Archive for November, 2011


Sunday, November 27th, 2011

1st Sunday in Advent B, November 27th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

We spend our whole lives waiting.  We learn to wait for Mom or Dad to hold us when we cry.  We waited for Christmas and Easter with great anticipation.  We waited to be old enough to go to school.  We waited anxiously to start high school and then we waited to graduate.  We wait for our first kiss and then we wait for our first love.  We wait to find our spouse and then we wait for our first child.  We wait for the perfect calling or occupation and then we wait for retirement.  We wait for grandchildren, and then we wait and wonder whether it will be our spouse or ourselves who will die first.  How sad it is for those who wait without hope!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  These are more than just words of greeting and introduction from our epistle lesson, (1 Corinthians 1:3-9) they are the gospel itself. Within these words are the very truth that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]  This is a statement of fact.  God loves the entire world; He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for everyone including you!  There is no room for discussion within these words, because it is a certainty.  If you will receive this truth you will have peace; not a feeling of peace that the world tries to sell as peace, but real God given peace; assurance that even if everything is going to hell around you, for you it is well with your soul because God loves you and Jesus died for you.

How do you know that this peace is real?  You just do; you see, it’s more than just a feeling it is a certainty, and this certainty is the result of God’s gift of faith; faith to believe that in spite of everything that is going on around you, God is still with you and will never leave you.  By faith His Word promises that one day soon, He will come among us again and He will take you home to be with Him.  You know this is true because His Word, like the Word in our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 13:24-37) promises you this very thing.  And so you wait.

But there are some who hear this truth and they are not moved in the least.  Even though they have waited their entire lives for everything else, for this one thing that is the greatest of all other things, they refuse to believe and wait for it!  They refuse to put their name in the statement of fact that God so loved them, that He gave His only Son Jesus, so that they can receive Him, love Him, and believe in Him as their savior and God!

Then there are those who believe that God’s grace through Jesus Christ is theirs; they believe that Jesus died for them but their lives don’t demonstrate the love and loyalty of someone who is waiting for Jesus to return.  They have in fact received God’s gift of grace that was given to them in Jesus Christ, and in every way they have been enriched by God’s Word, which has come to them in all manner of speech and knowledge, yet they are living a life that in no way demonstrates that they are waiting for Jesus to come again.  Why?  I mean, they’ve had His message of grace confirmed among them in all manner of ways; they lack nothing in terms of God’s mighty gifts that reveal Jesus presence among them, and it does not seem to make the least bit of difference in their lives.

Theirs is the washing and regeneration of the water and the Word in their baptism!  Theirs is the sweet Word of forgiveness and the leading of the Holy Spirit into repentance!  Theirs is God’s own meal of forgiveness through the body and blood of Jesus!  All of these things continually provide grace and peace, yet they still live a life that reflects nothing of that grace and peace given by God Himself.  They live like someone who has nothing to wait for!  Why?

With both of these different yet similar groups of people, God’s Word still calls out to them to repent; turn to His forgiving heart that comes only through the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus!

I am praying for these people with anguish in my heart that they would see the season of Advent as more than just a time of waiting for Christmas and baby Jesus.  Oh how I have cried my heart out to God for so many of them; so many who seemed to have deliberately chosen His coming judgment over salvation.  I have tried to convince, implore, and even to my shame out of desperation, I have tried to manipulate these people into God’s Kingdom of grace, but still they will not turn in repentance to God’s grace and peace.

But you dear Christians have.  You have heard the advent Word of repentance and you have taken your sins to the cross of your Savior.  Through God’s gift of faith, you have not rejected Jesus, and because of that faith, you know that you are not lacking in any gift of God.  By faith you rest in God’s grace, peacefully waiting until Jesus returns.

In grace, you wait peacefully and you watch for the revealing of your Lord Jesus Christ.  It is God’s gift of grace and peace that sustains you to the very end, and as you wait you continue to feed your soul with the gospel Word that assures you that when Jesus returns, He will present you as His gift to the Heavenly father; a gift that is guiltless.  You know this because your God is faithful.  By faith, you know that it was He who called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and it is He alone who will sustain that same faith through His

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives us some interesting words to close with.  He says that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

What is the generation that Jesus speaks about?  It is the generation of those who wait, and those who refuse to wait!  They were there when He was born in a manger, they were there when He was crucified upon the cross, and they are still here today.  Some will wait expecting to be greeted by God’s loving heart and they will not be disappointed.  Others refuse to wait and will dismiss our Lord’s coming as  pure rubbish.  Will they one day repent before it is too late?  I hope so; I pray so.  But as we pray and wait to see the outcome, for us, the church of Jesus Christ, our waiting is really a time of peace, because it is well with our souls.  So we wait and during this season of advent we sing: “Savior of the nations, come, Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!  Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.” [LSB 332 vs. 1]

Faithful is Our God!

