All Saints’ Day (observed) 2012 – Revelation 7:2-17; Matthew 5:1-12

04. November 2012
All Saints’ Day (observed)
Revelation 7:2-17; 1 John 3:1-13; Matthew 5:1-12

Today, heaven and earth dwell together. The Lord’s kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. The saints in heaven in bright array are singing with the saints on earth. A great multitude that no one can number, from all tribes and peoples and languages stands with us as we dwell together in this blessed place with the Holy Trinity, feasting upon His Word and rejoicing with angels and archangels. The sainted Evangelists, the prophets, the apostles, the martyr band, and all the blessed departed—the number of the sealed—confess with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

We are children of God because of the love of the Father. God the Father gave us most precious treasure, His very Son into death for us. By His suffering, death, and burial, Christ Jesus has atoned for our sins and the sins of the whole world. The Lamb’s very blood has washed our robes clean. We are blessed because we are children and thus inheritors with Christ of his cross-bought forgiveness, life, and salvation. Salvation belongs to God and to all those who are in Him. Rejoice, O pilgrim throng! Rejoice, be glad, and sing!

That’s reality. That’s the truth. But it doesn’t look that way. It doesn’t feel that way. Is it a neurosis? Are we Christians out of our mind? How can we rejoice when more than a hundred died and much was destroyed from Superstorm Sandy? How can we sing with angels when the our lives are full of struggles, tears, and grief? It’s flat out crazy to find joy in the midst of a horrible world. You’re off your rocker. How can you sing at a time like this? How can you possibly rejoice and give thanks?

The Christian faith is built on the hope of things not seen, the expectation of things to come. What we see now is only a pale shadow of what will be. Some call our life together as living in the “now” and also in the “not yet.” The “now” is the life of a body of death in a corrupt world. The “not yet” is eternal life in a recreated and perfect creation. The old will go and the new will come.

These two realities are one. God has knit us into a single fabric of believers of all times and places. He has joined us together with His Son, Jesus Christ. We the church are joined in union with Him as one flesh, His mystical body. Our names are written in the book of Life and our song now is the song of heaven. Because we are heirs with Christ, we are already given to worship God. We already experience His blessing, His peace, and His glorious face shining upon us.

Heaven and earth dwell together. Where God dwells, there we dwell in peace and safety. God is our rock and fortress. He has redeemed our spirit and delivered us from shame. He leads us by His name in His Word. From God’s perspective, there is little difference from those who dwell with Him in eternity and we who are here in time. Both are equally saved from death, devil, and hell. Both are equally clothed in Baptism. Both are equally fed with heavenly meal and given heavenly board.

If the gifts are equal then why do we continue in this dying body? Is it wrong to desire heaven? St. Paul said he longed to depart and be with the Lord but He also knew he must remain in the flesh a while longer (Philippians 1:19ff). We are on the same journey: from death to life. We must pass through death before joining the host of heaven. We are not alone on this journey. Christ is with us. Not only does He visit us with His Word of comfort but He gives us food for the journey, the same food of saints of heaven. While we long for heaven we can persevere in the flesh a while longer. While we live in the flesh, it means fruitful labor for us in Christ’s kingdom. While we can only see our God now as in a mirror dimly, soon we will see Him face to face.

This is a message of great comfort for us at Grace. The elder said of us “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” This time is called the “great tribulation” for good reason. There are wars and rumors of wars. Children go hungry. Storms destroy. Marriages fail. Jobs are lost. Even the young die. We are now in tribulation and then will be in everlasting bliss.

The congregation of Grace is in its own little “tribulation.” There are half as many people here today as there were in recent memory. The median age of our congregation now over 55. There are few of my generation and fewer of their children. Our resources are limited. Finances are tight. We’ve had to cut mission dollars. There’s talk of more cuts in the future. We only have seven of twelve congregational offices filled. It’s a struggle to keep the organ bench filled.

We might be tempted to panic and wring our hands. We might think this particular congregation somehow is indicative of the one holy Christian Church. Not so. Read the Epistles of the New Testament. How many of those congregations still exist? Few, if any. Does this mean that the church has failed? If Grace had to merge, close, or move, would this say anything about the Church eternal?

Congregations come and go but the Word of God remains forever. Heaven is where the holy ones of God gather to receive holy things. For some fifty years Grace has been such a place. In the future it may be somewhere else. What of that? Why weep over buildings, property, furniture, and memories? Has not God’s grace, mercy, and peace been given faithfully here? Has not God done exactly what He promised—giving forgiveness of sins week in and week out?

This is what Jesus was getting at in the Holy Gospel. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Luther said, “We are beggars, this is true.” We don’t look to the presence of a booming congregation any more than we look to our own possessions as signs of God’s love. We are blessed people of God when we come before Him as beggars, hands open in prayer to receive whatever gifts He may have for us. No matter what we have or have not the kingdom ours remains. No matter whether Grace remains small and struggling or grows and thrives, the one holy Christian church is preserved forever.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Yes, we grieve but not like those who have no hope. We believe that “that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess 4:14). We are and will be comforted in the resurrection of the dead.

No matter what this life brings we know already that we are blessed. We are made holy and righteous by Christ’s blood and have the hope of heaven. There, we will be satisfied. There, we will see God. There, we will have our great reward. For now our joys are mixed with sadness but then the Lamb … will be [your] shepherd, and he will guide [you] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes. Not just then but even now as we receive the Lamb’s high feast.

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

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

St. Michael and All Angels 2012 – Matthew 18:1-11

30. September 2012
St. Michael and All Angels
Matthew 18:1-11

God has constituted His creation in a wonderful order for two reasons. One, that we would love our neighbor as much as ourselves and two, that we would love God with our entire being. This is why asking “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” is a totally bone-headed question from the disciples. This is why asking “who is the greatest in the family?” is also stupid. This is why asking “who is the greatest at Grace Lutheran Church?” is the wrong question. All these questions seek to elevate yourself as greater than other.

God does not care for greater or lesser. He loves all equally, whether old or young, influential or peon, wealthy or poor, Indiana or Illinois native. The only-begotten Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, since all are sinners and all are in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

This does not mean that there is no distinctions in this world nor that our world is ordered by God. Not all are given to be civil leaders, politicians, or business owners. Some are called to be citizens and workers. This is God-ordained and this is for our good. It is also the same for the home. Being the head and father is not a matter of power but a matter of God-given authority for service. It does not mean that dad is more important or more saved by God. It simply means God has given to dad special duties and responsibilities for the blessing of the family.

But we sinners are always concerned about our identity. We jockey for the best position at work. We do what we can to outpace the Joneses. We always thank God we’re not like the other guy. We distinguish ourselves by age, economic status, race, and other worldly standards. We care what others think of us, especially if it makes us look better.

This is why gossip is on our tongues. We see to destroy our neighbor’s reputation not because we care about them. No, not at all. We ruin them so we look better in contrast. This is why we desire our neighbor’s stuff, his wife, or even his life. We desire what is theirs not to help them support and keep it but that we might have what they do not. And so it goes. We do not love our neighbor as much as we love how God has made us and supported us.

All your sins against your neighbor—whether greed, gossip, hatred, theft, civil disobedience, and adultery— are fundamentally sins against God. God gave you authorities including your parents not to belittle you but to protect you and care for you. God gives life as a blessing to care for family, church, and world. God institutes marriage as the locale for life-giving, for the raising of these children, and because it’s not good than man be alone. He orders the cosmos with rain and sun and all we need so that we may be equipped to love Him and the neighbor He has given us. He gives us the gift of speech to live together, support each other, and most importantly communicate the Gospel. God rejects greed because it is unbelief that God has given you exactly what you need in every way.

We do not like hearing that God actually gives to some more and to others less. We despise God for giving authority to some and not to others. We hate that we cannot be the final arbiter of life, both when it is given in the womb and when it becomes too difficult to manage. As the current political debates make evident, some would rather have a government that is the great leveler, making all equal. This is fundamentally disordered and chaotic. If life, the universe, and everything is all about you, then ultimately you care nothing for the neighbor and despise the station where God place you.

The church is not immune to struggles against order. Just as the world and the family, it is ordered for the giving of the Lord’s blessings. All receive justification through Jesus’ shed blood equally and fully. When it comes to salvation, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. All are children of God and inheritors of heaven. Yet, not all are given equal authority. The church is ordered for the giving of blessing. St. Paul says it this way:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:11–16)

According to St. Paul, the order of authority in the church is given that we would grow into mature faith through sound teaching for the work of service. The goal is the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. That is, all being joined to the head, who is Christ, would grow in Him to be like Him, full of grace and truth. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Who is the greatest in the family? Who is the greatest in the church? All wrong questions.

