Saturday, November 15, 2008

2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year

“Inherit the Kingdom Prepared for You”

Matthew 25:31-46
2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year

15-16 November 2008

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church Girard, Illinois

Rev. Keith E. GeRue, Pastor

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. There are two aspects of today’s Gospel that we should not ignore or just gloss over. The first is that on the day our Lord Jesus returns, our works will be judged. St. Paul writes in Romans 14, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ . . . So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” Again the apostle writes in 2 Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” Too often we are quick to use the slogan “faith alone” as an excuse for not doing the good works God has given us to do. We use His grace as a cover to justify a self-serving way of living. But that is not the life God has called us to. Rather, He has called us to a life of self-giving, of love toward our neighbor in need, the hungry or thirsty or sick or in prison or just in need of someone to talk to. Jesus praises the works of the sheep, and He condemns the lack of good works in goats. Do not be deceived; your works will be judged on the Last Day.

The second thing we should not skip over is the reality of eternal judgment. Hell is not a particularly popular topic–for obvious reasons. No one likes to think of someone suffering in tormenting flames without relief, separated from God and knowing only sleepless agony forever. And yet that is the reality that the Scriptures put before us time and time again. Hell is real, and it is eternal, whether or not people believe it to be so. That’s how serious sin is; that’s how devastating it is to our relationship with God. It’s not just a little imperfection, a little petty thing. It is rebellion against God and an expression of someone’s desire to live without Him. Hell is simply the terrible completion of that wish. Do not buy into the many spiritualities out there which suggest that basically everyone except perhaps the most vile of criminals ends up in heaven. Today’s Gospel makes it clear that some receive eternal life; but many others receive eternal death. May God have mercy on us all, that we be may spared from suffering that judgment.

However, do not misunderstand my words. For I am not suggesting to you that you are saved by your works; nor is today’s Gospel saying that. For before we hear any talk of works, we hear of what God has done and prepared. Notice first of all what Jesus says to the goats. “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Believe it or not, there’s actually a bit of good news in those words. God did not prepare hell for us, for human beings. Hell is God’s judgment on rebellious Satan and his followers. No human being is predestined for eternal judgment. The people who end up there are those who through their own unbelief and pride have joined themselves to the devil’s fate.

Now pay close attention to what Jesus says to the sheep on His right, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” When was the kingdom prepared for you? Before you were even born! In fact, before the world was even created! That’s how much eternal life is a free gift of God’s grace to you. You couldn’t have had anything to do with winning eternal life because it was already done for you before you were in existence! Ephesians 1 says, “God the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame.” That point is made clear by the fact that Jesus says this is something you inherit. In other words, you get it not because of what you have done but because of who you are and whose you are. If you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd, you’re on the right. If you are a child in the family of the heavenly Father, then you get the inheritance. The blessing is yours. Period. It is for you, Jesus says.

Revelation 13 tells us why all of this is so. It says, that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was “slain from the foundation of the world.” That’s how the kingdom was prepared for you from the very beginning of creation. Jesus’ crucifixion was already foreseen and in effect from the very moment the universe was being formed. It is the one event that not only defines all of history but even eternity itself. The blood of the Lamb has cleansed us of our sin and made us the people of God. The Lamb who was slain is the one who reigns as King of this kingdom. And He gives you the kingdom gladly as an unearned gift. You are forgiven. You are free. You are royalty in God’s house.

So then, why is there all of this emphasis on the works of the sheep in today’s Gospel? Well, to start with, we must remember that even good works are gifts of God, which He has prepared, as Ephesians 2 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So even good works are something, which God Himself prepares, and does in and through His people who are baptized into Christ. St. Paul once said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Christ is the ultimate doer of all of our good works. He is the new man who joins Himself to us to live by faith toward God the Father and by love toward our neighbor. As Isaiah said, “Lord, You have also done all our works in us.”

So not only is our salvation a complete gift from God, but the good works, which are a fruit of our faith, are also a gift from God. Just as Christ credits His righteousness to us as our own, so also the works, the Spirit of Jesus does through us, are credited to us as well. Even though from our view our good deeds are still stained with imperfect motives and pride because of our old Adam, yet God still receives such works as holy for the sake of Christ. The blood of Christ not only purifies us but also purifies our works, so that they are pleasing to God. Christ honors all works done in faith and receives them as works done for Him.

