“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness” (1 Thess. 5:1-11; Matt. 25:14-30; Zeph. 1:7-16)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2014

“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30; Zephaniah 1:7-16)

Well, here we are in the middle of November. It’s cold. It’s dark outside. The trees are growing bare. The days are growing shorter. The earth seems to be dying. Darkness seems to be winning. So it seems appropriate that at this time of year–every year, in November–in the church we focus our attention on the end times. We’re coming toward the end of the church year, before Advent comes and we start all over again. The end times, the last things, Judgment Day, the Second Coming of Christ, and what to do while we’re waiting for Christ’s return–these are all themes we get on these Sundays in November. And rightly so, for these are all major themes that we find in the Bible, and our readings today are good examples of that.

The way it is in nature in November is the way it is in the spiritual realm in our world: The days are growing shorter. The earth seems to be dying. Darkness seems to be winning. But as we look at the Scripture lessons for today, we will hear this good news: “Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness.”

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Published in: on November 16, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The True Rapture” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
November 9, 2014

“The True Rapture” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Maybe you remember a bumper sticker that was popular a few years back, which read: “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.” What that bumper sticker meant is the idea that when Jesus comes again, all the Christians alive on earth at that time will be “beamed up” suddenly, leaving the rest of the people on earth behind. That’s why the cars and airplanes and so forth will be vacated when the Christians vanish. This is the so-called “Rapture theory,” and it has been the basis of a veritable industry of popular books and movies and TV programs and radio shows. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of books and a couple of “Left Behind” movies, one of which came out just recently. All of these books and movies and so on have at their core this idea of the Rapture as the moment when all the Christians will be taken up and disappear, and everybody else, all the unbelievers, will be left behind and not know what just happened.

So that’s the Rapture theory, and it’s usually associated with several other things taking place, which we will get into. And the thing is, there is a Bible verse that does talk about the Rapture. In fact, it’s in one of our readings for today, the Epistle from 1 Thessalonians 4. However–and it’s a big “however”–what the Rapture crowd thinks is going to happen and what the Bible actually teaches, those are two very different things. And so today I want to help you to see the difference, so that a) you will not be misled by what people talk about as the Rapture, and b) you will be encouraged and strengthened in hope by what the Scripture actually does teach. And so our theme this morning: “The True Rapture.”

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Published in: on November 9, 2014 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Justification: The Heart of the Reformation” (Romans 3:19-28)

Reformation Day (Observed)
Sunday, October 26, 2014

“Justification: The Heart of the Reformation” (Romans 3:19-28)

Today is the last Sunday in October, and so we are observing Reformation Day. It will be 497 years ago this Friday, on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thus setting in motion the great Reformation of the Christian church. We are the heirs of that Reformation, blessed to be so, and so we join with faithful Lutherans all around the globe in celebrating that historic event and all the blessings of pure doctrine and sound practice that came from it.

How do we celebrate the Reformation? By believing in and caring about the same things that Luther and the Reformers believed in and cared about. And foremost in that list, I would put one word: Justification. Everything else that we can talk about in the Lutheran church flows from, follows after, undergirds and supports this central, primary doctrine of justification. And so our theme for this Reformation Day, “Justification: The Heart of the Reformation.”

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Published in: on October 26, 2014 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Render–But Don’t Surrender–unto Caesar” (Matthew 22:15-22)

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 19, 2014

“Render–But Don’t Surrender–unto Caesar” (Matthew 22:15-22)

“Render unto Caesar”: I think most of us have heard that expression. In fact, I would say that most Americans, whether they’re in the church or not, have heard it. “Render unto Caesar.” The average person might say: “Let’s see, I think that has something to do with what we’re supposed to owe the government.” And they would be right. It does have to do with what we owe the government. But don’t stop the saying there. It goes on, you know. “Render unto Caesar . . . the things that are Caesar’s.” And so then the question becomes: What exactly are “the things that are Caesar’s”? Where does that stop? What is it that we owe the government? Does “Render unto Caesar” mean an unlimited rendering? Or are there limits?

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” But the sentence doesn’t even stop there. It’s a quote from Jesus, which we heard in our Gospel reading today, and Jesus goes on to speak of a “rendering-unto” that is even more important than what we give to the government. He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And so we’re going to get into all of that today, under the theme, “Render–But Don’t Surrender–unto Caesar.”

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Published in: on October 18, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Decliners and Recliners” (Matthew 22:1-14)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2014

“Decliners and Recliners” (Matthew 22:1-14)

Do you ever get an invitation to an event–a party, say–and they ask you to RSVP? So you check your calendar, and you see you’ve got a schedule conflict, and so you’ve got to decline the invitation. There’s something more important going on that day–you’ve got to work, or a family obligation–just something that’s a higher priority to you than going to that party.

But now say you’ve gotten an invitation to a party, and it’s from someone who you know throws the best parties around–fabulous dinner parties, with the best food, the finest wine, gifts for the guests, top-notch all the way. The host is a generous and gracious host, known for his hospitality. So you check your calendar, and you’ve got nothing else going on that day. Or maybe you do have a couple of things going on, but this invitation far outweighs them. You’ll move the other things around, in order to make this party. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity, a real can’t-miss event. Why, you’d be a fool to turn down this invitation! And so you RSVP “yes,” and you go, and it’s great, even better than you imagined.

