Gerhard on Thanksgiving

“Omnipotent, merciful God, I thank you for wonderfully preserving me from the earliest days of my youth.  I cam into this world naked.  You kindly clothed me.  I entered this world hungry.  Thus far you generously have fed me.  In you, I live and move.  Without you, I fall back to nothing and die.  In you, I bend and move my limbs.  Without you, I cannot participate in life and movement.  The sun that provides me light, which I see daily with my eyes, belongs to you.  The night belongs to you.  The alternation of day and night provides me opportunity for labor and rest.  The earth whose fruit generously nourishes me belongs to you.  Every creature in heaven, sky, land, and sea that is designated for my use and service is yours.  Silver is yours.  Gold is yours.  For whatever is necessary for the preservation of this life, I have your most generous and kind hands to thank. [. . .]

“To you, the creator and preserver of all things, be glory and honor forever.  Without you, the true sun, I would vanish like a shadow.  Without you, the true light, I would be destroyed immediately.  Without you, the true being, I would be brought to nothing instantly.  To you alone do I owe all my being, my living, and my moving.  Therefore, I will live only for you an depend only on you for eternity.”

Johann Gerhard: Meditations on Divine Mercy

Concerning Meditation on God’s Gifts 

Meditation II: Thanksgiving for Preservation

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The Coming Wrath – Sermon for November 17/18

The Coming Wrath

Malachi 4:1-6

2nd Last Sunday of Church Year

November 17th / 18th, 2013

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

The day is surely drawing near

When Jesus, God’s anointed,

In all his power shall appear

As judge, whom God appointed.

Then fright shall banish idle mirth,

And flames on flames shall ravage earth

As Scripture long has warned us.

(The Day is Surely Drawing Near LSB 508 st. 1)

Imagine with me a young man, just returned home after his first year of college.  His parents go out of town to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, a 10 day Alaskan cruise.  They leave on Friday morning, and their last words before heading to the airport are, “NO PARTIES while we’re gone.”  Well, you know what happens next . . . the son throws a party . . . that night, in fact.  He’s not wasting any time.  He invites as many friends as he can think of, and those friends invite their friends, who invite their friends, until in almost no time at all the whole thing spirals wildly out of control.  When his parents call that night to tell him they arrived safely at their destination, they hear the music and carousing in the background and know that there is a party going on.  Their response?  “We’ll deal with you when we get home.”  That whole weekend the boy is sick to his stomach, dreading the return of his parents and the punishment that awaits him.  But, his parents aren’t coming home for more than a week, and he has to go to work Monday.  And Tuesday.  And Wednesday.  By Thursday, he’s pretty much completely forgotten about the coming punishment, busying himself instead with work and summer classes.  At the back of his mind somewhere he knows this is just the calm before the storm, but it is calm nonetheless, and he is comfortable, and so he pushes it farther and farther out of his mind.

ll today’s readings deal with the end times, with God’s final judgment.  In fact, we are in a time in the church year where end-time themes run rampant, in the weeks just before Advent.  The texts at the end of the church year deal with the end of the world.  This is not a coincidence, and neither is it an accident that these end times texts are followed directly by Advent and the beginning of a new church year.  In two short weeks Advent will be here, and we will begin once again to prepare for the Savior who comes as a baby in a manger.

But now, here, today, as the fall turns to winter, and the world around us begins to look more and more dead, we prepare for the Lord’s coming in the final judgment.  Are you ready for it?  Are you prepared to meet your maker?

Sometimes thoughts of the end of the world are at the front of our minds: after a typhoon in the Philippines, for instance, or after a hurricane on the Gulf Coast or along the Atlantic Seaboard, in the aftermath of any particularly horrific natural disaster of any kind.  But then, life doesn’t stop.  The bills don’t pay themselves, the kids don’t drive themselves to afterschool activities, dinner doesn’t make itself.  There are quarterly reports to prepare at work, Christmas Trees to decorate, and the ominous Tax Forms looming on the horizon.  There’s life to tend to.  It’s so hard to think about the end times when we still have to live in the present.  But don’t let Satan use everyday life to distract you from reality.  The end is coming.  Are you prepared?  You can just ignore it or push it to the back of your mind if you’d like, hoping it goes away.  But it won’t go away.  Ignoring the problem is not a solution.

