The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)
St. Matthew 25:31-46
Come, Lord Jesus!
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! These are some of the final words of Holy Scripture. They are the cry of the Church from the Fall into sin until the present day. Eve was so ready to be done with sin that when she gave birth to her first son, Cain, she was convinced He was the promised Redeemer. Paul had to write to the Thessalonians because they were so appalled by the rampant wickedness of their generation that they swore Jesus would return at any minute, so they quit working and taking care of life and doing those other necessary things. And for us, how often do we wrestle with the question, “How much worse was it in the days of Noah that God decided to destroy the earth?” or “How much worse does it have to get before Jesus returns?” These are good questions, but their answers lie in the hidden will of God, meaning we cannot know the answer them, nor is it any good for us mentally or spiritually to try to answer them. So, we must turn to the good news of Scripture. What Good news has the Word of God given us today? On the surface, not much, it appears. Peter said that “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved.” Jesus said that the goats will be cast into eternal punishment. But Daniel takes the cake. God revealed to him terrifying images—a lion with wings that get ripped off, a bear sent out with the command “devour much flesh,” a beast with iron teeth stomping on what little is left of creation, and a horn with eyes and a mouth that speaks great things. Who needs horror from Hollywood or Stephen King when you have these images from Scripture?!
We don’t like these images, thoughts, or feelings. They scare us. We’d much rather have wooly lambs in Jesus’ arms, babbling broks, and rich banquets, not horrifying mental images of world destruction. which is also why our new hymnal ditched such upbeat and positive hymns like “Day of Wrath, O Day of mourning,” “The world Is Very Evil, the Times are waxing late,” and “Great God, what do I See and Hear?” and because our modern palate finds these things repulsive and the church gladly relegates them to these couple of weeks at the end of the Church year, we have been done a disservice for living in these gray and latter days. I’m not saying that every service and sermon needs to be gloom and doom and mountains being carried into the midst of the sea, but we do need to heed Peter’s words and keep them in our mind: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
And therein is the key, the blessed Gospel, the good news: according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. All the terrifying and vile things Daniel’s visions represent will come to an end. Some day false doctrine will no longer plague the Church on earth. Some day kingdom will not rise against kingdom. Some day families will not be rent asunder. Some day citizens will not vote into law the so-Called “right” to murder babies and mutilate God-made bodies and then hold reprehensible victory parties across the state.
Some day Jesus, who died and rose victorious will, for all the world to see, begiven dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
One day you will receive the end of your faith the end of your Baptism. Jesus will come to place you on His right hand because He died for you, because He Baptized you, because He spoke His Word into your ear and heart, because He fed you with His Body and Blood. Because He gave His saving gifts to you, gifts you did not earn, a kingdom you did not build, He will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Then sin and evil will be done and you will be safe, face to face with Jesus for eternity.
Amen, “Come, Lord Jesus.
The Feast of All Saints (Observed)
1 John 3:1-3; Matthew :1-12
What We Will Be Has not Yet Appeared
In his first Epistle St. John gave this word of reassurance: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
This is the great hope, the great comfort we have at the Feast of All Saints. What we will be has not yet appeared. But John heard the voice from heaven that said, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev 14:13). What we will be has not yet appeared, but for our blessed dead, those who have died in the Lord, what they are has appeared. For them, the Lord has come with the shout of victory. They are at rest with the Lord; they are not dead. As a congregation we celebrate today on this All-Saints Day because Ken and Haran’s membership has been transferred from the Church Militant here on earth to the Church Triumphant. All your loved ones who have died in the faith enjoy the same victory, the same rest, the same bliss of being in the presence of Jesus Christ for eternity. What we will be has not yet appeared, but they now enjoy that for which we long. Thanks be to God!
So, this day is another Easter reminder, similar to what we had a few weeks ago when the Gospel told of Jesus raising the only son of the Widow of Nain. Today the distant triumph song is heard by our ears. We already heard the angelic “Glory be to God on high,” repeated heaven’s alleluias, and soon we will join in the cries of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Your loved one has gone before you and you just sang with hem and will again. They are not dead, but are in that blessed heavenly chorus. They rest from their labors. But we labor now
But that day has not yet come for you. In this meantime, enjoy what Jesus gives you. He has pulled back the curtain for you like He did for St. John. He has shown you that the dead, your loved one who has departed in the Christian faith in the crucified and risen Jesus is in the kingdom of heaven. They see God as He wipes the tears from their eyes and as He opens his hand to satisfy their hunger and thirst. He is their covering that blocks them from the sun and scorching heat. He id their shepherd who carries them in His nail-pierced hands forever.
