“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand” (Matthew 3:1-12)

Second Sunday in Advent
December 4, 2016

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand” (Matthew 3:1-12)

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand”: That was the message of John the Baptist as he came preaching in the wilderness. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”: That is the message of John the Baptist as he comes preaching in our midst today. Let’s listen and take heed to what he is saying.

“Repent”: That’s the big word that comes through in our text today. What does this call to repentance mean for us and for our lives? What shape will it take? You see, this is not just a word for way back then. This is a word for right now, for us. It is the word of the Lord delivered through John that is meant to go in our ears and straight to our heart and affect what we do and think and how we live.

(more…)

Published in: on December 3, 2016 at 4:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“The Mountain of the House of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:1-5)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

“The Mountain of the House of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:1-5)

Today we’re beginning a series of sermons I’m calling “Isaiah’s Advent Prophecies.” We’re taking the Old Testament readings for this season of Advent, all taken from the prophet Isaiah, and making them the basis for these messages. Today it’s the reading from Isaiah 2, as we will hear.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the main character is told, “If you build it, he will come.” What is it that he is to build? And who is it that will come? That’s what the movie is about. It turns out that what the character is to build is a baseball field, the “field of dreams” of the movie’s title. “If you build it, he will come.” The “he” is rather a mysterious figure; we don’t know for sure who that is until the end of the movie.

There’s another line in the movie where the main character is told “People will come.” He’s being encouraged to go ahead with the baseball field, because many people will come and see games there. If you build it, people will come. And it turns out to be true. People did come.

What made me think of these things is our reading from Isaiah 2. There it’s not “If you build it, people will come.” Rather, it’s “If God builds it, people will come.” And what God will build is, not a field of dreams, a baseball field, but instead the house of the Lord, established on the mountain of the Lord. And people will come there because he will come, namely, the one who will teach us God’s ways and his word. People will come, yes indeed, people will come to “The Mountain of the House of the Lord.”

(more…)

Published in: on November 30, 2016 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“‘Hosanna!’ Our Advent Prayer and Praise” (Matthew 21:1-11)

First Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2016

“‘Hosanna!’ Our Advent Prayer and Praise” (Matthew 21:1-11)

Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the season leading up to Christmas. But you’ll notice that the Holy Gospel for this day is actually a reading about Palm Sunday. What gives? Why do we get a Palm Sunday reading here at the beginning of Advent?

Well, if you think about it, there is a good reason for this selection. Think about what those crowds were doing on Palm Sunday. They were welcoming Jesus as their coming king. “Behold, your king is coming to you,” our text says, quoting from the prophet Zechariah. And we sang that verse both in the Introit and in the Gradual this morning.

“Behold, your king is coming to you”: That is definitely an Advent theme. The word “Advent” even means “coming.” In Advent, we’re looking forward to our king coming to us. We rejoice at his coming to us in the flesh at Christmas. In repentance and faith, we prepare the way of the Lord coming to us now in Word and Sacrament. And we look forward to our king coming again in glory on the Last Day. “Behold, your king is coming to you”: Yes, that certainly is very Adventish, and so the account of the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem is indeed appropriate for Advent.

And notice how those crowds welcome Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem. What do they shout? What do they say? Hear their cries again: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” That’s what I want to zero in on now. That word “Hosanna.” Why were the crowds saying that back then? Why are we saying it now? That same word “Hosanna.” Thus our theme this morning: “‘Hosanna!’ Our Advent Prayer and Praise.”

(more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2016 at 4:08 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“Thanking God for His First-Article Gifts” (Apostles’ Creed)

Day of National Thanksgiving
Thursday, November 24, 2016

“Thanking God for His First-Article Gifts” (Apostles’ Creed)

Thanksgiving is a time for “Thanking God for His First-Article Gifts.” What do I mean by that? I mean all the good gifts our heavenly Father gives us that are summarized in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Let’s turn there, shall we? Page 322 in your hymnal. We’ll read that article of the Creed itself and then the explanation from the catechism. Together:

“The First Article: Creation. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

In this First Article of the Creed, I think we can see at least seven kinds of gifts that God gives us, along with countless particular blessings within each category. The seven kinds of gifts I have in mind I can call by these terms: Creation. Preservation. Provision. Protection. Mercy. Thanksgiving. Faith. Let’s take them one at a time.

(more…)

Published in: on November 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

“Changing Kingdoms” (Colossians 1:13-20)

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 20, 2016

“Changing Kingdoms” (Colossians 1:13-20)

Perhaps you recall, earlier this year there were a number of celebrities who said they would move out of the country if a certain candidate got elected. They were all going to move to Canada if he got in. They were willing to change their citizenship from one nation to another, because things would be so bad. Well, come November, that candidate did win, and so you would think there would be planeloads of celebrities evacuating the country and heading to Toronto. But somehow that didn’t happen. They’re still here. I guess their promise to leave and change nations wasn’t that serious.

Have you ever thought about moving to another country and changing your citizenship? It would be a big step, a big change. Imagine what our forefathers and foremothers went through when they decided to get on the boat and come over here from Europe. But they figured they were moving to a better place and a better life, so they went ahead and did it. But changing nations is a pretty big deal and not undertaken lightly.

Yes, so how about you? But do you realize you have already changed your citizenship? You already have moved from one nation, if you will, to another. You have moved from a really bad situation to one infinitely better. And the amazing thing is, you didn’t do a thing to earn it or deserve it or to make it happen. And so our theme this morning: “Changing Kingdoms.”

