stay awoke.

Matthew 24:36-44

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

It’s hard not to hear the gospel text and think ominous thoughts. There’s an end. Stay awake. Don’t get caught sleeping. The thieves are coming. Some will be taken. Some will be left. And let’s just namedrop the flood that destroyed creation but for a boat too. And all of it is out of your control. You don’t even get to know when. Stay awake.

Except we just decorated for Christmas and the fear feels artificial like a bad scary movie. The words of our Lord could be taglines. Stay awake. It’s the wrong season, but the Son of Man will show up at an hour nobody expects. Like bear attacks. They come when you least expect them.

Sorry. It’s hard to take it seriously for so many reasons. Not the least of which is that the threats ring hollow during the most wonderful time of the year. So maybe we’ll poke fun at the baptists down the street who wonder about the two women and invented the rapture to compel people to behave to avoid being left behind like some bad fiction. Two women will be working in the field. Which are you? Stay woke.

Mostly though, we’ve got other stuff on our minds, like in the days of Noah. Folks were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Really, it’s nothing new. We’ve got the holidays on our mind. We’d rather think about baby Jesus than end-of-the-world-judging-Jesus. We’re thrilled to see cute baby Him laid in a manger, kids dressed up in costumes acting out plays, cookies, carols, and presents. I love Christmas. But if I’m willing to procrastinate on stuff I know how to do with clear deadlines, preparing for something someday without clear instructions how…let’s just sing let it snow for a northerner instead. We’re too focused on the world to face the Lord on the last day.

The thing is, when we won’t consider the end because we think it detracts from the holidays, it changes how we see Christmas too. We grumble when Christ took flesh, not so we could fight over discounted TVs when the ones we have at home work fine or tell everyone on the internet to stop posting about politics we disagree with, but to call us all sinners, then bleed for us.

But we did it last year too. The crowds gather outside of the mall annually. Each election cycle brings more of the same. Facebook reminds us of passive aggressive posts and bitter complaints that fixed nothing. We’ll do it again time around too. Worse, we like it this way. Even though we know this is an ugly world, for some reason the idea that we shouldn’t be eager to be a part of it is just appalling. We’re so uncomfortable with an end we don’t know we’d rather have the same song and dance of the misery today. See how ridiculous sin is. I’ll complain that the world is too material, but if you tell me to use all the money I’ll spend on junk people don’t need on feeding homeless, I’ll scoff. That’s for other people to do. I’m too busy ripping electronics out of the hands of senior citizens in the name of giving. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

If you’re willing to be honest about sin, about how cold it really gets in sinners hearts that would rather stand alone and freeze than see the warmth of forgiving an enemy, because for some reason we actually prefer the bitter grudges. Be honest about how measuring who’s awake by our behavior looks. It says something when we study black Friday flyers like God wishes we’d study the scriptures because you’ll be there at 5 for some blue rays, but to be here at 9:30 for bible study is nuts.

So God fires a Divine bullet straight through all of it and calls it Advent. It means God shows up. God actually and physically and truly comes to His people. He takes on human flesh, born of a virgin. He will come again on the last day to judge the living and the dead. And He shows up here too in His word and sacrament. Advent means God will not sit idly in heaven while creation looks like this. But Advent begins with the end. With the recognition that heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word will not.

That gives meaning to Christmas traditions we lean into. It shapes why we care that God would be here in body and blood for you. Whenever God shows up, it’s a recognition that some things are eternal and some things…just aren’t. From the darkness we chase away with Christmas lights to the holiday gatherings that bring so much stress. From the pains of death and the families broken by the sinners not with us or the saints who left too soon. We won’t last down here for long. Nobody stays awake forever.

Advent is a reckoning, but it’s a breath of fresh air. There is an end. Who honestly cares? This is not a scary movie and Jesus isn’t the bad guy. He’s the savior of a world that doesn’t pay attention. Of a people too sinful and sleepy. Of you.

Remember the days of Noah. Actually remember. Then begin with the end. The rainbow. The promise. The days will be as those before the flood. We eat. We drink. We marry. We live. But we know who we are. There will be two women at the mill. One will be taken and the other left, but we’re already in the ark. We’re the baptized.

That’s what this place is. The church is the ark where the faithful are kept safe until the end. The baptized find shelter here. Salvation here. The last day comes when nobody expects it, but we’re ready. We will be found holy because Advent reminds us what God’s all about when He shows up.

When God shows up, it’s about the cross. He enters creation to carry the cross to forgive you for all of it. Every bit of covetousness, disregard for your neighbor, and grudge buried deep. So when He comes again in Glory He can find something more than the mess we make. The end comes not as a threat, but a hope. A promise. An understanding that whenever God shows up it’s to give mercy to sinners. Even the ones who’d want nothing to do with Him. Nothing you can do can change that. He will end the disputes and wars and sins and deaths so absolutely that swords will be turned into plowshares. The Light of the Lord is coming soon.

And even here and now, there is light for you in a dark world of changes and spins. Here is one straight line. God comes to you. The Lord enters your space to save. The end will come when nobody expects it, but the Lord shows up here on a schedule for you. He Advents in body and blood for you to eat and drink. He makes Himself present in the ark to keep you safe. Remember where you are in dark and latter days. You’re already in the ark. Remember the rainbow. The promise. The end will come, but on that great day You’ll receive life that does not sleep the sleep of death.

stay awoke.

saints are ordinary heroes

Revelation 7:9-17

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

John wrote Revelation as an old man exiled to an island called Patmos. Most of his friends were already dead. Martyrs. Killed in creative and painful ways. He’s all that’s left of the 12. Maybe he didn’t always get along with Peter, but I bet he misses him. The old rivalry was fierce, but I guarantee John didn’t want Peter to go the way he did. He was crucified upside down at his own request. He didn’t feel worthy to die the same death as his Lord.

