First Sunday in Advent (Ad te levavi)

Readings: Jeremiah 23:5–8 | Romans 13:11–14 | Matthew 21:1–9

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Romans 13:11-14

The Lord promises three things through the Prophet here: Salvation, security, and righteousness. 

We know salvation most of the time from the lack of it.  Nobody asks to be saved from good days, joys, and pleasures.  Instead, people cry out to be saved from disaster, betrayal, and danger. 

Security is something we long for—the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, and protection of our property.  In our time and place, we’ve become accustomed to a certain level of security.  Police and military, safe food and water, courts, and technology all afford a feeling of security.

Righteousness is freighted with religious associations, but I would argue that every person knows righteousness.  Perhaps not by that name, but as “being in the right” or “being accepted.”  It is the quest for this that drives both the transgender to demand affirmation from society and that drives the excuses we make for our failures.  We long for righteousness, even though we often look for it in the wrong place.

Salvation, security, and righteousness are basic human needs.  And it was these which the Lord had once promised to Israel.  When they were under the cruel yoke of Pharaoh in Egypt, the Lord promised to save them from their taskmasters.  As they stood on the other side of the Red Sea, Moses led them in song, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2)  Repeatedly, as the records of Joshua and Judges and Samuel record, the Lord continued to save His people.

He promised them security, as they would dwell in their own land, safe from their enemies all around.  “And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field…the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground… Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you.” (Deuteronomy 28:2-7)  They came close to this under righteous kings, but it never remained long.

Righteousness was handed down to them by the just decrees the Lord gave.  As opposed to the ways of Abraham, the wandering Aramean [Deut. 26:5], before His call; against the practices of their Egyptian neighbors; abhorring the worship of the people of Canaan, the Lord revealed truth to correct man’s darkened imagination.  So, He said to Israel, “Righteousness, and only righteousness, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 16:20) 

But all of these blessings seemed to pass away by the time of Jeremiah.  Their salvation dissolved into captivity by the Babylonians; their hedge of security was torn down because of mass apostasy; their righteousness was in tatters so that they became a byword among the nations [1 Kings 9:7; Jer. 24:9].

In their low position, their Lord sends Jeremiah with His Word:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Salvation and security for Israel were promised in the land, a nation with rulers and borders.  But that was hardly realized before it crumbled away.  Even after the Exile, the return to Jerusalem was incomplete.  It missed the goal because they forgot the Lord who brought them out of Egypt [John 8:33]. Security was lost to a strained tension with their Persian, Greek, and Roman rulers.  Under the rabbis, righteousness had become a matter of obeying human precepts. 

Nevertheless, “the days are coming,” the Lord declares.  It will be sure, sure as the promise He made to Abraham: “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (Genesis 15:5)  Where Israel had failed because of sinful weakness and disobedience, the Lord would succeed in His purpose.

However, His manner of saving and bringing security, of becoming our righteousness is not what we expect.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

In our thinking, salvation means taking away the problem immediately and permanently.  Wars are won when the enemy is defeated and retreats.  The Red Sea deliverance was nice because it was visual, and the Israelites could see the dead Egyptian forces on the shore [Ex. 14:26-30].  But God’s salvation is immediate and permanent: “It is finished,” the Lord says from the cross (John 19:30).  And He declares that salvation to you surely: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5)  It’s a salvation that is received through faith in the Lord’s Word.

Security is a feeling most of the time.  We feel safe because of our confidence in created things—trustworthy authorities, locks on our doors, vaccines, a gun in the safe.  But creaturely security can quickly be shattered.  Even worse, a false security can tell us not to worry about how God will judge us.  But when God promises security, there is no higher authority and nothing can overturn it. When God gives security, it is sure: 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

As I mentioned before, human righteousness is always seeking affirmation—whether it’s before the true God or before other people.  To be right is to be able to stand without shame and have some proof of being blameless.  This is what the society does by making protected classes. The Lord our righteousness works in another way.  He declares us righteous through His Son, who is without sin and who Himself took the blame and bore the shame as He hung naked upon the cross.  That righteousness, He reckons to you through faith.