And there certainly is a problem. God is coming to judge sin, whether we’re prepared or not.  God demands payment for sin, He demands punishment, for he is a righteous and holy God, and sin cannot survive in his presence.  Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah when God came into his presence, “Woe is me!” he said, “For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts!”  Don’t ignore the warning the Lord gave Moses, “man shall not see me and live.”  Darkness is annihilated in the presence of light, and sin cannot exist in the glorious presence of God.  When God comes again, sin will be punished, and we are a sinful people, who live in a sinful world.  When God comes, he will destroy this sinful world, crushing it under his mighty hand.

But this is not a particularly popular view of God.  This is not the God we see in all those cute inspirational pictures on Facebook.  Satan tempts us to think of God only as a good friend rather than the master of the universe.  Certainly our best friend wouldn’t be mad at us!  “He knows that I’ve tried my best, right?  He doesn’t really expect perfection, does he?”  So instead of seeing God for who he is, righteous and holy, demanding that all sin be punished, they recast him as they see fit, making minor adjustments here or there.  It’s the sin of the Old Testament Israelites, who were so comfortable with their notion of the Lord and their place as the chosen people of God that they lived as if his judgment would never actually come.

In the beginning God made man in his own image, and man has been returning the favor ever since.

Mankind simply won’t tolerate a righteous God who demands righteousness.  We won’t be bothered with words like sin, damnation, vengeance, or hell.  That’s not how we want to see God.  We’d rather focus on those passages in scripture where Jesus is being nice; those make us feel warm and fuzzy.  We’d rather speak of victory and triumph and glory.  Passages that deal with God’s judgment make us feel so cold.  So we tend to ignore them.  We want the Lord as our Shepherd, not as our judge.

But, dear Christians, God will not be mocked.  He will not be ignored.  Whether you think about it or not, this is reality.  Whether you’re ready for it or not, judgment is coming, and it won’t be pretty.  Remember the words of the prophet Micah, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”  Neither root nor branch.  Total destruction.  Absolute devastation.  Are you ready?

The Lord is coming with a mighty vengeance, demanding payment for our sin.  Demanding payment for every time we’ve lost our temper, demanding payment for every time we’ve lied, told half-truths, or assumed the worst about someone else, demanding payment for every time we’ve ignored someone in need, demanding payment for the way we’ve misused and abused his creation, exploiting the weak for our own personal gain.  Are you really prepared for the coming wrath?  Or like the boy whose parents were out of town, have you put it out of your mind, busying yourself instead with the chores and responsibilities of everyday life?

Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

God will not be mocked.  His righteousness demands that the debt be paid, but here’s the thing: our Lord in his infinite mercy knew it to be a debt that you or I could never pay for ourselves.  So he paid it for us.  Jesus Christ has set things right with God by dying on our behalf, paying our debt, taking our punishment upon himself.  Through Christ’s death we are right with God, at peace with God.  It is Jesus, as Paul says, who saves us from the coming wrath.

In his death, Christ was reconciling the world to the Father.  Make no mistake, God will not be mocked.  He still punishes sin, but he punished it on the cross.  On the cross, he who knew no sin became the sin offering for us.  God took his wrath out on sin by taking his wrath out on his own Son.

Taking all of God’s righteous anger, all of God’s hatred of sin, all of God’s holy judgment upon himself, when Christ was beaten at the hands of angry soldiers it was as if God himself was swinging the club . . . crucified as if God himself drove in the nails . . .condemned on our behalf, screaming out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!”  Why did God forsake him?  Why did God forsake his own Son?

 So that he wouldn’t have to forsake you. 

God put his own Christ forward as the atoning sacrifice, the sacrifice that sets all things right.  When Jesus was crucified, all your sin was crucified with him.  Now, you are right with God.  Jesus, through his death, saves us from the coming wrath.  Through your baptism you have been clothed with Christ, so you can proclaim with Paul “I have now been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, Christ lives in me.”  Are you prepared for the coming judgment?  Yes.  For when God comes in righteous wrath to judge the sin of the world, when he lines everyone up and lays their life’s failures before them, when God looks at you with all your sinfulness and ugliness and rottenness, he sees none of it.

