“Are We There Yet?” – Advent 2 Midweek 2012 – Psalm 63

12. December 2012
Advent 2 Midweek
Psalm 63

The superscription to Psalm 63 reads: “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” The wilderness is barren, devoid of life. It is a place of danger, from wild beasts, hunger, and thirst. There is little shelter from wind or storm. Travel is difficult at best.

Our earthly life is a wilderness journey. We have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. We were baptized into Christ, passing though His Red Sea deliverance and sent towards the promised land. Between us and our heavenly Canaan is wilderness wandering. You have been freed from slavery to the evil and sent forward redeemed to dwell with God again in heaven. But…

“Are we there yet?” the anthem rings out from the backseat. Yes, it’s a long trip from baptism to eternal life. We’re prone to be anxious along the way. “Are we there yet? I’m hungry! I’m thirsty! I’m bored! I’m lonely!” Christian pilgrims are like little children who let our anxiety get the better of us.

The journey is difficult and the labor long. Suffering plagues us. Guilt burdens us. Shame haunts us. Death looms large. We can seek solace in the the things of this world. We try to answer our longing with creature comforts. We stuff our faces and yet are never satisfied. We drink until intoxicated and yet can’t forget our problems. We distract ourselves with entertainment and other excitements but never find the joy we seek. We find companionship in spouse or friends but something is still missing.

We need Jesus. We need Him to come. We get bored with life. We’re lonely in our meandering in this wilderness of sin and death. We get thirsty for righteousness. We need manna from heaven to feed us. And when He comes we need Him to abide with us.

The season of Advent is about walking to our Lord’s incarnation and to the cross and resurrection. It is the beginning of our yearly pilgrimage through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and back to Pentecost. This festival half of the church year draws our attention to Christ and His redemption. “Come, Lord Jesus!” The chorus rings out from Christians. “Come, Lord Jesus!”

He has come, comes, and will come again. He came in the flesh to be our elder brother. He comes in the font, from the pulpit, and on the altar. He will come to judge all and take us finally into His eternal dwelling. He comes. As we wander on to heaven we ask Him to abide with us.

David was in the same wilderness. “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Whether in an actual wilderness or the wilderness wandering of the Christian, we need Christ’s abiding presence. Who but Christ can be our guide and stay? We thirst for Him as we are parched and weary in this journey.

Where do we look for our God? Where is He to be found? Where does Christ abide with us? Even when life is dark or our soul parched where has Christ always promised to be? “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” Christ comes to serve us although clothed in weakness and humility. In this sanctuary, Christ speaks but through humble and weak words of a mere pastor. We see simple water and yet it is a saving flood and a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit. We eat wafers of unleavened bread and drink wine and Christ says it is His body and His blood, given and shed from the cross into our very mouths for forgiveness, life, and salvation. In faith in this sanctuary we behold Our Lord’s power and glory, although it looks humble and meek.

There’s no need to be anxious though we suffer, though we are weak, and even though we die. Your Lord’s steadfast love is better than life. His love abides. Your soul is already satisfied as Christ fills it with rich food. Christ abides with you and gives you with Himself. This is all grace. It is all gift. Given without merit or worthiness. Given freely. Nothing to do but receive.

Pr. Lyte wrote “Abide with Me” as he suffered with tuberculousis and death approached. He either read or sang this hymn to his congregation the last Sunday he presided there. Surely it was a bittersweet time. As we consider his poetry we know that His hope was David’s hope. He feared no foe for the Lord was at hand to bless. The Lord’s right hand upheld him. Ills had no weight and tears no bitterness. The last enemy to be defeated already was. Where is death’s sting? Where, grace, thy victory? As he said in his farewell sermon: “O brethren, I stand here among you today, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with the death of Christ.”

Those who sought to destroy His life were already plunged with Christ into the depths of the earth. The sword of the Word has slayed every enemy. Sin is eaten up with forgiveness. Devil is forever wounded by Christ’s cross. Death is buried deep and only life persists for those in Christ.

What but God’s good gifts can foil the tempters power? Only the King of kings with kind and good healing, a friend of sinners. Only His cross shines through the gloom and points us toward heaven’s morning. In the brilliance of His death all vain shadows flee and only triumph remains. He gives us the sweet fruit of the cross and there abides with us.

