is coming to give you the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8) because He wore the crown of thorns for you. He is coming to give you eternal life because He gave His life for yours. Jesus isn’t returning to punish you, but to give you your reward, which He has earned for you. Thus our watching is not so much for the end of this world, but rather the beginning of the new one. We have the promise of a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:1).

Our keeping watch is not to do with fear but with comfort. The Jesus who will return is the same Jesus into who’s death you were baptized (Rom. 6:3). The Jesus who will return is the same Jesus who absolves you of all your sin (John 20:23). The Jesus who will return is the same Jesus whose body and blood you eat for the forgiveness of all your sins (Matt. 26:26-28).

So keep watch. Not with fear, but with joyful expectation. Keep watch. Not by following false teachers who point you away from Christ crucified but by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and His promises to you. Keep watch. Not by being lulled into complacency and indifference but by clinging to God’s Word and Sacraments which keep you in the faith. Keep watch. Not by falling into sin and deliberately remaining in it but by daily contrition and repentance drowning the Old Adam along with all sins and evil desires.

We do not know when Jesus will return so we keep watch at all times. We don’t need to fear when we see and hear signs of the end times, because Jesus has told us that these things will take place. The more we hear of wars and rumours of wars and of earthquakes and famines, the closer we know the day of Jesus’ return is. And we have nothing to fear of His return, since He is coming with His promised salvation. He is coming to take us to be with Him in the eternal joys of the new heavens and the new earth. So Amen, come Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

You Will Be Hated

Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 13:1-13

Dear ones enduring to the end: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” says Jesus to His disciples. That’s not exactly the most comforting teaching in Scripture. You will be hated by all.

But what else do you expect from this corrupt and sinful world along with its prince, the father of lies? As disciples of Jesus, why would you be surprised that the devil hates you since he hates Jesus? As followers of Jesus, why would you be surprised that the world hates you since it hates Jesus?

Jesus says in John 15, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (vv. 18-20)

But we don’t want to be persecuted. We don’t want to be hated. The great temptation for Christians is to try and blend in with the world so that we will not be hated. The great temptation for Christians is that we would give in on some little things; that we would allow some worldliness into our lives and even into the church because that would help us blend in with the world. Let’s just get along so that we don’t stand out.

Let’s not stand up for God’s definition of marriage or for the unborn. Let’s not speak out against women pastors. Even most other churches have caved on these things.

The devil is crafty. He works in subtle ways. He doesn’t expect to turn a Christian away from God overnight. He does it slowly, incrementally, step by step. He lures and entices into seemingly indifferent things. No Christian wakes up one morning and says to himself, “Today I make a decision that hockey or dance or my job is more important than God.” But after years of playing or working on Sunday morning instead of coming to hear God’s Word and receive His forgiveness and strengthening of faith, faith withers and becomes cold. If the devil has his way, that faith will die. In fact, if we have our way, our faith will die.

But it’s not just in our personal lives that the devil seeks to wreak havoc. Even more so he wants to do it in the church. Again, remember he’s crafty. He’s subtle. He knows he won’t turn the church away from God overnight. He does it slowly, incrementally, step by step. He lures and entices into seemingly indifferent things. He slowly introduces practices that are seemingly pious and sincere but are void of Christ. Surely not every hymn we sing must be about Christ and Him crucified. Surely we can shift some focus away from Jesus so that my children or grandchildren can showcase their talents, at least on Christmas Eve. Surely we can cut out receiving the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith in the Lord’s Supper at least every other Sunday.

The devil is crafty. He works in subtle ways. If you don’t believe me, look around this sanctuary. Where are our younger generations? Have they not been tricked into focusing on things other than Christ? Have they not been lured and enticed away from Christ and His gifts?

And now where are we? In a country seemingly on the cusp of persecution. A time when Jesus’ disciples are hated by the world. A time when Christians are being killed around the world because of their faith. And still we are tempted to give in to the world so that we might avoid being hated. We are still tempted to act like the world or act like churches who have forsaken God’s Word.

We cannot avoid the hatred of the world. We cannot even avoid the hatred of our own families. Jesus says, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” (v. 12) It’s not just the world that we don’t know who will hate Christians. So will the world we know very well – even those near and dear to our hearts.

No matter what we do, we cannot avoid the hatred of the world if we are Christians. But so what? It doesn’t matter what the world thinks! So what if the world thinks we are backwards? So what if the other churches think we live in the age of dinosaurs because we uphold marriage? So what if some in our families think we’re stuck-up killjoys because we cling faithfully to the Word of God?

“The one who endures to the end will be saved.” (v. 13) The one who doesn’t wander from the truth of God’s Word will be saved. The one who isn’t lured and enticed into the world will be saved. The one who endures in the faith will be saved.

But don’t think that it is up to you to keep yourself in the faith. If it were, there would be no hope for any of us. Rather, the Holy Spirit keeps you in the faith. He who brought you to faith in your Baptism keeps you in the faith through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit keeps you in the faith through the body and blood of Jesus which nourish you throughout your days of pilgrimage on this earth. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit keeps you from being lured and enticed by the world. The Word of God keeps you from wandering from the truth because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

The truth of God’s Word says that Jesus is preparing a place for us right now in eternity and He will come again and take us to be with Him (John 14:3). This world of sin isn’t our home. This world of hatred and persecution isn’t our home. We’re pilgrims passing through here to our eternal home.

Jesus is not preparing a place for us because we’re good people; not because we’re better than the world; not because we’re better than anyone, because we’re not. We’re just as full of sin and hatred as the rest of the world.

Jesus is preparing a place for us because He took the punishment of our sins on Himself. Jesus faced the hatred of the world in all its ugliness and nastiness. Jesus faced our hatred as we crucified Him with our sins. Jesus wasn’t crucified for anything He had done; He died for our sins. The guilt of our sins killed Him.

But Jesus doesn’t begrudge us. He doesn’t hate us back. He willingly gave His life for us out of pure love. He willingly took our place out of compassion for us, His fallen creation. He gladly brought us salvation, setting us free from sin and sorrow. He slayed bitter death for us so that we will live with Him forever. He defeated the devil so that he cannot threaten us. Now we are free from condemnation. We are free from punishment. We are saved from hell.

The world will hate those who follow Jesus. Christians will likely face much more opposition and hatred in the years to come even in our own country. Church steeples will fall, but the one who endures to the end will be saved. Those who belong to Christ will be saved because He will sustain us through His Word and Sacraments. We have nothing to fear because we belong to Christ and He has promised us eternal life when we die.

“I know my own, my own know me.

You, not the world, my face shall see.

My peace I leave with you. Amen.” (LSB 645 st.5)

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sacrificial Giving

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 12:38-44

Dear generous givers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

God looks at offerings quite differently than we do. We might be tempted to have a list of those who give offerings ranked based on how much everyone gives; God’s not concerned with how much we give compared to someone else but rather how much we give out of what He has given to us. We might be tempted to desire much attention and fanfare when we give large sums of money so that we may seen by others; God says don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand gives so that your giving may be in secret (Matt. 6:3). We might be tempted to say that he who gives more is a better Christian than he who gives less; Jesus says an offering of a penny is more than an offering of large sums of money.

Clearly, God’s not going to change His mind on how He looks at offerings, so we should change ours. We should look at giving to Him the same as He looks at it.

First of all, we should acknowledge that everything we have has been given to us by God as a gift (I Cor. 4:7). We should thus be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us (cf. Matt. 25:14-30). In our use of them, we should keep in mind where our earthly blessings come from, and also remember that we can take none of them with us when we die.

Next, we should not give in order to receive praise from men. God says those who give in order to receive the praise of men have already received their reward (Matt. 6:2). What we give is a matter between us and God. He knows what He has given to us and He sees our hearts when we return offerings to Him.

The main point Jesus is teaching in the case of the widow who gave two copper coins which make a penny is sacrificial giving. Jesus isn’t teaching us to give out of our excess, but to give sacrificially. The rich people who put money into the offering box put in large sums of money. But for the rich people, it was the equivalent of a poorer person digging in their pocket to see what loose change they had and tossing that into the offering box. It was given out of their abundance, like having a cup that is so full that it’s overflowing and thinking that some of what spills out is a generous offering.

The poor widow, on the other hand, only put in two copper coins that make a penny. In the overall scheme of things, that penny has next to no value. But it was everything she had to live on. In the scheme of her life, it had great value. It was everything she had. That is sacrificial giving! Thus Jesus says that the poor widow put in more than all the others who put in great sums out of their abundance.

God does not call us to give sacrificially out of what we do not have, but according to what we do have (II Cor. 8:12). Thus the widow of Zarephath did not give more than she had, but she gave what she did have. Poor as she was, she only had a little bit of flour and oil. She gave to Elijah of her meagre flour and oil, but that gift was more than if a king had prepared a three-day feast for Elijah. The widow of Zarephath also gave everything she had to live on. She gave sacrificially and trusted in God to continue supplying her and her family what they needed.

The idea of sacrificial giving is also found with King David. When David offered a sacrifice to God to avert the plague caused by his census, he did not accept the gift of land and wood and animals offered to him by Araunah the Jebusite, but responded, “No, but I will buy it from you with a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:18-25). David recognized that giving something that cost him nothing is giving nothing. It is not sacrificial giving.

But God does not want His people to give offerings begrudgingly or under compulsion. God says He loves a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7), so decide in your heart how much you will give, and then give willingly and cheerfully. Give not because you feel like you have to, but out of a loving response to having all of your sins forgiven. Give out of a desire that your neighbour (whether here or across the world) will also hear the Word of God proclaimed and receive the same forgiveness of sins you have received. After all, it isn’t God who needs your money. It is your neighbour and you who benefit. You both benefit from hearing God’s Word and receiving His gifts which are supported by the offerings you give.

There are also additional benefits to be had. In Malachi, God challenges His people who were withholding their tithes and offerings to test Him. “Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (3:10-11)

God told His people that He had been withholding His earthly blessings from them because they weren’t giving Him tithes and offerings. In fact, God tells the people that in this way they were robbing Him. But God says, “Put me to the test. See if I don’t rain more earthly blessings on you than you ever thought imaginable. Put me to the test. See if the fruit of your soil isn’t better and richer. Put me to the test. See if your meagre flour and oil given to God don’t multiply and sustain your household for many days.”

All of this flows from the forgiveness of sins. Offerings are our joyful response to the forgiveness of sins. After all, it was Jesus who gave sacrificially. He gave His very life for us. He left the riches of heaven to come to earth to sacrificially serve us. He was beaten, mocked, whipped, and crucified for us. He sacrificed His life to save us. That is sacrificial giving!

Whether you put one dollar on the offering plate or one thousand dollars, neither one earns you the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins has already been earned for you by Jesus, and He gives it to you freely in His Word, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. And Jesus’ gifts to you are no meagre gifts. The water of Baptism may look meagre. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper might also look meagre. But Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are overflowing with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. They give to us all of God’s promises. They give to us eternal life. And God gives these gifts to you freely. No strings attached. That is why God’s gifts to us create a joyful response from us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.