Sunday, July 27, 2008

Margaritas in Heaven?

There is a polka that used to be, and probably still is, played at every wedding and dance back in my hometown. It is called “In Heaven There Is No Beer.” The chorus goes like this:
In heaven there is no beer
that’s why we drink it here;
and when we’re gone from here
our friends will be drinking all the beer!

Well, I’m not sure if there will be beer in heaven, but as a good gift of God and part of His creation I would suspect that there might well be – but without the sinful aspects. After all, God saw everything He had made and it was all not only good, but *very* good when considered in the light of how it was created for the benefit of the crown of His creation, man. As God tells us through His inspired hymnist in Psalm 104:14-15: He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man. (NKJ) And whether or not there will be beer, we can be dead solid certain that there will be wine in heaven as it is a central part of His last will and testament and promise of life with Him at the Resurrection of all flesh – "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." (NKJ)

All that aside, now that I have your attention, the question I have set before you today, in effect, “Will there be margaritas in heaven?” is a question of a different sort. It is a rhetorical question answered in the second parable of our Gospel text today:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful margaritas, who, when he had found one margarita of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Subj. just.)

You see, margarita is the Greek word for pearl. According to the usual understanding and teaching of this parable, the margarita (or pearl) is Jesus and His means of grace – the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. And the believer is the merchant who is willing to give up all of his worldly possessions because of his great love and desire for the perfect margarita, the pearl of Christ.

This second parable of our Gospel text is paired with and flows from the first:
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Obj. just.)
Here, again, the usual understanding and teaching of this parable, is that the believer is a man who out of great joy will sell everything that he has if only he can be with Jesus and always have the Gospel message and hope that it gives.

Now this usual understanding and teaching of the parables is all well and good – as far as it goes. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. For it is an understanding and teaching of the Law, which always leaves us short of the kingdom of God and wanting of Christ and His salvation.

The language is reminiscent of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matt 19:21-22 NKJ

Each and every one of us is like that rich young ruler when it comes to our own stuff. As Luther is said to have observed, “The last part of a man to be converted is his pocketbook.”

We will pay $4, $5, even $10 for the perfect margarita to go with our Mexican dinner. And we will pay whatever it takes of our paychecks to maintain our lifestyles as best as we can. But if that pearl of the Gospel gets in the way of our enjoyment of life, like the rich young ruler, we go back to the treasures we have worked so hard to enjoy. Hearing the Word; receiving the body and blood of our Lord can wait.

But can it really? Who of us, regardless of age knows for sure what tomorrow holds? But we act as if we do, and we value our worldly treasures, as did the rich young ruler, as things that we must treasure now lest we miss out on something, or have somebody else drink the beer while we go without.

This is why Jesus explains the dilemma of obtaining the kingdom of heaven to His disciples and to us: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matt 19:26, NKJ)

So here is where we find the deeper, hidden, Gospel meaning of the parables set before us today. Their true understanding and fulfillment can only come through the Christ, the Son of the living God.

[For] God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. Rom 5:8-9, NKJ

So let us look at the two parables again in this new light, the light of salvation.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:2, NKJ

GOSPEL TEXT: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Obj. just.)

• The man who finds buys the treasure is Christ.
• The hidden treasure is the church, the baptized people of God – all of YOU who believe and are baptized!
"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

"The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers. Deuternomy 7:6-8

The field is the world in which His people will remain hidden until they shine forth on the Last Day, the Day of Resurrection, as the third and last parable in our Lord’s trilogy reveals: So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.

Jesus redeems the whole world for the sake of the elect and puts off the Last Day until all whom God has chosen from before the foundations of the world have been brought into His kingdom.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful margaritas, who, when he had found one margarita of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Subj. just.)
• Again, the merchant who seeks and buys the precious margarita is Jesus.
• The pearl is the believer -- YOU, the individual whom God loved so much He died for you.

Jesus sold all out and went all in for you! And even though He is God, He set aside all the power and glory that goes with being God and made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Phil 2:6-8, NKJ

Now that which impossible with man has not only been made possible but has already been done once and for a ll – and for YOU! In Christ, you now live a life, imperfectly and incomplete though it may be because of your sin, yet perfect and complete through your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.