It’s to us that St. Paul writes:

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The days have come, which the Lord declared.  But our reason and experience still cry out that something’s missing.  His salvation, security, and righteousness are now.  And we also look forward to even more: we wait for our salvation to be manifest, our security to be tangible and permanent, our righteousness to be revealed and not obscured by ungodliness.

We despise the ongoing burden of sin, death, and the devil, but we are sure that our God will deliver us from every evil.  We long to live securely, yet we will not find it in this mortal life.  Yet we will rest secure eternally.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness, even while we see unrighteousness all around.  Nonetheless, the Lord will surely satisfy us. [Matt. 5:6]

Beloved in the Lord, your God is faithful.  He has done what He promised before and He will surely bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ [Phil. 1:6]. Amen.

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Readings: Isaiah 51:4–6 | Jude 20–25 | Mark 13:24–37

Text: Mark 13:14-37

“Watching in between the Shadows of the Cross of the Last Day”

What do we do with this information about the end of the world? We heard our Lord say last week to be on our guard and to expect many and great signs. The world, sinful man, and the devil will all writhe as this age is brought to a close. Yet even from the depths of it, we are to trust that He will send His Holy Spirit with His Gospel whenever we are called to stand before kings and confess him before men—whether kings or even our own family. Now, while poignant moments in the battle between good and evil do happen, often they don’t. Sometimes the great cosmic battles are not on our doorstep. So, what are we to be busy doing day to day?

Well, let’s start with our foundation: 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”  Jesus has ascended into heaven and is coming again to raise the dead, gather His elect, and judge the living and the dead whose kingdom will have no end. This is what we confess in the Nicene Creed, together with the Church of each century that passes before our Lord’s glorious return. This is central to our lives as Christian people in the world: We are a people who are waiting for our Lord to return. As we walk upon this earth, we have hope that the creation will be restored to perfect beauty, our bodies will be restored to their perfect design, and that we will be with the Lord in everlasting peace [Isaiah 11:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:42-53. 1 Thessalonians 4:17].

We are waiting for this, because we believe that our Jesus, who promised it, is faithful. To the unbeliever, we might look as foolish as Noah building a sea vessel in the middle of land [Genesis 6:11-14], but we are reminded by St. Peter,

“Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’…But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”            ~ 2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9 ~

The signs which our Lord and Savior has taught us to look for and understand are like a calendar to let us know that His return, like summer, is near. Nobody sits in front of the calendar or a clock with anxiety over what might happen with each passing moment, because nothing would ever get done. The signs of the end are a backdrop, but what is more important is the living out of our faith. Therefore, the Lord says,

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

No one knows, including the Son of Man, who at that time was made lower than the angels [Ps. 8], who although He was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant [Phil. 2:6-8]. And now that He is exalted as Lord of all, we are in turn, called to be His servants.

The Lord has brought us into His household—a picture of the Church—and with that, He says, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”

The first thing we notice about His household is that He has been gone a long time (from our perspective). When any other person says they will return, it means they’ll be back within a lifetime. But what has His household been doing in His absence? His servants have held to His Word. In fact, they have preserved His Word for generations to come, in fulfillment of the Psalm of David, “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” (Psalm 22:30-31)  Not everyone is aware of how unique the manuscripts of the Bible are. The Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament have been preserved from the first time they were penned in the 15th century BC, and this accuracy was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940’s.[1]  The Greek New Testament has greater numbers of surviving documents, closer to the time of original writing, and with greater accuracy than any other ancient document.[2]  The point is that the efforts of faithful scribes and custodians of the sacred texts have preserved the Holy Scriptures, unadulterated for each generation. 

We can also see this take place in our own midst. The 110 years of Bethlehem Lutheran Church have shown the work of His servants. While watching for Jesus’ return, they saw to it that they and their children would be instructed and nurtured in this holy household of God. Mathias and Barbara Gogl, and Pastor Flatmann each did their work. Mr. and Mrs. Hermann Jaekel opened their home for worship, until on May 11, 1911, Bethlehem Lutheran Church was chartered by 9 families who treasured the gifts the Lord had given to them and wanted that to endure.