 He sees only Christ living in you.

His righteousness.  His purity.  His holiness.  You might say that God sees you through Jesus-colored glasses.  He doesn’t see us for the sinners that we are, he sees only his Son.  You have no need to fear the coming wrath, for Christ who lives in you saves you from it, and he takes you as his own precious child to be with him in paradise.  In the words of the prophet Malachi, “for all who fear [the name of the Lord], the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”  When that last day comes, we will not enter into it like a group of prisoners on a chain gang, heads hanging low in shame, feet shuffling along as we inch closer to our judgment.  No, when the day of the Lord comes, we “will go out leaping like calves from the stall,” like baby calves prancing in the wide open meadows, so we will enter into the joy of our Lord on that day.

And until then?  What do you do as you wait for this glorious day?  In the words of the Apostle Paul, we avoid idleness.  We go to work in our jobs.  We support the needs of our families by providing food, clothing and shelter.  We decorate Christmas trees and make dinners.  We remain faithful in our teaching as we pass the Word of God on to the next generation.  We remain diligent in prayer, both for our own needs as well as for the needs of the world around us.  We return to our Lord a portion of whatever wealth he has given us so that the voice of proclamation might not go silent in this place.  In other words, we do not grow weary in doing good, for we know what our future is.

Are you prepared to meet your maker?  Yes!, for you belong to Christ.  You need not live in dread of our Lord’s return at the end of the world.  When the end does come, do not cower in fear, but as Jesus says, stand up straight and raise your heads, because the arrival of the end means your redemption is drawing near.

O Jesus Christ, do not delay,

But hasten our salvation;

We often tremble on our way

In fear and tribulation

O hear and grant our fervent plea:

Come, mighty judge, and set us free

From death and ev’ry evi.

(The Day is Surely Drawing Near LSB 508 st. 7)

 

In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Funeral Sermon for Warren A. Hoeft

Funeral of Warren A. Hoeft

2 Samuel 12:15b-23, 1 Peter 3-9; Luke 2:25-32

November 12, 2013

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.  This man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  When this man saw the infant Jesus in the Temple, he took him up in his arms and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your gift of salvation.”

             There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was David.  When David heard that his child was sick and dying, he prayed that the Lord would spare the infant’s life.  When the child died, David found comfort in the knowledge that he would be joined together with his Son in heaven.

There was another man, not in Jerusalem, but this time in Fraser. This man’s name was Warren.  Like the United States of America, he was born on the 4th of July, and he spent much of his life in service to his country.  He served in the Army Infantry from 1942 until 1945.  After that he worked as a special agent in the investigations division of the IRS.  “The Dagger” they called him, a code name that inspired fear and trembling in any who would attempt to defraud the federal government.  He would sit outside in a parked car in some dangerous neighborhoods for hours on a steak-out until he caught his man.  He was threatened, even shot in the line of duty, but he would not be deterred.  He was diligent.  He was thorough.  He loved serving his country, and he was especially humbled that every 4th of July his office would shut down and give everyone the day off in honor of his birthday.

But even more than an investigator, Warren was a family man.  Building forts out of blankets and sheets in the basement with his granddaughter.  When he wasn’t building forts, he was playing restaurant, making up menus and taking orders, or he was playing rocket ship with his daughter, pretending to fly to the different planets in the solar system.  Spending the summers in Lexington playing on the waters of Lake Huron, water skiing even into his 60s.  A man who loved to see people laugh, loved to put smiles on their faces, so he would periodically put aside his identity as “Warren the Dagger” and become “Warren the Not-so-Great,” magician – not to the stars and celebrities – but rather magician to all the kids at his daughters’ birthday parties, entertaining the children at Bethany Lutheran Church in Detroit.  He was a square dancer.  He was a world traveler.  He was a story teller who memorized the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke.

But most importantly for today, Warren was a child of God.  In July of 1920, Warren was washed with the water of holy baptism in Waltz, Michigan.  He was given the gift of new life and was united to the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God himself.  In the words of the Apostle Peter that we heard a few moments ago, through those waters Warren was born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  He was born into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, an inheritance kept in heaven for him while he was on earth being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-9]

For Warren, that last time came on Thursday night.  Last Thursday, Warren was brought into the inheritance that was being guarded for him in heaven.  Warren chased a lot of criminals in his line of work.  He saw firsthand some of the ugliness that plagues mankind as a result of sin.  Last Thursday he felt the fullest force of the most powerful attack that this world has to offer.  Last Thursday, Death did its worst.  But in the end, even though we are left here to mourn his death, Warren was brought through that attack into life everlasting.  For Warren was, and still is, a child of God.

In those exact pews that you are sitting in today, Warren sat and heard the news of his salvation.  At this very rail Warren knelt and received the body and blood of his savior, given and shed for the forgiveness of sin.  And every time Warren communed at this rail, after he had received the body and blood of Jesus he was heard those words first spoken by the man Simeon of Jerusalem: “Depart in peace.”  What incredible words those are, for they are far more than the pastor simply dismissing people back to their seats.  They are not a holy-sounding way of saying, “Ok, time to go back and sit in your pew so the next group has room.”  No.  “Depart in peace” means you are now prepared for anything that might come your way.  You are now prepared to face whatever trials and tribulations this life may throw your way.  You are now prepared to face the worst, even death itself, for you have been united to the living body of your Lord Jesus Christ.  As he lives, so also you live.  As he has triumphed over the grave, so will you.  Therefore, depart in peace.

And so Warren did.  Warren received the gift of peace.  In this life, he was blessed with the peace that passes understanding, the peace that only comes through the gift of our Lord’s Spirit.  And now he is enjoying peace at its fullest, eternal peace, a peace that will never be taken from him, for as the Psalmist says, the Lord is his keeper, the Lord is his shade, the Lord will keep him from all evil, the Lord will keep his life.

And so we reflect today on three men: Simeon, David, and Warren.  In Simeon we see the joy of God’s promises fulfilled.  Simeon held in his hands the infant Jesus just as God promised.  When Simeon saw that promise fulfilled, he knew that God would make good on his other promises as well.  He knew that the plan of salvation was underway, the salvation that God had prepared for all peoples, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel.  Warren is the one reaping the benefits of that plan today, for he has been delivered from this veil of tears into his eternal bliss.  Like Simeon, Warren was able to depart in peace, for his salvation was secure.

We are left to mourn his passing.  The people in this room must get up tomorrow and go about their day without their grandpa, without their dad, without their husband.  Thanksgiving and Christmas will be tough this year.  While Warren has peace, we are left with grief.  And so in David we see the comfort and hope that we have when our loved ones die in the faith.  As the ancient king confessed, we may not be able to bring our loved ones back to us, yet we know that we will one day go to them.  You will be united with Warren again in the presence of God, united around the throne of the Lamb in heaven, gathered together with all the baptized from the ends of the earth to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.

And from Warren?  What do we learn from him?  Well, for starters, we learn that square dancing and bad magic tricks leave a lasting impression on the people you love.  We learn that basement forts and rides in the golf cart will not soon be forgotten.  But above all that, we learn that there is no better comfort that can be offered in the face of death than the comfort of the resurrection of the body unto life everlasting.  Warren is living that life now, for Warren was a faithful child of God.  Take comfort in that.  He was washed by our Lord in the water of baptism.  Find confidence in that.  He was fed and nourished by our Lord’s Word preached from this very pulpit.  He tasted the joy of his salvation at this rail.  Find hope in that.  For as the Apostle Paul says, we do not grieve for him as those who have no hope.  We have hope, for we have Jesus.  More specifically, we have hope because Jesus has us.  Jesus has Warren, and he has you too.  Therefore you will be reunited with him in Jesus in the resurrection.  May God grant us steadfast faith as we wait for that joyous day.