Well, today you’ll hear about an invitation you have received, and it’s the best one you’ll ever get. It’s an invitation to a real feast. Fabulous stuff. One of a kind. Can’t miss. This is one you definitely don’t want to decline. Instead, nothing could be better or more important than to be seated at this banquet. And so our theme this morning: “Decliners and Recliners.”

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Published in: on October 12, 2014 at 1:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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“St. Paul’s Rubbish Sale” (Philippians 3:4b-13)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 5, 2014

“St. Paul’s Rubbish Sale” (Philippians 3:4b-13)

Yesterday our Ladies’ Guild here at St. Matthew’s held a rummage sale. You know how a rummage sale works. People donate their old, obsolete items that they don’t want or need anymore, and then those items are resold, usually at a much lower price than the original purchase price. And when I say much lower, I mean much lower! I saw a television set downstairs that someone may have paid a couple hundred bucks for originally, but now it was being sold for a mere $5.00. And that was at the start of the sale. Who knows what it went for, if it was still there toward the end? The point is, it didn’t have much value for anyone anymore. But that’s the nature of things at a rummage sale. Old items that people once valued very highly no longer have much worth.

Well, that was how it went at St. Matthew’s rummage sale. But today I want to talk to you about “St. Paul’s Rubbish Sale.” Yes, you heard me right: St. Paul’s rubbish sale–rubbish, not rummage. That’s the word St. Paul uses in our text for today from Philippians chapter 3. Rubbish. That’s how Paul regards the things he used to put so high a value on. He now regards them as rubbish. Today we’ll explore how and why. And we’ll see if you’ve got any rubbish you’d like to get rid of, too. Because when you get rid of the rubbish, the nice thing is, there’s something waiting for you that is of so much more value, infinitely so, a true treasure. And amazingly, this treasure is all yours, free of charge.

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Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 7:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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“You Shine as Lights in the World” (Philippians 2:1-18)

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 28, 2014

“You Shine as Lights in the World” (Philippians 2:1-18)

In our Epistle for today, from Philippians 2, St. Paul appeals to us Christians to live as who we are, namely, “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Did you hear that? “You Shine as Lights in the World.” Yes, you do! And today we’ll find out why and how.

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Published in: on September 27, 2014 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Following Jesus with St. Matthew” (Matthew 9:9-13)

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Sunday, September 21, 2014

“Following Jesus with St. Matthew” (Matthew 9:9-13)

On the church year calendar, September 21 is the day for commemorating St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. And since this year September 21 falls on a Sunday, today we are celebrating the Festival of St. Matthew.

Who exactly was this St. Matthew, you ask, and why should we remember him? Well, first of all, as to who he is, as I mentioned, we refer to him as St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Each of those terms, apostle and evangelist, puts Matthew in pretty select company. St. Matthew is an apostle, and there were only twelve of them–Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, and the rest. Twelve apostles, twelve disciples of Jesus, called and chosen by Christ and sent out by him to carry the good news into the world. Besides being one of the twelve apostles, St. Matthew also has the distinction of being one of the four evangelists, that is, the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So being both an apostle and an evangelist makes Matthew a very significant person in the history of the church.

But we don’t honor St. Matthew simply for his own sake. No, and Matthew wouldn’t have it that way, either. Indeed, as an apostle and an evangelist, Matthew would not point people to himself. Rather, he would point us to his Master, his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And that, really, is why we are remembering St. Matthew today: for how he helps us to follow Christ. And so our theme this morning: “Following Jesus with St. Matthew.”

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Published in: on September 21, 2014 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“But We Preach Christ Crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Holy Cross Day
Sunday, September 14, 2014

“But We Preach Christ Crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

You’ll notice that the color of our paraments today is red–in other words, something different from the ordinary green that we use in the non-festival half of the church year. This means that we’re observing a special festival today, one that happens to fall on a Sunday this year. And this festival is called Holy Cross Day. What is Holy Cross Day, you ask? Well, let me tell you the background of this observance.

Back in the early 300s, the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Then in the year 326, his mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and there she discovered what was believed to be the true cross of Christ. So they began to build a church on the site of that discovery, and, nine years later, it was dedicated–the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. It’s still there, by the way; I’ve been there. So it came to be that on September 14, in the year 335, the holy cross itself was brought outside the church for the people to see. At least that’s how the story goes. And that seems to be the origin of Holy Cross Day. And this festival continues to be observed on this date among churches all around the world.

Now whether or not St. Helena discovered the actual cross of Christ is really beside the point. The main point of this festival, as it is observed among us now, is to emphasize the central importance of the cross of Jesus Christ for our salvation and in our preaching and teaching. That’s what we are doing here today on this Holy Cross Day. And so our theme this morning: “But We Preach Christ Crucified.”

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Published in: on September 13, 2014 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law” (Romans 13:1-10)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 7, 2014

“Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law” (Romans 13:1-10)

Do you want to know what you should be doing this week? I can tell you with sure confidence what God’s will is for you this week. It’s pretty simple, actually. I can sum it up in one word: Love. That’s right. Love. In terms of how you deal with the people you encounter this week, that’s about the size of it: Love them. How can I be so sure of this? Because God’s Word tells me this is so, that this is God’s will for each one of us. It’s no mystery. It’s quite clear.

We heard it in the Epistle reading for today, from Romans 13, where St. Paul writes: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” And so our theme this morning: “Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law.”

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Published in: on September 7, 2014 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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