Beloved, we you God’s children now, and what you will has not yet appeared; but what the dead in the Lord are is revealed to them and known by them, and sin God’s good timing and by His great mercy it is and will be yours forever when you see Him as He is.
Due to a technical difficulty, only the Readings were able to be recorded.
The Festival of the Reformation (Observed)
Romans 3:21-28; Matthew 12:11-15
The Great Exchange
In Lutheran theology we often talk about the “Great Exchange,” Jesus Christ taking our place, taking on the sin of the world, enduring the punishment all us sinners rightly deserved and then giving us His forgiveness, His righteousness. God on the cross and man in heaven.
But this great exchange was the second great exchange. In Romans 1 Paul discusses the first great exchange that necessitated the second:
, although [man] God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 1:21-25)
Of course, this is about Adam and Eve and all their descendants exchanging the worship, the fear, love, and trust of God for the worship, fear, love, and trust of the creation, exchanging the true God for themselves as god. They exchanged the truth of God as loving and involved in His creation for the lie that God was holding out on them, hat God was denying pleasures to His creation because He wanted them to go without true happiness. And we know where this has landed us and our world. At one point the ungodliness was so overwhelming that God destroyed all the ungodliness with the Flood.
But man was no longer in the image and likeness of God. From the Fall, all children born of man and woman are in the image and likeness of sinners, sinners who, whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not, whether they acknowledge it or not, long for a return to paradise, to the worship of the Creator rather than the creation, to the intimate communion with God in Eden in the cool of the day. Adam and Eve , once they realized their sin, longed for reunification with God. So in His divine forbearance God laid out the plan: In the fullness of time a daughter of Eve would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit one who would undo the enmity between God and man, one who would crush Satan’s head, one who would undo the curse, destroy this ruined world and usher in the new heavens and the new earth. God desired this to be what drove, what sustained His people until the Redeemer would come and execute the new Great Exchange, would come with the shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God (1Thes 4.16). God desired His children to teach this promise diligently to their children, to talk of them when they sat in their house, when they walked by the way, when they lay down, and when they rose up, to bind them as a sign on their hand, and as frontlets between their eyes, and to write them on the doorposts of their house and on their gates (Dt 6.6-9).
But until the Last Day, our first great exchange still lingers, still affects our mind and heart, our reason and our senses. Satan still knows our weaknesses, the chinks in our armor, and tries to use them to separate us once again from God. The best way he can do this is not by appearing evil, to be obvious about his end goal. He succeeds by disguising himself as an angel of light and his false apostles and deceitful workers appear as apostles of Christ. They prowl around, not with an eternal Gospel, but the damnation of works, of self-redemption, and of working and earning your way back into heaven—which, of course, is impossible. Bur in our weakness we so often fall prey to this so called “gospel of works,” which is no Gospel at all. Satan has, in time past and even in our own day, clouded the light of Jesus and we have been blinded by the darkness to think that there is some allure in this earning of righteousness, of not needing the second, the true Great Exchange. This has been preached in churches of various denominations, times, and places. But God, in His great mercy and love for sinners, has always maintained the Gospel of Jesus Christ taking our place and freely dispensing His forgiving work of cross and grave. As long as the Word of God, which endures forever, is available, an angel will be flying in the midst of heaven with an everlasting Gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people (Rev 14.6).
Today, as we commemorate the Festival of the Reformation, we are not here to have a mere celebration of being theological descendants of Martin Luther, to have a pride festival that we’re Lutherans, somehow making us better than everyone else. To turn this into a Pharisaical,” I thank You, God, that I am not like other men” holiday is to miss the point, to forget what we prayed for in the Kyrie: the peace from above and the unity of all. Today we give thanks to God for maintaining that angel in midair with the eternal Gospel to proclaim. We give thanks to God for Luther, that one particular angel, but we give thanks, more importantly, for the angels of every time and place who have preached the Gospel of the great exchange, of our fall into sin, but Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, taking our place on the cross and freely giving to us, His undeserving children, the forgiveness He won.
As we give thanks to God for His saving Gospel, for being justified by faith, apart from works of the Law, we pray that the Holy Spirit would safeguard this Gospel, keeping it free from the infection of sin and the devil, and that He would spread its saving news to the ends of the earth until the last soul is saved and Jesus returns in glory on the Last Day.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.