I’d like to share a conversation I had recently about tithing. Someone was considering giving funds to other charitable causes instead of to Bethlehem. I reminded them that this congregation is able to continue doing the work of Word and Sacrament because of the contributions of her members. It’s true that we are not mandated to give a certain amount or percentage; you are saved by grace on account of Christ, not by putting something in the offering plate. We give out of gratefulness for that grace, and with a heart that wants with the Psalmist to “proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

However, it is also true that if some do not contribute or give their leftovers, this puts a greater burden—and it would be an unfair burden—on those who do. The costs remain the same, the work is just as much, but if we say to ourselves, “I don’t need to because someone else will take care of it,” we are deluding ourselves and putting the stability of the congregation at unnecessary risk.

Today, I brought up the example of the founding of our congregation to show that this applies not just to financial contributions, but also to everything that pertains to the life of our congregation—those who show mercy; those who pray; who teach our children; who support the congregation’s song; who care for the grounds, building, and altar; those who handle the administration; those who can’t physical do but give what they can; those who see things that need to be taken care of and just do it; and who beautify this house dedicated to God and His priceless gifts of Word and Sacrament.

Our congregation is just a part of the Lord’s household, but a picture of it we can see and touch. He has brought us together in this place, and He “puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”  The pastors who serve are the doorkeepers, who continually watch for His return and keep the faithful founded on our faith in Christ’s return and His Kingdom which has no end. Each of His servants does have work in the Lord’s household. It isn’t all the same, not all of it can be seen, some might be small and some great. What makes it beautiful is that it is dedicated to the Lord, in eager watchfulness for His return.

How do we find out what the Lord’s work is for us? Remembering that it is His household, and we are His servants, we each listen to His Word and ask Him in prayer. We ought not neglect these, because this is how He directs us and keeps us away from simply following our own imagination. When we take our eyes off the Lord of the household, that’s what gives rise to the excuses, “someone else will do it,” “I’m too busy,” “why bother, nothing will change anyway,”  and whatever you might tell yourself.

 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:15) The Master of the house sees that we have all been slack in one way or another, and we all must confess, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10, NKJV) 

And He continues to be gracious to us, to all who call on Him with a contrite heart! His Church, founded on the rock that He is the Christ, the Savior of sinners, has endured through the centuries, so that the Gospel may be preached to our gathering (small as we may be by human measure): Your sins are forgiven before God in heaven. Go in peace; your faith has saved you. [Luke 7:47-50]

It’s out of that joy of God’s grace that the Church serves the Lord faithfully. The Lord puts this heavenly treasure in jars of clay, and it’s through folks just like us that He hallows His Name, causes His Kingdom to come, and answers our prayer that His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

It’s precisely in this that the Church will endure, preserved by the grace of God and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. May He fill us with zeal for His Word and opportunity to do His work. And finally, may the lovingkindness which God has shown us in Christ kindle in our hearts a love for Him and His Church until the Master releases us from our service. Then, we will confess with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32, Nunc Dimittis LSB pp. 199-200) Amen.

[1] See

[2] See

Second to Last Sunday of the Church Year

Readings: Daniel 12:1–3 | Hebrews 10:11–25 | Mark 13:1–13

Text: Mark 13:1-13

About 30 years ago, the pop group R.E.M. popularized the phrase, “It’s the end of the world as we know it; and I feel fine.”  At the time, they were reacting to political movements and the end of the Cold War.  From their slant, it could be seen as the end of the world.  In the world after Covid, many have thought that this is much closer to the end than we ever have been before.  But a little perspective from history can mediate our excitement.

At the time of Jesus’ ministry, many Jews were convinced that the end was at hand.  Popular literature included the Book of Enoch, an apocalyptic book that reflected the reaction to increasing hostility with the Gentile nations and anticipation for the Messiah to come.  So, that’s the world the disciples are living in.  That’s why they react in the way they do to Jesus’ words:

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Sensationalism sells.  The old adage from journalism is true: “If it bleeds, it leads.”  Tell people something exciting and new, and they’ll be dying to hear more.  As we might have noticed in recent events, sensationalism and fear are a great method of social control.  People get others to do what they want by employing fear.

