Category Archives: Festival Sermons

Truly Blessed

Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) + 11/4/18

Once a year, near the end of the Church Year, we are given a glimpse of the goal and final outcome of the Church’s story; a vision of the multitude of people “that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” the redeemed of the Lord, those made holy, celebrating the completion of their salvation surrounding the glorious throne of God in heaven. On All Saints’ Day you may be like me thinking first of those closest to us in this life who have gone before us through the grave and gate of death. I think of my mother and father, their bodies buried in a cemetery in Minnesota. But that only after remembering my wife Alice who softly rests at Glen Eden in Livonia. As a pastor however I suppose my list of remembrances is longer than usual as I remember all those by whose graves through the years I have led prayers and read scripture—from those young people taken before their time as we say, most through traffic accidents but some in despair by their own hands, to the many elderly folks with whom I was privileged to accompany along life’s way into their final days. On All Saints’ Day we remember especially those soldiers, faithful, true, and bold both those known by the whole Church such as the apostles and martyrs of old as well as those known by the smaller circles of family and friends.

But let us remember that the Church is much bigger than that as it includes many not known as well to us. For the Church is much bigger than The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod or even Lutherans of many stripes. It is bigger than all the denominations of the Western and Eastern Christian Churches, even bigger than any Christian groups we can identify. We remind ourselves of this as we gather every Sunday for, as we say, “The Worship of the Holy Church Throughout the World,” and even bigger yet as it includes the faithful not only of time past or now but even those saints yet to be. It is with this vision of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church we confess in the creed as we sing “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” the eternal Sanctus learned from the angels themselves.

We ask with those standing around the heavenly throne, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” Those clothed in white robes are all those who have received them in the waters of their holy baptism, justified, saved, among the number of those who believe in Jesus. For all are saved not by works but by faith alone, faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen triumphant over death. They include those “who Thee by faith before the world confessed,” some in the simplest terms and some in the deepest spiritual understanding of God’s Word, His revelation of the mysteries of heaven in the Holy Bible, the prophetic and apostolic scriptures. Some march triumphant onto the scene who in this life could only shuffle and stumble under their infirmities, others in a humility of thanksgiving for the successes with which they were blessed in this life, some shining brighter some of lesser light but all touched, drawn to Christ by God by faith.

How do people, how do you become one of these saints, these made holy by the blood of the Lamb? And here we turn our eyes briefly to the Beatitudes of today’s Gospel. It is an uncanny habit we have from our fallen nature always first to look to ourselves, our acts, our works, our merits whenever we consider what it means to be saved, to be made holy, to become saints. For when we read the Beatitudes of Jesus we tend to think mainly and first of ourselves, either as qualities we must cultivate and pursue or as a check list against which we can judge our past performance.

How many sermons haven’t I preached from this perspective, telling what it means to be poor in spirit, that is, knowing our need of God. There is a helpful way to preach these words like that. We think of our trials and mourning, we think of our pride that betrays anything approaching meekness, our lack of hunger or concern for righteousness, our lack of showing mercy, the impurity of our thoughts, words and deeds, our anger and lust that make not for peace, or our pure frustration over being mistreated. This is what trips us up even before we attempt to develop plans to pursue these things in a positive way. The problem is that we first think Jesus is talking about us. And, of course, He is, but in a reverse sort of way.

For the true Gospel way to interpret these words is to see that they are spoken by our Lord not primarily looking at us but as if He is looking at Himself in a mirror. He alone is truly poor in spirit, relying on His Father at ever turn in His earthly ministry. He alone knows what it is to mourn at the grave of Lazarus or from the cross saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” He alone is the truly meek one, the hungry one, the merciful one, pure in heart come to make peace between heaven and earth, between sinners and saints. This is the life of faith to which we are called by water and the word, to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. And in that denial, that cross bearing, that following we allow Him to be recreated in His image.

For now we can see only as “in a mirror dimly” looking forward to that day when we will see face to face (1 Cor 13:12). By faith we say with St. John in his first epistle as he says today, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him”—poor in spirit, comforted, meek, satisfied, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and all that—“we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

So today, redeemed, restored, forgiven being recreated in Christ Jesus we:

Sing with all the saints in glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story,
To the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking;
Soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we awaken.
Knowing everlasting peace. (LSB 671)

True Freedom

Text: John 8:31-36
Date: Reformation Day (Observed) + 10/28/18

It is Reformation Day, again. The color is a festive red used either for a celebration of a saint or of an important church festival. Today we might say it is both. So what are we celebrating or commemorating on Reformation Day? Most if not all of us would point to the reforming work of Martin Luther more than 500 years ago. We sing with gusto his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” And I suppose we wouldn’t even have such a thing as “Reformation Day” had it not been due to that historic theological revolution of the 1500s. But that’s not because of this historic theologian named Luther. It is rather because of the awakening of faith that he experienced inspired by God’s Word; specifically this one, “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” (Rom 3:21-22). Continue reading True Freedom

What’s In a Name?

Text: Luke 1:57-80
Date: Nativity of St. John the Baptist + 6/24/18

Many if not most saints’ days on the liturgical calendar are scheduled on the supposed date of their martyrdom, death, or “heavenly birthday.” John the Baptist’s day is different however especially because of his close relationship with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It happens that John’s conception and birth was six months before that of Jesus. So we commemorate him six months before the celebration of Christmas, June 24 before December 24. Continue reading What’s In a Name?

The LORD is One

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Date: The Holy Trinity + 5/27/18

I remember reading some time ago a pastor wrote about this day, saying, “The Holy Trinity is the only Sunday devoted to a doctrine.” I fell for it at first. I think he meant that all other Sundays are about some words and acts of Jesus, His disciples, Mary, or one of the saints or martyrs, about people. Whereas The Holy Trinity is only more of a doctrine. There are those who think “doctrine” is only a dry, academic teaching, especially those teachings that engender disagreement or controversy among theologians. But if you stop to think about it, every Sunday speaks of doctrine, that is, the divine revelation and teaching of what we need to know about salvation. There’s the doctrine of man as God’s creation and then his fall into sin. There’s the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture and the Word of God given through the prophets and apostles. There’s the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God, and the doctrine of the vicarious atonement by His death on the Cross. You get the idea. Doctrine is simply the teaching of God’s revelation in His Word. Continue reading The LORD is One

Saints Triumphant Rise

Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) + November 5, 2017

“Behold, all souls are mine” says the Lord; “the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine.” God here speaks as the Creator of all and therefore the possessor or owner of all. But then immediately He says, “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4). St. Paul writes, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5:17). Since the very beginning what God designed to live eternally, sin has destroyed with its just wages. Therefore, all die. Continue reading Saints Triumphant Rise