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Sermon: “Remember”             

LSB Series A

Thanksgiving Eve/Day; November 25/26, 2020

Old Testament Reading 8:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Remember. A lot can happen in forty years when you think back and remember.  Perhaps you have been in the restaurant Cracker Barrel. In their country store that you wait in before going to eat, there are all these little booklets that you can buy that tell you about the costs of certain items in a particular year. For example, forty years ago, back in 1980, a loaf of bread was fifty cents; a gallon of milk was $1.12; a ticket to see Star Wars-The Empire Strikes Back was $2.75; and the average house was $69,000.

Now truth be told, when you run the inflation numbers with today, 1980 really was not that great of a year from an economic standpoint. But when you look back forty years, there have also been many events that have taken place in that time as well. For example, the internet was born, there was the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War took place, the Cold War ended, the Smartphone was introduced, there was 9/11, Facebook was founded, and countless other events as well. (Pause)

The act of remembering, forty years or otherwise, has a way of giving us the great opportunity to look back in retrospect and give thanks for all of God’s provision and the blessings that He bestows upon us as we navigate the trials and tribulations of this life.

So it was with the people of Israel as well. As they were nearing the end of their forty years of wilderness wandering, they were instructed to take a moment and remember.

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to you fathers. And you shall ‘remember’ the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not (Deuteronomy 8:1-2).

As the Israelites remembered the past forty years, they were given a chance to recall all of God’s provision and faithfulness. They were given a chance to give praise where praise was due. The reason that their bellies did not grumble with hunger was because God had fed them with manna from heaven. Though they had been marching through the wilderness for forty years, it had been God who had made it possible for their clothing not to wear out and their feet not to swell along the way. None of it had to do with them. All of the credit went to God.

The Thanksgiving holiday gives us all an opportunity to look back in retrospect and remember all that God has done for us, be it forty years or otherwise. It is a chance for us to give praise where praise is due and return thanks for the many blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon us. And as we do so, there is this humbling reality that it is not we have sustained ourselves, but rather it has been God who has sustained us.

After all, when we look back, and we see all of the hardship and rough times that we have been through, how can we not say that it has been because of God’s gracious provision that we have made it this far? Then again, we love to take the credit nonetheless.

When we look back and remember how far we have come, there can be the temptation to make it a time to give ourselves a pat on the back. After all, just look at all we have accomplished. Look at all we have done. It’s like any person who spends time admiring their trophies on the shelf and their plaques on the wall. Any time we find ourselves giving ourselves the atta-boys and the atta-girls, it is a temptation to forget who is behind all of the accomplishments.

As the people of Israel gathered near the Promised Land, God made sure that they would not forget who it was that had blessed them to come as far as they had come…who it was who had provided for their every need. After all, it was because of Him that they were free from slavery in the first place. He made the Exodus from Egypt possible. He made it possible for them to survive these last forty years. And He was the One paving the way for them to enter into the Promised Land. It was all because of Him…and they best not forget it.

To forget who their provider was would be catastrophic, just as it had been before. Forty years ago, when Moses had gone up on Mount Sinai, the people of Israel had quickly forgotten who had led them out of 430 years of slavery in Egypt. Their being quick to forget had them turn from the One, true God to the constructing and worshipping of a golden calf. It was because of such idolatry that they had had to wander these past forty years. So, in an effort to direct them to Himself as their source of salvation, God called upon them to remember. 

“Remember who led you out of slavery. Remember who provided for you in the wilderness these past forty years. Remember who will soon be giving you the Promised Land. Remember?”

God calls us upon us to do the same here today. He knows just how quick we are to forget Him and all the ways that He has provided for us. He knows just how quickly we get caught up in the trials and the tribulations of this life, and it is as if we are blinded to all that He has done for us.

I think back and remember all of the times I have sat in hospital rooms, either with my own family or with you or your loved ones. In those moments, it can sometimes be like those white walls are like barriers that restrict us from remembering all that God has done. All we can see is the suffering before us. And so we forget.

That’s one of the many aspects that I love about being a pastor. I have the great opportunity to enter into those hospital rooms to deliver God’s Word…to help you and I both remember where true hope is found. It isn’t found in healing or science, though both are certainly helpful. But true hope is found in the Word of God declaring that your sins and mine are forgiven. True hope is found in the One who promised never to leave us or forsake us. True hope is found in the One who entered into our suffering to bring peace and solace no matter the circumstance.

And such circumstances aren’t only in hospital rooms. They happen all the time in countless places…a car ride, sitting in your office, lying in bed looking at the ceiling, staring at the gravestone of a loved one. And in each circumstance, it can be so easy to forget…to forget about God and His gracious provision.

So God routinely calls us to His house to remember where true hope is found. To remember that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. God’s Word that became flesh and dwelt among us is the sustenance and the nourishment we need as we journey through this life. 

It’s no wonder that the liturgy calls upon us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word. It’s no wonder that week after week, we are instructed to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray this petition so that God would help us to realize that He is the sole source of what we need and that we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

We remember with thanksgiving that our God was faithful to His people as they wandered the wilderness and provided for all of their needs. We remember that He faithfully remembered the covenant that He made with His people, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. He promised that they would one day enter the Promised Land. And now here after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, that is exactly what they were about to do.

We remember with thanksgiving that our God was faithful to remember His promise to send His Son to crush the head of the serpent. We remember that on a hill outside of Jerusalem, His Son gave His life in our stead so that true hope would be ours as our sins were forgiven and our death was defeated.

In fact, with thanksgiving, we remember this often as we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. We feast on His body and blood, and we do so in remembrance of Him. Not because this is some sort of remembrance meal, but because He has commanded us to do so often so that we may receive His forgiveness as we look forward to His return. (Pause)

It will not be long and we too will enter into the Promised Land that awaits us in a new heaven and earth. There we shall eat and be full, but on much more than turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. There we will dine upon the feast of our Savior, the One who has remembered His promise to save us so that we may live eternally with Him. And our response will be much like we will do at our Thanksgiving tables today. We will bless Him as the Lord our God…O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.

I would like to close today with a devotion my father-in-law recently shared with me based upon these words from Deuteronomy 8:10-11: When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.

What is the last thing you forgot? Do you have any trouble remembering? Do you ever have trouble remembering God? Do you sometimes think it would be easier to trust God is you saw a miracle? The Israelites had. They had seen the ten plagues. They had crossed the Red Sea. God had provided manna and quail. Yet as they are about to enter the Promised land Moses says, “Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God.” 

We might scratch our head and wonder how they could forget God so quickly.

But what about us? We’ve receive God’s miracle of life and new life. We receive the miracle of salvation. But how long before we forget God and His blessings?

          Yes, the text says, be careful that you don’t forget God. The Israelites had memory loss and so do we. The Good News is that God doesn’t forget us. He doesn’t forget His promises. 

May God enable us through every day of life remember what God has done for us in the sending of His Son. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Our Generous Master

Sermon: “Our Generous Master”             

LSB Series A; Proper 28

24th Sunday after Pentecost; November 15, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:14-30

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

One of the lines that Dave Ramsey uses for his Financial Peace University classes that we have offered several times here at Zion is this: “Live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else.” In essence, it boils down to the fact that if you are wise with your money, you will be blessed to be able to be generous toward others. If you don’t allow yourself to get into severe debt or you pay off all of your debt, you will get to experience the joy of living like no one else does by giving to others. These are certainly words of wisdom considering we live in a world where most everyone carries debt, and often far too much debt.

But did you ever notice that those that are generous truly do live like no one else? And they aren’t necessarily rich by worldly standards either. They just seem to have all the fun giving their money away to others, especially when it helps someone out in a time of need. And they aren’t consumed with getting acknowledged or getting the credit, they just love being generous.

That is the way it is for the master in our text for today. He just loves being generous. He lives like no one else. His gifts to his three servants are beyond exorbitant. To one he gives five talents, to the next he gives two talents, and to the last one he gives one talent, each according to their ability.

It should be noted that one talent was equivalent to six thousand days wages or approximately twenty years of salary. So, no matter what amount was given, these were all ridiculous gifts. Gifts intended to be put to use.

As the parable goes on to say, the first servant put his talents to use and earned five more. The second servant did the same with his two talents and earned two more. Each of them heard from their master the wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Unfortunately, the third and final servant did not put his talent to use. Instead, he buried it in the ground out of fear for his master. So, when the master came back, all he had to show for his use of that one talent was the dirt covering the talent from the hole that he dug to put it in.

The master’s response was to give the one talent to the servant who now had ten talents, and also to throw the worthless servant into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is a hard lesson for us to unpack, and it begs the good Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”

Well, we could easily get caught up in a lot of tempting things here. After all, why does the master give different amounts of talents? What does that mean for me? Are my talents worth less than others? What about the servant who hid his talent? Will that happen to me if I don’t use my talents just right?

As you can see, if our focus is not where it is supposed to be, we could easily lose sight of what God is communicating to us as we approach Christ’s return on the Last Day.

The focus is not on who has more or less talents, nor is the focus on the one who is cast out. The focus is on the Master Himself and His generous nature toward His servants.

We are His servants. And to each of us, He has entrusted talents. Note the play on words. He has given us talents and treasures to use to further His kingdom so that the good news of the Gospel may be shared.

Servants one and two are really one and the same. It doesn’t matter how many talents they have, the point is that they use them to further the wealth of the kingdom. 

All too often, we get into the trap of comparing ourselves with others. This is sinful, and it communicates to God that what we have been given is not enough. But the truth is, whether we compare talents or treasures, God has given to each of us according to our ability…and whatever amount that is…is enough.

That goes to show us that whether we are president, teacher, factory worker, farmer, pastor, corporate executive, office assistant, parent, spouse, single, child, or otherwise, we have all been gifted.

Each of us has received gifts of the Spirit in the water and the Word of our baptism. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5]

In our Bible class lately here in the book of Romans, Paul warned us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. But rather, as a body has many members, so also we each have gifts that differ from one another, to which Paul aptly says, let us use them.

He says, if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; to one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity, the one who leads, with zeal, the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. [Romans 12]

God has gifted each of us generously, and He calls upon each of us to put them to use for the furthering of His kingdom. The alternative is to bury those gifts in the ground and not to put them to use…to hoard them for ourselves. To which, Jesus says there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth awaiting those that choose this route.

That’s because the person who buries their talents in the ground is one who views the Master only in fear. They only see God as one who condemns. Their lens they look at life through sees that God is only a hard man who drives His people and uses them for his own personal gain.

Perhaps you have been used and abused by someone like this before. No matter how hard you worked, it didn’t matter. Your master or your boss or whoever it was in authority over you didn’t care about you. You were just a piece of meat to them. You were just the means for them to get more for themselves.

Anyone who has been in that situation, whether it was a parent or boss or a spouse or a friend or whoever, knows the hurt and the anger that burns within when you just know you are being used.

That servant with his one talent thought that way of his own master. He thought his master only dealt in harshness and severity. Oh, how mistaken he was to think of his master only in his own terms.

So, it is with us whenever we look at our master and Lord only through the lens of the way the world works or the way that those in the world have wrongly treated us. When we abandon taking the Master at His Word above our own, we miss out on who “He” truly is, and who “we” are as His servants. And when that happens, we truly do miss out on the absolute joy there is in serving the master and putting the talents he has given us to use.

So, how do we change? Or better yet, where do we start? 