The antidote to this fear is truth.  But who are you going to turn to?  We are surrounded by so many human opinions, all liable to err.  That’s why Jesus’ disciples asked Him for an authoritative answer on this big topic.  If we had been there, we would have asked too.  Good thing the Holy Spirit caused His answer to be recorded for us to read and hear, too! 

We can feel it in our bones that things are unraveling. From these momentous upheavals in human history and natural disasters, all people sense foreboding things about the future.  But the big unknown is When?  How will we know when it’s about to happen?

Jesus’ response doesn’t satisfy our longing.  He says, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. But be on your guard.”

Perhaps it’s just a secret waiting to be revealed.  That’s the idea behind every false Christ and false prophet who has said the Bible isn’t enough, or the Bible needs to be decoded for underlying messages only known by a select few.

Perhaps this time is the moment!  Whether Romans desecrating the Temple at Jerusalem, or plagues, or Constantinople falling to the Turks (1453), or religious wars of the 17th century, or mass persecution of Christians in the 20th and 21st centuries—the end has not come yet.  But every generation believes that this is the worse that it has ever gotten.  Perhaps they are right, and perhaps we are right.  But the end is not yet.

The fear of the end of the world has led people astray countless times! So, why is it that someone would lead others astray?  The likes of Charles Taze Russell and the Watchtower Society, to Jim Jones and David Koresh, to the bold claims of the charismatic New Apostolic Reformation.  They lead people astray because they themselves are led astray.  Having come unhinged from the Word which Jesus clearly explains, they instead react to the circumstances and believe and tell others that this is really the moment!

But Jesus doesn’t let us go down the road of panic and sensationalism.  It’s actually quite simple: The Church waits for His glorious return, as He promises.  She endures persecution and hardship, bearing the cross after the model of Christ her Savior.  The end comes when the end comes.  Our Lutheran Confessions explain,

1 It is also taught among us that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the last day for judgment and will raise up all the dead, 2 to give eternal life and everlasting joy to believers and the elect 3 but to condemn ungodly men and the devil to hell and eternal punishment.

4 Rejected, therefore, are the Anabaptists who teach that the devil and condemned men will not suffer eternal pain and torment. 5 Rejected, too, are certain Jewish opinions which are even now making an appearance and which teach that, before the resurrection of the dead, saints and godly men will possess a worldly kingdom and annihilate all the godless. (Augsburg Confession, Article XVII)

But, messages to the contrary of this simple explanation appeal to something in us which is also looking for early release, some exception to the rule, or something to make this life of tribulation easier.

The Lord’s answer does not satisfy our sensationalistic craving: See that you are not led astray…be on your guard.  Acknowledge that the signs are there for sure.  But don’t try to predict when the end is.  They’re there to affirm that Jesus truly is Lord, truly is the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that He is most definitely coming again as He promised.  It’s not essential that we have the timetable, but it is essential that we believe His Word and await our Savior’s return in glory.  It is vital that we are not led astray by spiritual charlatans.  But instead wait; be on your guard; endure suffering until the Lord exalts you.

The Lord knows that we can be sucked in by these things, which is why He continues:

For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Even when the ramifications of the end become personal—putting you in front of those in high positions or touching even your own earthly family—know that the Lord will neither abandon you, nor the Word He puts on your lips.

We theorized earlier about what motivates those who lead others astray in these last days.  People lead others astray, but they themselves are led astray by the devil, “for the devil has come down … in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:12)  The devil and the ungodly are moved by hatred and fear.  The devil truly hates God, with a seething rage, and it vexes him to think that God would have bested him by taking the place of the guilty.  Fear is at work in the desire to hide our works from God (John 3) or that there’s no way our Creator would ever forgive what we’ve done.

But opposed to what the devil, and darkened human minds are looking for, what is the Lord working for His elect in these times?  It’s not deceit, but salvation.  Your Lord is leading you on the true way which leads to salvation and eternal life. He is telling you the truth, even if every other man were a liar.  And that’s reassuring in the din of fearmongering that the End Times creates when people try to face it with their own strength and merits.

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  This phrase right here drives Christ’s followers to their knees, because we can see the impact of this deceit in those closest to us.  Christian parents cry heartfelt pleas for their children and grandchildren.  I beg God that my own children, who hear the Word of God at home and who join the assembled believers now, would continue in this faith after it’s no longer our place to tell them what to do.  Christian spouses long for their husbands or wives who are indifferent or hostile toward the Lord and His Church.  As the saints gathered here today, we ache for those we know who have been missing from these pews, because earthly cares have drawn them away, or they have a personal beef with the man who fills the pastoral office.  We want them to endure to the end and be saved.

That’s where our Lord, who hears our cries, reassures us in these evil days.  It’s not just up to us, and it’s not a matter of survival of the fittest.  It’s His grace which He gives to sinners, and His strength which He gives us in our weakness that will make sure we endure.  And it’s His incredible work in people’s hearts that we hope in as we pray for ourselves, our families, and our absent brothers and sisters.

Our Lord is with us no matter what the years before His return will bring.  Uncertainty and foreboding are not our lot, but watchfulness in His Word and guarding against the spiritual dangers which surround us.  That’s not to say it will be easy or quick, but we will see that the Lord has fulfilled and is fulfilling His promises: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” andI have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Matt. 28:20; John 16:33)

 Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen!

All Saints Sunday

Readings: Revelations 7:2-17 | 1 John 3:1–3 | Matthew 5:1–12

Text: 1 John 3:1-3

St. Paul writes to us, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7)  While we are at home in the body means this life we know each day.  This is all we’ve known thus far. 

What did you think when you heard the Epistle reading? 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

If you’re like me, you might experience times when you doubt that this is true.  See what kind of love?  What we see with our eyes, what we feel with our hearts, and our experience “at home in the body” often contradicts this. 

What we see is a world which stubbornly tries to push God further and further away.  People don’t want the creation given to them, but seek to enhance and change it to suit their own imagination.  It may be as small as trying to skirt the natural consequences for your actions, or as large as redefining your anatomy to fit the gender of your choosing.

What we see among the Church, supposedly the people of God isn’t encouraging either.  From a confession like ours, where the Word of God and pure teaching is so vital, we see the wider Church riddled with enticing heresies and deceitful practices.  Christians can be at loggerheads over clear passages of Scripture because they refuse to let go of their own darkened reason. Besides all that, false religions that teach people to trust in their own works gain the most ground. The Mormons have 9.4 million members in America[1] and there are an estimated 4 million Muslims.[2] Just for comparison, the Missouri Synod is the largest historic, orthodox church body with about 2 million members.[3]

We see disease and death having their fill, seemingly unchecked.  Why is death allowed to steal children from their parents, spouses from each other, and freak illnesses cause debilitating, permanent damage?  And to be frank, why God work miracles, sometimes, but other times, it seems like He’s on vacation?

We also see people betraying one another, vows being broken, and foolish choices.  That’s disappointing, and that hurts, but if that weren’t enough, we sometimes (or often) make stupid decisions, act in godless ways, and all the while try to leave God out of a part of our lives.

The things our eyes see are enough to weigh us down.  It’s akin to how watching too much of the news can get you depressed and cynical.  Too much of this life can make us overwhelmed and want to escape the pain, the shame, the helplessness, the sadness.  But that’s why Christians since the late 300’s have had a single festival dedicated to lifting our eyes beyond this vale of tears.[4]  Originally done in the time of many martyrdoms, All Saints Day is a time to remind the children of God who they are and drown out the loud noise of this life to tell them what their lasting hope is.

What we see with our eyes is not where we are to find hope and good courage.  That’s what we lament and pray for God to hasten our salvation.  We pray every day, “Come, Lord Jesus!” “Deliver us from evil!” “Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord!” (Rev. 22:20; Matt. 6:13; Ps. 118:25)  And while we pray for our deliverance, our God and Savior does give us the hope and good courage to walk by faith, even while we wait for our Lord to appear. 