The letter that would be called Revelation was written to the handful of fledgling churches only in their second generation and already slipping. Into heresy. Hatred. Hopelessness. John watches, wondering whether there will be anyone to carry on what he saw start on Pentecost.

He’s an old man, waiting to die alone. He’s not doing nothing. Still, he wishes he could do what he used to. John peaked. In his time with Jesus. Maybe later, when the Spirit penned the gospel through him. Either way, looking forward, it was pretty much downhill. The best he could hope for was not to be martyred. To die an uncreative death on an island cut off from where he’d rather be.

I’ve been kicked out of a few places, but never exiled. Not for the rest of my life at least. I don’t know any martyrs. My peak, whatever it was or just might maybe be, won’t be remembered in 100 years. But I can still relate to the last apostle. I know what it’s like to mourn someone you love who should be with you here and isn’t.

We ascribe a lot to our heroes. Not just the biblical ones. The ones who have gone before and just seem larger than life. Who seemed to radiate strength that always calmed us. Love that washed over our tempers and fears. Wisdom and knowledge that always knew what to do or say or even just how to say nothing yet convey everything all the same. Our heroes were there when we needed them. Were. Too many of our heroes are dead. Too many of our problems aren’t.

I know what it’s like to mourn heroes. And I know what it’s like to mourn the rest too. I know what it’s like to wrestle with the memory of someone. Because you might not have gotten along perfectly, but you want to remember the best of them, and you’re sure now that all that stuff shouldn’t have meant they went like they did.

I know what it’s like to look around and remember what was, to know what was lost, to worry about what will be, and to just feel…tired. John did a lot I’ll probably never do. But I think I still understand what he felt on Patmos. Too many of us probably do. Despair.

This is the John shown the vision of the great multitude. Through him, God gives us a gift to guard against the same despair that infects heroes and the rest of us alike. A vision that speaks to that quiet pessimism that says “I’ve peaked. I’ve lost. It will only break.” John shares his glimpse of a reality outside of the tunnel vision we get when we mourn and despair. It brings hope. Light. Life.

He is taken up to see the heavens, and outside of time, the resurrection of the body on the last great day. He saw the victory. Not just Peter and the heroes. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” They’re the baptized. The church that continued to the end against all odds to include multitudes no-one can number. Those who you loved and mourned because they fell asleep in faith. Those who felt the despair of dark and latter days. Who are these coming out of the great tribulation? Us. He saw us.

Ordinary heroes who have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. Ordinary heroes who God saw fit to pen into the bible for all generations to see and remember, whether or not their names cross our lips. You’re in the bible. Right there. The baptized, brought through tribulation and unto glory.

The world deals with despair predictably. They grasp the false optimism of bumper stickers like “fake it till you make it, dance like nobody’s watching, live laugh love.” They craft blame into stones to throw at each other because hate at least hasn’t given up and anger feels better than pain.

Christians are called to confront despair differently. We’re called to confess the truth even if it isn’t popular. Never yield it. No matter how crazy it sounds. We are dust. To dust we shall return. And Christ is risen from the dead. The thing that chases away despair isn’t just lying to yourself about things, wishing for what used to be, or finding someone to blame it on. It comes from seeing the victory. We answer despair with the God who fought for us. He didn’t just smite the enemies we can’t. That does no good. I’ve seen heroes do stuff I can’t, and it’s inspiring to some, but only makes me feel more helpless about my situation. I can’t do those things. I can’t be those heroes.

God didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a warhorse, make a passionate speech while rousing music played in the background, then smite the devil. He didn’t topple the corrupt governments and live a happily-ever-after life free from worry or death. He came to bear our despair, our loss, our fear. He came to cry our tears. And then to conquer our enemies by dying our death. All for you. To bring you out of the great tribulation.

We are are not bound by the same feelings and struggles or some measure of how important we are in the grand scheme of things. We’re bound by Jesus who gives us a new identity. Holy ones. Saints. The ones brought out of death to life.

What we see toppling and in decline, God answers with a heavenly vision of victory. I know who we are. I know where we stand. Sheltered in the presence of God. Not just someday. Now. Because He has already accomplished it. He let it all fall down, then rebuilt the pieces, bringing us through with Him. He died and rose for you, that you would rise again. That the ones we mourn as gone, God would call alive, and more, alive with Him.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

And these are not far away. They are now. They are here. Because the same God comes to us. We eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus that unites us to a victory that endures what we’re afraid might crumble. We call it the communion of the saints. We mean all of them. God makes Himself present with us this day in a meaningful way. In His body and blood for you to eat and drink. He brings all of heaven along. The saints kneel together. All of us. You kneel with those who have gone before us. Shoulder to shoulder. So close that the last enemy death gets ground beneath us in Him who brought it to nothing.

All Saints Day is for ordinary heroes, everyone of us holy, not by doing things that will be remembered in 100 years and defeating odds the rest couldn’t. We are made holy by being united to Him who makes us that way by washing us white in His blood. Who, even as He brought the world to a halt and ripped the sun from the sky as He cried out it is finished to redeem us from sin and death, works simple acts of love through us for each other that make this day so important to us. Remember the saints for what God has worked through them. Holiness. Love. Salvation. We remember. Viola Kaddatz. Carl Roberts. John Grieshaber. Ray Kniepkamp. Roy Lehrmann. Donna Travis. June Wendt. Mark Hagedorn. Alene Hensel. Don Morris. We remember the saints who left holes in our hearts, but kneel with us here in the same faith. We remember them by a cross and an empty tomb. We remember them by a baptism that joins us in white robes washed in the blood of the lamb. We remember in a feast that we share even as it unites heaven and earth.