Therefore our lips praise Jesus. In His name we lift up our hands in prayer. Our mouths are filled with His praise. We remember our Lord’s gracious giving when the darkness falls. He is the light of man. We meditate upon Jesus Christ through the watches of the night. We rejoice in Christ for He has been our help. In the shadow of His wings we sing for joy.

The darkness deepens. Fast falls the eventide. Life’s little day is swift to close. Earth’s joy’s grow dim. It’s vain glories pass away. But there is light in Christ. The glorious Easter day has dawned up on us. Heaven’s light shines forth and every shadow flees. “Are we there yet?” No bother. The destination is known and life in Christ assured. Lord, abide with us and keep us to the morning light.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Funeral of William Herbert Black – Psalm 130

07. September 2012
Funeral of William Herbert Black
Psalm 130

Dearly beloved, Kay, Bill, Teresa, Karen, Terry, friends, and all the fellow redeemed—Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation is from the second Psalm, especially these words: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope (Psalm 130:5).

Dear Christians, Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead. Just as He died and rose, so too, all who are in Him die a death like His but will also receive a resurrection like His. Bill has received this death, as all men do. He now rests for what will seem to be a mere three days, only to be called forth in the resurrection of the body on the last day. From the beginning, Jesus Christ, was begotten of the Father to love you, show you mercy, and and give you the grace of God.

To be sure, the Holy Trinity has been gracious, merciful, and loving to Bill in many ways. God showed Bill great mercy by sparing his life in wartime while serving in the US Army in the Pacific Theatre. God gave him a treasure in his lovely spouse Kay. Bill was blessed by God with three children who stood by him to the end. God equipped Bill with talent and passion for printing. These are examples of God’s loving providence for Bill.

While Bill was thankful for these blessings, he did not put his hope in them. Being spared from death is a cause for thankfulness yet many lose their lives each day in battle. What of these soldiers, children in the womb, cancer victims? Does God still love them if they are not spared from death? And Bill loved his wife Kay always. Is her companionship, service, and motherhood God’s chief gift to Bill? What if one’s wife is not faithful in her vocation? Is this God punishing you? What if you are not blessed with children or those children abandon you? Does God still love you? What if you unable to work or find no joy in the work you have? Has God been unfaithful to you?

Absolutely not! Earthly blessings including our very lives come and go, just like the flower fades and the grass withers. What will never die? What treasures from God never see rust or decay? Jesus endures forever. The Word of God endures forever. If we put our stock in anything other the Jesus, when the market crashes, we’re bankrupt and hell bound. We run around in a panic, impatient, anxious, worried about today and tomorrow, and ultimately doubt the Lord has us even in the corner of eye.

A few weeks ago, none of knew this is what today would bring. We were all wringing our hands, desperately trying to figure out what would be best for Mom and Dad, Kay and Bill. The children were anxious. Kay was in the hospital and not getting better. Bill was concerned and busy, what with the house and all the other needs. The finances were tight, the lawyer situation a mess, no nursing home was available for Kay, and we all were wondering whether Bill was beginning to succumb to dementia himself.

Yet, I’ll never forget my conversations with Bill himself during this time. Whether in the hospital or at church, he always had a quiet confidence. He was not in a visible panic. He was worried but never to the point of despair. He was concerned but not anxious. I’m betting you children chalked this up to early dementia. But perhaps we ought to consider another explanation.

Bill’s strength was not from within, nor in the blessings of this life, but in His Lord. How many times in eighty six years of life do you think Bill cried out from the depths for the Lord to listen? How many times did he pray that he would be safe in war? That he would be faithful to his wife? That he would love his children as God loved him? That those children would remain in the faith as he taught them? That he would not be lazy or rude but work diligently and provide?

Bill prayed day and night for the Lord’s ear. He may not have shown it in his stoic facial expression. He may not have always spoken in the kindest way. You may not have seen his head bowed or hands folded. Yet, he knew his faults and did not hide them, at least from God. Every week he faithfully confessed his sins to the Lord and was forgiven. Bill said, “Kyrie Eleison—Lord, have mercy” from his baptism until his death. No doubt, he heard those words—If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared (Ps. 130:3-4). Bill heard those words and never trusted in his iniquity-laden self but always in the Lord and especially his forgiveness.

And if you think this is just a lucky guess, consider Kay. Kay, you shocked your children in the same way. After Bill had his fall and was in intensive care, we expected his death to be immanent. Do you remember that we came to visit you? All the children met you at the home and gave you the bad news, not knowing how you would respond. You floored them by saying: “He’s going to a better place. The Lord’s will be done.” What they had seen in Bill weeks before while you lay in bed, they saw again in you, Kay: a quiet confidence in the midst of things we cannot understand. Hopefulness when it seems all hope is lost; patience and trust when our instinct is the opposite. This unnatural response isn’t unique to just Kay or Bill but is the confident hope of every Christian.

Bill did not look to his country, his wife, his children, or even his work to know God loved him. These blessings from God do not stand on their own. They flow from the greatest blessing the world has ever known. God the Father has so loved you that He gives you His son to forgive you, grant unto you life, and take you into His eternal home. This good news is a gift, freely given, and more amazing than anything we could possibly imagine.

Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of Bill’s iniquities was the source of his every hope. Bill, a child of God, adopted into the Lord’s Israel, knew the source of every blessing. Bill hoped in the Lord, knowing that no matter what came in this life, with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is abundant redemption. Just as the Psalmist prophesied, [the Lord] shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities, Bill saw clearly in faith that every sin, every rude tongue to his family, every error of judgment, every struggle, and even every pain is redeemed in the blood of Jesus.

While Bill’s own father served as a negative role model, his mother handed down the faith to him, instilling this same confidence. She wrote in the Bible given to him on Christmas Day 1938: “Take care of this book, do not abuse it, don’t leave it lay, but use it.” And I know that Bill hopes even now the same for you, his wife, his children, and his friends. He faithfully attended to the Word of God, confessed his sins, receiving divine pardon in Holy Absolution, attentively listened to the Word proclaimed (although often comforted by the Gospel to the point of dozing off!), and received the life giving food and medicine of immortality that is Christ’s body and blood. This was not secondary but integral to his life with Christ. At the center of his whole life sat the forgiveness of sins—given, proclaimed, eaten and drunk. In this word he hoped. In this word, Dad confidently waited for the Lord.

Kay, Bill, Teresa, Karen, Terry, friends, and all the fellow redeemed—the Psalmist said: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope. Do not grieve as those with no hope. Do not mourn without the promise. Jesus died for sins of the whole world. Jesus died for Bill and thus Bill lives. Jesus shed His blood for Bill and washed him clean in Holy Baptism, naming his child forever. Jesus is the promise of the Psalmist fulfilled for Bill and for you. In Jesus there is mercy and with Him there is abundant redemption for His servant Bill and for all who believe. Bill has been redeemed from all his iniquities. His daily cries from the depths are over. The Lord has heard his voice. Thanks be to God!

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

William Herbert Black

June 16, 1926  +  September 3, 2012

 Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Let us remember with thanksgiving what God has done through His servant William Herbert Black.

William was given life by his creator and was born on June 16, 1926, the child of Albert and Helen Black. He received the gift of Holy Baptism and became a child of God on August 1, 1926. On July 9, 1939, he publicly confessed his faith and was confirmed at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dr. Martin Luther in Chicago. He regularly received the gracious gift of the Lord’s life-giving body and blood in the Holy Supper.

On April 29, 1950, William received the gift of a beloved companion in his wife, Catherine neé McCalmont. They were blessed with the gift of three children: William Jr. (Teresa), Karen, and Terry. God blessed William’s life with many special people as he served God in his vocations at home, church, work, community, and country.

Finally, on September 3, 2012, God blessed William with a holy death and took him home to rest in the arms of Jesus to await the resurrection of the dead. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.  We give thanks to God our Father through Jesus Christ, our Lord, for our brother, William.

Advent II 2011 – Luke 21:25-26

04. December 2011
Advent II
Luke 21:25-26

Hope is a fickle thing. I hope I win the contest I entered (despite the fact that the odds are overwhelmingly not in my favor.) I hope to get a raise next year (despite the fact I’ve done less work and was generally less cooperative.) I hope to lose some weight (even though I can’t resist the chocolate.) I hope for this or that.

Hope is often built upon shaky sand or crumbling foundations. Most people hope without any ground for that hope. Most people don’t win anything in contests. It doesn’t look like anyone will get a raise next year, even if they deserve it. Weight loss does not come through magical hopefulness, but attained through hard work and discipline.

The weather is the worst. My hope for rain doesn’t make it happen. I hope it doesn’t snow like the NOAA predicts but I have no grounds for this hope. I hope the big earthquake that’s been predicted for decades never comes, but in reality it will eventually. I hope for such things but have no reason for hope.

Our faithless hopes fade when faced with great tragedy. When an earthquake devastates a people, we faint with fear. Maybe this could happen to us? When the tsunami wipes out the coast of a far away land, we despair that so many lives were lost, homes destroyed, and a land ruined. Why do such tragedies and disasters bother us? Why do they cause such great distress?

We wonder. We fear. We worry. We ought not be surprised when these things come. Jesus said, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Why worry? Because we do not know if the next disaster is the last. When we look to the earth, we despair because we wonder where God is in all this. We wonder how a loving God could allow such destruction and despair to persist.

By looking to fallen creation we do not know that God loves us. From wind, sea, earthquake, and flood, we know only a God whose wrath against this fallen world is great. If we look to creation, we tremble and fear, wondering if the next day may be our last. If we look to the earth or the sun, moon, and stars, we have no reason for hope. The course of this world is without hope.

These things are signs of God’s wrath against sin. This creation which he so carefully and wonderfully made is daily corrupted by our wickedness and perversity. The wages of this sin is death. Everyone dies as a consequence of their trespasses. Everyone dies and everything dies.

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Romans 8:22). For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). The great distress of the creation testifies that it needs to be delivered from bondage of corruption with us, unto the glory of eternal life with us.

The great distress of man at the signs of this earth are the same as the lesser distress we each experience at death. When we see what comes of a beautiful life, of a beloved spouse, of a loved aunt, of a close friend, we mourn. We mourn because we see what will come of our own life. We too will wither and fade, groan and die.

Worst yet, on the final day all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Such an appearance, when the glorious Lord appears to judge all the living and the dead, will be a great and terrifying day. All who have not learned to love Christ will always dread His appearance. Those who have not learned of His love will fear the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Yet, we Christians do not mourn as they who have no hope. Nor do we panic when see the signs. No, we have hope. We do not fear the final day, whether six feet under or while we are yet awake, but rejoice in that day.

That which makes the unbelieving world tremble in fear and shudder with despair, are signs of hope for believers. These signs, whether the end of our life or death of the world, must pass before the new life and new heavens and earth will come to be.

Jesus tells us, now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. We see the signs and are inspired to an eager hope. We look up and and not look down. We don’t look to the world but we look to heaven to come.

While we see death and destruction, we ought to see sleep and recreation. Jesus tells us a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Signs of doom and gloom are for the Christian cause for hope and rejoicing, for we know our redemption is near.

These things must take place. They are not signs of the end but of the new beginning. Consider Jesus. Last week we recalled His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Such an entry is exactly what was hoped for. A new David. A new Solomon. A Christ to rule Israel and the world. A king who would reign forever and ever.

This is Jesus but not in the way the people hoped. He enters not as the tree about to bloom. First His leaves will fall, like crimson droplets of sweat. He will wither and fade, his life given for the sake of the world. This tree will be cut down at the root. Burned and ashes entombed in the ground. Yet, these are signs of hope and rejoicing.

On the third day, the sun rises. The earthen tomb opens and a shoot appears. The tree of Jesse rises from the ashes, from the stump. This resurrected tree reveals Himself in splendor. He rises all glorious and triumphant. His leaves begin to appear. Eleven new branches appear, grafted onto this tree. Then another, then 500, then the new branches from the four corners of the earth.

We are not surprised but wait in hope. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. We know that storms sweeping across this earth, the earthquake and the tempest are the gales that usher in the spring and then summertime of God’s eternal kingdom and sunshine of Christ’s presence. When we see these things begin to take place, look up not down, because your redemption is drawing near. 

This is a certain hope. This is not a fickle thing. It is as sure as the Word of Christ. All else will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Generations grafted into the tree have and will find them true, until He comes again. The Holy Scriptures give us a calm confidence. It teaches us to see the worst and find hope that it is for the best.

We never look down to this earth but look up to the Kingdom to come. This kingdom came when the true King of all nations sprang forth from His rest in the tomb. We are members of this kingdom when the Spirit carried us from death to life through our Baptismal waters.

This kingdom comes in Christ’s own body and blood, the root and sap of our new life. This kingdom will come when the Son of Man appears with power and great glory. We look forward to this kingdom that cannot be shaken, looking full of faith in Him who is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” Come, Lord Jesus.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana