All Flesh Shall Worship

Text: Isaiah 66:18-23
Date: Pentecost XIV + Proper 16 + 8/21/16

Today St. Luke reminds us that Jesus is continuing on His journey “toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem! It’s the place where God dwells. It is the place of divine worship. It is the place of God’s salvation. So it’s not surprising that a nameless “someone” asked Jesus about salvation. It is interesting that the question was not, as many ask today, whether everyone is going to be saved in the end. Among the Jews there has always been an awareness that salvation will be the possession only of a faithful remnant chosen by God. In the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra it is written, “The Most High has made this world for many, but the world to come for few” (4 Ezra 8:1). This is simply because, while salvation is the totally free gift of God, it is possessed only by faith. Did God make forgiveness of sins and salvation available to all people? Yes, He did. Could all people be saved in the end? Yes, they could. Yet the Bible tells us that it is because of our fallen, sinful nature, our inbred spiritual blindness and deadness that many will reject God’s proffered salvation by unbelief. So if you change the question asking “Will all people be saved in the end?” The clearly unhappy answer is “No.”

The final chapter of the book of Isaiah concludes the prophet’s entire message speaking of Final Judgment and the Glory of the Lord. Are these words about heaven? Well, yes and no. It speaks clearly of “the new heavens and the new earth that I make which shall remain before me, says the Lord.” St. Peter speaks of the Christian hope of eternal life, in the words, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Likewise, we read in the book of Revelation where St. John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev 21:1). So, yes, Isaiah prophesies concerning eternal life in heaven.

At the same time, however, the Lord continues to speak of the final judgment and the glory of eternal life in terms that still seem in this text to be fixed on the earthly city of Jerusalem. For time is still measured “from new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath.” He says that many will be brought from the nations, “And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.” Priests and Levites are only of the Old Testament. It is said, “the Old Testament brings down the life to come to the level of this life, whilst the New Testament lifts up this life to the level of the life to come; that the Old testament depicts both this life and the life to come as an endless extension of this life, whilst the New Testament depicts it as a continuous line in two halves, the last point in this finite state being the first point of the infinite state beyond.”[1] Isaiah sees this new heaven and new earth but only the old Jerusalem of earth being lifted up. But St. John talks about “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:1). “In the former dwells the Israel that has been brought back from captivity; in the latter, the risen church of those who are written in the book of life.”[2]

Again to our question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Jesus redirects that question to the most important one, that is, the question is whether you will be saved. It is only by personal repentance and faith that God’s salvation will be yours. And so we can speak both of the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly one in the same breath since, by repentance and faith in Jesus you are already made a member of God’s kingdom now and yet to wait for the fullness of salvation in the life to come.

Will those who are saved be few? Jesus says, “yes,” yet the reality is that, still, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” For the invitation is for all. “God so loved the world….”

Jerusalem is the place and the goal of salvation because that’s where God is, that’s where our Lord shed His blood, a ransom for the life of the world. There sin was taken away, death destroyed, life and hope restored.

And now wherever this Gospel is preached there is the new Jerusalem. While Jerusalem was Jesus’ destination and our hope of salvation it is also the place for feasting. The Last Supper of Jerusalem now repeated all along the way by God’s people everywhere will finally find its fulfillment in the heavenly banquet when you find your seat among the many and myriads “at table in the kingdom of God.”

[1] Isaiah by F. Delitzsch, reprint 1980, 517.

[2] ibid

Climate Change

Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29
Date: Pentecost XIII + Proper 15 + 8/14/16

What’s all this? Casting fire on earth, distress, no peace but division, divided against each other? ‘Sounds awful. Today’s lessons sound like reading the newspaper with all the world’s daily tragedies, turmoil, desperation and death. Then Jeremiah’s report of false prophets and the threats of “the storm of the Lord,” wrath, a whirling tempest, the anger of the Lord. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” It’s bad enough having to endure the criticism and persecution of the world each day, but in line with the Gospel, today’s Introit says we will continue to have troubles and divisions even within our closest relations, even in the Church of all places. “It is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Ps 55:13-14). Continue reading Climate Change

Sinners and Saints

Text: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26
Date: Pentecost XI + Proper 13C + 7/31/16

Martin Luther said the book of Ecclesiastes “is one of the more difficult books in all of Scripture, one which no one has ever completely mastered.”[1] Of course then we should not be surprised that he did! For he saw the purpose, summary and aim of the author, namely, “Solomon wants to put us at peace and to give us a quiet mind in the everyday affairs and business of this life, so that we live contentedly in the present without care and yearning about the future and are, as Paul says, without care and anxiety (Phil. 4:6).” This is what is behind our Lord’s parable of the rich fool, namely, the difference between trying to lay up treasure for yourself and not being rich toward God. Continue reading Sinners and Saints

Pleasing Persistence

Text: Genesis 18:20-33
Date: Pentecost X + Proper 12 + 7/24/16

“Lord, teach us to pray” asked Jesus’ disciples. But haven’t they been praying the God-given psalms in the temple and the synagogue, at Passover and around the dinner table? Yet there is something that makes us think we haven’t been doing it right or that there is a more effective technique or maybe a secret password to get better, more immediate answers to our prayers. When the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He didn’t come up with the Rosary; not even the more ancient “Jesus Prayer,” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Continue reading Pleasing Persistence

In Holy Love

Text: Leviticus 19:9-18
Date: Pentecost VIII + Proper 10 + 7/10/16

In today’s Gospel a lawyer intended to put Jesus to the test. He asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lutheran Law/Gospel ears are instantly raised!) In typical Jewish style Jesus answers his question with another question, “What is written in the Law?” In other words, if you want to talk about salvation in terms of doing something you must look to God’s Law, there’s no other way. The man answered correctly quoting the Great Shema of the Old Testament, the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus ends the discussion with the parable of the Good Samaritan emphasizing that second half of the Great Command concerning love of neighbor from today’s Old Testament reading in Leviticus 19. Continue reading In Holy Love

Comfort in the Face of Conflict

Text: Isaiah 66:10-14
Date: Pentecost VII + Proper 9C + 7/3/16

In today’s Gospel Jesus sends out seventy-two of His disciples to go on ahead of Him proclaiming the peace of the kingdom of God and healing the sick. They were warned that they would be variously welcomed by some and in other places rejected. However, He gave them this word of assurance which are His own words of comfort for every pastor and preacher to this day, saying, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). That’s comforting because it reminds us that the power to bring people to repentance and saving faith does not depend on  anything in ourselves but solely on the power of God’s Word that we proclaim. The strange thing it seems to us is that people have the sin-inspired ability to reject God, to say “no” to His Word. In their case the very invitation of God’s grace has the opposite effect hardening their hearts. To such, all we are ordered to say is, “know this, that the kingdom of God has come near” (Lk 10:11), shake the dust off our feet as a testimony against them and move on. Move on. Continue reading Comfort in the Face of Conflict

Getting Mad Doesn’t Help

Text: 1 Kings 19:9b-21
Date: Pentecost VI + Proper 8 + 6/26/16

What do you do when you get frustrated? Can you just calmly let it go and not let the problem bother you? Or do you get angry? More times than not we are reminded that “Getting mad doesn’t help.” To be sure we are surrounded by multiple frustrations usually involving disagreements with other people but sometimes frustration at ourselves, our circumstances, our inadequacies, or just plain stupidity as when you accidentally break something or injure yourself. Who do you get mad at when you stub your toe? The scripture before us today reminds us that anger, a show of power or retaliation is rarely helpful. The answer of God to His people when facing difficult situations is to be found in God’s Word. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller recently wrote on his Facebook page, “we are prepared for the coming trouble not when we have guns and food, but when [we] know the Scriptures, the Catechism, the Liturgy, and the hymns.” I thought, how timely were these words especially as we look at today’s scripture readings. Continue reading Getting Mad Doesn’t Help

Demons Before Us

Text: Isaiah 65:1-9
Date: Pentecost V + Proper 7 + 6/19/16

In today’s Gospel Jesus heals a man possessed by a demon. There were differing reactions. “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled.” When the people from town came out and saw this man sane, clothed and sitting at Jesus’ feet “they were afraid” and “asked him to depart from them.” You see, on the one hand no one could deny what they saw with their own eyes. But instead of sensing and maybe believing a divine miracle they didn’t want anything to do with it. They rejected the miracle and the man who performed it. Continue reading Demons Before Us

A Lesson in Forgiveness

Text: 2 Samuel 11:26—12:14
Date: Pentecost IV + Proper 6C + 6/12/16

Have you ever said, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget”? Many think that receiving forgiveness is easy but extending forgiveness to someone else is more difficult. Today’s “Lesson in Forgiveness” turns that around. Both the Pharisees in today’s Gospel (Luke 7:36—8:3) but especially King David in our Old Testament reading demonstrate that receiving forgiveness maybe isn’t always as easy as you might think. With a parable Jesus enlightened the Pharisees and Nathan the prophet broke through the hard shell of guilt bringing King David to true repentance and faith. Continue reading A Lesson in Forgiveness