We start where it all started. In the Word, the Word that was joined with the water back at your Baptism…where the generosity of the Master was literally poured out upon you... where it had nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Him and His  ridiculous and reckless love for you.

In that very moment, no matter whether you were an infant, child, or adult the greatest payment ever made was delivered on your behalf by the only One who could ever truly lay claim to being a good and faithful servant.

Because let’s be honest: We aren’t good. We aren’t faithful. We do compare ourselves with others…all the time. We do think God hasn’t given us enough…all the time. We are ungrateful, and we are most certainly not always faithful. Far too often, we have looked at our Master on our terms rather than His. That way, if He is condemning toward me, then it justifies the way that I treat others. It justifies my burying my talent in the ground so that I don’t have to share it with those I don’t want to. (Pause)

But, you see, your Master and mine does not condemn. And He goes beyond just saying it. He proves it. He sent His Son not to condemn the world but to save it. To save you and I from our sins. Our selfish, unfaithful, condemning sins. To save you and I from sure and certain condemnation.

That’s why He came to be used and abused, by the people that should have treated Him the best. They were His own people. In some cases, they were His own family. Yet all they wanted to do was condemn Him. And that’s what they did. They condemned Him to death.

In the greatest gift of generosity, He shed His own precious blood for you…to pay the exorbitant priced demanded to save you. He did that for you. Not because you were good and faithful, but because that is what He is for you. 

“Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

His generous gift is yours. Life, salvation, talents, treasures…it is all yours. It’s yours to rejoice in for yourself, and it’s yours to share and put to use. Each of us has been called upon by our Master to use our talents in the confidence of the One who is the good and faithful servant who named and claimed us as His own. 

So, who is it that needs to benefit from your God-given gifts that you have received? Is it a friend or family member that you have cut out for far too long? Is it a co-worker or neighbor you see could really use a friend and some encouragement? Is a parent, sibling, spouse, or child that could really use someone to come alongside of them and love them? 

Perhaps that person you think could really use such love is you. That’s the joy of being the Church. We are all a family here that has been gifted richly by God. We each have been entrusted with gifts to share. How might we use those gifts to build each other up and encourage one another? (Pause)

What a joy it is to know that our Master generously sent His Son to live like no one else, so that in turn, we may each live like no one else in love toward others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Bridegroom Will Come

Sermon: “The Bridegroom Will Come”             

LSB Series A; Proper 27

23rd Sunday after Pentecost; November 8, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

          Mom gets off the phone and announces to the kids: “Grandpa and grandma are coming!” Immediately, the kids get all excited, start jumping up and down and race to the front window, determined to wait and watch until they get here. Time goes by, and no grandparents arrive. So the kids ask their mom, “When are grandpa and grandma coming?” Mom replies: “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?!” the kids shout back.” “No,” mom says, “I just said they were coming, I didn’t say ‘when’ they were coming.” “What?!” the kids exclaim.

          Who are you waiting for? Whose coming gets you to the window? Whose coming gets you excited?

          As Christians, we are all waiting for Jesus to return, and we don’t know the day or the time. In fact, Scripture even tells us that not even the Son knows, only the Father. It’s one of those divine mysteries of the Trinity that boggles our minds. How can the Father know something that the Son doesn’t, and yet the Trinity is three persons in one? Some things are beyond our human reason. A lot of things, really. This includes when Jesus will return.

          In today’s text, Jesus tells a parable of ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. It tells us that five of them were foolish and five of them were wise. The number of the virgins is insignificant, as is the number of those prepared and not prepared. What matters is the fact that the bridegroom is coming. Though we don’t know the day or the hour, we need to be prepared…or as the text says we need to “Watch” because the bridegroom will come.

          In the Old Testament, for a wedding, the groom and his attendants would make their way to the bride’s house. This could happen during the day or night. The bride would be anxiously waiting for her bridegroom to come at her family’s home. She would be surrounded by bridesmaids that would keep her company and keep her awake and watching for her bridegroom’s arrival. 

          Once the bridegroom arrived, the wedding would take place and they would make their way back to the groom’s family home where the festivities and celebration would continue, sometimes for as many as seven to fourteen days. 

It was common that processions from the bride’s house to the groom’s house would take place at night. So, those that were waiting to join the procession needed to be ready and waiting with their lamps burning to light the way back to the groom’s home. They would then follow the bridal party and join in the excitement. 

That is, unless, those waiting weren’t present and prepared to be watching for the coming of the bridegroom leading his bride into his home. In the case of the foolish virgins in the parable, they had allowed themselves to become distracted in their excitement, and so they forgot to bring what was most needed for the procession, extra oil for their lamps. So, off they went running into the night, as if a merchant selling oil would even be available in the middle of the night, and they missed the procession. And the only response awaiting them at the door of the bridegroom’s house was, “I don’t know you.”

          This Sunday, and the next two Sundays present a harsh reality for us to accept. The end will come…and when it does, there will be those who are saved and those who are not. But no matter how hard it is for us to accept, the day is yet coming. The bridegroom is coming. And for those that are not ready, the door will be shut, and the bridegroom will say the most frightening words ever heard, “I do not know you.”

          This text is certainly a wake-up call to unbelievers, but it is also a wake-up call to all of us not to let ourselves slip into foolishness and forget to watch and wait for the bridegroom to come. Foolishness is living without God in the picture, and it can be so easy in this world of sin to start to fall away from Him. So, we are called to keep watching ‘until death do we part’ from this earth.

          We need to be like those grandkids at the window waiting and watching for grandpa and grandma to come. And even though we don’t know when He is coming, we still need to keep our eyes glued to the glass of that window, because He is coming, and Scripture says He is coming soon.

          But watching and waiting are hard. We know this with the most recent election, and we certainly know this as we await Christ’s return. We are an impatient people, and we get bored easily. We often think we have better things to do with our time than simply wait. So, it can be very easy to slip into this apathetic laziness, and even fatigue, in regards to waiting for the coming of Christ. And, if we aren’t careful, we can slide down a slippery slope that would lead us to be like those foolish virgins who weren’t prepared when the bridegroom came.

          Just think about it. No one plans to fall away from their faith. But then life gets busy, and before you know it a Sunday here and there is missed. Then, the next time Sunday rolls around, the alarm goes off, and bed just feels so warm, so you roll over thinking, “I’ll just go next week.” But then next week comes, and it’s more of the same. Until it’s not long and the only days you might go would be Christmas and Easter, attending with extended family. Like I said, no one plans it, but falling away from the faith is a real deal.

          But apathetic laziness rears its ugly head in other ways as well. It can be simply an attitude one has toward the Word of God and the Sacraments. Where we are taught in the third commandment to “gladly hear and learn God’s Word,” sometimes we can slip into a mode of obligation instead of reverence and awe before God’s holy gifts given in Word and Sacraments. We just go through the motions with little care for what God’s gifts truly bring to our lives. And when this happens, abandonment from the holy things of God can be soon to follow.

          This often happens after a course of events or series of events that doesn’t go our way. A diagnosis here, a death there, some struggles and suffering along the way, and before we know it, we begin to wonder if God has abandoned us. So we turn our back on Him and walk away. 

          In a time like we are living in these days, it could be really tempting to walk away. We are overwhelmed by a barrage of negative messages and media (political, racial, division, or otherwise), and it has become so easy to get downhearted and discouraged. So it can get to be quite easy to think that there is no hope in this world, and the bridegroom is never coming back. We have only been left with doom and gloom.

          And that is what we would have been left with had it not been for the Bridegroom’s first coming. Had he left His bride, the Church, where He should have, we would all be doomed to die eternally. But lovingly, He gave Himself up for His bride on the cross to sanctify her and cleanse her with the washing of water and the Word, so that He might present His bride to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

          You see, that is why the message of the bridegroom coming is no message of doom and gloom for us. We are the Church made holy by the bridegroom. We are the wise virgins in this parable whose lamps burn bright with ample oil to spare. Though the clouds of judgment gather around us, it is a day that you and I need not fear.

          As it says in the book of Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

          The Bridegroom coming on the Last Day comes to you and me today to deliver to us all that we need to be ready as we watch and wait. He comes in His Word, which is a lamp to our feet and light to our path. And with that light, He gladly leads us to the feast. There, He sets before us a meal of rich food and well-aged wine…His body and blood, given and shed for us, forgiving us of our sins.

          As we taste and see that the Lord is good, our body is awakened from its apathy, laziness, and fatigue, and we are renewed and refreshed for yet another week of watching and waiting for the Bridegroom to come. And come He will. 

He will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. The door will be opened, and He will call us each by name, and we will always be with the Lord.

We will always be with the Lord. That is what we are watching and waiting for. Like those kids waiting for grandpa and grandma to come, we do so with joyful and eager anticipation. Like those wise virgins, we do so encouraged and readied for whenever that time comes. He won’t let us down. He never has before, nor will he ever. 

Trusting in His faithfulness, we watch and we wait, fixing our eyes upon the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Come, Lord Jesus, and come quickly! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Victorious Lamb of God

Sermon: “The Victorious Lamb of God”             

LSB Series A; Proper 26

All Saints Sunday; November 1, 2020

First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

          “Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” 

          Happy Easter! Yes, you heard me correctly…Happy Easter! Every Sunday is a little Easter as it looks back to the day of the Resurrection and forward to the day of the final resurrection of the dead. Even more so on this day, All Saints Day. 

All Saints’ Sunday is a day we remember those in our congregation who have died in the faith this past year. In fact, we remember all the saints in heaven who have gone before us. And while doing so, we look forward to the day of the final resurrection in the confidence of Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

          Yes, the tomb is empty. The stone has been rolled away. He is not here, He has risen, just as He said. The Lamb of God is on His throne, right where He belongs. And He has clothed us all in robes of righteousness, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

          Baptized into the name of the Triune God, our fate has been reversed and our vision has been corrected. Like an effective pair of glasses, we now look at life through lenses of God’s grace on His people. No more do we consume ourselves with setting our sights on the things of this world, now we look beyond this world to rejoice in the glory that awaits us as beloved children of the Heavenly Father.

          With so much of the focus on this upcoming election, with fears abounding about what is coming of our country, now more than ever do we need to fix our eyes where true joy is found. Now more than ever do we need to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Now more than ever do we need to fix our eyes upon the Lamb of God who sits on His heavenly throne. Jesus has shed His own precious blood on the cross. He has swallowed up death in victory. Jesus is our victorious King.

          As hard as it may be to believe, it does not matter who comes out in victory in this forthcoming election. No matter what happens, no matter the outcomes, no matter the results…electoral college, popular vote, or otherwise…it does not change the fact that Jesus reigns as Lord of heaven and earth.

          President Trump can’t save us. Joe Biden can’t save us. To look to either one of these men to serve as any form of a savior is idolatry. To put our trust in either of them is to misplace our trust. 

          The First Commandment calls upon us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The Catechism teaches us that “To have a god means to trust in and rely on something or someone wholeheartedly to help us in times of need and to give us all good things.”

          Though government and those who govern are gifts from God, it would be in error to look to such entities or persons to save us in time of need. As Christians, no matter who is in office, no matter how troublesome the tribulation, we look to the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth, the victorious Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. 

          That is the focus of the saints in the new heaven and earth. An entire multitude…that no one could count. All nations, tribes, peoples, and languages represented. Chinese, Japanese, African, Middle Eastern, European, American, and on and on the list goes. All with eyes fixed on Jesus. All with palm branches in their hands, waving them in glorious victory. Just picture this sea of people. No matter which direction you look, you can’t see the end of all the saints around you. There are so many. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Adam and Eve, Ruth, Esther, Joseph and Mary, Peter, James, and John and the other apostles, the apostle Paul, countless other ancestors who have gone before us in the faith. They are all there. And where do they look? They look at Jesus, the victorious Lamb of God. 

          Now just imagine that crowd all shouting as one. Louder than any fight song at a sporting event, rally cry at a political gathering, or victory shout in battle…all with one, unified voice together saying: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.

          Angels and elders and living creatures all bowing before Him, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

          Amen. Yes, yes it shall be done. Yes, yes, it has been done. Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. Death and the devil are done for. The trials and tribulations of this world are gone. Sin has been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. There is no need to fear, the victorious Lamb of God is here.

          He is here today with you. You, who live in the great tribulation. Jesus comes to you today to give you exactly what you need so that you may join with all the saints who have gone before us…so that you may come out of the great tribulation. 

Jesus protects you by washing you in His blood. He clothes you with Himself. You are literally enveloped in Christ Himself. And now, here today, you are given a foretaste of the feast to come as you join in the holy assembly with the saints and angels on the Last Day. Their chant is your chant. Their song is your song. United in a new heaven and earth, we will join together to give praise where praise is due, the crucified, resurrected and ascended victorious Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

          No matter how bleak things may seem in this world, don’t take your eyes off of Him. He is your Savior. Don’t let the distractions and darkness of this world keep you from focusing on He who is the Light of the world, the One darkness can never overcome. He is your King. Crucified, buried, and raised, He does not fail you. Just lift your eyes up to the hill, the hill of Calvary, and see the victory He has won for you, that He has given to you.

He is our help in time of need, any need at all as you serve Him and Him alone. Not even hunger and thirst can bring us down. He brings us here today to feed us with His body and His blood. He courses through our veins with His forgiveness, with His life, with His salvation. We approach this world in the utmost confidence that not even death itself can defeat us, for we have Christ Himself within us.

So, no matter how much this world turns up the heat. No matter the pressure that awaits us, the persecution that is before us, we do not shy away from the battle. Though the battle is fierce, the warfare long, the Lamb of God proclaims that victory has already been won.

Two thousand years ago on a cross outside of Jerusalem, the Lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the world. His name is Jesus. His blood poured out from His wounds that healed us. Buried in a tomb, all hope looked to be lost.

Many of us are no doubt are feeling that way today as we look to the future of our nation. We see the unrest, we feel the divide, we quiver with anxiety with all of the unknowns that remain unanswered. We fear defeat.

But, Jesus is no loser. All He does is win, win no matter what. As the Gospel lesson told us, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” That means it is a great day today, because we know the end of the story.

Jesus tells us “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, He has overcome the world.” 

Trials and tribulations may come, doom and darkness may abound, but two thousand years ago, the devil was given a knockout punch and he is down for the count…forever.

So, don’t fear the terrors of the night or the arrows that fly by day, as the hymn goes, the Lamb is on His throne. He is your Shepherd and He will guide you to springs of living water.

That living water is right here, at the font, where you were baptized, where you were signed and sealed by none other than Jesus who wrote His name on you with His own precious blood. Baptized into Christ, you are a child of paradise. 

Yes, paradise awaits you. Just wait, the trumpet will sound (as we heard today), the dead in Christ will be raised, and we will always be with our Lord. We will bow before Him, and He will kneel down, and with His pierced hands, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Death will be no more, pain and sorrow will fade away, suffering will be erased. There will be no need to fear…in fact there never is, when Jesus, the Victorious Lamb of God is here.

Death couldn’t hold Him, and the grave couldn’t keep Him. “Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God's Gift of Grace

Sermon: “God’s Gift of Grace”             

LSB Series A; Proper 25

Reformation Sunday; October 25, 2020

Epistle Reading: Romans 3:19-28

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

          We gather here on Reformation Sunday to rejoice in God’s gift of grace, that by grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone, we are saved from the condemnation of the law. We are saved from sin, death, and the devil himself. 

          We gather here on Reformation Sunday to rejoice that a sixteenth century monk, motivated by the work of the Spirit, boldly pointed out the offenses of the Roman Catholic Church. Where the Church of Rome added works of the law to God’s gift of grace, Luther rested securely and proclaimed confidently, that Jesus was the sole source of salvation.

          We gather here on Reformation Sunday to rejoice that we are Lutherans who remain ever steadfast to the Word of God. As our Confirmands are publicly confessing their faith given to them in their baptism in the special services this weekend, so we also confess that by God’s grace, we will remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of everlasting life (Rev. 2:10). 

          St. Paul writes to the Church in Rome: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:21-25a).

          Just like our congregation’s confirmands, it was here at the font that you received the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Who was it that brought you to the font? Who was it that cared for you so deeply that they wanted nothing more than for you to be showered in God’s gift of grace, given in Jesus Christ?

          For myself, it was my parents. It was back on April 5, 1981, at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Flushing, Michigan. There I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

          For the apostle Paul, it was in a room in the city of Damascus. After having been blinded by the light of Christ, God’s servant Ananias came to him and gave him back his sight. But even greater than that, Ananias baptized him in the name of the Triune God giving him faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

          At that very moment, Paul’s life changed. Instantly, to the utter confusion of the Christians he had once persecuted, he began proclaiming the grace of God given in Christ Jesus.

          So, what’s so amazing about God’s gift of grace? As we look at Scripture, just ask the woman who was caught in adultery. There she was, drug out by the Pharisees and cast in front of Jesus. With no care or concern for her, they just wanted to try and trap Jesus. They said to Jesus: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 

          Now just picture this woman, eyes glaring at her like knives that would easily pierce flesh. No love. No care. No compassion. She was just a prop for their evil plot.

          But what did Jesus do? He knelt down and wrote in the sand as they continued to question him. He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He continued writing in the sand, until one by one, they each walked away.

          Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.” [John 8:1-11] That’s God’s gift of grace. (Pause)

          “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Our God came not to condemn, but to save. That’s God’s gift of grace.

          Why do we need God’s gift of grace? Because each of us have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us is righteous, not one. No one understands. No one seeks God. All have turned away. We have become worthless (Romans 3:11-12). We are literally dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

          That is why God’s gift of grace is so vital. We need to be raised from death, and saved from the condemnation of the law. So, lovingly and graciously, God places His law before us so that we see ourselves as the sinners that we truly are…so that we see that we don’t measure up to God’s demands…that we fail every time… and that we are guilty in every way imaginable…and that we desperately need a Savior…and that Savior is Jesus. (Pause)

          What sins does the law expose in your heart today? What offenses are deeply embedded in your heart? What do you need to confess today?

          Is it the hatred you have toward someone because they aren’t in alignment with your political views? Is it the grudge that you hold because someone said something that rubbed you wrong and you just can’t let go of it? Is it dependence upon alcohol or another substance as these days of the pandemic grow long and discouraging? What is it that is waging war against you trying to drive you away from Christ?

          As both Paul and Luther would attest, the scalpel of the law cuts us deep in the heart, to the very deep recesses, and it exposes us for who we truly are. We are sinners. We don’t just fall short of the glory of God, we plummet into the very depths of hell, which is right where we belong.

          Have we come to terms with just how sinfully depraved we are? Or have we come up with countless ways to try and remedy and justify our sins? Have we compared ourselves to others, or tried to put up pretenses that we have some good within ourselves?

          This is the reality that Martin Luther condemned in his 95 theses. His statement for debate was a call to repentance. In fact the first of those 95 theses stated: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said: “Repent” (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

          This is what Paul would direct us to today as well. There is no work that we could do to ever make up for the awful things that we have thought, said, and done. So, stop trying to do stuff to make up for your failings. There isn’t enough that you can do. You will always fall short.

          It’s like my attempts to dunk a basketball anymore. It just ain’t gonna happen. The vertical leap is no longer there (not that it ever really was). I always fall short.

          But Jesus was up to the challenge. He didn’t fall short. He met the demands of the law in every way. He plunged into the depths of hell itself to save you and me. He pulls us up from sure and certain condemnation to give us life and salvation. This is His gift of grace given to you. 

And there is no expectation of giving anything back in return. Ever been given a gift, and wondered what the catch was? That is not the way it is with Jesus. Gift means gift. Nothing needed in return. 

          Our text says that “we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

          To be redeemed means that you have been bought back from death, and given the gift of life and salvation. It was not purchased by you, no gold or silver would do. The explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed tells us, that your redemption was purchased for you with Christ’s holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

          So that you would not be condemned by the weight of the law, Jesus put Himself forward as the propitiation for you.

The propitiation was the mercy seat of God. It was the lid that rested on the ark of the covenant that contained the Ten Commandments inside. It was the lid with the wings of cherubim spread over it. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the priest would enter the holy of holies, and he would sprinkle blood over the propitiation, over the lid of the ark to make atonement for the sin of the people.

This is what Jesus has done for you. He has covered all your sins with his blood. No matter what offense you come with here today, no matter how heinous or huge it may seem in your mind, it is completely covered and washed away. The condemning nature of the law has been consumed by Christ on the cross. Jesus now looks at you as he looked at that woman caught in adultery and says, “Neither do I condemn you.”

You are not condemned in your sin. Rather, as Paul later writes in the book of Romans: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). 

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No matter how far you think you’ve fallen short of the glory of God, you have been justified. Justified. What does that word mean? It means: Just as if I’d never sinned. That’s how God sees you thanks to Jesus. That’s all because of grace. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s God’s gift, and it’s all for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Rejoice in the Lord

Sermon: “Rejoice in the Lord”             

LSB Series A; Proper 22

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 11, 2020

Epistle Reading: Philippians 4:4-13

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

          Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

          One might be inclined to say that Paul is trying to make a point here. After all, he not only tells the Church in Philippi to rejoice, but he even goes so far as to repeat the command. In fact this short book of the Bible contains the word “joy” in various forms sixteen times. So, yes, Paul was trying to make a point.

          What was there to rejoice about? That might have been what the Philippian Christians were wondering. How could they rejoice when they faced constant persecution? How could they rejoice when their very livelihoods, and even their lives were at stake? How could they rejoice when they could not freely practice the faith that had been handed to them. Rejoice? There was nothing to rejoice about. Easy for Paul to say.

          Was it really easy for Paul to say? Paul was writing this letter from a prison cell. He looked around and saw bricks and bars in every direction. His dining fare was prison rations. His body no doubt stank of the horrific odor of clothes worn out and dirty, and the body of a man who desperately needed a bath. There was no light to encourage him from the shining of the sun. Prison was an awful place to be, and yet Paul still called upon the people in Philippi to rejoice.

          He calls upon us to do the same. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

          What is there to rejoice about these days? The Twins are out of the playoffs…again. The Vikings are having a pretty rough start. But hey, at least you aren’t a Detroit fan.

Sports aside, what is there to rejoice about these days? We are now nearing seven months in a pandemic that has altered our lives in ways that no one could have predicted. We have been cooped up in our homes, told to function in ways that are simply not natural to us, and we are separated from those we love and care about. Rejoice?

          Many of us if we would dare to venture out find ourselves doing so in fear and trepidation. Riots and unrest have us rethinking how we will spend our free time. Do we venture into the Cities? Do we travel to that state, whatever state it is? Rejoice?

          The presidential election is nearly upon us. Many of us are looking to rejoice in the hopes that our candidate will win, come the day after the election. But if we have learned anything from our current political climate, a decision by that date seems unlikely. Though we certainly all need to vote, there is a caution to all of us not to look to our leaders to save us and serve as a form of savior. If we do so, this is a time of great fear and uncertainty. Rejoice?

          Then if that is not enough, we have our own ‘stuff’ going on in our personal lives. Diagnoses, depression, dementia, discouragement. Kids learning at home and stressing us out. Parents trying teach lessons to kids, and kids getting stressed out. Teachers trying to balance home life and distance learning. Everyone trying to adjust to Zoom this and Zoom that, and we simply crave human interaction. Isolation and loneliness abound because we have been cooped up and restricted for far too long. Not being able to see our loved ones, not being able to hold their hand or give them a hug. Rejoice?

          It would seem that Paul’s command is simply impossible to obey. Rejoice? We can’t rejoice if there is nothing to rejoice about. And I am confident I did not cover all of the reasons not to rejoice. No doubt the Philippians could add a few to the list as well. 

          But there is a key distinction here in this command of Paul’s that we need to make note of. Paul does not simply say: “Rejoice.” He says: “Rejoice in the Lord.” Always. Again I will say, Rejoice. 

          Note that this rejoicing is not in the circumstances of this world that is fallen and in decay. This rejoicing is solely based on Jesus and the gifts He gives as we live in this world of sin. It is vital that we understand that so that we can, in fact, Rejoice.

          A couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to attend a conference being sponsored by the Synod in partnership with DOXOLOGY near Wichita, Kansas. The conference was called “Take Heart”, based upon the words of Jesus as He was walking on the water towards His frightened disciples in the boat being rocked by the waves on the Sea of Galilee. Yet, in their fear, Jesus called out to them “Take heart, it is I.” What comforting words to storm tossed sailors…and to us as well as we are tossed by the storms of this world.

          Throughout the conference, I spoke with several pastors, and heard of the great hardships and discouragements that they have gone through as of late. They spoke of the challenges of the fact that even though there was less going on at the church, everything simply takes more time and energy. Plus, everyone in church, including the pastors are all a bit more restless and on edge these days because of all of the discouragement and the fact that there still seems to be no end in sight. They spoke of the aching reality of not being able to visit their people and interact with them as they once had. It was not easy to listen to, because in many of the conversations, it was like listening to the thoughts that were inside my own head. 

          Yet, through it all, we took several times, six to be exact (in 48 hours), to pause for worship. It was in each of those moments that we commended our cares and concerns for our congregations, our families, and ourselves to the Lord, while at the same time, we heard of our God who loves us, never leaves us nor forsakes us. We sang praises to our God in hymns and psalms, and we each were refreshed by the great care and concern of our Lord who loves His bride, the Church.

          And then it was time to go home. A retreat after all, is a temporary thing. In fact, it is as the chaplain there told us, “a retreat is a military maneuver. It is meant to be a time to step back, regroup, and then return to the battle.”

          For myself that battle remains ongoing here, and I Rejoice in being a part of it with you. We do not know how much longer this pandemic is going to go. We don’t know if the racial unrest and rioting will cause us harm and danger. We do not know what will come of the elections. But what we do know is that we have a Savior and God who will not abandon us though the war wages on. 

          I can’t emphasize that enough. In a world of so much isolation and separation, there is this beautiful truth that remains for us to rejoice in. It is as constant as the rising sun over the fields ripe for harvest. Jesus is present with us. We may look at the circumstances around us and think otherwise, but that would be to look for him in the wrong places. Jesus is present with His people right where He said He would be. 

          As I have told you before, Jesus is the worst at Hide ‘n’ Go Seek. He tells you where He is. He is in His Word. Just think of that for a moment. Each time that you open up your Bible, you are paging through the very love letter of the Savior who bled and died for you. It’s no wonder that many Bibles have the words of Jesus in red. The Bible just drips with the blood that Jesus poured out for you on Calvary.

          He is also in His Sacrament. Many of us here have had the privilege of once again receiving the Sacrament now that we have returned to in-person worship. But there are those who are still worshipping at home on-line. Though some came to our trial service this past week for those over the age of 65 and those especially vulnerable to the virus, there are those that have yet to return. If that is you, and you desire Christ’s holy supper, please give the office a call, and we will set up a time of private communion for you. 

          You see, when it comes to rejoicing, what greater gift is there than to be able dine on Christ’s feast of forgiveness that He gave to His disciples on the night that He was betrayed, on the night before He died on the cross to take away our sins.

          In fact, our Old Testament Reading and Gospel reading speak of feasts. On this day, we rejoice in being invited to the feast. Sinners that we are, we are welcomed to the table of the Lord. We are clothed in a wedding garment, a robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are directed by Christ to dine on the delectable delicacies of His body and blood, given and shed for us.

          Yet this is only a foretaste of the feast to come in the resurrection. There is much more that awaits us, a holy buffet in the halls of heaven. It will be a feast of rich food and well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined, as Isaiah tells us. And there, our God will swallow up death forever and He will wipe away the tears from our faces.

          And what will our response be to this gracious gift? Isaiah tell us: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and REJOICE in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

          Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

          What may sound like an unreasonable demand is really anything but. Our Savior who loves us beyond measure has turned our eyes from the circumstances of this world to the feast that awaits us beyond this world. And there, serving as our host will be none other than Jesus, our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

Let us pray. (This is the collect for 5th Sunday of Easter as the Church rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus.) O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Pressing On Toward the Goal

Sermon: “Pressing On Toward The Goal”             

LSB Series A; Proper 21

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020

Epistle Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:12-14).

What is our goal as Christians? What is our goal as members of Zion Lutheran Church and School? What do we all hope will be the end result?

Our mission statement here at Zion is Sharing Hope, Teaching Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living.

Our vision is to be disciples by following Jesus Christ to the poor…the meek…the destitute…the lonely…the burdened…the sick…to sinners…to the cross…and to the empty tomb.

Our strategy is to be the Royal Priesthood by sharing what we have been given to share through cradle to grave Christian education.

Our tactics to carry out this mission, vision, and strategy are Caring Conversations, Biblical Devotions, Rituals and Traditions, and Service.

That is what this congregation is all about. But what is our overall goal? These days, our goal has been in many ways been thwarted by a desire to return to what is normal. With all of the unrest and chaos in our daily lives, we long for things to be…well…normal again. But was normal always that good?

Pastor Tim Appel, in a recent article he posted wrote the following about “Normal”. He writes:

“There’s a new idol in town these days. His name is Normal. I suppose he’s not new, technically speaking. He’s been around for so long that you probably didn’t even realize he was there until about five months ago, about the time “social distancing” entered your vocabulary. Normal didn’t like his sudden exit from the scene. That’s why he’s been particularly busy since March, trying to regain his foothold. Here’s how he attempts his ascent to your idol of choice. He tells you life will be okay again once he’s back in place. Once the kids are back in school without masks. Once you can go to the grocery store without wondering how close you are to someone else. Once football stadiums are packed to the brim again. Once everything is back to Normal, life will be okay.

I beg you: don’t fall for his lie. Normal will not make everything okay again, for normal was not okay from the start. Running here and there and everywhere with no real reason other than that’s what everyone else was doing was Normal, but it wasn’t okay. You can think of examples from your own life: the things that were Normal, but weren’t really okay. Don’t fall for Normal’s lies again. The Christian response coming out of this pandemic must not be a return to Normal. The Christian response coming out of this pandemic must be a return to Jesus and His Word.”

When it comes to goals, and pressing forward toward those goals, how might we as individuals and as a congregation not make the goal a return to normal, but instead press forward to that which Paul directed us?

St. Paul tells us that the goal for us is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The goal for any and every Christian is the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

Is a return to Normal going to attain that goal? Well, not if Normal had our priorities set apart from Christ being at the center. 

So, as crazy as it sounds, perhaps, there is a silver lining in the midst of this pandemic. This is an opportunity for all of us to pause and reboot…to align our goal with the goal of St. Paul.

What is it that will help us to get there, to remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of everlasting life (Revelation 2:10)?

St. Paul makes it very clear that we can’t make it there by our own doing. He writes: If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to Zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Philippians 3:4b-6).

Paul made clear that worldly accomplishments or accolades of any kind will not help us to attain our goal. In fact, this is what he had to say about anything he had achieved in this world.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

St. Paul considered his worldly works and efforts to be rubbish, to literally be synonymous with dung. They are of no worth in comparison to knowing Christ and being found in him. What matters most to him is to share in Jesus’ sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and in the end, attain the resurrection of the dead.

If our goal is a return to normal, then we need to ask if that normal was beneficial to our attaining the resurrection of the dead. Were our priorities centralized around Christ? Were we more apt to skip church for the extracurriculars that consumed our lives? What about our devotional life and prayer life? Was it at the top of our daily list, or did we just have too much going on? Why would we make it our goal to return to Normal if Normal was not beneficial for our relationship with Christ?

So, let’s ask ourselves: As we are given an opportunity to set the stage for our a new normal in our lives, what is our goal as we seek to Share Hope and Teach Christ as our mission statement so clearly states? Will our goal be a return to all things that this world pushes for…pride, power, wealth, gain, and glory…or will our goal be to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?

If it is the latter, I need to tell you something: It is not going to be easy. It will be an adventure with all sorts of twists and turns and we can’t do it without help…a lot of help. In fact, we can’t do it on our own at all. 

You see, where in this world, all the glory is based upon our merits, our works, our achievements…when it comes to the resurrection of the dead, your works and mine mean nothing. And that is hard for us to hear. We don’t like our merits meaning nothing. We like the pats on the backs and the atta-boys and atta-girls. We like the trophies and plaques on the wall that have our names on them.

But, if the goal is the resurrection, it is time to forget a life that seeks self-glorification. It is time to lay down those trophies at the foot of the cross and humbly confess that without Jesus we are nothing. Without Jesus, we can’t make it…we can’t make it to the finish line. We need help. We need someone to carry us to get there.

In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, British sprinter, Derek Redmond had qualified for the semifinal of the 400m with the fastest time in his heat. He was looking strong when suddenly he pulled up—his hamstring had torn. 

          Rather than crumble to the ground, Redmond continued hobbling toward the finish line. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to finish the race alone. Redmond’s father, Jim, ran from the stands and brushed off security to join his son. With tears in both eyes, the Redmonds finished the race together.

          You and I are simply too weak and wounded in our sin to get to the resurrection of the dead. But, there is One, Jesus Christ, who has pressed on toward the goal for the prize, and the prize was you. He carried His cross to Calvary through the crowds who were ridiculing Him, and spitting Him, and hitting Him. He was nailed to that cross as the soldiers treated Him with utmost cruelty. Yet, He kept going, and He did not stop until it was finished. It is finished.

          Then three days later, it truly was done when He rose from the grave. Then at that very moment, the resurrection of the dead became yours as He swallowed up death once and for all in victory.

          That victory is now yours as Jesus has literally joined you in the race. Matthew, chapter eleven tells us: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

          Jesus has yoked Himself to you so that you may make it to the finish line, and press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. You didn’t have to earn it. It is solely a gift won for you by Christ, and given to you by Christ as well. So relish the victory that has been given to you by the One who pressed on toward the goal and achieved it all for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.