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

23rd Sunday after Pentecost A, November 20th, 2011
(Last Sunday of the Church Year)
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

INTRODUCTION: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  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. [Matthew 25:31-33]

In the time of Jesus, it wasn’t uncommon for shepherds to allow the goats and sheep to graze or pasture together.  But at the end of the day, the shepherd would separate them according to their kind.  And that is a picture of the Day of the Lord, judgment day.  Some will be considered sheep; they are the apple of our Lord’s eye.  On judgment day they will hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  But others, others who are goats, will hear something completely different; they will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So what is it that determines whether we are sheep or goats?  Is it something we can get my hands on and protect; something we can have as our most cherished possession.  Is there a ticket to heaven?  Well… yes and no!  If we were to look at our gospel lesson this morning, we might be tempted to think that our ticket to heaven or our identity as a sheep or goat is based on good works, or something we do to inherit God’s love and forgiveness.  But you’re all much to informed about what your Bibles say to believe that.  So what then; what is this blessed assurance that promises us that we will be citizens of heaven in a place that has been prepared and waiting for us since the foundation of the world?  Well, It is nothing less than faith… faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When the Son of Man comes in His glory, will He find faith; will He find faith in you?  Are you a sheep or a goat?

I. If this question is making you a bit uncomfortable, then may I be the first to say congratulations; congratulations for not being happy at the prospect of being a goat!  You see there’s one thing I know about goats and it’s this, they’re just fine with being a goat.  In fact, for the most part they’re stronger, faster, and more clever than sheep.  They don’t have a problem with being a goat.  But not so with you; you want to be a sheep; you want to know that there is a place for you in heaven, just waiting for you to move in.  And because this is true, then you won’t have a problem with admitting something about yourself and something about God.

You are faithless!  That’s right, I said it; on your own you are completely powerless and useless for assuring that your eternal abode will be something other than weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Now don’t feel too bad about this, because you see it’s something you were born into!  St. Paul in our epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) explains it like this, he says that death came by a man, the first man Adam to be exact.  In Adam all of us are guaranteed nothing more than an eternal death; a separation from God and His kingdom.  Instead of inheriting a mansion, well we’re cast out into the outer darkness; a place where there will be eternal longing and desire.

What was it that Adam did that was so bad that it condemned all of his ancestors?  He doubted God’s goodness and love; He doubted that God would provide everything that was good and withhold nothing helpful, while He protected him from everything that was harmful.  So from the doubt of Adam and Eve has proceeded every sin that each of us has committed.  From the doubt of Adam each of us has been judged guilty.  From the doubt of Adam our relationship with God has been lost.  The church has always called this doubt the original sin.

Now most goats don’t like this doctrine.  They don’t like the fact that they’re being punished for something someone else did long ago!  They get angry with God and they say, “I didn’t ask to be born this way!  This isn’t fair; since my birth, you’ve put me on a road that goes only to hell!”  Yes, the goats are so upset with this idea of original sin that not only do they protest against God, but they get angry with anyone who will repeat the doctrine.  Why is that?  Simply put, if this doctrine is true, then that means that their salvation, their ability to inherit the Father’s Kingdom is entirely outside of their control.  It means they have to have faith, and remember, that is the one thing goats do not have; goats are faithless.

II. So what is the solution?  Well, goats must be saved by someone who can give them faith.  They must be saved by someone who is faithful.  They must be saved by someone who can fill them with this faith; someone who can make them faith-filled!

Jesus is that someone and His Word is the means that God uses to fill goats with His gift of faith; it’s how he turns goats into sheep.  But faith in what?  Faith to believe that Jesus, God’s own Son came to this earth, lived a perfect life for you, suffered and died for you in order to remove the curse of sin, Adam’s and your sin from you.  Now, if you are agreeing with this premise, that’s all well and good, but some goats believe this too.  No, I’m afraid that you must hear the rest of the premise before you celebrate.  You see, Jesus also rose from the dead in His body, and promises that you will do the very same thing because you’ve received His gift of faith.