You didn’t bring anything into this world, and there’s a lot you can’t take out with you, but there’s some things you can. The most important. By Christ’s resurrection. By baptism. By faith. You will see your loved ones again. Who are these coming out of the great tribulation? The baptized. Us. We are all saints.

saints are ordinary heroes

The reformation is freedom in Jesus

John 8.31-36

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Today we celebrate Reformation Day. You know the story. Luther. 95 thesis. Big door. Bigger fight. We know it’s important. Especially lately. I don’t think it’s just because of anniversaries. I think it’s because we look around the church today and it looks…apathetic. We hear that story and then look around an it feels like something’s missing today. Heroes. Passion. A people who cared. A church that stood against all odds. That lived when everything around it called for it to die. It sounds familiar.

I don’t think we do this as some kinda sarcastic “invite a Catholic to church” day. We don’t celebrate what would come to break the church so that if I told you San Antonio had 500 churches you’d probably think that number sounds low. That doesn’t even count the street preacher who told me I was going to hell the other week. We’re looking for heroes. Passion. A people who care. A whisper of a hope the church that stands today against all odds will make it another generation. Because these are dark and latter days.

So we tell the Luther story one more time. Maybe we’ll make a quip about the selling of indulgences to support a corrupt institution or prayers to the saints or something else we learned along the way and try not to think too hard about why prayer chains are totally different because the saints we want to pray for us are still on earth. Celebrate a man who didn’t want the denomination named after him in the first place, and preach some manner of the following: 1) Luther was awesome. 2) Believe like he did. 3) Be brave like he was.

The irony gets lost. It’s a small mirror of the very thing Luther stood against. The issue was deeper than corrupt practice. It was the foundations of the faith. 1) The Holy Roman Catholic Church is the only source of salvation. 2) Assent to the doctrine of the church. 3) Do what is in you. See it yet? 1) Luther was awesome. 2) Believe like he did. 3)Be brave like he was.

The thing is, Luther was a dumpster fire. Folks argue over what kind of mental disabilities he suffered under. Anxiety. Depression. OCD. It wasn’t just that Luther saw a doctrinal problem and made good choices. It’s that he tried all of the things the church pointed him to and never once found any peace in it. Luther was never the role model that makes Christianity look easy. He was never the hero we think we need.

The kind that makes Christianity look almost too easy. The kind that’s just so in love with God, and because of it, so happy. All the time. I’ll let you in on a secret I didn’t find out until after I grew up and put on a black shirt. I see Lots of people love God. I really, truly do. As much as they love Him, they still walk around bound to fake smiles and t-shirts with bible verses on them. To what Christians are supposed to look like…when underneath sometimes we feel nothing like the heroes we imagine. I see people chained To the desperate hope that nobody can see what’s real. Chained to the effort of pretending that something about us is true when it isn’t, that fake me that I need so I can be to be accepted, loved. So I can matter. We feel so chained to the need to be more that we are. Holier, happier, better.

The problem is, the more we fake it, the more the expectations pile up. And none of us, not one is as great as people around us want us to be. Sometimes, even pretending to be something more is too much. Sometimes we’re just desperate to look less ruined that we are. It’s fear. Fear of being really known. Really seen. Because what’s really inside me is ugly. The church calls it sin for a reason.

Sin breaks stuff. It hurts people around me. Hurts me. We’re pretty good at hiding it. But still. There’s that guilt of knowing the truth. As much as I pretend, it doesn’t change anything. It just gets harder to carry around. Even what I can hide from everyone else, God sees. And as much as we wish for one, we don’t have a God who says, “do whatever makes you happy. Just love me and it will all work out. Just believe hard enough and all things are possible for you to do.”

Your God threatens punishment for sin. All of it. The pain we inflict upon our neighbor who God loves, the way we mistreat and disrespect Him when we claim to love Him so much. We know what we should be. And we aren’t. Any one who practices sin is a slave to sin. I know what that feels like. And we carry it privately because we’re in love with a lie. The same lie the devil’s been telling us since we’ve been around to tell.

It’s on you. You better carry it. You love God enough to make it ok. Then he just waits until we’re teetering on the edge to point out to us when we don’t. It takes one whisper. If you really loved Him, why are things like this?

God sees you sinking under the weight of all of it. Maybe not today, but you’ve felt it. Truth is, Christianity not about how much you love Jesus. None of it. It’s about how much He loves you. This is the truth that sets us free. The Word made flesh so that we can abide in Him when everything else falls apart. The Word come down from heaven to submit to the slavery of sin and bear it unto death. This is what love looks like. Christ on cross for you.

And when it seems too far to help, He brings it to you. He delivers the salvation and freedom won at calvary by the Holy Spirit. He gives you a new identity. A free identity. You are baptized. That’s who you are. Baptized. That’s enough. That’s true. That’s free.

You don’t need to put on fake smiles. You don’t need to pretend to measure up. Every day, Christ does it for you. Every day the old Adam, the guy who walks around a slave, is drowned. Every day, God raises up a new man. Free.

This is what Luther fell upon when there was nothing else. This is what the reformation was about. It’s not about poking fun at Catholics or having a million denominations so that you can make choices. It’s not about heroes. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus is for you. He is the word that we abide in. And so in Him, we are free. Free from sin. From bondage. From death itself. Free to lift up our heads and live.

The reformation is freedom in Jesus

justice for bruised reeds

Isaiah 42:3 ESV: a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Nobody wants justice but the wounded. The trampled on. The sinned against. The nations cry for it. This world’s full of hurting people. Fix this. Punish them. Make them feel what I feel. Everyone quotes “judge not, lest ye be judged”, but “an eye for an eye” is the verse we really have in mind. The broken want their pound of flesh.

Someone told me God didn’t give us the “eye for an eye” verse to set a minimum punishments, but upper limits. It wasn’t that He was worried that we’d be too lenient with each other. He was worried we’d be too harsh. Which, if we’re willing to be honest about ourselves for even the briefest of moments, makes sense. It was a gift from God to keep us from taking even more than was taken from us in the name of ‘justice’.

Because to me, justice is about pain. I don’t think for a second it fixes anything. I don’t for a second care. I want the kind of justice that spreads around misery. Hatred only wants more of the same. Burn it all down. That will make me feel better. But it won’t. It doesn’t. It can’t. The coastlands wait for the law of karma. But that is not the law of God.

Our Lord promises to open the eyes that are blind due to the justice I want. Not simply the sad state of affairs down here, where we’ve so lost track of sin that we don’t know whether it was the blind man or his parents who sinned. I think God wants to open the blind eyes taken in judgment. I think He wants the eye taken for an eye restored. I think that because the Lord promises, with one breath, justice, and with the next, to free the prisoners, who don’t deserve it. He will bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. There is no justice in bringing out the prisoners. Justice by the law does not let loose the prisoners. The gospel does that.

Our Lord’s promise is not to break those who’ve broken you. It’s that He will not break the bruised reed. He will not quench the faintly burning wick. He will not crush the sinners, but will bring forth justice all the same. It’s the gospel. Wrong was done and needs to be punished. Jesus would bear the cost Himself in the name of justice.

Punishment unto your enemy doesn’t heal you. Punishment unto your God does. He would not cry out or lift up His voice to defend Himself. He would not abandon the path that lead to the Golgotha. He would carry His cross for me and for you. Not for the innocent. For the guilty. The sinners. Us. We love to play the victim, and turn blind eyes from those we’ve hurt. But God makes the blind to see, and even making us see the depth of our sins, God leads us out of the prison we deserve. He leads us from hell to heaven. From death to life. He died that you would live. And not just you. There is enough justice here for your enemy. Look. See their sins punished. Look, see your God’s mercy, not just as a guilt trip to forgive them too, but as a promise of mercy that doesn’t rest on your heart not being in pain anymore. The coastlands wait for the law fulfilled in Jesus. He established justice on all the earth, not by the law, but by the gospel. Your sins are forgiven you. Your pound of flesh was paid on the cross. He will faithfully bring forth justice, even if the cost is Himself. He paid it for all. The cross doesn’t just spread around the misery. It heals it. It makes a promise of resurrection and restoration to that which sin destroyed. Down here, we play an eye for an eye. Some are born blind and some are blinded by sin, but the justice God worked in His death and resurrection mean there will come a day when both blind men see. Forgiven. Whole. Alive. For God will not break the bruised reed.

justice for bruised reeds

The bricks are a gift, but the temple is Jesus

Luke 17:11-19

“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.””

This is the Thanksgiving text. It’s like listening to Christmas music in October. If we start too soon by the time the actual holiday rolls around we’ll be sick of it. I can’t start asking you to be more thankful for stuff yet, or by the time the turkey gets here you’ll be tired of that too. The encouragement to try harder to be grateful only goes so far. Especially in a story where there was only one thankful man, but all 10 lepers still got healed.

Jesus said “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. All of them. Even the ones who didn’t turn back. It’s a good reminder. God doesn’t reserve mercy for the ones who earn it. That would make it something other than mercy. That would make it for people other than us, who really only have enough thanksgiving to do this thing once a year.

Go and show yourselves to the priests. They’ll offer sacrifice for you. Blood will be shed for you. The priests will tell the truth. You are clean. You can leave the leper colony. No more separation from the ones you love. No more must you cry “unclean” so that your public shame would protect people from getting sick too just by being near you. You can go home again. See your family again. Live. I’d run too. And as they ran, they were healed. You can call them ungrateful, but they took the first steps on faith. They weren’t cleansed until they were moving, but they were clean by the time they got there.

The miracle pointed to who Jesus is. This is God, who makes the unclean clean again. Who restores the relationships sin has destroyed. Who sheds holy blood for what’s unclean in you, that stuff you hide for fear of shame that’s easier to let boil inside you than tell someone else it exists. For the sin that splashes past where you wanted it to. And for the people who run dry on things to feel thankful for. The temple was to point to Jesus. The one who was traveling to Jerusalem to shed His blood to make us clean.

The job of the temple was always to point. The sacrifices pointed to the all atoning sacrifice of the cross. The alter pointed to the meal placed here for you. The architecture, the art, there’s something to be said when you walk in a room and can tell it’s a church. And I suppose there’s something to be said when you can’t. We always point to what’s most important to us.

Here, we dress up the bricks to remind us that God’s here. It’s a gift. It’s beautiful. Look what we believe. See a picture of what’s given here for you. There’s something potent in that, and it’s good. But sometimes we forget that it’s only the job of the bricks to point. We see the beauty and the shelter and we begin to believe God is in the bricks, not the word. Not the sacrament. We begin to believe we couldn’t be the church without the bricks. The bricks are a gift, but the temple is Jesus.

We’ve been given a treasure in this place that the early church couldn’t imagine. Art they could only describe in words. Safety that even today other congregations don’t enjoy. But all of us share the same hope and worship at the same temple. The temple is Jesus.

Jesus is here for sinners in word and sacrament. He was hidden in catacombs in ancient times before believing what we do was legal. He stands risen even as firebombs destroy the bricks that point to Him in the Middle East. And He is here. For you. In Body and in Blood. It was God in the flesh that the bricks pointed to. God in the flesh that spoke to lepers and cleansed them. That same God in flesh and blood is given for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness and the cleansing and the healing that miracles and bricks could only point to. Those things point to Him, but if He’s not there, it’s the wrong place.

Right now, if you travel to the temple in Jerusalem, there’s a mosque on the Temple Mount. I kinda dig it. Not because I want false religion. That’s a bummer. It’s because you can build whatever you want there. Christ is still risen. The temple is still here. God is still cleansing. Restoring families cut off by sin.

Was no one found to give praise to God except this foreigner? He saw the truth. The true temple that would be torn down and rebuilt in 3 days stood before him. Healed him. So there He rejoiced. There he knelt. There gave thanks. He went back to God for more. That’s worship. The temple is not the bricks or the tradition. Both of those are good, but they’re good because they point to Jesus. Wherever He is, that’s the true temple. And Jesus is here for you.

The bricks are a gift, but the temple is Jesus

The war in heaven was won on the cross

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

War broke out in heaven. The archangel Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, lucifer. The fallen fought back. It sounds spectacular in a world that looks so ordinary. There’s no shortage of conflict down here, but it comes without awe. Might be why so many think religion is stories for children to learn how to behave while the adults handle the important things in the other room. The thing is, we never wanted it this way.

The might of armored seraphs with fiery swords, the tramp of soldiers marching feet, the electricity you can feel. It makes it easier to stand. To fight. We call ourselves Christian soldiers, marching to war while we imagine legions of angels back us up and cheer.

But our vision plays itself out in the mundane. It looks like keyboard warriors pounding bitter replies in the name of truth while battling secret vices. And losing far more than they win. It looks like parents willing children to receive God’s gifts while trying not to sound so full of doubt themselves. It looks like an institution complaining the world won’t join them even while it circles the wagons against them and preaches so that we, inside, imagine we’d have no problems left if it weren’t for them out there. But hey come join us too. We need pledges. Conflict plays itself out in politic and debate, tragedy, and sin. It’s hard to feel inspired. Doubt, fear, and shame rule our days. So we go see movies about heroes and imagine, if only for a second, our own battle cry is enough to win the war. Then we go home to the ordinary and wish we could do more than play pretend.

The ones who haven’t given up altogether tell themselves the spiritual battles are fought out of sight. The truth is, they never were. The first was fought in a garden, where the serpent whispered to Eve about a tree she both hated and coveted. Then he earned his name. Satan. It means accuser. He used a weapon more powerful than sword and shield. He told the truth. Satan stood before the throne of God and twisted God’s truth, given as life, into a weapon of death. “They sinned. I don’t care if they’re mine or not. I just want you to do to them as you have done to me. Punish them.” Satan smirked as he stood beside God, begging to torment Job, but remember his goal was not to hurt him, but to make him sin. “Curse God and die”, he whispered through Job’s own wife. He was so eager to bet his maker because it just didn’t seem like a fair fight.

His name doesn’t mean evil. It means accuser. He doesn’t have to do the evil. He just has to tell the truth about us. We do evil just fine without him. St. Michael ground his teeth. He was the archangel, the fiercest warrior in all creation, but what could he do? If he gathered his angels to fight, it would be against those who destroy God’s kingdom. Us, who he loved with God. He was bound by the simple truth. We sinned. We acted for ourselves. Not God. Not our neighbor. Us. The temptations we fall into over and over, these are the spiritual battles we fight. They aren’t hidden, just ignored. Because it’s depressing. It doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

But even as Michael waited, even as satan stood before God accusing, the angels still sang songs of hope. Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord, God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of His glory. There was a reckoning. It was promised to Eve even as she sat in the darkness of defeat. There will come a child, born of a woman, who will crush the serpent’s head. Satan will bruise his heel, but the Christ will crush his head.

The nail was driven into his heel when He hung upon the cross. And satan thought he won. The promised Child bowed his head. He gave up His spirit. Then all hell broke loose. It was never a fair fight. The benches were emptied. The angel army cried, “Go!” Angels who waited with clenched teeth since the fall rose up to do battle. Michael drove a spear tipped with a cross through the heart of the devil. War in heaven was fought so powerfully that the earth shook and the sun was blotted from the sky. As satan fell like lightning from heaven, he fell through the curtain, ripping it from top to bottom. The war in heaven was won on the cross. The spiritual war was never hidden. You can see it won right there. The devil’s weapon, truth, was turned against him. Your sins are forgiven. satan has nothing left to accuse you with. The doors to hell were kicked open, as Christ descended there to preach the truth that saves to the spirits in prison. The war in heaven was won at Calvary.

After the cross, satan was cast from heaven, conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of truth. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Today, he prowls about this world like a roaring lion, seeking those he would devour. But still, his aim is not to wield pain, but to deceive. To whisper. Curse the God who forgave you. This is what the war looks like today. Ordinary. It looks like keyboard warriors and hypocrite parents, circled wagons and struggling institutions. Sinners casting blame in a world full of conflict but short of awe. And the blood of the lamb that gives victory. Given here. Today. For you.

So today we fight. Satan would turn our eyes from the blood of the lamb. Focus us on each other. Hear his temptations. “Call the world your enemy. Ignore the God who died for them. Call each other the problem. Ignore the sin in yourself. Whatever you do, don’t look to the Spiritual war won in plain sight. Don’t look to the cross.” He’s desperate. Because here, all his power comes undone.

The cross is the power that drove satan from heaven. Forgiveness, won there for sinners, for you, shuts his mouth. He cannot accuse you anymore. So fight. Not in an imaginary battle, but in plain sight. Right here. In the face of the fear and shame and guilt, he would whisper to you, lay claim to each sin. Remind him of the ones you did he forgot about. “I a poor miserable sinner confess all my sins and iniquities.” Then make the sign of the cross and remind him Christ died for you. This is the might behind St. Michael’s spear. Satan lost. Christ won. And you fight with the angels on his side. This is the hope that puts a lump in the throat of Christian soldiers who limp more than march. Christ has won the war. St. Michael doesn’t show you how ordinary the war is, but how extraordinary the cross is. And that cross is for you. It knocked satan from heaven and gave preachers the power to trample over the demon hoard with absolving words of peace. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you this and all your sins.

The war in heaven was won on the cross

stewardship isn’t about what’s wrong, but what’s right.

Luke 15:1-10

And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

It’s Loyalty Sunday. Which is a nicer way of saying Stewardship Sunday. I don’t know why it’s called that. I wonder if someone changed the name because the word stewardship makes people nervous. I’m not too fond of it either. It always seems like thinly veiled language for “give us your money, please”. It’s not just that it’s in poor taste. I’m fine with that. Some of you even like country music. Poor taste isn’t the issue. It’s worse. It’s that when we talk about stewardship, we always start with what’s wrong, not what’s right. That makes everything darker. That leaves out hope. That leaves out Jesus. We can’t do that.

When we start with what’s wrong, the list ain’t small. That’s exactly why we start with Jesus. The God who seeks the lost. Who dines with sinners. Who makes His home with the folks who caused everything that’s wrong. Who saves the folks who couldn’t save themselves. That’s us. We’re Christian. Christ comes before anything else. Even in stewardship. Otherwise, we’d be Time-talent-treasurians or some other garbage. When you forget Jesus is the good shepherd, the only thing left to turn to for help is…well…us. Or more accurately our idols. And they’re still idols, even if you stamp a cross on them.

I’ve only been embarrassed of being Lutheran once. That actually says a lot for as many dumb jokes we make about potlucks. Lutherans don’t actually have the market cornered on “liking food”. Just saying. The only time I’ve ever been truly embarrassed to be a Lutheran, I sat and listened to a Missouri Synod preacher start a sermon like this:

He just looked around the room. Slowly. Seriously. Then he started snapping his fingers. He didn’t say anything at first. Just staring. Snapping. Letting the tension build. Then he said something along the lines of “every time I snap my fingers, someone dies without knowing Jesus. And we could have done something about it.” Apparently it was a big push to raise money. I figured it would have been more cost-effective to just have him stop snapping his fingers, but what do I know. I’m not in charge of anything.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m trying a little, actually. Snap your finger all you want. There is no amount of time, talent, or treasures that can buy salvation. Only Jesus can give that. And there is nothing you can do wrong to stop the Good Shepherd from seeking the lost either. The good shepherd is Jesus, not you. I was embarrassed because he lied. He manipulated people. Used their guilt and fear. Most of all because he turned Jesus from the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost into a secret knowledge we use to save people from hell. It made for a moderately successful fundraising tool. I guess. There’s a reason the wealthiest religions all threaten hell if people don’t give enough. There’s a reason it’s so easy to start stewardship talks based on what’s wrong. There aren’t enough people in church. Or volunteers. Or programs. Or funds. All of these are good, but fear, love, and trust in them above the God they point to…there’s a name for that. Idolatry. But without Jesus, that’s all we have. So most of the time stewardship is tactless complaining about what’s wrong in order to make you step up we can fix it. So, you know, you can be part of the 99 who need no repentance. Wait, that’s not right…

This is what happens when we don’t start with Jesus. With what’s right. If we did, we’d see the truth. This place is already a treasure. Not because of the walls or the programs, or any of the other things we brag about. This place is a treasure because there are sinners here. That’s what the Lord thinks is so valuable that He leaves behind heaven itself just to seek. Us. The sinners. The lost sheep. Jesus sees us sinners as the treasure worth seeking. You are what’s truly valuable here, because Jesus is the good shepherd who loves you enough to seek you out. The reason this place is special is because this is where He’s doing it.

Don’t start with what’s wrong. Start with what’s right. Jesus. Who conquered sin and death without your help, and who seeks the lost, even when it’s you. He sees us as worth dying for. Worth seeking. Worth pursuing.
Jesus is the good shepherd. Not you. But He has sought you. He has put your idolatry on His shoulders and carried that cross to Golgotha and there He died for you. Your sins are forgiven. Your idolatry. Your fear. Your ego. Jesus died for you. And that Jesus is here for you. Today. This is where He promised to deliver, through the Holy Spirit, the gifts He won. He is present in the word. The cup. The font. There is more joy in heaven over this. One sinner drowned with Jesus and raised with Jesus in the font. One sinner carried from death to life on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. Forgiven. Saved. Alive in the Lord. To carry you to the resurrection even as He carried your sins to the tomb.

God is here. Sharing a meal with sinners. God is here for you. To wipe away tears. So this place is a treasure, and you get to be a part of it. You get to receive Jesus here. You get to sing with the angels and all the saints in heaven here. Whatever is wrong, and I’m not saying that there isn’t anything wrong, Jesus is here for you to forgive, comfort, and save. That’s righter. Do you think there’s anything you could do to keep the Good shepherd from His sheep? Do you think so much of yourself? Rejoice. God’s got this stuff under control. The gift is that He wants you to be a part of it.

Start there, and you’ll understand stewardship. The angels singing over the sinner Jesus brings to repentance. That’s stewardship. They were living in their vocation and serving as God gave them. It didn’t add any to the kingdom, but it never needed to. It just pointed to what the king has done and found joy. Jesus is the good shepherd. He’s got it under control. The angels just got to rejoice.

It’s the same down here. God’s got everything under control. You get to be a part of it. It can’t add any to the kingdom, but it never needed to. We just get to point to it, as God has given us to do and find joy. We get to rejoice and live in our vocations. That’s stewardship. Some of you make sure it looks so beautiful here that you can walk in and be reminded that God is actually here in a meaningful way. Some of you give to make sure the pastors don’t starve or have to work second jobs and have to tell someone laying on their deathbed, sorry, I’ve got work my real job today. All of us sing along with the angels today and help teach the next generation it’s ok to sing hymns in church that point to the Shepherd. There are a million little things you do here and I thank God for you. Each act is part of the angels’ song. The rejoicing in heaven.

It’s all a gift. We know what’s out there. The sinners burdened by their flesh, by the devil, by the world, and by death. We know where to point them. We know what’s in here. Peace. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. So we do what we’ve been given. We do stewardship. Not because we make this place better, but because we see Jesus here, we hear his cry, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost.” So we do. We point at that in our vocations. The king is here for sinners. For you and for me. To forgive us and save us. In your time, your energy, your gifts, your hymns, and your prayers, you point to what the king is doing here for sinners, and all of heaven points along. Rejoice.

stewardship isn’t about what’s wrong, but what’s right.

