Sermon from 22nd Nov 2020

Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV) 

Jesus said: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might help and serve those in need around us and so also serve our King, Jesus Christ. Amen.

As good little Lutherans, we’ve all been taught we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We’re not saved by our good works because we’ll never be good enough. Only Christ is good enough. Only Christ brings us peace with God the Father. We believe this.

But at first glance, what Jesus says to us today seems to challenge our thinking a bit. We seem to hear that on that great and glorious Day of the Lord when we stand in front of our God in judgment, we’re going to be split up into two teams. These two teams won’t compete against each other to see who wins, because the result has already been decided.

The ones selected for the winning team will inherit the kingdom of God with all the eternal benefits, which has been prepared for them since the foundation of the universe. You want to be part of that team because the other team of losers will enter the eternal fire of hell, which has been prepared for the devil and all his angels.

So, for the members of these two teams, it’s entry into heaven or hell. You’ll either be blessed or cursed. That’s the choice, but it’s not your choice. God chooses. By this time the result is already decided and you can’t appeal his decision.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re already asking: ‘How do I know which team I’m going to be on?’

Well, according to Jesus, it seems to be based on your good works. In other words, all those who do good things like feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, and so on, well, they’re in. They go to heaven.

But if you’re not merciful and gracious enough because you don’t do these things, then it seems you’re out! It’s hell for you!

So, how many of you are confident you’re going to heaven based purely on being a good, merciful and gracious person who willingly and regularly gives food to the hungry, supplies glasses of water to the thirsty, welcomes strangers into your homes, clothes naked people, visits the sick, and goes to see those in prison?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re starting to have some doubts!

It then seems the greatest and most unforgivable sin Jesus mentions here is inaction! This means, if you don’t help or serve those in need around you, if you don’t show mercy to the homeless and depressed, if you don’t welcome people into your homes, or if you don’t visit criminals in their prisons, then you’re in deep trouble!

For this reason, this text has the power to make us very worried! After all, how many times have we not acted when we should have? How many times have we made a conscious decision not to help, or serve, or provide, or give, or visit, or bless?

When you and I don’t serve the down and out in these ways, do we hope it’s someone else’s job to feed them, give them a drink, donate to that appeal, or visit them? Do you think it’s only the pastor’s job or the elder’s job to visit the shut in and help the needy? Maybe you think you don’t know how to help which you hope will justify your inaction.

In this case, when you stand in front of Jesus, how do you think he’ll answer you when you say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but I thought so-and-so was supposed to do that!’?

Jesus is saying your acts of grace and mercy to other people aren’t optional extras, but they’re essential – in fact it seems your salvation is totally dependent on it!

Well, so far it sounds as if all of us who don’t perform these acts of mercy aren’t going to heaven!

But if this is really the case, then it seems faith in Jesus isn’t essential anymore! It seems we’re saved by doing good works! Isn’t this a little different to what we’ve been taught as good little Lutherans? I mean, as mentioned earlier, haven’t we all been taught we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by what we do or don’t do? Have we got it all wrong?

Well, no, we haven’t got it wrong, because there’s something else strange and unexpected in this text.

You see, the ‘blessed ones’ on the team going to heaven didn’t even know they were helping Jesus!

For them it was no surprise Jesus expected them to feed the hungry, provide drinks to the thirsty, welcome strangers, cover the naked with clothing, and visit the sick and those in prison, because they did these things naturally anyway. But what surprised them was that when they did any of these things to those who most people look down on, no matter what the person looked like or how they acted, they were doing it to Jesus himself!

So here Jesus tells us he fully identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick and those in prison; so much so, that when you provide for these people’s basic needs, you’re doing it for Jesus himself!

This is because Jesus doesn’t abandon those who don’t have basic needs, but is there with them in their hunger, in their thirst, in their sicknesses, and in prison with them.

And we thought Jesus is only present in churches! Imagine going to prison and seeing Jesus there! Imagine seeing a homeless person sleeping under a bridge, and that’s where Jesus is! Imagine caring for someone sick in bed, and that person is Jesus.

Now, this doesn’t mean you do these things just because you know you’re doing it for Jesus, but because you’re naturally merciful to all people.

It works like this: for those who believe in Jesus, helping the needy isn’t an optional extra, but a natural part of their life of faith.

To make it plain: Good works won’t save you and get you into heaven. Jesus is the one who forgives you. Jesus alone saves you. So yes, you’re saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But what Jesus is saying here is this gift of grace to have faith in Christ alone doesn’t come alone.

You see, the more you’re exposed to the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and his holy Sacraments, the more you receive Christ’s nature. The more of Christ’s nature you receive, then the more naturally you care for the needy because Jesus identifies and cares for the needy.

So, although faith in Jesus isn’t mentioned, it’s implied because:

Only those who have received the grace of God will become gracious people.

Only those fed and nourished by God will feed and nourish others.

Only those visited by God will visit other people.

Only those healed through the blood of Jesus will visit and care for those who are still sick.

Only those clothed by the righteousness of Christ will seek to cover up other people’s shame by clothing them.

Only those who have been freed from the prisons of hate and fear and guilt will go to visit those in prison.

In other words, Christ-centred people will naturally become needy-centred people. It almost goes without saying then: self-centred people will naturally ignore the needy.

But notice you don’t have to heal people or release them from prison, and so on, but simply supply their basic human needs – a meal, a drink, clothing, a welcome, and a visit. Big miracles aren’t happening, but little ministries of grace and mercy are happening. Even when we have restrictions placed on us on how we interact with each other, those who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, will also love their neighbours, and show it in real, tangible actions.

So Jesus isn’t expecting you to provide a miracle cure, or a magical answer to take all their cares away, or the perfect words to make them feel better, or for you to make things right, but you just help them as you’re able. Therefore, this is something all of you can do, no matter how young or old or able bodied you are!

Strangely, it seems as you attend to the needs of others, you’re also attending to your own salvation. Notice this doesn’t mean you’re saved by your good works. Again, to make it clear, you’re saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone! But the result of having faith in Christ is your faithful service to people around you, such as the infirm, the lonely, the misunderstood, those in nursing homes, the foreigner, the outcast, the unborn, the criminal, and so on.

This is because the fruit of your faith is shown – not through your holier-than-thou attitudes or long-winded sermons or prayers, but through your actions. Jesus expects good fruit to be produced on a good tree; and good fruit will naturally be produced on every tree firmly rooted in Christ alone, whose very own merciful nature is communicated through his holy Words and blessed Sacraments. Those who don’t produce these good fruit simply aren’t firmly rooted in Christ.

As you look to Jesus and trust all he does for you, the Holy Spirit is equipping you for works of service which doesn’t ignore the needs of those around you, but moves you to action – to feed the hungry, provide a drink to the thirsty, welcome the alien or stranger, clothe those not adequately dressed, and visit those who are sick or who feel imprisoned.

Yes, some of them may be a real pain in the neck, but as you choose not to ignore their needs and do these things Jesus talks about, you may be surprised to find you’re feeding and helping Jesus himself.

Then you’ll be surprised to hear those most welcome words of Jesus who tells you to ‘come into the kingdom of heaven which has been prepared for you since the foundation of the universe.’

Which is why the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 15th Nov 2020

Matthew 25:14-30 (EHV)

Jesus said: 14 “You see, the kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a journey. He called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to still another one talent, each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The servant who had received the five talents immediately put them to work and gained five more talents. 17 In the same way, the servant who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received one talent went away, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 The servant who received the five talents came and brought five more talents. He said, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

22 “The servant who received the two talents came and said, ‘Master, you entrusted me with two talents. See, I have gained two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

24 “Then the servant who received one talent came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter seed. 25 Since I was afraid, I went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

26 “His master answered him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I reap where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter seed? 27 Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers so that when I came I would get my money back with interest. 28 Take the talent away from him and give it to the servant who has the ten talents. 29 Because everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 Throw that worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may make the best use of what you have given us through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When reading or listening to Scripture, it can be helpful to take note of patterns and repetition. It can be helpful because it usually teaches us something important about ourselves or about God.