For your sake, Jesus gives you an example: And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Dear Christians! Humble yourselves before your God and Father. Turn from your idolatry of self, your desire to get ahead or take what is your neighbors, and your hatred of authorities. Repent, that is, turn and become like children. Submit yourselves to God and His Word. Obey your parents and leaders. Love your neighbor. Use what God has given you for service. Submit to God’s ordering of things.

Christ Jesus did not leave us in the disordered state of sin but has redeemed us with his shed blood, purchased and won us from captivity to death and devil, and promised to us the blessings of eternal life. This is the greatest blessing and reorders our world. He has once again ordered you as children under the heavenly Father.

All approach the rail, kneeling like children, humbly receiving the life giving food of Christ’s body and blood. Knowing this eternal truth, we free not to quibble about whether we have or have not, are in charge or in submission, free to speak or bound to listen, and the like. Our reward is certain in Christ and we are free to live now in the station where God placed us.

Jesus says, “whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones to believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” 

Better for him! It is absolutely imperative, in Jesus’ own words, that we care for the unity of the faith in this place. It is disorderly and contrary to our calling to abide by false doctrine. When someone preaches, teaches, or lives contrary to God’s Word, they are not tolerated but called to repentance. If they refuse to repent, they are set apart, or excommunicated, from the congregation until they recognize by God’s Word and Holy Spirit and repent. In faithful repentance, this once gangrene limb of the body is restored to health and grafted again into Christ.

Jesus charges His pastors in John chapter 20: “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them,  “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21–23)

In today’s Gospel, he described the retaining of sin in this way: “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.”

We don’t like this teaching of Jesus. If someone is causing the children to sin, cut them off or pluck them out? Understand where Jesus is coming from. People who speak or live contrary to God’s word, who have no contrition and repentance are in open rejection of God’s Word. They are rejecting the wonderful ordering of all things. Therefore, we are duty bound by the Word to call sin to repentance for the sake of the children.

We teach our children to submit to us for their good. Then many advocate we ignore God’s Word when it doesn’t suit us or makes us uncomfortable or places us in a position of humility. What does this teach the children? God’s Word doesn’t matter. Be all you can (and want) to be.

This is what is often lost in the discussion of all the hot button errors in the church, whether it be open communion, women pastors, gay marriage, abortion, or the like. All these false teachings undermine the ordering of God and threaten to destroy the faith of the little ones. Consider gay marriage: in countries that have embraced this disorderly conduct, we now see that heterosexual couples stop marrying. What was given to us by God is rejected by the allowing of error.

Lies, every one of them, have their source the chief lier Satan. He wants nothing better than for us to despise the little ones by confusing God’s Word and its given order. Perhaps this is by confusing Law and Gospel, withholding forgiveness for the contrite but forgiving the sins of the unrepentant? Perhaps this is by withholding the Sacrament from those who confess the true faith but have not meet some magical age or expectation or tradition? Perhaps this is by living in open and unrepentant rejection of God’s Word or by failing to exercise the authority given to Father or pastor. This battle began in the garden of rejecting God’s order and Word still continues today.

So it began when the archangel Michael and his angels cast down the dragon and his angels from heaven. That ancient Serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. The devil continues to tempt us to sin, accusing us day and night before our God. There is no doubt, this is a time of trouble, such as never has been.

But we shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. For we have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! Despite the battle, the outcome is certain and Christ’s victory sure! Yes, Satan tempts you day and night. Yes, you struggle against evil and disorder.

Even in the midst of this struggle, we need not fear! Our Lord Jesus has given us a wonderful little promise: all his little ones are guarded by the angels. Part of the wonderful ordering of the cosmos includes the Archangels and angels and all the heavenly host. Despite the battles we fight, the lies of Satan and his accusations, and every chaotic evil of this fallen world, we are cared for. Our Lord Jesus loves us until the end. He will always be with us, giving us His own flesh to restore us and keep us in Him.

And to assist him in this work, he has set the angels with us in wonderful order. He sends His holy angel to watch over us. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. Yes, we walk in danger all the way. Life is full of temptation to sin, undermining God’s good order. But there is no need for fear, despite the chaos and disorder. You, children of God, are cared for by the holy angels who remind you and keep you in the truth forever. Christ’s victory is assured and you are children of God forever.

4. I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me;
All Satan’s power is held at bay
When heavenly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
I walk with angels all the way.

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

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