Interestingly, though, the sheep on the right hand do not remember their good works done for Christ. Jesus praises the things they did, and they respond by saying, “When did we do that?” If you think about it that makes sense doesn’t it. A truly Christian good work is done for the sake of the other person and not for the sake of having a list of accomplishments to puff yourself up with before God. They are often forgotten, because they’re not about you. Why would you need to be remembering your good works and calling them to mind all the time–unless you’re trying to justify yourself in God’s sight, which no Christian does. We know that we are justified through faith in Christ alone. And so the sheep have “good works memory loss.”

And there’s one more reason why the sheep didn’t know of their works done for Jesus. Our Lord says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for Me.” Now in the Gospel of Matthew, that term “brethren” is used almost exclusively for the 12 disciples. They were Jesus’ brothers in the ministry, the apostles, the first preachers. And so to feed or clothe or visit them in their need was to do a good work for Christ whom they preached. For a minister acts in the stead of Christ and by His authority when he baptizes and preaches and administers Holy Communion. During His ministry Jesus sent the disciples out with no belongings to support themselves. They were to receive their food and clothing and so forth from those who believed their preaching. The apostle Paul was often imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel and received great comfort from those who visited him. So these good works that Jesus describes are simply expressions of faith in the Gospel. The sheep naturally support and care for the preachers of Christ. For Christians desire Christ’s Word and His saving gifts which are given through the ministry. That, by the way, is why there’s nothing to praise about the goats at Jesus’ left hand. Even though the goats may have done many good things in their life from a human perspective, the one thing they did not do was believe the Gospel or support the ministry of Christ. Only the sheep did that.

Finally, we would do well to remember that this final separation of the sheep and the goats begins at the cross and is pictured for us there. It was a goat who was crucified at Jesus’ left, one who mocked Him and didn’t believe. But crucified on Jesus’ right was a sheep who prayed in faith, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.” Fellow Christians who believe and are baptized, you are at Jesus’ right hand. Just as our Lord will come on the Last Day with all His holy angels, He is here even now with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to bring you His kingdom in the Sacrament of His body and blood. And so I say it to you once again, come, you blessed of the Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you, right here at this altar; come, receive the King. In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The 2nd Sunday of End Times – Last Judgement

“Armistice Day: Past, Present, Future'“
Matthew 14:15–28
8-9 November 2008
The 2nd Sunday of End Times – Last Judgement
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church Girard, Illinois
Rev. Keith E. GeRue, Pastor

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Baptized, The clock is ticking. The eleventh minute before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is approaching. What does this mean? Answer: We are waiting for a time to come that has been spoken of in days gone by. Notice the present, the future and the past in that reply. We are presently waiting for a future time to come that has been spoken of in the past.

Does that sort of sentence bother you or comfort you? Does it make you anxious with the anxiety that anticipates a joyous event, or of another sort of anxiety that makes you dread what is about to happen? You might reply that it depends on what we are considering. Ah, yes, for this is most certainly true. Indeed, waiting for the next Christmas Day is much different than waiting for the next root canal.

Join me under the theme of ... “Armistice Day: Past, Present, Future”

1. Armistice Day -The Past
90 years ago, from this Tuesday, in the year 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the nations of the earth rejoiced as peoples around the world celebrated the good news. After four dark, long years of bitter war that included chemical warfare with chlorine gas and mustard gas ... with endless fighting and no man's land ... following shell-shock and trench-foot ... after legions of men were thrown into the breech and then into the gaping graves of the earth ... an armistice was signed. The “war to end all wars” was over and the word of peace was cast and broadcast. “Look! Over there! It is finished! Lo, over here, it is done!”

This was the thought and the hope and the wishful thinking of mankind, and as a result, the United States, in 1919, set aside November 11th as Armistice Day -a day to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during the Great War in order to ensure a lasting peace. Soldiers who survived that war marched in parades; veterans who fought for freedom gave speeches; and a grateful nation held ceremonies of thanks
for the peace they had won. But remember, this was an armistice ... that is, a temporary halt of fighting by the mutual consent of the combatants.

As you know, peace did not last and the “war to end all wars” was renamed, “World War I” acknowledging that it was the first among others. So, after World War II, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans' Day. Though there was no lasting peace, mankind seeks peace. Thus, even now, in these latter days of terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, people look forward to and long for a time of world peace with a legislated armistice day enforced by the nations of the world.

However, dear Christian, to be assured of a future Armistice Day that will never end, one must not seek it in the days and years ahead, but rather, find it in the past. Nearly twenty centuries ago, Jesus said that the Day would arrive in the future like lightning, “but first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

Dearly beloved, it is now the eleventh hour and it is time to hear the Gospel of peace. Thus Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, winds His way with the cross beam on which He lifted up to the leafless tree where the Savior hangs at half-staff. After six long hours, including three hours of darkness, when Jesus suffered many things, including the wormwood and the gall ... after atoning for the sins of the world when His Blood was shed through His thorn-pierced head and the puncture wounds of the Gentile nails ... after enduring the mocking of Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers ... following severe shock and raging thirst ... after being the atoning Sacrifice for all sins, the Armistice was signed by Christ's Blood, sealed on the Day of Atonement and proclaimed from the Altar of God when our Redeemer said: “It is finished!”

2. Armistice Day -The Present
We now arrive at Armistice Day -The Present. Here and now, ... in the gracious Presence of the LORD ... is Peace on earth and Good Will toward men. No good work except that of Jesus' perfect Life and substitutionary Death could achieve the peace that comes from God ... no One but the LORD could provide it through Word and Sacrament to the end of the age. Certainly, the world did not deserve this gracious declaration and that includes each one of us in this room. In addition, neither you nor I nor anyone else could ever earn or achieve it. Indeed, “all this is from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the Ministry of Reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the Message of Reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

The LORD God Almighty is no longer angry with the world. God so loved the world that He sent His Only-Begotten Son to atone for all sins. The only sin that will condemn someone is unbelief and there are so many people who do not know this blessed Good News of the Armistice that God accomplished on that first Good Friday. These people might be like the Japanese soldiers living for decades on Pacific islands with no word that World War II was over; that is, they are people who have never heard the Good News of forgiveness, eternal life and salvation because of the lack of mission work in the harvest fields of the world or because of the lack of pastoral proclamation from the pulpits of the Church.

Men, women, youth and children without the Church and the Gospel are both dead and dying even as they seek hope and meaning in life. They will latch on to anything spiritual -seeking the devices of a medium to contact the dead and listening to the talk-show gurus. The same is happening for many in pulpits and the pews. In their present search they will trade the sanctuary for an entertainment center ... the Resurrection for the Rapture ... the Absolution for the Golden Rule ... the Gospel-laced Liturgy for a service of the Law ... the Holy Supper for donuts and coffee ... the liberating dogma of justification by the grace of God through faith in Christ for the binding doctrine of choice that picks one's god or gods from a legion of idols.

Certainly people are searching. And to all people, but especially to those who confess that the LORD is God, the Incarnate LORD tells them and us not to go there -not to listen to or hearken to the sounds of syncretism, or to those who claim to put Jesus first but don't, to those who willingly compromise the confession of Christ. “And they will say to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ! Or there he is!' or ‘Lo, here!' Do not believe it, do not follow them.” That is what Jesus said in the past and it certainly applies to the present days. These loving, warning, caring words of Jesus will have application in the future until the last day of time, and that brings us to ...
3. Armistice Day -The Future
As in the days of Noah and Lot, the clock continues to tick off the centuries, the years, the days and the seconds. It is now after the eleventh hour. The world is approaching the end. We do not when that last instant will be -when all three hands of history's clock point up and it will be the twelfth hour. The end will come suddenly and without warning, or, as Jesus tells us, “just as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” For the one who does not believe in Jesus the Christ, it will be midnight and the darkness of this world's night will give way to the deeper, utter, eternal darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

How much different it will be for the sons of God. That moment of the Second Coming of Christ will not be midnight but rather high noon, the instant when this world's daylight gives way to the eternal Light in the Presence of the LORD God where there is “no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the Glory of God is its Light and its Lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23), “for the LORD God will be their light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). What joy and celebration there will be before the Throne of the LORD as the entire heavenly host sings of the Lamb of God Who has provided such an Armistice Day as this.

In the meantime, you and I, as the people of God are called to doctrine and missions ... to get the Word straight, to get the Word out, to treasure all the things of God, and to remain faithful unto the end being so and doing so during these days when the world eats and drinks. The faithful do indeed eat and drink at tables in the world, but the children of God also eat and drink in the Lord's Presence in this Holy House and at His Holy Supper.

Until that Day when we congregate in the Holy City come down from above, you and I are called to remain steadfast in the Word and the blessed teaching of the Faith. What blessed doctrine might that be? All of them -each and every one of them -but especially the one you hear and in which you believe and trust ... namely, that you are forgiven all of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.