Similarly, it’s also helpful to take special note when a pattern or repetition is broken. It often points to something God is about to do which is unexpected.

For example, in Genesis we hear how God creates all things in an orderly fashion. As God creates all things, we keep hearing the pattern: “there was evening and there was morning, the first day; …there was evening and there was morning, the second day; …and so on. The pattern is established. We count off one, two, three, four, five, six, …and then God rests. It’s unexpected. It makes us take note. God did something important in his daily pattern, but then does something new on the seventh day. God creates something new by resting. The seventh day is therefore a holy one, a day of rest. The seventh day remains holy because the break in pattern sets a new pattern for us to receive and rest in.

Similarly, in Genesis chapter eleven, we have one of those lists of descendants which we often want to glance over. “So-and-so lived so many years before having what’s-his-name as a son. He had other sons and daughters and lived for this number of years. What’s-his-name lived so many years before having Who’s-ama-call-it” …and so on. They’re all fertile. They all have children. That is …until Abram. The problem is his wife Sarai is barren. They have no children. There’s no hope of furthering his line. The break in pattern makes us take note. Something important is about to happen. Then God steps in and acts. In chapter twelve, God calls Abram and gives him a promise which would eventually lead to the birth of the Israelites and the promised Messiah in Jesus Christ.

Jesus uses a similar trick when he tells his parables. He sets a pattern, and then breaks the pattern to make us take note. Something important is happening which will teach us about our own nature and the nature of God.

For instance, in today’s parable Jesus gives us another glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like by telling us about a man going on a journey. Before going on his journey, he hands everything he owns into the hands of three workers – each being given a portion in keeping with their ability. It also seems he didn’t even tell them what to do with it. He went away and they were to look after their master’s belongings.

Then comes the pattern.

The one who was looking after the equivalent of 100 years-worth of wages earns another 100.

The one who was looking after the equivalent of 40 years-worth of wages earns another 40.

The one who was looking after the equivalent of 20 years-worth of wages …buries it in a hole.

The break in pattern teaches us to take note. Something’s wrong with the third worker. He’s been given the task of looking after someone else’s property, but he seems to want nothing to do with it. He could have placed it in a bank where it could have at least earnt some interest (however little we would get these days), but he doesn’t even do this. Instead, he hides it in the ground. So, even though has the ability to make the property double in return like the others (since he was given as much as his ability could handle), he attempts to absolve himself of all responsibility.

The eager disciple of Jesus would now be straining to listen to what comes next. Something’s about to happen! God is at work here and we want to hear what he does!

Again, Jesus establishes another pattern when he tells us what happened when the master came back to settle accounts after being away for a long time.

The first worker brings the doubled amount to his master. The master congratulates the good and faithful servant who’s demonstrated he’s ready to serve with even greater responsibly. He enters the joy of his master.

The second worker brings the doubled amount to his master. The master congratulates the good and faithful servant who’s demonstrated he’s ready to serve with even greater responsibly. He enters the joy of his master.

The third worker comes…and now we find out why he didn’t want anything to do with what his master gave him to look after. There is indeed something wrong with the worker!

The third worker has somehow come up with the conclusion that his master is a hard, cruel and merciless man. He accuses his master of unfairly reaping and sowing what he hasn’t planted. As a result of his own view of the master, he was afraid.

This means his fear drove his words and actions. His fear made him think he was justified in hiding from both his ability and his responsibility. His fear stopped him from entering the joy of his master. His fear resulted in the master only receiving back what he first entrusted to the worker.

As a result, the worker was judged by his own words.

Despite the fact the master had demonstrated his generous and trusting nature (which is his true nature), the third worker’s worst fears and presumptions would be realized. His actions and words had revealed his fearful and selfish heart. He’s demonstrated he’s not ready to serve with any responsibility at all. He was judged by the master to be morally and socially worthless and his fear had made him hesitant and lazy. He won’t enter into the joy of his master, but would instead be placed in the outer cold and darkness where he will weep and gnash his teeth.

Here Jesus gives us this striking and shocking picture of what the kingdom of heaven is like to make us take note and learn carefully. The patterns, and subsequent break in pattern, teach us something important about ourselves and about God.

Therefore, as a Christian who has undeservedly received many things from God, including the love and service of our Triune God, are there times you wish to avoid loving or serving your neighbours, including the difficult ones? Are there times you hide the glory of God and what he does for you from others? Are there times when you attempt to ‘bury your head in the sand’ and ignore your part in passing on the peace and forgiveness of God to troubled people around you? Are there times you wish to cut yourself off from the world and avoid your own responsibility to forgive or pray for those who hurt you? Are there times when you receive the generous and gracious gifts of God but think you’re not expected to pass on the same grace and mercy to those you struggle with?

Similarly, how have your own selfish presumptions turned into self-fulfilling prophecies? How have your own assumptions about others restricted the way you love and serve? How have your own judgmental presumptions affected your relationship with others?

How have your fears restricted you from loving and serving? How have your fears blocked you from experiencing joyful obedience and faithfulness? How have your fears altered the way you look at those around you? How have your fears altered the way you see God? Like the third worker, how have your own fears become your lord and master who controls, cripples, and entombs you?

Now, this doesn’t mean our motivation for love and service as Christians should be because we’re afraid of being cast aside by an angry or vindictive God to weep and gnash our teeth. You see, this isn’t how the other workers saw their lord and master. They saw his true nature which loves to give.

The master in the parable is a giver. He intimately knew each worker and their abilities. He generously gave them what was his, entrusting his kingdom and future and reputation into his servant’s hands.

The first two workers simply did what they were able to do; and did so willingly. They put their master’s gifts to work and saw them multiply. The master then gave them even more.

But how much more generous and merciful is our giving and forgiving God!

God graciously gave you life and health and family and home and abilities and senses and community. He daily and abundantly gives you all that you need – in fact, he gives you enough to share with those around you. You share and care, not because you’re burdened by fear, but because this is how people loved and served by God love and serve our neighbours.

Yet, even though you prove to be selfish and unfaithful and fearful, God continues to give. He gave you his own dearly beloved Son. Instead of you being cast out, Jesus was the One cast out in your place to experience the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus, forsaken by his Father and rejected by his own people, didn’t moan and groan about experiencing a cruel and merciless God, but still kept on giving by caring for his mother and his disciples. He remained faithful to the task at hand for your sake. He granted paradise to a thief and prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!”

And the giving didn’t stop there!

Through faith God grants you adoption as children of God who belong to the kingdom of heaven through the waters of baptism. Through faith you believe the promise of life eternal in his kingdom. Through faith God gives you the innocent body and blood of his holy and precious Son for the forgiveness of your sins. Through faith you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so you may learn to love and give and forgive and care for your neighbours as God first loves you.

You see, there’s a pattern and repetition present throughout the whole of Scripture. There’s the repeated pattern of our disobedience and selfishness and fear and death. There’s also the repeated pattern of our Lord’s generous and merciful nature who sent his Son into this world to suffer and die for you and me. Even when the patterns are broken and our attention is drawn to what happens next, we see God at work.

When the patterns and repetitions of our own sinful thoughts, words and behaviours are broken by the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, God is at work in you and me. By the power of the Holy Spirit we too may not bury or hide God’s forgiveness, but freely forgive those around us.

By the grace of God, and through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, you and I have been rescued from slavery to fear, sin, the devil, and death. Through faith we’re free to love and forgive and serve as we’re able, no matter what our age or abilities are. Through faith we look forward to entering the joy of our master, which is why…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 8th Nov 2020

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)

1 Jesus said: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.11 Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may be prepared for the coming of our bridegroom, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Imagine an excited child as he or she waits for the arrival of a special guest.