So "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt 6:19-21

What is more important –
• the perfect margarita at your favorite restaurant and watering hole?
• any of the many things that often take precedence over hearing the Word of God yet will disappear on the Last Day?
• or the most precious and beautiful pearl that is Christ and every that proceeds from His mouth?

Just as Jesus has stored you up as a treasure and pearl in heaven, so to you can store up treasures and pearls in heaven as God uses you to give the treasure of Christ and His Word to your neighbors, the people in your lives.

Dear people of God, never forget that you are God’s treasure, His perfected margarita. For you are forgiven all of your sins and given the kingdom of heaven -- in the in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday, July 25, 2008

The One Whom Jesus Loved

Here following is the sermon preached at the funeral home this afternoon for one who was baptized and raised Lutheran in Germany, but had not been a practicing Lutheran for many years. At her insistance, the family called a Lutheran pastor to do her funeral. Though I did not think I would end up doing the service, I did see this as an opportunity to visit them and to speak the truth in love to a family who very well might never have heard it so plainly before.

The short story is this:
I met with the family in order to speak the truth to them about what a funeral is and isn't. I told them it could not and would not do anything to the eternal benefit of the departed. I told them that though she did many wonderful and loving things, none of these made her worthy of God's love or His kingdom. I told them that she and they were sinners, particularly in separating themselves from God by separating themselves from His church and the Word spoken there. I also told them of the love of God in Christ that conquers in an instant all such sin and unbelief. And I told them that the only way I could do the service is if I were to proclaim these very things to all in attendance.

To my surprise -- along with not a little bit of consternation, and yet still a measure of joy -- they did indeed desire my services.

Here is the Word this pastor was blessed (and maybe cursed?) to proclaim:

"The One Whom Jesus Loved"

Grace mercy and peace to you in this time of great sorrow and loss of your dear wife, and mother , and friend - from God our Father and Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord.

Dear Eldridge;

Dear James, Michael and Richard;

Dear friends and relatives of your beloved Helga:

Toward the beginning of our service we prayed --
O God of grace and mercy, we give thanks for your loving-kindness to Helga and all your servants who, having finished their course in faith, now rest from their labors. Grant that we also may be faithful to death and receive the crown of eternal life.

By all accounts Helga was indeed a servant of God as a wife, mother, and friend.
+ devoted wife to you, Eldridge, for almost 43 years
+ loving mother to your triplet sons James, Michael, and Richard
+ loving, giving, stubborn, a fantastic cook
+ nursing James to health after his terrible electrocution accident
+ kept serving even as she suffered through her own health troubles

She was, as you told me, the glue of your family that kept you together, unifying you even in her death.

And yet for all of that, for the great blessing that she was to you in these many earthly things, her death reminds you of something else - her sin, and yours . . .

. . . and the fact that all of these earthly blessings, as well as the one through whom God gave them, do not last forever according to the flesh and this world.

"For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Rom 3:22b-23

"For the wages of sin is death." Rom 6:23a

This not just because sin displeases God, which of course it does. But it is because our sin separates us from God and His Word, which is life. This goes back to Adam and Eve, whose first sin was to ignore and remove themselves from the hearing of God's Word -- and thus from the blessings of the Garden and the very presence of God.

This is what God's commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, is all about. In other words, we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

Again, not for God's sake -- not for His entertainment so that He can manipulate us like so many chess pieces or characters in a Sims game -- but for your sake that you might have life and that forever with Him.

All of God's commandments --
+ from having no other Gods apart from the One who sent His Son Jesus Christ,
+ to Remembering to keep His Sabbath day holy,
+ to not murdering, to not committing adultery of any kind,
+ to not coveting what is not yours
-- these all speak of the way God created life to be. And to part from these ways is to die.

"But -- being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Rom 3:24, NKJ) -- the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 6:23b, NKJ) -- who is the very Son of God, His Word made flesh for us, to win back for us what we have lost by our sin.

