Sermon of November 26, 2017

November 26, 2017                                                              Text:  Matthew 25:31-46


Dear Friends in Christ,


Back in 2006, scientist gazed into the heavens.  A spacecraft had returned from a mission with particles of comet dust.  The scientists gazed through their microscopes hoping to discover the mystery of life.

Before science became the final court of meaning, artists were busy gazing into the heavens, creating paintings of the day of judgment when Christ would return and reveal for all people the meaning of life.

Looking at these paintings there is a common theme.  The heavens are torn apart as Christ descends on a throne and the earth is breaking apart as the dead rise from their graves.

These paintings are usually stacked with multiple faces and facades.  If you concentrate on just one face of a human being you can find on that face the look of discovery.  They are waking from sleep and beginning to discover the deeper meaning of the world, of their Lord, and of the life that once surrounded them.

Today in Matthew’s Gospel we will experience for ourselves some of that Last Day’s sense of discovery, for . . .


In our text we have a dichotomy.  Jesus speaks to his disciples about an end, and yet his words speak about the beginning.  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (v. 34)  Contrast that with Jesus words to the wicked, he does not say, “Inherit the punishment prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  He does say, “Depart…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (v. 41)

God never prepared hell for human beings.  The original intent was that humanity would live in eternal fellowship with Him forever.  No one was predestined to hell.  Those who go to hell go there by their own choosing when they reject Jesus.

This is not a parable of the end of the world.  Jesus instead offers us a discovery of the world, as God intended it.  God’s original desire was for humanity to live in relationship with Him, and the day when Christ returns will be the day when God’s dreams for creation finally and fully come true.

Yes, we have rejected God’s design and fallen into sin.  This leads us to do what Michelangelo did with his Last Judgment painted on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.  He places a powerful papal critic of his work as far away from Christ as possible.  His own face is gazed upon by Christ.

Might we place our own enemies in the same place?  Not loved by Christ, how could they be?  We paint people into a corner of our own making and neither of us can escape the destruction.

Christ can wipe the canvas clean.  He can clean up our paint by numbers mess and make it a beautiful al fresco ready for the local art museum.  Christ followed God’s design and in a heart wrenching but beautiful landscape he hung on a cross for all to see.  But this painting had many layers.  Jesus made his way to the eternal fire to let Satan know that the victory over sin and death ours remaineth.  Jesus then rose and in a gorgeous garden setting and then a house and a road he made appearances to his grieving people.  He reminded them the picture in their mind was not complete.  He would rise triumphant to the heavens and the mysteries of eternal life would continue to be revealed.

In 1304 Giotto di Bondone began working on a series of frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy.  At the very back of the chapel is the largest scene, the last judgment.  The painting was done quickly, but the image they produced is eternal.  Christ returns in judgment.  The scene covers the whole wall, with those raised to eternal life on Christ’s right and those raised to eternal punishment on Christ’s left.  At the bottom of the image, underneath the cross, is the doorway by which worshippers would return to the world.  The last image worshippers see as they enter the world is Christ returning in glory.  Imagine what that would be like.

Although we have no such image over our doors as we walk out of this church, we do have the Gospel.  Our Lord offers us an image of the last judgment to shape your life in this world today.  As you walk through the door, opened by the cross, you enter God’s world with deeper understanding.  You see things differently:  the creation of this world, your Lord, even your life of service.  Assured of your salvation, you now rejoice in these hidden blessings of God, this vision of life, present and eternal.


Sermon for Sunday, November 12, 2017: “Serve Your Neighbor.” (Text)

Video to follow.

November 12, 2017 – Stewardship Sunday                       Text:  Exodus 20:17


Dear Friends in Christ,


Coveting is desiring something to which you have no right, something that belongs to someone else.  Covetousness is rooted in our basic human selfishness.  We want what we want, and we don’t care who gets hurt or left out in the process.  Happiness is our right, and we will get it.  In the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that each person had inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of possessions.  In subsequent reviews, the wording was changed to the pursuit of happiness.  Yet our society has indeed come to identify the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of possessions.  We think we will be happy if we have one more thing.

Some religions try to shut off all human desires.  It’s the solution offered by ancient Stoicism and Buddhism.  But God built desires into our very being.  Ambition is not evil.  Scripture urges us to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31).  St. Paul urges the Romans to “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor” (Rom. 12:11).

You should have ambition, no matter how young or old you are – it gives you energy and purpose.  It is not sinful to be rich, but work for it.  Don’t desire to get what you have not earned or worked for or what you have gotten in a dishonest way.

It is Stewardship Sunday and with the 9th and 10th commandments before us, we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to . . .


Our Gospel lesson is the parable of the rich fool.  The farmer was not wrong to produce a huge harvest or build big barns to store it in.  He was wrong to call them “my crops,” “my barns,” “my grain,” “my goods.”  God had blessed him with the crops and the goods.  God trusted he would use these blessings properly.  They weren’t given for selfish enjoyment but they came with responsibility and accountability.

The rich man thought only of himself.  He didn’t think of the needs of others or God’s kingdom.  He wanted to eat, drink, and be merry.  The Lord wants us to be happy and He offers heaven to us, but we don’t get there through things or taking life easy.  Jesus said, “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” (Jn. 6:40)

Paul reminds us in Romans that we have “all things” right now through Christ.  We have no right to them because we have rebelled and disobeyed.  We have coveted and not served our neighbor as we should.  Yet the guilt we feel over that has been nailed to Jesus’s cross.  He rose in victory, and he takes you to be His own now and for all eternity.

The man was wrong to covet and to think he had a right to these things.  He was focused on the wrong goal.  As Luther explains in the Ninth Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right.”  And the Tenth Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we dot entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him.”  As in the other commandments, the accent is on the positive attitude of serving one’s neighbor, “help and be of service to him,” and again, “urge them to stay and do their duty.”

What do you eagerly desire in life?  Where is your focus?  Where are you looking for happiness?  Do you live for others?  What is your ambition in life?  Are you directing your energy toward helping and serving others?

A student at a Bible School in the Philippines was unhappy because the men’s rest rooms were always in bad shape and seemed to get skipped over in the cleaning routine.  Seeing no improvement he went straight to the principal with his complaint.  A short time later the student saw the problem being corrected, to his amazement the man with the mop and pail in his hand was the principal himself!

Later the student commented, “I thought he would call a janitor, but he cleaned the toilets himself.  It was a wonderful lesson to me on being a servant and, of course, it raised a question in my own mind as to why I hadn’t taken care of the problem.”

Where can you serve your neighbor?  Where are your skills and help needed?  Today we vote on our boards for 2018 and looking at the list we are lacking the Lord’s servants that our needed.  Young, old, new member or veteran, we desire your service.  It is great for the soul.

Lord, in the grace and hope that you shower upon us through Christ our Savior . . . help us… serve our neighbor.





Sermon Text for Sunday, November 5, 2017: “Feebly Strugglers Or Blessed Shiners”

November 5, 2017 – All Saints Day                                     Text:  Matthew 5:10-12


Dear Friends in Christ,


“We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” (LSB 677:4)  Don’t you envy the saints who are now with the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven?  These saints feebly struggle no more.  They have no more pain, no more tears, no more sin.  They will never again experience death.  They have no more problems with their kids or with their marriage.  They don’t have expenses to pay and figuring out what to get everyone for Christmas.  No more bad language to hear on television or the local restaurant.  No one to be angry with them anymore or social media drama.  They are blessed because their struggles are over.

But for you, as a baptized child of God in Christ Jesus, right now, as you feebly struggle on this earth, dear Christian, Blessed are you, Blessed are you!

It is early in the ministry of Jesus.  He climbs a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee and He gets to teaching these new students, the disciples.  He is introducing them to Christianity and yes they are feebly struggling in this life.

And you, students of the Word, who also feebly struggle, Jesus is teaching you.  And so, we ask, are you . . .


Jesus spoke the first eight Beatitudes using the third person – they.  In this final beatitude He addresses His disciples directly using the second person – you.  He is speaking to you and me here with more emphasis.

Blessed are you who are persecuted and reviled and spoken against, for yours is the joy and the kingdom of heaven.  As Jesus brings these new disciples to himself and initiates them into His kingdom, He tells them that there will be a price; they will be persecuted on account of Him.

This sinful and fallen world will not treat you well, dear saints.  A recent question in Barna Trends asked “Who do people say that the Son of Man Is?”  First, people believe that Jesus was a real person, ok so far.  Second, “Younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe Jesus was God.”  We see this played out in the anger of people today.  Everyone wants to yell his or her opinion in your face.  There is no moral compass or shut-off valve if people deny the deity of Christ.  Third, “Americans are divided on whether Jesus was sinless.”  “He wasn’t sinless why do I have to be?”  Many of these same folks may not believe in sin or may not believe that sinning with no repentance leads to hell.  This mindset is played out in everyday actions in the east and west, north and south, and here in the Midwest.  No one is immune.  Barna’s president, David Kinnaman, sums it up:  “Americans’ dedication to Jesus is, in most cases, a mile wide and an inch deep.”

We feebly struggle.  We may or may not suffer the anger and hatred of this fallen world directly, but we all face it indirectly.  Pro-abortion and gay marriage advocates.  People shouting down others for their God-given opinions.  Less freedom in the workplace to share your faith.  The constant damning of God’s name by people in the public eye.  Satan’s leash is lengthened, sins run rampant, the Last Day is growing closer.

And the problem is worse in other parts of the world.  Christians are beaten and imprisoned for having a Bible or studying in their homes.  Christians are taxed and ridiculed for their beliefs.  Some are murdered because Christ is their Savior.

Could this persecution be at our back door?  It is very likely.

Still, Blessed are you, as St. Peter reminds you:  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you…But rejoice insofar as you share Christ sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet. 4:12-13)

“We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.”  The glory of the saints in heaven will one day be your glory.  We feebly struggle because of our own sins and the sins of others.  But Christ assures us with the reality that we will live with Him forever because of what He has done.  The source of joy for a disciple who suffers persecution is the promise of heaven.  So we sing, “But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:  The saints triumphant rise in bright array.” (LSB 677:7)

Blessed are you because, dear saints in Christ through the blood, suffering,

death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this glory is yours even now, yet more fully to be realized on the Last Day, which will be for you a day that has no end.

Dear saints, I know you feebly struggle in this broken and fallen world of sin and death.  I see it in the weariness of your faces and the physical breakdown of your bodies.  In the last five years of my ministry I have seen these struggles among God’s people and His church explode.  You are weary and you are hurt, but you are the Lord’s.  God gives you his comfort and his mercy and he claims you as his own.  Think where we would be without His love and support.  His promise of a better and eternal future.  Blessed are you!  Yes, you are blessed!