Now this is where many of the learned people discover that they aren’t sheep at all and they don’t care.  They can receive the idea that sin has to be paid for, even original sin.  And the fact that God paid for it Himself, makes perfect sense to them, because well, He was the One who allowed everything to break-down in the first place.  But raising a body from the dead, a body that’s been dead and decomposed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, well that’s just foolishness to them.  What about people blown into thousands of little bits in explosions during war or a tragic accident, how in the name of science, will they be raised?!  Or what about people who die at sea and are eaten by a million little fish who then scatter what’s left of their bodies all over the ocean floor?!  No, I’m afraid that to the goats this is just too big of a leap of faith!  They believe in Jesus, a spiritual Jesus; a Jesus who inhabits the best of man’s philosophies and religions, but not a physical Jesus.  They believe in a spiritual resurrection but they can never accept a physical one!  That goes against everything that is sensible to them.  It goes against the very laws of physics!

But if this is how you feel, then you are condemning God’s entire Word as fantasy.  You have recreated God’s plan into a plan of your own making.  You do this because you are a goat; you are a goat because you are faithless.  But if the goats are right and we sheep are wrong, then we are to be pitied ahead of all others; because that means we sheep have staked our very lives and eternity on a lie!  Poor sheep; poor lost sheep, who will save us!  Jesus Christ the true shepherd will!  He will smash the head of king of the goats, the devil himself and speak words of faith that turn goats into sheep!  Listen: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by (the God) man (Jesus Christ) has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in His own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]  Those who are called sheep!

III. This is the gospel!  This is your hope!  By His death upon the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning Jesus has declared and demonstrated His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  When you hear that Jesus suffered and died for you, you are given faith… you are filled with faith to believe that He also rose from the dead for you!  And you also know by faith, that as the head of the church, which is His body, which you are a part of, you must follow your Lord and Savior; for where the head goes so must also follow His body!

This is the truth, God’s own truth.  It is what sheep believe because they are faith filled by a Savior God who is faithful.  It is the truth that goats can never believe because they are faithless.  This is the truth that has sent untold numbers of sheep peacefully into the arms of their Savior at the time of death, and it is the truth that will lead you home as well!  But I must warn you, that the devils don’t want you to lie down on your last day with this truth.  They look at you as another victim.  Another morsel that they can eat.  They’ll do everything they can to get you to doubt God’s own truth.  If they can get you to live in doubt then I’m afraid that they’ve trapped you again in the same old sin of Adam.

Remember, to them, you are nothing more than a tasty morsel that they plan to devour.  You are a sausage sandwich waiting to be gulped down.  But if you’ll simply rest in God’s Word and the work He did for you on the cross and in your baptism you will see that Jesus is the one who does the devouring.  And He’s not only devoured the devil, but your own sin and death.  If you will continue feasting upon the Lord’s Table where He offers you His body and blood, then by faith you will not only be eating and drinking forgiveness for your doubts, but the very gift that makes you a sheep; you will be feed faith!

So at your time of death when the devil goes to bite into you, all he’s going to get is a mouthful of the poison that He gave to you.  We might say he only has a mustard and ketchup sandwich to look forward too, because you will not be there; you will be with your Lord, in a new body; a body that will never know sickness and death, sorrow or sin.  This is how Jesus puts all things under God.  He does it so that God may be all in all and sin, death, and the devil will be no more, ever again!

CONCLUSION: But now let me close with the proclamation of a mystery.  This process has already begun and it is already completed.  All that is left is for you to experience it outside of this world of sin and death.  Indeed the day has already come when you can say, “I will praise you, O Lord.  Although you were angry with me (because I behaved as a goat), your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.  Surely God is my salvation (and His resurrection is the source of my joy); I will trust and not be afraid.  For the Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.”  With joy (I can draw from my baptismal water) that is the well of your salvation, and give thanks to the Lord.  So let us call upon the Lord (who is faithful); let us call upon His name.  And let us make known His saving work of the cross and the empty tomb throughout our community, and let us proclaim the exalted name of Jesus!  Let us shout and sing for joy because the Lord who has done wondrous things is with us (Isaiah 12:1-6) and promising to take us with Him in paradise.

May God’s Word continue to make each of us faith-filled sheep, as He continues to be our God, in this life that began with our baptismal death as sinners and in our baptismal resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ.  AMEN!


Sunday, November 13th, 2011

22nd Sunday after Pentecost A, November 13th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: Last week, God’s Word gave us a wake-up call and reminded each of us on All Saints Day, that leaving this world is like paying taxes, it is inevitable!  So now that we’re awake and forced to think about eternal things, God’s Word is telling us to arise… get up… get out of bed you sleepy head, because the day of the Lord is coming soon!  As we learned last week, the Day of the Lord is either a day of judgment or a day of reward.  So get up and don’t be someone who thinks and lives in darkness, but live as you have been called to live… live in the glorious light of Christ Jesus your Savior.  It is your Savior who brings you into the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father, while the light of the Holy Spirit takes you by your hand and says “ARISE”!

Now this sounds good to everyone who has been baptized, and yet when we leave this place but not God’s presence, our sinful flesh will do everything in its power to convince us to lie back down and sleep a little longer.  It will try to convince us that there’s no need for urgency.  As you’ve heard me say before, in our sinful nature we’d rather worship at a place called St. Mattress than a place called St. Matthews!  Knowing we are but flesh and subject to falling back into our sinful nature, God’s Word calls out and says arise… wake up you sleeper and walk in the light!

What is that light?  It is God’s Law and His Gospel.  This morning we will use God’s law first as a Mirror, a mirror  that will show us the darkness of sin that surrounds us, and then we will hear His Gospel; the good news that is God’s Word of love, love which dispels the darkness and surrounds us with His love!

I. Why is God’s Law a mirror?  Because if we aren’t trusting in God’s forgiving love, it clearly shows us that the day of the Lord is something that we should dread; it is a day of punishment for sin, our sin!  That’s why so many people today don’t want to hear God’s law preached; they only want to hear a message of prosperity, health, and wealth; they don’t want to hear the truth.  What is the truth?  We are broken in sin; we are separated from God; we are sick and death is inevitable!  This is what the law of God shows us!

A. You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your soul!  That is the demand of God.  You heard me right it’s a demand, and it offers you no help in accomplishing it!  It’s a demand that forces you to admit that you can’t do the law, you’ve never been able to do it, and on your own, you never will!  That’s why it’s a mirror; it simply shows you the truth about who you are… you are a sinner who has only judgment to look forward to!

You are the wicked and lazy servant that God gave one talent to.  Instead of using that talent you hid it away; you refused to take care of it.  Perhaps your whole life you’ve been hiding the talent, and you’ve been convincing yourself that God loves you because He gave you the talent, but you have never used it; you’ve never even brought it out!  You can skip Divine Service and never think twice about it.  You can come to the Lord’s Supper with bitterness and an unforgiving heart and then think that there will be no repercussions.  You can give a small sum of money as your weekly offering and dismiss any feelings of inadequacy or sinfulness by simply repeating what you were taught in Sunday School: God loves a cheerful giver!  You wicked and lazy servant, the day of the Lord will come upon you like a thief in the night; punishment is at hand!  No, no, don’t look away or close your ears, because we aren’t done looking in the mirror.

B. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s the demand of God’s Law.  It’s a demand and not a suggestion.  Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbor is your spouse.  The very person that you promised God you would love and honor till death do you part.  The very person you promised that you would be lover, supporter, and comforter to in good times and bad, sickness and health, in periods of wealth and poverty.  And how do you show that love?  With unfaithfulness!  You give your passion, your time, your comfort, and support to another.  And you justify your actions with the argument that you have unmet needs!  Now maybe you are dismissing this guilt by saying to yourself that you’ve never actually cheated or turned to the arms of someone else, but what have you been doing or done in the privacy of your own mind… in your fantasies!

Who is your neighbor?  It is your children and grandchildren!  Each time you hear God’s Word reminding you to spend more time with your family and demonstrate your love to them by teaching them the truths in God’s Word as found in your catechism, and each time you do the opposite, you are not loving your neighbor!  Have you forgotten that your Master is coming and will expect a full account of how you used His talent that He gave to you?

Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbors are those who can benefit from any of the many ministries we have here at Trinity.  Whether it’s the food pantry, the senior breakfast, community Bible study, or any of the other ministries we have that take God’s word to our community and then demonstrate His love in tangible ways, these are all opportunities that you can demonstrate your love for your neighbor.  When is the last time that you even considered inviting your neighbor to come and experience any of these ministries that we have here?  When is the last time that you invited someone who doesn’t know Jesus to come with you to our Friday Night Gospel Celebration for dinner and worship?  Now I know that many of you don’t like the contemporary gospel style of music that is offered on that evening, but have you forgotten that it’s not about you, it’s about your neighbor, your neighbor who is dying without knowing God’s love through Jesus Christ.  Your neighbor that hasn’t even been given a talent from the master yet!

Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbor may be someone here in this sanctuary right now that you have held a grudge against or harbored a bitter spirit against for some time.  Instead of going to your brother or sister and explaining how they’ve sinned against you and allowing God’s grace and Spirit to bring reconciliation, you harbor resentment and hatred.  Oh we wicked and lazy servants, it is time for us to arise… to wake up from our deep dark sleep and let God’s Word rescue us.

But how… how will this happen?  By turning to His face of love; by embracing his gift of love that He has given to us!

II. What is God’s face of love?  It’s the cross of Jesus Christ.  In His cross you see God’s love, and when you see His love, you fall in love with Him yourself.  In His arms of grace you feel connected and never disconnected; you feel his forgiveness.  In His cross you see His sacrifice, His death upon the cross as a gift for you.  In His cross God shows you that Jesus death was your death.  In the cross of Jesus, God provides a very great gift for all of us… He provides His talent.

A. What is this talent?  It is first and foremost the gift of faith; faith that allows us to be free from the terrible threatening of God’s Law and then faith to see God’s forgiveness.  But this gift of God’s love doesn’t just come with wishful thinking, but instead it comes through God’s means; it comes through His Word!  In His Word, God the Father is always telling you to turn to His Son, to turn to His Son’s cross and confess that you have failed in satisfying the demands of His Law.  In the cross of Jesus, God is always reminding us that it is He alone who rescues us from our sins, from the attacks of the devil, and from our own death and the day of judgment.

God’s Word about Jesus’ sacrifice for you is the breastplate of faith and love… it is the helmet of your salvation.  Without the Word of God you can have neither faith nor love; you can have no talent from God.  Without the Word of God, you can have no helmet of salvation that protects you from the sinful thoughts that so easily entangle you and lead you back into a world of darkness and slumber!  Without the Word of God you cannot walk as a child of the light.  Oh you can pretend to be following Jesus, but without the Word of God leading you and changing you, you are just going through the motions.

III. So this morning God’s Word simply has one command and it is Arise!  That’s it.  Get up and take up His holy Word.  Stay in the Word and embrace the light that it gives to you.  Oh, and because God has given you a talent, the gift of faith, He now assures you that you don’t need to be afraid of His Law anymore; you don’t need to avoid reading and meditating on that Law.  He doesn’t want you to see His Law as something to be avoided, but see His Law as a Law of love; see it as His way of continually recreating you into His image; it is part of the talent or gift of faith that He’s given to you so that you’ll no longer see yourself as a wicked and lazy servant, but as a wise, appreciative and loving servant who will only hear Words of praise and reward on the day of the Lord!  Under the council of God’s Holy Law He is teaching you how to multiply the talent that He has given you.  In His Word He is not only teaching you how to love Him but also how to love and forgive your neighbor as He has loved and forgiven you!

As God’s Word continues to save you, it will also continue to change you and rearrange you; it will teach you how He has specifically gifted you with special talents, and then He will teach you how to use those talents to help bring others out of darkness and judgment and into the glorious gospel light of love and forgiveness.

CONCLUSION: I’d like to close our message this morning with this story: One day, Satan held a strategy session for defeating Christ’s work of salvation. “What shall we do?” asked Satan. A daring demon stood and shouted, “I have it! I know what we can do! We can tell people that there is no life after death, that they die like animals.” Satan’s face fell as he answered, “It will never work. Man is not stupid; even atheists will admit that they have times when they sense a tomorrow after death.”  Another demon spoke, “Here’s the solution! Let’s say that the god who started life is dead—let’s say that while he started the universe, he’s long gone now.” Satan replied in dismay, “That won’t work either; most of them know there is a God, even though they don’t look for him.”