The child is very chatty, happy, and can’t sit still; constantly looking out the windows to see the special guest arrive.

But in this case the guest didn’t arrive quickly. In fact, the guest is very late.

Over time you see your child’s excitement slowly fade. Their happiness turns to frustration and then to sadness, anger, or even apathy as they care less and less about who’s coming.

The special gifts and stories they want to share with the guest are eventually left crumpled and rejected as they leave behind the windows to do something else. They become distracted and distant. What was once of highest importance has now changed.

By the time the guest arrives, the original welcome which was planned has changed into something different. What the child had expected wasn’t matched by the reality of what happened.

I wonder how many Christians end up in a similar situation when we’re often told Jesus could return at any moment, but he keeps delaying his return?

So, perhaps in your own watching and waiting for your Lord’s return, have you lost interest and become distracted with other worldly things? Have you lost the excitement of what it would mean for your Lord to return? Are you prepared for his imminent, yet delayed return, and what might this constant state of preparedness look like?

You see, we live in a strange time where we expect Jesus’ imminent and immediate return, yet we also expect him to be delayed. The trouble is, we don’t know how much longer he’ll be delayed. Living in this awkward time between the ‘right now’ and the ‘not yet’ may easily lead us to become apathetic to the return of the bridegroom; our Lord Jesus Christ.

For example, he could come right now……ok, so he didn’t, or he could come sometime before Christmas, or even in another 20 years time. He could and might come at any time, but he might take a lot longer than we realise or expect.

While we may expect to see him coming in glory on that great and glorious day, for most of us (or even all of us), his coming may more than likely be timed with our own death, which we also don’t know the time of. This means the moment of our last breath is when Jesus comes for us. Will we be prepared?

Of course, we’d like to think we’ll be prepared, or at least have enough time to prepare our lives and faith for that last breath, but as we’re constantly reminded in the news, our life may be cut short by an act of terrorism, a car accident, a worksite tragedy, a fire, flood, or an act of stupidity by someone else. None of us know the day or hour of our death. We don’t know the day of our Lord’s return. And in this constant state of not knowing the time, will we be prepared?

But you might ask how are we supposed to prepare for this unknown time? What are our preparations to look like? How do we know if we’re truly ready or not?

Well, it may help to look more carefully at the parable Jesus gives us.

In this case, we note there are ten girls of marrying age, presumably virgins. Five were classed as foolish or stupid, while the other five were called wise or sensible.

But, what was the difference between them? Well, since they all fell asleep, there’s no difference there. All of them had their lamps, which in this case was most likely a stick with a rag on it which was soaked in oil.

This lamp would normally be good for a single burn of around 15 minutes. Once that was exhausted, you’d need to re-soak the rag to make it burn longer. And it’s here where we have a difference. Half of them didn’t carry the extra oil for another burn, while the other half had enough oil for an extra burn for when the bridegroom came later than first expected.

Perhaps then, if we were to take this parable literally, we should all carry some extra oil in our pockets! Or, perhaps we should always carry a torch, or make sure we know how to turn on the torch app on our phones, or even carry one of those solar-come-wind-up torches so we don’t need to worry about batteries. But I don’t think this is what Jesus meant!

So, what did Jesus mean? What is this oil Jesus is talking about?

Well, he doesn’t say, which has led many commentators to speculate what this oil is.

Some suggest it’s faith, since you can’t pass your own faith onto others and you need faith to enter heaven. Certainly this may have some merit, but as we know the foolish girls went to buy more oil, and if this oil is to represent faith, we also know you can’t buy any more faith, so I’m not sure this is what Jesus meant.

Some have suggested the oil is the Holy Spirit. And certainly, this too has some merit, because oil was used for anointing and even used in connection with baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. But again, you can’t buy more Holy Spirit.

Some have even suggested the oil is good works. If this is the case, then I’d hate to lie on my death-bed worrying if I’ve been good enough. Instead, I think we’d all like to approach our final breath in the peace and comfort knowing we’re saved by grace and not by our good works.

So, if we’re to rely on understanding what the oil means for our preparations, we have a problem, because it’s ambiguous. We don’t know for sure what Jesus really meant by the oil. Unlike a number of other parables, he never explained this one.

So, perhaps the answer isn’t in the oil, but in the sensible preparations. The stupid girls only anticipated a short wait. They weren’t prepared for a long wait, which meant they couldn’t keep their lamps alight. But the sensible girls were prepared for a short wait and a long wait. They were the ones who were always prepared.

Perhaps then our preparation is simple – we’re to look for and anticipate Christ’s imminent return to be delayed. He could come at any moment, yet he may take longer than we expect.

This means we’re to stay alert and prepared always, not just for a short wait while like the stupid girls. We should be prepared for a short or long wait like the sensible girls because we don’t know the day or the hour.

And how do we do this?

We’re to keep our excited and eager faith alive in the oil and light of God’s Word, after all, God’s Word is lamp to our feet and a light for our path.

By constantly hearing his Words of challenge and comfort, and as he tells us of our failures and forgiveness, we receive the oil of his Holy Spirit which helps prepare us and keep our faith alight. Similarly, as we immerse ourselves in his gracious sacraments of forgiveness and love, our flagging and fragile faith is sustained during those dark hours of trouble and grief. Waiting until the last moment to top up our faith at the end may come too late.

In his way we’re prepared to live in this constant anticipation of our Lord’s coming – both his eventual coming on the Day of the Lord, but also in his coming right here and now through his Word and holy gifts of grace in our divine worship as we gather together in his holy name.

As we keep on looking forward to each of his comings; that is, in his daily comings in our home devotions and in his weekly comings through Word and Sacrament in our corporate worship, as well as in his final coming on the Day of the Lord, we’re less likely to become apathetic as we wait. As we continue our faithful practices of worship, payer and daily devotions, we’ll be prepared. 

In this way we’re to live every day and every moment in the light of God’s Word and truth. We live anticipating Jesus will return right now but also that he may delay his return a bit longer.

Therefore, what we do right now has to be one of preparation, of living as a child of God eagerly awaiting his return. But this preparation doesn’t just last an hour, a day, a week, or a year. This type of constant preparation lasts until he comes again.

So, what is the way you prepare for his coming?

Your preparation is to keep hearing the Word of God and keep receiving his holy gifts, in the expectation he will return – either in a short while or a longer one. You may see him come in triumph on the clouds, or you may see him come to take you home with him when you draw your last breath, whenever that may be.

But you also expect he’ll recognise you. Expect him to take you into his heavenly banquet to celebrate the wedding feast that won’t end. Expect that he will come back, and that he will take with him all who are prepared by his Holy Spirit, who gives the gift of faith which believes he will return. This faith helps you live your life in eager anticipation of his imminent, yet delayed, return – you just don’t know the day or the hour.

Until then, may…

the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds as you wait for your bridegroom, Jesus Christ, to return. Amen.

All Saints sermon from 1st Nov 2020

Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV) 

1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Dear Heavenly Father, bless us with your Holy Spirit so that we see how we may be truly happy even when we feel that in our grief and troubles you have abandoned us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In some cultures, especially in third world countries, there are such people called ‘the blessed ones’.

They’re often regarded as holy people who seem calm, peaceful and content at all times, even when they’re faced with trouble. Many people flock to see these ‘blessed ones’ so they might gain some kind of spiritual advice or wisdom to help them in their troubles of daily life. They’re called ‘blessed ones’ because they seem closer to the gods or godliness.

Strangely, in our Western Society, the last person many want to go to when facing troubles is a spiritual person like a pastor, elder, or priest.

Instead, in our culture, the ‘blessed ones’ of today are our financial advisers who help us on the way to wealth; they’re our health advisers in the form of doctors, naturopaths, or gym instructors; they’re our teachers who lead us into all kinds of wisdom and knowledge; and they’re the fashion gurus who tell us what to wear. Many even see what’s paraded on mainstream or social media as a new type of ‘blessed one’ which offers so much advice and opinion – whether we want it or not, or whether any of it offers any good advice or not!

It seems then the ‘blessed ones’ we often go to for advice is anyone who shows success in what they do. Since we often consider prosperity and accomplishment to be signs of God’s blessing, we seek out ways to improve what we have so we can show others that God is blessing us by our advancement and growth.

Even in the church we want to show we’re blessed by God. This may be why so many are tempted to try out any new program, or marketing strategy, or worship style, in an effort to increase our numbers and build our resources. The fear often expressed is that if we’re not growing, then the church must be dead or dying, and therefore God isn’t blessing us.

On the other hand we might try to stay away from anyone who is poor, handicapped, suffering, or sick. We might think they don’t have it together or are even cursed by God. We might wonder what they did to deserve their misfortune. We might think we can’t learn anything from them. We may feel we have nothing to offer them.

But what does Jesus say today?

Does he say: “Blessed are the strong; blessed are the happy; blessed are the financial advisers; blessed are the fashion gurus; blessed are the health advisers; blessed are those who grow and show signs of prosperity; and blessed are the strong and growing churches?”

No!

Jesus says blessed are the poor, the grieving, and the meek!

Jesus says the blessed ones are those who are dependent on others for their spiritual life;

blessed are those who grieve over their situation or circumstances in life;

blessed are those not impressed by their own importance over others;

blessed are those hungering and desiring the goal of righteousness;

blessed are those who are merciful and compassionate to those in need around them;

blessed are those whose hearts have pure motives;

blessed are those who seek to reconcile those who disagree and hurt each other;

blessed are those who are picked on and persecuted because of their upright behaviour; and

blessed are those who are persecuted and insulted because of their faith in Jesus.

How radical is that! Jesus seems to get everything all mixed up, the wrong way around, and all topsy-turvy! I mean, think of it: whenever you’re depressed, grieving, weak, or insulted for your faith, you feel anything but blessed!

So, what Jesus tells us doesn’t seem to match our feelings or seem to make any sense! After all, don’t we normally think that if we do all the right things God will bless us, and if we do bad things God will punish us? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? But then why does Jesus seem to get this all mixed up?

How can he say that the depressed, grieving and insulted are blessed?  If anything, at these times you might feel as if God has abandoned you, is angry with you, or even worse, that he’s cursed you! It just doesn’t seem to be fair or right!

So, what’s Jesus getting at? Why does Jesus tell us the opposite of our experience?

I mean, has Jesus got it wrong, or do we have it wrong? But, since we believe Jesus doesn’t lie, this means we don’t see ourselves and our experiences the way God sees them. So how can we learn to see things rightly?

Well, we learn that Jesus doesn’t identify with the rich, happy and beautiful people. Instead, Jesus is identifying himself with the poor, grieving and suffering people. Jesus didn’t come to sit with the millionaires, the successful, or the ones who seem to have everything going their way. Instead Jesus chose to dwell with those troubled by their spirit, troubled by their grief, troubled by their faithfulness to him, and troubled by their striving for peace and righteousness.

In other words, Jesus, the Son of God, identifies himself with you and your troubles. He knows what it’s like to grieve, he knows what it’s like to be persecuted for his righteousness, he’s the one who shows true mercy, and he’s the only one who brings true peace between you and God.

You see; Jesus is the true blessed One who’s near you and sits with you in your troubles. When he’s near, you’re blessed. He doesn’t abandon you just because you’re depressed or grieving.

When you feel like you’re lacking in spirit, that’s when you’re blessed because Jesus gives you his own Spirit to strengthen you in faith and hope.

When you’re grieving the loss of loved ones, Jesus himself comforts you with his own tears, his own pain, his own death, and also his own resurrection so that you’re reassured death isn’t the end. Through faith, death is like a comma, not a full stop.