Fostering Thankfulness (November 2013 Newsletter)

Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.

-Martin Luther

Martin Luther wrote these words as part of what’s known as the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.  The point that Luther was trying to make was that God does not wait for sinners to be lovable before he bestows his love upon them.  Rather, God loves the ugly sinner, and through that love the sinner becomes beautiful in God’s eyes.

As we approach another celebration of Thanksgiving, can we as baptized children of our Heavenly Father apply that same perspective to our thankfulness?  We are often tempted to withhold thankfulness until we feel that we have something to be thankful for.  We are often tempted to look to God and tell him that we will be thankful when we are out of debt, when our entire family is healthy, when we get that promotion at work, or maybe even when we finally get a steady job.  There will always be something we do not yet have, so Satan tempts us to withhold thankfulness until we get that thing.  The problem is, even when we get that one thing, there will be another thing we desire, and another, and another.  We will never have everything we want in this life.  Are we to withhold thankfulness forever?

Rather than waiting for God to do something extraordinary before offering him thanks, let us instead thank him for the mercies that are new to us every morning, remembering what we learned of our Lord’s First Article gifts.  He gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that we have.  He richly and daily provides us with all we need to support this body and life.  He defends us from all danger, and guards and protects us from all evil.  All this he does only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  For all this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.

When we adopt a thankful heart as a matter of principle, there will be no shortage of things for which to be thankful.  Rather than waiting for something to be thankful for, rejoice in the many wonderful gifts that our Lord has already given, knowing that they come into our lives as undeserved gifts.  What a tremendous gift this is!  How much joy will fill our lives!

My prayer for you this Thanksgiving, and throughout the holiday season, is that your life be filled with this joyful thankfulness.  While we were ugly in sin, our Lord loved us and covered us with his beauty.  Even though our lives can look and feel ugly in this sinful world, we have been given the greatest gift possible: Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.  The joy of knowing our salvation is secure frees us to receive the things of this often times ugly existence with thankfulness.  No longer will we be thankful only when we have something to be thankful for, rather we will find an abundance of things to be thankful for because we are thankful people.

Sermon November 3rd/4th – All Saints’ Day

What the World Doesn’t Know

1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints’ Day

November 3rd/4th, 2013

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  To be “blessed” in this sense refers to a person who has received acceptance or approval from God.  “Poor in spirit” refers to the one who makes no claims on God for themselves.  People who stand before God as nothing more than spiritual beggars.  They make no demands.  They expect no rewards.  Jesus said God looks favorably on those who stand before him in humility, expecting nothing.  Jesus said God looks favorably on spiritual beggars, that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus said that among those who make no claim of righteousness for themselves, God’s plan of salvation in Jesus is already at work.

The world says you are not a spiritual beggar.  The world says that by living in harmony with the laws of nature you can realize your fullest spiritual potential.  The world gives you 12 steps to unlock your hidden spiritual capabilities.  The world wants to help you find spiritual fulfillment by attempting to give you ten steps to a better you or to help you realize your best life now.  But do not listen to the world; the world does not understand you.  The reason it does not know you is that it did not know him first.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  Jesus said blessed are those whose knowledge of their own spiritual bankruptcy leads them to mourn their sinful condition.  God looks favorably on those who, recognizing their depraved state, do not drum up a series or excuses or self-justifications, but who rather mourn their sin.  Those who mourn their sin in this way will be comforted with the comfort of the Gospel, with the joy of forgiveness and the promise of life everlasting.

The world says not to mourn your sin.  Do not even consider it sin, says the world.  Nothing is truly right or wrong, they say, what matters is whether it is right for you.  The only thing we cannot tolerate is intolerance, they say.  Do not convict anyone in their sin, neither let anyone convict you in your sin.  You were born that way.  You can’t help the way you feel.  Nobody’s perfect.  You’ll get it right next time.  You gave it your best effort.  Do not mourn, says the world, for the good you do far outweighs the bad.  Don’t beat yourself up over sin, God wants you to be happy.  And any God who doesn’t want you to be happy isn’t a God worth having.  But do not listen to the world; the world does not understand you.  The reason it does not know you is because it did not know him first.

Jesus said blessed are the meek who humble themselves before God in confession, for they shall inherit the new heavens and the new earth of eternal bliss.  The world says you have nothing to be humble for, but that you must rely on your inner strength, that you must let your conscience be your guide.

Jesus said blessed are those whose desire is for the righteousness that God has given through his Son Jesus, for God will satisfy that desire.  The world says that your desire ought never be satisfied, that you should always be pursuing your desire for a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car.  The world tells you to desire whatever you feel like desiring, whatever kind of emotional or physical experience you find fulfilling.

Jesus said blessed are those who show mercy to others, for they will experience the joy of mercy.  The world says mercy is for the weak, that you must exact your revenge on those who have wronged you lest you be taken advantage of again and again.

Do not be surprised that the world does not understand you, for it did not understand him first.

It does not understand how the pure in heart, those who are totally committed to God without any ulterior motive, or the peacemakers, who find peace through forgiving and bearing the burdens of those who have wronged them, can be held in such high regard by Jesus.  The world does not understand relationships that are totally giving with no ulterior motive.  The relationships of the world are quid pro quo, you scratch my back – I’ll scratch yours relationships.  The world would not bear another’s burden without thoughts of how that burden might be leveraged into some personal benefit.

Do not be surprised that the world does not understand you, for it did not understand him first.

The world has some knowledge, and it is certainly proud of it.  It puffs out its chest when it tells you that it has discovered the different chemicals in your brain that trigger the emotions we call sadness or happiness or love or loneliness.  It tells you how the laws of physics make it possible to build bridges or fly airplanes.  It will tell you how different societies throughout recorded history have functioned, how they worshiped, what they considered moral or immoral.  It will tell you how the human mind develops and how the human body functions.  Yes, the world is proud of the knowledge it possesses.

The problem is it has no clue about the one thing truly worth knowing: the gift of forgiveness, the joy of the new creation, the life we now live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us – the world understands none of this.  Worse yet, it considers us confused, duped, or even brainwashed for believing in such nonsense.  The world has no idea of what we are as the baptized children of God, because it has no idea about who God really is.  To the world, Christianity is just another set or moral or ethical guidelines, guidelines that are essentially no different than he guidelines offered by any other religion, or guidelines that conscientious atheists can discover for themselves: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.

But moral and ethical guidelines are not the heart and soul of Christianity, for moral and ethical guidelines are not the heart and soul of our Lord.  A day like today, All Saints’ Day, makes that abundantly clear.  For today we celebrate that “we are God’s children, 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” [1 John 3:2].  For all the world’s so-called knowledge, it cannot and does not understand death and resurrection.  It cannot understand death because it knows nothing different.  This world is filled with death.  Each fall the creation dies to winter only to be reborn in spring.  The food chain would not work without the death of the prey upon which the predators feed.  From the world’s perspective, death, while it may be sad, is nonetheless natural.  It is part of the great circle of life.  The world may be able to tell you medical details about the death of a body or a plant, but as long as it considers death natural, it cannot truly understand.

For death is not natural.  Our Lord did not create a world to die, to be filled with death.  He did not create a world where the families of those eleven names we read, along with the families of all the names read in all the Christians churches across the world today, along with all those mourning the loss of loved ones, our Lord did not create a world where this sadness and mourning are natural.  And so we wait in faith for the world to come.  We wait in hope of life in paradise, a new creation free from the shackles of death.

But the world does not understand this, for it does not understand Jesus.  When the world sees Jesus, it see a teacher who pontificated moral living and ethical behavior.  But we know different.  We know that the purpose of the incarnation was not to teach us morality, for God could have done that from heaven.  In fact, he already had at Mt. Sinai.  No, the purpose of the incarnation, the purpose of Jesus, is death and resurrection.  Jesus took on human flesh so that that flesh could be beaten and bruised and nailed to a cross in our place, only to be raised back to life three days later.

This is who Jesus is, and we know that when Jesus appears again, we will be made like him: living, risen from the dead unto life everlasting.  We rejoice that this gift has been revealed to those people whose names we read a few moments ago.  We rejoice that they are being ushered into the life for which we continue to wait.  The world does not understand, so it laughs at the idea of a life to come.  It tells us to live for this life only, to reject any notion of spiritual bankruptcy or mourning or humility, and instead to embrace this creation.  But this creation is going down like the Titanic.  It is not our final destination.

God has not yet revealed what we shall be, and until he does, our true identity remains hidden behind a veil of tears.  Life in this world is difficult.  Don’t ignore the fact that God himself calls this the great tribulation.  He has not yet revealed the perfect, incorruptible, unstained, unfading glorious robes that wait for us in heaven.  But they do wait for us.  Our robes are waiting for us along with the great multitude that no one could number, from every people, from every language, from every tribe and nation, those who have gone before us, who are standing before the throne of the Lamb with palm branches in their hands singing his praises, those who have come out of the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  Because of what Jesus has done for us, this is our destiny as his children, and everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as Jesus is pure.

So don’t lose heart when the world doesn’t understand you.  Don’t lose heart when others insult you as ignorant or persecute you as if you are foolishly and childishly naïve.  Do not lose heart when they utter all manner of false things about you simply because you belong to Jesus.  The world does not know you because it did not know him first. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven, where you will be made like he is.  Besides, that’s exactly how they persecuted the prophets who came before you.  And where are they now?  “They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and the Lamb of God who sits on the throne shelters them with his presence.  They do not hunger any more, neither do they thirst anymore; the sun does not scorch them, for the Lamb of God is their shepherd.  He guides them along streams of living water; he wipes away every tear from their eyes” [Revelation 7:15-17]. And so he will for you.

Icons, Idols, and the Christian Life

Icon: an image or representation that stands for something else by virtue of a resemblance or analogy to it.

 Idol: an image or material representing a deity, or to which worship is addressed.

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Typically, when a pastor posts about idols and icons he will be writing about the appropriate use of art in church.  However, in a pastors’ gathering recently one of the older and wiser pastors present made a comment in passing.  It resonated in my ears and in my mind.  “Are you using your body as an icon or as an idol?”  Are you using the God-given gift of your body and life as an icon to point people to Christ?  Or is it your idol? Icons and idols.

The sinful flesh does not want to be an icon; it would set itself up as god.  The sinful flesh wants you to use your body as an idol, to make the pleasures of the flesh your highest good.  The sinful flesh wants you to give in to your desire for rebellion, hatred, lust, greed, dishonesty, and envy.  But pleasure is not god, so we should not use our bodies as idols to worship the god of self-gratification.  Instead, we ought to recognize them for what they are intended to be: icons that point others to God.  We are icons, not idols.

Paul encourages use to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” [Col. 3:10].  Because we are the baptized, the Spirit of God is daily at work in us with the result that God’s Law is seen at work among us.  This shows itself, among other things, in how we use our bodies.  No longer are physical desires the dominating force in our decision making, but we live so that people may see through us to the reality of Christ and his design for this creation.  Our lives become icons that direct people to the truth of God’s Word by virtue of resemblance to that Word.  We show people what creation and relationships were intended to be.  No longer do we succumb to our desire for rebellion, but we humbly respect those in authority over us, and we do not abuse the authority over others that we may have been given.  No longer do we revel in our desire to hate and cling to grudges as if our life depended on it, but we look upon our neighbors in love.  No longer do we splash blithely in the pools of lust, but we let the world see godly sexuality in our relationships.  Greed and envy follow suit so that our entire life is one that reflects who we were created to be.  Icons, not idols.

Above all, we show the world what it is to be humble, to turn in repentance to a God of mercy.  For wherever the Law of God and his design for creation is present among us, even in the best sense, it is still showing us our failures and accusing us in our sin.  But rather than parroting the world incessant rationalizing away sin, we show the world genuine repentance.  For by daily that daily contrition and repentance, the old sinful flesh is drowned and dies, and a new creation is brought forth to live before God in righteousness and purity.  Through us the world sees what it is to live in a right relationship with God and with the people in our lives.  We are the masks of God.  Icons, not idols.