(more…)

Published in: on November 19, 2016 at 9:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“Signs of the End” (Luke 21:5-36)

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
November 13, 2016

“Signs of the End” (Luke 21:5-36)

Tomorrow night, if the sky is clear, you will be able to see what is called a “Supermoon.” This Supermoon is a full moon, but it will appear about 15% larger than average, because the moon will be at its closest point to the earth in 68 years, since 1948.

In the Holy Gospel for today, Jesus talks about signs of the end times. He says there will be “great signs from heaven.” He says, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars.” So is this Supermoon coming tomorrow a sign that the end of the world is about to come upon us?

Well, no, not per se. I mean, the end could come upon us tomorrow–heck, it could come upon us later today–but the appearance of this Supermoon is not a sure indicator. The very fact that such a Supermoon occurred in 1948 and nothing happened shows that this type of phenomenon is not definitive. Remember a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about “Blood Moons” and how this meant that Jesus was about to come back right away. Well, it didn’t happen.

But while a Supermoon by itself is not a predictor of when the end will come and Jesus will return, we should not therefore conclude that the end is not coming. It is. Our Lord Jesus will return, in glory, to judge the living and the dead. That will happen. When it will happen, we don’t know. But that it will happen–we do know that, with certainty. And there will be signs. Indeed, there have been signs, all along. Jesus tells us about them in our text for today. And the point of the signs is for us to be ready for his return and to take courage in the present. Thus our theme this morning: “Signs of the End.”

(more…)

Published in: on November 12, 2016 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“The Greatest Victory Celebration” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 6, 2016

“The Greatest Victory Celebration” (Revelation 7:9-17)

On Wednesday night, late on Wednesday night, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. As I was sitting there watching it on TV, as soon as the ball went into Anthony Rizzo’s glove for the last out, I let out a shout and threw my hands into the air and was utterly excited and ecstatic. For a lifelong Cubs fan from the north side of Chicago, this was quite a moment. After decades of following my team and suffering disappointment after disappointment, and even in this series, being down three games to one, and even in Game Seven, losing the lead late and thinking this is just going to be another in a long line of disappointments–no, this time, finally, things turned out all right. We won. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, we won.

The next day, on Thursday, on the internet, I saw videos of other lifelong Cubs fans and their reactions at the moment the Cubs won the World Series. I saw people jumping up and down, shouting, screaming, in sheer excitement and joy. I saw grown men falling on the floor and weeping, grown men crying tears of joy, tears of relief. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” they would say.

And then I tried to understand all this. Why these strong emotional reactions? It was more than just a sports team winning a championship. It was more than that, it ran much deeper. It was the stored-up, pent-up emotion of 108 years of waiting. It was people thinking of their parents and grandparents who didn’t live to see this day–the generations of Cubs fans who passed down the faith to their children, as it were. And it was the unbelievable surprise that for once, finally, it turned out OK, all right. You see, being a Cubs fan you always expect, and you always prepare yourself for, something to go wrong. Something always goes wrong. You get real close, and then something goes wrong. And that looked like it was happening again Wednesday night. But then–but then it turned out OK. Something went right for a change. It was like a great weight was lifted from your shoulders. And a great wait, w-a-i-t, a really long time of waiting, was over. The weight was lifted, the wait was over, it’s time to celebrate.

(more…)

Published in: on November 5, 2016 at 9:26 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“An Eternal Gospel to Reclaim and Proclaim” (Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28)

Reformation Day (Observed)
Sunday, October 30, 2016

“An Eternal Gospel to Reclaim and Proclaim” (Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28)

It was 499 years ago tomorrow, on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, thus beginning the movement known as the Reformation. We are the heirs of that heritage, and so it is that on the last Sunday in October every year we observe Reformation Day in our churches. We are grateful to God for raising up his servant Luther to bring the clear truth of the gospel to light and to prominence once again. And we want to learn from the Reformation of the need to always be vigilant in guarding the doctrine and practice of the church, so that we remain faithful and steadfast in the truth of God’s Word. For the gospel of Christ that the church is entrusted to proclaim–this is the only saving word there is, and God wants all men everywhere to hear and receive it. Thus our theme on this Reformation Day: “An Eternal Gospel to Reclaim and Proclaim.”

(more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

“The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (Luke 18:9-17)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 23, 2016

“The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (Luke 18:9-17)

“The one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Now I don’t know if our Lord was talking about my Chicago Cubs there or not, but finally my humble Cubbies have been exalted. Well, actually, I do know: Jesus was not talking about the Cubs, because he said, “the one who humbles himself.” And it wasn’t that the Cubs were humbling themselves all those years, it was all the other teams humbling them. So maybe the Cubs being exalted now is just a matter of them having a whole bunch of good players. So no spiritual lesson to be learned there.

But there is a spiritual lesson to be learned in the words of Jesus today. It has to do with how we position ourselves before God. Listen again to Jesus’ words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” You see, now doesn’t that sound upside-down? But it’s true. And we see this principle at work in the story that Jesus tells, the parable of “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”

(more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2016 at 5:50 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

“Continue in the Sacred Writings” (2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5)

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2016

“Continue in the Sacred Writings” (2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5)

In our Epistle reading today, St. Paul commends Timothy–and I would commend all of us–to the word of God. More specifically, I commend you to the continued study of Scripture, to a firm faith in the word of God, and to the living out of the Bible’s teachings in the form of a righteous life. And so our theme this morning, “Continue in the Sacred Writings.”

(more…)

Published in: on October 16, 2016 at 3:27 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,