Other ideas were presented, but none brought hope to the devils. Finally, as they were about to give up, one demon jumped to his feet in joy, “I have it! This is sure to work!” The other demons crowded around to hear the plan. “Go tell them that God is real and the Bible is God’s Word.” A gasp came from the audience as the demon continued, “And tell them that Jesus really is God’s Son and that He died to free them from their sin.” The other demons were horror-stricken, thinking that their associate had lost his mind, until, with a smile, he added, “Then tell them that this is not the best time to turn their lives over to Jesus. Help them make excuses for living in a life of darkness. Tell them there is no hurry!” The demons danced in delight, realizing a workable plan had been discovered.

But those devils aren’t celebrating this morning at Trinity Lutheran Church, because this morning we have heard the gospel command to Arise!  We’ve heard God’s Word, and because of that Word of God and the gift of faith it brings, we can truly say, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus!”  May God through His Word continue to turn our hearts and minds to Jesus and His cross, and may He continue to give all of us the faith, the talent and the strength to keep doing  that very thing until the day of the Lord.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Don’t Be Unprepared!

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

21st Sunday after Pentecost A, November 6, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

INTRODUCTION: Today, both the epistle lesson (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) and the gospel lesson (Matthew 25:1–13) speak about being prepared.  Another way to think of this is to say that God’s Word is assuring us that because we are trusting in Jesus, we will not fall victim to a spiritual disaster!  So this morning’s message is one of disaster preparedness!

Now being from California, we know all about disaster preparedness; we hear all the time that the “Big” earthquake could come at any time, so we need to take some steps to be prepared: 1. Have an emergency kit available in your home. 2. Have food and water to last you about 7 days. 3. Have at least two exits from any room, structure, or area preplanned in your mind. There are many other things we can and should do to prepare for a natural disaster.  But how should we prepare for a spiritual disaster, a disaster like death?

Our gospel reading says we need oil in our lamp.  In other words we need to have faith in Jesus Christ; we need to be like the little boy who wrote a letter to Jesus one Christmas in order to get his favorite toy. He started out by writing. “Dear Jesus, I’ve been a really good boy this year.” Unfortunately, he remembered that Jesus was all knowing and all seeing so he decided that he couldn’t lie to Him. He crumpled up that letter and started over. This time he wrote: “Dear Jesus, I know I haven’t done everything I should have, but I really tried to be good.” He stopped and crumpled up that letter, too. It was obvious that he was struggling with what to write to Jesus.  Finally he was able to remember a lesson he learned in his catechism, so he simply wrote, “Dear Jesus I am baptized and that means you love me, so I’ll just trust in whatever you decide to give to me this Christmas.”

But the story is also told about another little boy who also wrote a letter to Jesus.  His letter went a little differently. As he came to the same realization as the other boy, the realization that he couldn’t fool Jesus, He suddenly saw his mother’s favorite piece of sculpture on the mantel. It was a beautiful rendition of the Madonna, the mother of Christ. The boy perked up and ran out of the room. He came back with a towel and a shoe box. He walked over, carefully picked up the Madonna, gently wrapped it in the towel, carefully put it in the shoe box and then hid it in the closet. He immediately went back to the table and wrote: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again . . .”

Unfortunately, many people are more like the second little boy than the first.  They want to make deals with God in order to get what they want.  Now this is foolish when God clearly tells us what is needed to be prepared for our death and the day of the Lord.  What is the day of the Lord?  It’s the last day for creation as we know it; it’s the day of judgment and reward.  On the day of the resurrection of all flesh, some will go to judgment; a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth; a place of outer darkness and eternal separation from God, and others will go to the great Marriage Feast, the eternal banquet table of Jesus Christ!

I. In our Old Testament reading (Amos 5:18-24), those who are not prepared for our Lord’s return are warned that they are foolish, because for them, His coming won’t be a time to celebrate but a time of fear and mourning.  Listen: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!  Why would you have the day of the Lord?  It is darkness and not light, as if a man fled from a lion (only to be eaten by a bear), or (a woman) who went into the house and leaned (her) hand against the wall and a serpent bit (her).”

But this person who is rejected by God may counter, “But Heavenly Father, I attended Divine Service faithfully; every time Holy Communion was celebrated I was the first in line.  And I always put more than my fair share into the offering plate!  And you know Lord, I even sang in the gospel choir; why people said I sang like and angel!”  And to this God says, “I loathed your participation in the communion service; your worship is hollow and meaningless!  I never noticed the paltry percentage of your income you brought as an offering!  And your voice in those songs of worship, well it was nothing more than an irritating noise in my ears!”  And to the Father’s rebuke, this person will counter, “But Jesus died for me!”  But Jesus Himself will answer, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” [Matthew 25:12]

What went wrong?  What could this person have done to be prepared?  Well these are the very questions that the prophet Amos was forcing the people of Israel to ask themselves.  You see like our worship today, their worship was designed to produce and express faith in the Lord and His proclamation of love and salvation.  Through their worship services, they were to see God in their midst coming to them with His Divine service giving them faith and a willing obedience to follow Him and serve Him.  All of their festivals were designed to acknowledge that the Lord had delivered them from bondage and that He was providing for all of their needs in the land that He gave to them.  Their sacrifices for sin were God’s visible promise that He would soon send a Savior who would offer a perfect sacrifice that would make their reoccurring sacrifices obsolete.  Their offerings, music, and praise songs were all designed to give them faith to believe that God was with them in a mighty way; a way of love and forgiveness.  All of these things were designed to remind them that the time was coming when the Messiah Himself, would come and make all things right.  But they failed to see God’s gospel promise in these things; they failed to see their Savior.  Instead all that they saw was a system of quid pro quo.  If we do this then God will be happy and bless us!  They believed in judgment day, in the day of the Lord, but they had no faith in the one who would come to protect them from judgement!

II. In our gospel reading Jesus is speaking of this very thing!  He talks about 10 virgins with lamps.  Five were prepared by having oil in their lamps and five were not!  The oil is nothing less than faith.  Faith that comes by hearing, using, and living a life centered in the Word of God, the Word that is always about Jesus Christ!  Like the little boy in my story who remembered his catechism lesson, it is nothing but resting in the work that God has done through Jesus Christ.  Resting in what Jesus has done, first in His atoning death upon the cross for all of mankind, and second in what He has given to you in your baptism, this is the oil in your lamp!

Like the five wise virgins, God’s Word makes us wise unto salvation.  His Word alone makes sure that when Jesus the Bridegroom comes to call together His church, you will be ready!  By remembering your baptism, you remember that Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, His once and for all sacrifice was for you!  You are reminded that when it comes to your salvation, nothing else will do!  You know this because His Word promises you this very thing!  By coming regularly to God’s Divine Service, you not only offer Him your Worship, but you receive the very thing that makes your worship acceptable to Him… you receive faith!  By coming to His Holy table each time His meal of forgiveness is offered you are allowing Him to fill you with faith; faith to first see your sin, and then faith to see Jesus’ body and blood in the meal, which actually gives you forgiveness for these sins!  Because you have been given faith, or oil in your lamp, you may live your life with the greatest of assurance that you will never hear God say, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”  You will not hear Him say, “Take away from me the noise of your songs.”

Today dear saints, God wants you to know with certainty, by faith, that on the day of the Lord, you will only hear words of love and welcome!  You will hear those Words because you know that upon the cross and in your baptism, Jesus has provided the justice of God, (justice) which has rolled down (upon you) like waters, and (His) righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [Amos 5:24]

III. Today, we have reason to celebrate; we celebrate All Saints Day, the day we remember that all of our family members who have by faith finished their race, have gone home to be with the Lord!  We celebrate because just as God has prepared our loved ones, He is preparing us for His great day, the day of the Lord!  We celebrate because God moved St. Paul to write these words of assurance for us; words which teach us that we will see our loved ones who have died in faith again.  Listen:  “But we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, (since we have faith; since God has given us oil in our lamp), even so, (we believe that) through Jesus, God will bring with (Jesus, all) those who have fallen asleep.

Let us pray.  Dear Lord we thank you that death is not a swallowing up of life, but an entrance into your eternal Kingdom in Heaven.  We remember those who have run the course of faith before us and trusted in your Word and Sacraments and we thank you for the fulfillment of your promises that say it is You who began the good work of faith in us Who will completed it.  Thank you for these saints we remember today: Bruce Owens, Cornelius Jordan, Jeanette Sorenson, Lena Edwards, Norma Iva, Pearl Mealing, Trinidad Henderson, Wanda Ramsey, and Mildred Machart.  (PAUSE AND LET OTHERS NAME THEIR LOVED ONES)  As you have watched over them, we pray dear Lord that you will continue to watch over us and complete the work of faith that you began in us.  Keep us always in your church through your Word and Sacraments.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Dear friends, since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will one day soon, descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.  I pray you will continue to do this very thing, and I ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Don’t Be Unprepared!

Thursday, November 10th, 2011