Yes, when John calls himself "the one whom Jesus loved" in recording this Gospel of our Lord for the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, he did not mean it as if he was the only one of the disciples Jesus loved. He meant it in the sense that Paul too was talking about - being unworthy of the task of writing the Gospel, yet justified and sent by Christ to do so. Remember, John is also the one who recorded the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (NKJ)

This service here today can and will do nothing for your dear Helga. For it was at Helga's Baptism that she received the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. In that Baptism God promised to be with her always even to the end of the age - and that by the proclamation of His Word, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. It was by this hearing of God's Word and being baptized by God into that Word, that God was giving her the kingdom of heaven.

Apart from this there is no life -- any more than apart from God's "let there be" could there be a creation, a world, a Helga, a you -- at all.

While Helga was a sinner until the day she died, as her not keeping the Sabbath Day and her very death itself prove; and while you too will be sinners until the day you die -- God the Father who created Helga and you; God the Son who suffered, died, was buried, rose and ascended to purchase you back from sin, death, the grave, and hell itself ; God the Holy Spirit who is today and wherever the Word of Christ for the forgiveness of sins is delivered via its proclamation, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper - this one and only true God is faithful even when you and I so often are not.

So hear His Word today! Believe it! And keep hearing it often -- so that you will never be separated from your Lord and Savior; and so that you might always believe and be kept by it in Christ Jesus. For apart from this saving Word there is no salvation and no life with God. But with this Word is the power, the authority, and the certainty to give that which it speaks - the forgiveness of sins that overcomes our lifetime of sin in the instant it is heard and gives with it life now and forever - in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday, July 4, 2008

Rest for Your Souls

A Safe & Blessed Fourth to You All!

"Rest for Your Souls"

TEXT: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.... O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:18-20;24-25a
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you 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. Matthew 11:27-30

The Fourth of July weekend is upon us. Woohoo! A three day weekend. An extra day to rest from our labors and have a little fun – maybe a whole lot of fun.

We celebrate the founding of our United States of America. We camp. We fish. We party. We attend parades and shoot off fireworks. It is a good weekend to recharge our batteries and count our blessings.

Rest, relaxation and recreation. Yeah, this is the life! For three days we are free to pretty much do whatever we want to do. What a wonderful country, these United States of America.

And as part of that Fourth of July weekend celebration, you have come to church to thank your God and pray for your country. We are after all, a country at war. At war to protect our way of life and our freedom to have weekend celebrations such as these. So it is a good thing for us to thank God and pray for our country.

But as you well know, there is an even more important reason for you to be here today. As baptized children of God we are involved in a much bigger war, a war for souls – a war for your soul.

As we noted last week, the church on earth is the church militant. That is because, as God’s chosen people, we bear a message that the world doesn’t want to hear. A message that Jesus Christ has come and died for the sins of the world. It may seem odd to the believer that such a wonderful message is rejected by a world that needs it so badly. But who of us likes to hear that we are sinners, that we have fallen short in anything, let alone that we do not deserve to be counted among the citizens of heaven because of our own shortcomings. And if that is not a difficult enough message, in order for us to be delivered from our shortfalls, our sins, someone, even a very special someone has to shed his blood and die for that freedom.

As we are experiencing today, as a country, bloodshed is not popular. It is vulgar and many believe it to should be avoided at any cost. But thanks be to God we have men and women who put their lives on the line for us in the Armed Forces of our United States of America so we can have weekends such as this to celebrate our freedom.

The blood shed and the death suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ so that we can have rest from our fruitless labor to please God; the blood shed and the death by which we receive a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven here in Word and Sacrament, and, one day, the re-creation we call resurrection – even and especially that bloodshed and death is an offense to the world. Being surrounded by death, disease and destruction every day of our lives, especially in a time of war such as we have now, who wants to hear another message of death? That is the reasoning of the world, and so it attacks the messenger, for the message is unassailable.

Yet though the world does not WANT to hear such a message, it MUST hear it so that all can hear the good news of Jesus Christ – and that in hearing faith may be created out of unfaith, belief out of unbelief, fellow redeemed out of the enemies of God.

To we who believe, it seems rather odd that the world wouldn’t want to hear such a wonderful message. As was addressed in the lessons and sermon last week, and as we have reviewed here today, the world does everything it can to persecute the believer, to bring him down and make his life miserable so that he will just give up, give in and join the "real" world. It is amazing to us that as the bearers of such Good News, we are so reviled. But the world, just like us before being brought out of its darkness and into the marvelous light of our Lord, doesn’t want to hear that there is something wrong with it that needs to be changed – that it is helpless and condemned apart from the redeeming work of God in Christ.

In fact, even as baptized believers we still rebel all too often against that good news ourselves. And that, even more than the beating the world lays on us, is what is most troubling to the believer. Why do I still do such wretched things myself? Do I really believe? Am I nothing but a hypocrite myself? Am I really saved and will I really go to heaven? How can it be so when I treat even my own family and friends so dreadfully, so often?

Today’s epistle reading helps us greatly in this regard:
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Did you hear that, dear children of God? This how it can be so that you are saved and not only will go to heaven but that you are part of that kingdom even now, as you do those things you know you should not and don’t do those things you know you should. That sin is really a separate entity from yourself. Hear again the Word of God through the pen of His Apostle, Paul: "Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Even though for this time until the Lord returns, sin still abounds in this world and even among us, in your baptism you have been delivered from that sin. You have been buried with Christ and raised to new life with Him even now. Remember this Baptismal Epistle? "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Rom 6:4 NKJ)

What the Apostle Paul alludes to at the end of our epistle with the wonderfully edifying words -- "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" -- is made clear and neatly wrapped up with a beautiful bow in the words of our savior in today’s Gospel: "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you 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."

In his Church Postils, Luther preaches of this Gospel lesson: "Since the holy disciples experienced what it was to be overwhelmed by anguish and want, we must not think that it will be better for us. God will not make an exception in our case. But let us remember that Christ foretells to his disciples their fall, fear and sorrow, and also comforts them in order that they may not despair. Thus we should likewise comfort ourselves and allow the same to be spoken to us, so that when we are taken captive by sin and feel our consciences troubled and burdened, we do not despair; but rather remember it will not continue long. Therefore this is a very comforting Gospel to all troubled and terrified consciences. First, because Christ promises here he will not le them be captives to their misery very long; then, because he shows such kindly friendship to them – casts them not quickly from his presence, although they do not at once learn and understand his discourse; but bears with them, instructs them and deals with them most tenderly."

So we have been drawn here today by the Holy Spirit to hear this wonderful word of God, this word of comfort. It is something that we sorely need even more than a three day weekend to recharge our earthly batteries. We need to hear the voice of our Savior giving us comfort in the face of adversity, especially the adversity of our own sin from which we can never hide and of which we are constantly reminded.

Because our Lord knows we are constantly, day by day reminded of our sin, He also gives us a precious gift to take with us from this sanctuary to use daily, even hourly if need be -- it is the gift of the Lord’s Prayer.

The large Catechism Explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Forgive us our trespasses, puts it this way: "Although we have God’s Word and believe, although we obey and submit to his will and are nourished by God’s gift and blessing, nevertheless we are not without sin. We still stumble daily and transgress because we live in a world among people who sorely vex us and give us occasion for impatience, anger, vengeance, etc. Besides, the devil is after us, besieging us on every side and directing his attacks against all the previous petitions, so that it is not always possible to stand firm in this ceaseless conflict."

The Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful gift from our Father in heaven via the lips of His dearly beloved Son and our dear Savior Jesus Christ. A gift for us to use often as a reminder that our sins have been forgiven. It is a gift we can use at any time under any circumstances. And when we do, the Father is right there hearing us and doing exactly what we ask in the name of His son – forgiving our sins, as well as all of those other wonderful things of which the Lord’s prayer speaks. So if the Father is right there doing these things, especially forgiving our sins for His dear son Jesus’ sake, then the kingdom of heaven must be at hand and we must be a part of it – even now.

That dear baptized children of God is the true, life giving rest of which our Gospel and our Lord speak.

The rest for your souls that Jesus gives is this -- the burden of perfection and pleasing the Father is the yoke He has born for you. Therefore all that is left is for Jesus to lift the burden from you today, that burden you bear in vain for no reason at all other than your own childish stubbornness that says, "I wanna do it myself!"

And that dear friends is why you are here today. Jesus, ever gentle and lowly at heart is here to tell you once again, that you are a baptized child of God and that you belong to the kingdom of heaven even now because, all of your sins are forgiven in the in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen