Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Right Hand or Left?

If you would like to hear the sermon preached at Trinity Lutheran Church in Layton, Utah for the Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year, "Right Hand or Left?," click on this MP3 audio link. The audio includes the Hymn of the Day, "The Day Is Surely Drawing Near," LSB #508. The sermon begins at the 5:30 mark.

Have a most blessed week in your Lord, Jesus Christ, living with Him at the right hand of the Father.

Here is a rough preaching manuscript if you prefer to read along or read instead.


November 13, 2011

"Right Hand or Left?"

TEXT: [Jesus said:] "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:31-34

Right hand or left? Sheep or goat? Do you ever wonder?

Dear Christian, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, I have been placed into the office of the ministry here in Layton to tell you and all who will listen: "You are a sheep and the Holy Spirit has called and is gathering you at the right hand of the King."

You are a sheep because God has made you a sheep. At your Baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God said, "Here I am. Follow me. Be my sheep. I will take care of you for every day of your life, just be my sheep."

To say you are a sheep is another way of saying that you are a disciple. For disciples follow and live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. That is what Matthew 28:19-20 is all about: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

Yes, this is Jesus' command to His Church to make disciples, but it also tells how to make a disciple, and therefore, it tells us what a disciple is. A disciple is one who is Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AND a disciple is one who is taught to observe, that is to live or abide in, all things that Christ the Lord has commanded -- in other words, everything God has spoken to us by His Word as recorded in Holy Scripture.

In point of fact, this Baptism and teaching to observe is not two things but one. Being Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit means to be given everything God has to give. When that water trickled over your brow with the Words of God's very name, you became heir to God's kingdom.

In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks of the day when that kingdom that has already been given to you as an inheritance of faith by His New Testament, will be given to you in full in the flesh—your own resurrected flesh.

Between now and the day of His judgment, you live in your Baptism as a child of God by being taught all the things that God has given you in His Word and by living in and according to that Word of God. And it is in your Baptism, or better put, in God's baptism, that you, along with all the brethren of Christ who share the baptism of God, that Christ is with you always, even to the end of the age - that is even to the time of today when He will come again in glory to separate the sheep from the goats.

From the moment the first drops of water touched your tiny (or not so tiny) head, and God's Word was received through your ears by the proclamation of the Gospel and into your heart by faith, until you take your last breath and close your eyelids for the last time, Jesus is with you in your Baptism and you are with Him as you follow Him by hearing and receiving all that His Word has to give.

Simply put, in Baptism Jesus becomes your Good Shepherd and you become His sheep. As a sheep you are all about listening and following the voice of your Shepherd.
"And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." [John 10:4 ]

Listening and following your Shepherd, you are a member of His flock. Even though you don't see them, by hearing God's Word, the voice of your Shepherd, you are gathered with all His other sheep, those of the different pens throughout time and the far reaches of the earth. [John 10:16] As sheep you are the brethren of Christ of whom He speaks in our Gospel. Living in the Word with all the other sheep, confessing the truth in Christ that Word brings, is how you are among those on His right hand who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked and visited the sick and imprisoned. And because you are content with hearing the voice and following the person of your Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, you don't even know that as you follow, you are doing the work of God.

In the 23rd Psalm we have a beautiful picture of the church, the sheepfold of God and His kingdom on earth. For in it the Lord tells us what a sheep does.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

But Pastor, you protest, that didn't really say anything about what the sheep does, it tells what the Shepherd does.

You are so right, dear Christian. You are so right. For there you have it! Being a Christian is all about the Shepherd. And you are a sheep because the Lord is your Shepherd. The Lord is your Shepherd--the Good Shepherd. That is who He is and what He does. You are His sheep who live at His right hand. Therefore you will never be lacking for any good thing, because He is here being your Shepherd.

Jesus makes you lie down in the green pastures of His Word and leads you beside the still waters of His Baptism. You eat and drink in what He has set before you -- because you are a sheep.

Jesus restores your soul by forgiving you your sin, He leads you in the paths of righteousness by giving you His name and the works He has prepared for you to do. You confess your sins and speak of His wonderful works -- because you are a sheep.

Jesus comforts you with the rod of His Law and the staff of His Gospel, the means by which the great comforter, the Holy Spirit, brings you to repentance and forgives you all your sin to create faith in you by which you walk through this dying world with Jesus, your Good Shepherd in front, along side and behind your every step - because you are a sheep.

Jesus prepares the table of His Supper by setting His resurrected body and blood before you so that you can participate in His resurrected life, He anoints your head with the oil of the Holy Spirit so that you will remain in the faith that receives His gifts to overflowing. You eat of His body and drink of His blood to give strength to your weak and dying flesh, you receive His Holy Spirit to give comfort to your flagging spirit, and you receive life - because you are a sheep.

The goodness and mercy of Jesus, the Son of God and your Good Shepherd follows you every day of your life as His Holy Spirit pursues you with His Word, and you dwell in the house of the Lord forever as Jesus dwells with you by the Baptism He has placed upon you and the body and blood He has placed within you. You live in the presence of God and have a seat in His heavenly kingdom even now--because you are a sheep who has been gathered by the holy Spirit to His right hand in the Holy Christian Church.

Pity those poor goats. The goats on Jesus left have none of this because they are not sheep. They think they have done many good things, yet they have not taken in Christ and did not recognize Him as the Son of God and their Savior because they did not listen to the voice of the Shepherd. The goats are always wanting because they have and desire no shepherd.

Goats do not lie down and feed in green pastures of God's Word or drink of the quiet waters of Baptism because they are busy climbing mountains, eating and drinking whatever garbage they come across. You are not a goat.

Goats do not have their sins forgiven or walk in the paths of righteousness because they are too busy enjoying their sin and pretending to be righteous. You are not a goat.

Goats do not have any comfort and are constantly driven by fear because they are too busy trying to ignore, cheat, or beat death and have no desire to hear what God would have them do or what He has done for them, they only want to tell what they want God to do for them or somehow prove what they can do for God. You are not a goat.

Goats do not eat at the table of the Lord and their cups are perpetually empty because they are too busy fighting with God, spilling their cups as they climb their mountains and fight their battles. You are not a goat.

Goodness and mercy does not follow goats and goats do not dwell in the house of the Lord now, or ever, because they are too busy chasing evil, following their own desires, and trying to build their own mansions. You are not a goat.

But remember, it's not as if you yourself have never been a goat, or that you wouldn't love to be a goat again, or as if you don't wander over to the left hand. Your sinful human nature, that goatish flesh of yours, is always tempted--and too many times successfully so—to go butting in and climbing around all that garbage piled to the left.

As you pity those poor goats, remember there but for the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit go you and me. You and I were once goats. This is what we believe and confess together in the Third Article of the Creed:
I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise up me and all the dead and will give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

No, dear Christian, you are not a goat any longer. You are a sheep. You have been saved from being a goat and suffering at the left hand of God. You have been delivered by His strong Right Hand. You are baptized into the One true faith. You hear God's precious Word proclaimed for the forgiveness of your sin. You eat of His body and drink of His blood. By these very things you have the anointing of His Holy Spirit, the salvation of your souls, the presence of God your Savior, you dwell in the house of the Lord forever, and you are among those at his right hand who will most certainly hear Christ your King say, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!"

Dear Christian, this is the Gospel of the Lord. You cannot hear or speak it to others too often. You are a sheep. Welcome to the right hand of God--In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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