Healing is the whole point of the sabbath.

And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.

Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day or not? Healing is sort of the whole point of the sabbath, but sin makes you so blind that you see the day as an obligation. Maybe you’re not hung up on the “do no work” thing like the pharisees. But still, Old Adam always sees worship as a burden, not a gift. The Pharisees made hard work of not working. They were genuinely challenged by the question of pulling their kids out of wells on the sabbath. Knowing he’s down there, can you honestly rest? Is that stress and pain and fear somehow better than caring for who you’ve been given to love? Today orthodox Jews walk to temple instead of drive. It takes a special kind of sinner to make rest that much work. We scoff, but we’ve made worship such a burden that we act like we deserve extra credit just for putting on pants to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation from the God who died to win it and deliveres it to you through a miracle. Sin makes you stupid. It changes how you see the world. It blinds you to how things are supposed to be and focuses you on yourself until you think you’ve got it all figured out, but anyone looking at you sees this disconnect. You’re walking around with rocks instead of driving. Is that really rest? You say you love God and trust Him with your eternal soul, but there are weeks where you literally prefer waffles. What’s wild, though, isn’t just the excuses we have. It’s how normal it all seems while we make them.

Just watch. Everyone sits down to a dinner worse than any uncomfortable Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. It’s awkward to the point it’s funny. The pharisees are so proud of doing nothing they stick a suffering man in front of Jesus and would honestly rather see him ignored than helped. Lord, save us from the same. Sure, the healer is there, but they’re more uncomfortable with Jesus helping a man in need on a day set aside for the unclean to become clean than they are with the status quo. So they just sit there watching. Waiting to be offended.

And this poor guy is so disfigured by disease, so uncomfortable, so afraid to say anything to draw attention to what everyone is already thinking about, that he becomes nothing more than what he would give anything not to be. A counterpoint to how good the pharisees look. He sits there knowing he doesn’t belong, but he can’t do or say anything to change it. He has dropsy, a disease where fluid pockets build up inside you to make you look like a monster. He’s there as the ice sculpture centerpiece that reminds everyone what kind of party they’re at.

Jesus breaks the awkward silence. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Or He tried to, but they remained silent. Everyone hates ice breakers. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Everybody gets what they desire. The man who can’t utter a single petition through all his shame is healed. The pharisees get nothing, just like they wanted. And Jesus gets to save a sinner in need and preach to those who do not yet believe. He’s done the same thing every single sabbath since.

God calls us to remember the sabbath day by keeping it holy. He doesn’t want you to have a vacation from work. He wants you to have time so He can spend it with you. For you. For every illness, every sin, and every shame. For every time we just want to crawl into a hole and pull the whole thing on top of us just to disappear and not be the centerpiece everyone talks about. He wants to be near sinners to help, forgive, comfort, and save. He shows up for the man everyone’s staring at and for the one suffering in silence that nobody noticed. He wants the feast to be full of the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and even the pharisees who only want to trap Him. The sabbath day is not about behaving like Jesus. It’s about being near Him. It’s about Him wanting to be near us.

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. This means we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it. This means that God actually wants to make you holy so badly He sets aside a day to get it done. He actually wants to show up to be with you. With me. With sinners who prefer waffles. What’s wild is how normal He makes it seem while He rips open tombs and makes the unclean clean. How normal He makes this service look to us, even while He does the most incredible things here.

He norms the man that sin made a monster. The man with dropsy becomes a face in the crowd, hearing the word and holding fast to it in faith. A saint brought out of the great tribulation, clothed in white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb. Jesus got that man from ashamed and wishing he was dead to living and singing hymns in heaven with just a word. It’s finished. That’s all it took. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. But this isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus for you. The exalted one was humbled on the cross. The humbled man, suffering the pain of disease and the shame of everyone’s stares is exalted. Brought from disease to salvation when Jesus spoke for him on that cross. That Jesus is here to speak words to you.

You aren’t made holy by where you sit. It’s not by how you behave or what you do or don’t do. You’re made holy by Jesus. He died for you. Bore your sins and your sicknesses on a cross and left them dead in the tomb. Then rose to be present for you in word and sacrament. Truly present. We don’t talk about God here. We hear Him. Receive Him. God shows up in, with, and under bread and wine for you to eat and drink. He’s actually here, because the sabbath day is for healing. Where else would He be? He made this day just to be with you. To confront what’s wrong, not so that we learn how to call it normal and excuse it, but so that we find help for it in a God who defies all pretense and heals whether people like it or not. Take. Eat. Your sins are forgiven you. You are not what people look at. You are not the excuses you make for the thing you’re too blind to even call a problem. You are not unclean. You are child of God. You are holy, because God shows up today to make you that way. Because today isn’t made holy by us. You can’t clean something with a filthy rag. Even one full of all your righteous deeds. Only something holy can give holiness. So the Holy One of Israel shows up here to make you holy. Take, eat. Your Sabbath rest is here for you. Amen.

Healing is the whole point of the sabbath.

hope is dangerous stuff

Luke 12:49-56

You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The fire cast on the earth was the cross. The fire called down against Jesus purified us from all sin. Sin was left hanging there, burnt to nothing, while we go free. The baptism Jesus distresses over: same thing. From His pierced side came forth blood and water. This was the baptism by fire John prophesied. The Lord was eager to get it done. Distressed until it was finished. But it is. He said so Himself. The peace doesn’t come from us all getting along down here. Peace comes through the division of that cross. The Father was set against the Son. The Father poured out wrath over sin against Jesus. Now it’s finished. It changed things. Your sins are forgiven. The dead rise from the grave. There’s hope now.

But hope is dangerous stuff. It changes how you see the world. It dares you to lift up your head. To stand tall where others would fall. To speak when others are quiet. True, raw, hope sets you apart. It makes you different from a world that can’t by it’s own reason or strength dare to expect what the resurrection of Jesus promises. And too often being different is more than enough reason to be apart. Hope is dangerous stuff.

It almost doesn’t seem fair. We want Jesus to bring togetherness but He promises the opposite. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” Look left. Look right. Thew pews aren’t full. People are missing. Each empty seat is a story. Blame anyone you want. Them. Yourselves. Some pastor. Me. The culture. The devil. It doesn’t matter. It’s still an empty seat. There’s a soul in your life that’s not here.

And I don’t know how to fix that. I’m sorry. I wish I did. I know what doesn’t seem to work, though. Usually the temptation is to downplay the hope until we don’t seem so different anymore. Stop talking about the whole Jesus thing. Pretend sin doesn’t bother you. Pretend hope doesn’t change how we see things. Pretend nothing different happens in the church. Disguise it so it looks like the rest of the world. Then be quiet when others are quiet. Try to forget the hope until you don’t see much reason to show up here either, except for someone’s expectation of you or a chance to socialize. It’s sad that so many have done just that, but it’s still easier than the division though. Otherwise, the only option we think of on our own is to argue the pews full. Convince people to believe by your reason or strength in something you couldn’t by your own reason or strength believe yourself. Ignore that part where it was the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith. Because after all, we’re right.

But hope is more than just being right. You’re right about knowing what time it is. You’re right in knowing it’ll be hot outside. You’re even right in thinking daylight savings time is stupid. If you disagree, you’re wrong. Being right changes a little, but not everything. Hope does. It changes everything. Hope is what fills the pews. Hope given by the Holy Spirit is what calls, gathers, enlightens, and keeps us. Hope is what divides us.

We miss that because we’ve made the whole thing about us instead of about God. How can we be so inoffensive nobody will mind coming here? How can we be so convincing everyone will yield to the right answers we’ve memorized? Where is God in any of that?

Honestly I’m not sure we want Him there. He calls Himself the stumbling block. The rock of offense. The one who brings division, setting families against each other. We think we can smooth things over. Make up for Jesus’ bad attitude. Sorry Jesus, it can’t be that black and white. It can’t be that offensive. You need to relax.

Because if this is the buy in, who would go? A building that’s only filled with more to be upset about doesn’t help, even if you stick a cross on top of it. There’s enough division in this world already. In all of it, the problem comes when we look more at the division than the hope that divides. Somewhere down the line we forgot why we believe this stuff. It’s not for a chance to find more division.

It’s not that we want to see families divided. It’s not because we love the concept of us and them. Christians and unbelievers. Elect and condemned. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Don’t you dare reduce a human soul into a foil for your faith. A soul Jesus was willing to bleed for but you’re not willing to tell the truth to because you want to get along. Take a soul Jesus died for and reduce it into a set of values or beliefs. Into a political party or ideology. Into a past or a sin or a conflict. see only something to argue with. To prove wrong. Then go to war and win, no matter the cost.

This is not why the Lord bore the cross. The Lord did not come intent on dividing families. He came to save sinners. This is not about division. It’s about hope. And the world needs more of that. Not less.

There is a dividing line drawn in sand. It’s not drawn from keep others out. It’s drawn to keep you in. God wants to save sinners. You. Me. Everyone. He did not just bear the cross for some, but for all. Cults separate you from your safety net. Your family. Your friends. This isn’t that. You can tell the difference. Are others allowed in? Are you allowed to question it? Yes, bring em. Yes, kick the tires. This building can withstand sinners being in it. It was built for them. These truths stand against hell, they can handle questions from YouTube atheists. If you don’t know the answer, ask. We’re here to help. To point to that hope that changes everything. And that hope can endure. That hope can call sinners out of the grave. That hope can gather a church across all the divisions we find in this life. It can bring light to darkness, and it can make holy the unclean. It’s faith. Trust. And it’s God given. For you. For all. Here. Now. The Holy Spirit is at work to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. There’s room for more. Christianity isn’t about peace on earth, which isn’t peace so much as it’s just quiet. It’s about peace in Christ. It’s hope. This is not about what to say to win an argument or smooth over division. This is about where God has promised to be. God is not far off. He’s here. And more, He’s for you.

Why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Not the end being near. But God being here. That’s why you’re here. Yes, it brings a new outlook. An ideology. A morality. But that which brings dead men life is not the law. It’s the gospel. Jesus died on the cross for you. For all. The fire was cast on earth to purify sinners. The baptism of water flows from the side of God to make holy thieves and you and me and all. God’s word does what it says, and joined to water, it saves. Christ is risen. This is not secret knowledge, but a hymn of hope. A promise made present. Look at what the Lord lays before you. This is His body. This is His blood. The time is now. The Lord is here. And He came for the sinners. We don’t draw lines to keep others out. Jesus draws them to keep you in. The hope is too important. It matters too much. Don’t forsake it to pretend you still walk in death just to avoid a fight with someone you love. Rejoice. The same Holy Spirit who preached that hope which changed everything to you is at work to preach it to all. Don’t reduce hope to an argument. Rejoice. The Lord is risen from the dead in a truth that shapes reality even as The Spirit proclaims it. Hope. Lift up your head. Stand tall and sing. Kneel and eat and drink.

Because Hope changes the way we see things. It changes how you see what happens today. The Lord’s supper isn’t something to dread, but something to run to. Hope changes how we see the bread and wine God speaks His word over. This is His body and blood for you. This is forgiveness for everything that divides us. This is communion that unites us across time and space, even life and death. This is Jesus given for you. This is peace. Not just on earth, but in heaven too.

hope is dangerous stuff