When you show mercy and forgiveness to others, even if they haven’t been merciful and forgiving toward you, Jesus is merciful to you and assures you of his forgiveness and mercy.

When you hunger and desire the goal of righteousness, you’ll be filled with God’s righteousness given to you as a gift through Jesus Christ.

When you’re clean in heart, you’re assured you’ll see God face to face.

When you seek peace between warring people, you’re identified with the true peacemaker, the Son of God.

When you’re harassed because of righteousness, be assured that you belong in heaven.

When you’re insulted and people spread vicious lies about you on account of your faith in Jesus, then you should rejoice and be overjoyed, because your reward in heaven will be extensive. In this way, you’re counted with the all the troubled prophets of the Old Testament who were also persecuted. But even more importantly, you’re counted with Jesus Christ himself.

For when you suffer, you’re identified as one with Jesus, the true blessed One.

You see, Jesus doesn’t get everything mixed up and topsy turvy. Instead, we’re the ones who get everything all mixed up, the wrong way around, and upside down.

Take Jesus for example.

When people looked at him on the cross, he was considered cursed by God himself. He was anything but successful. He didn’t even try to fight for his innocence (despite the false accusations and false charges), or attempt to struggle free from the cross.

Yet that’s where God’s greatest victory is displayed. In the face of death, God gave life. In the face of defeat, Jesus triumphed. There on the cross, God’s justice and justification for your sin was enacted. Even though people only saw a weak, beaten, and pitiful man, the One on the cross was Jesus, the blessed One, the Son of God. Despite death’s apparent success and Jesus’ apparent weakness, God raised his Son to new life and glory.

This means, when you’re spiritually down, when you’re grieving, and when people tease you for your faith, Jesus doesn’t abandon you, but shares his glory, life and blessing with you. He counts you as one of his ‘blessed ones’; as ones who share in his blessing.

So, do you want to know who are the true ‘blessed ones’ are? Well, they aren’t the Oscar winners, the millionaires, the fashion or health gurus, or the rich and famous. Look to those whom Christ identifies with; the poor in spirit, the grieving, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted and the pure in heart. Don’t go to those who seem to have everything in control; go to the ones who suffer because Jesus is with them.

Now does this mean you’re to seek out suffering so you can be counted with Jesus? No, you don’t have to seek it out; it finds you soon enough and it only makes you more reliant on God’s blessings which come by grace.

But you can seek out the ‘blessed ones’. You can seek out those touched by the hand of God in their times of trial. You can pray for those who feel they can’t pray for their lack of spirit. You can sit beside and cry with the mourners in their grief. You can encourage and boldly stand beside those who desire God’s righteousness and are persecuted because of it.

When you’re troubled, don’t go to the socially blessed, but go to the spiritually blessed. Go to the ones experienced in suffering and get something others can’t give: an understanding ear, a shared tear, and a comforting presence. They probably won’t have all the answers and won’t even take your troubles away, but they might understand a little of what you feel and will faithfully share your burdens with you.

By faith in Jesus, you can see how despite your troubles, you’re truly the ‘blessed ones’. You see how your happiness or blessedness is that light of truth which shines over your present sorry situation. You can see your present state in the light of the future promise of God. Your blessing is that you belong in heaven. Your blessing is that God himself will wrap his arms about you, comfort you and even wipe away your tears. Your happiness grows out of the mercy that will be shown to you. Your happiness will be complete when you’ll see God himself with your own eyes.

Your blessedness is because you’re counted among those prophets and saints of the past who’ve already won the race. You’re counted with those who’ve already been shown mercy, who’ve already entered the kingdom of heaven, who’ve already been comforted by God, and who already see the majesty of being called children of God.

Blessed are you my brothers and sisters in Christ, because you’re called children of God. Blessed are you when you’re chosen to suffer with Christ, for his wounds and precious blood make you holy. Blessed are you because through faith in Jesus, salvation is yours.

Yes, congratulations to the down and out, for you’ve been blessed by God.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the blessed One. Amen.