It’s in the Lord’s Word that we find our identity and assurance that God calls us His children.  The Apostle John wrote his letters latest of all the New Testament writings (AD 85-95), and throughout the Holy Spirit fills his epistles with assurance:

“We are writing these things so that your joy may be complete… (1:4)

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His Name’s sake… (2:11)

I write to you, children, because you know the Father… (2:18)

Little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming… (2:28)

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God… (3:9-10)

Little children, you are from God and have overcome [the false prophets and the spirit of the antichrist], for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (4:17)

God gives you objective confirmation of how He adopted you.  It’s one thing if we try to bear witness about ourselves because of how we feel or what we can do to prove that we are children of God.  Ultimately, however, that’s shaky ground.  So God gives His children His unbiased and true testimony.  His Word declares what is true no matter what century it is, no matter the political situation, and regardless of any trait or merit you have.

Here’s an excellent example of why it’s so important to hold up Holy Baptism as God’s work, not ours.  Of course, we hold Baptism as important because God’s Word presents it—how it builds upon the covenant idea of circumcision (Gen. 17:5-11; Col. 2:11-12), how it is the way that disciples are made of all nations and children of God are born (Matt. 28:19; John 3:3-8), and how it is a “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).  Take all that together, and you find that in Baptism, God is giving us a new identity, an wholly eternal ground of being.

You may think of your identity as what your name is, who your family is, traits about you.  You may also think of your identity as your reputation as a citizen, a worker, or even as a consumer (what “identity theft” threatens).  But in Holy Baptism, God gave you—and you still have it—a new Name. It’s His own Name, so now you belong to Him and pray not just “O Almighty God,” but “Our Father who art in heaven…” In spite of earthly differences like gender, nationality, or status, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…[and] you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28)  And in Holy Baptism, God has also given you a truly impeccable reputation (impeccable meaning “without sin”)—for Christ, “having cleansed [His Church] by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:26-27)

This is meant to ever more confirm the truth that all who believe in Jesus Christ are beloved children of God.  And if children, then we can be assured of God’s divine fatherly care.  Are His children in danger or need?  God the Father will come to their defense.  Are they discouraged and nearing despair?  He will again show His steadfast love to them, as He promises at the end of Psalm 91: “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Ps. 91:14-16)  Are His children forsaken by men and alone?  He will comfort them in the communion of saints, where He gives us “brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30).

In an era when everything is questioned, as to what’s essential and what can be changed or done new ways, this affirms why it is so important for the children of God to gather together often.  We need those reminders and assurances of who we are.  When the world and the devil, and when our own consciences cry out against us, we need our gracious and mighty God to speak to us, and say, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)  By this gathering, our heavenly Father assures us that we are indeed His children, we are not alone, and we are certainly not forsaken!

And there’s yet another truth that is revealed by His Word, not by our eyes or experience: Our Lord Jesus has defeated death.  He is broken its power and shares His victory with us.  The oft-quoted and ever true Word tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)  This is more than a nice sentiment, possibly even a lie we tell ourselves and others to soften the harsh blow of death.  This is what God’s children believe, because we know our God cannot and would not lie to us.  So, along with everything else that comes from being “God’s children now,” there’s also this: The dead in Christ are not lost to us.  As God’s Word is true, they live.  Yes, their eyes have closed, their hearts have stopped beating, we cannot have a conversation with them, and all the days we spent together are resigned to our memories.  But they are not lost.  Very little separates us from them because we are all in Christ.  Even though their soul and bodies have been wrenched apart, and our eyes cannot see them, when we are with the Lord, we are also with them.  Together, we await the consummation of the age, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  But do not be dismayed that they are far away, because our one Lord has brought us back together, anticipating the Great Day when our eyes will see what our God has told us.

And so, when we come before the Lord’s altar, we confidently pray, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God. In the communion of all Your saints gathered into the one body of Your Son, You have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, encouraged by their faith and strengthened by their fellowship, may run with perseverance the race that is set before us and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You…” (Proper Preface for All Saints Day)

Be of good cheer, brothers and sisters in the Lord!  Trust in the Lord’s Word because He will always be true.  The Father, through His Son has adopted you as His very own, and poured out on you His Holy Spirit to keep you in this eternal hope.  Thanks be to God! Amen.