Monday, November 26, 2012

The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Mark 13:24-37)

“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—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this last Sunday of the Church Year comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the thirteenth chapter of the gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, let me tell you about a house. It is inhabited and maintained by numerous servants, who all once faithfully attended to the needs of their Master. He was a kind, benevolent man, and it was a joy to serve Him, though it was by no means easy. Life was good, for their Master’s presence meant comfort and safety, and it seemed that it would stay that way forever. But then the Master began to speak about a departure. He would be leaving, and soon. And He couldn’t tell them when He would return. Instead He told them, “Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Then, to their shock, for most of them didn’t believe that he actually would leave, He departed, just as He said. He was gone.

For some time, the servants all kept watch, eagerly awaiting their Master’s return. But as each day came without His voice in the hall or His presence in the garden, some of the servants became lazy. The long delay lulled them to sleep. They quickly began to think that if He hadn’t come yesterday, He won’t come today, and probably not tomorrow either. Finally, many of them simply quit watching at all. If you asked them, they would tell you that they certainly believed that He was coming back, sometime in the far off and vague future, but that belief has little effect on how they live their lives in the present. The Master gave each of them work to do, but now they go through the motions; on the surface they seem to be good and faithful servants of their Master, but their heart isn’t in it. They focus on their own pleasures rather than the work of the Master. If He isn’t coming back anytime soon, they don’t need to put much effort into their given tasks. Instead they sleep, they party, they play without even one eye on the door.

Other servants are obsessed with trying to figure out exactly when the Master would return. They pour over His words, seeking to determine the formula that would give them the year, the month, or the day. Every once in a while, a servant declares that he has figured it out—he knows when the Master is coming back! But time after time, they are wrong. On the surface, they seem much more faithful than the lazy servants, and every time they set a date, many of the lazy ones join them. But in reality, setting dates mean that they can be just as negligent as the ones who have been lulled to sleep. They spend their time, not at the tasks given to them by their Master, but in working out their complicated calculations. They don’t watch—they don’t need to, at least until their predicted day arrives. Then, they work furiously, seeking to accomplish their appointed tasks just in time to hear the knock on the door. But each and every time they are disappointed; the Master doesn’t come back.

Another group of servants, some openly, but many more secretly, are hoping that their Master never returns. They look at the date setters with disgust—who really wants the Master to come back? They are enjoying life without Him. The Master declared that His yoke was easy and His burden light, but now that He’s gone, it seems just the opposite. At the very least, life in the house without the Master is comfortable, it is easy; after a while, they can’t conceive of it being any other way. They ask, “Why should our Master come back and take away our future?” Life is good, and they simply don’t want a change. Let Him come back later, but not now. Others hope He won’t return because they fear His wrath. They don’t know what will happen when He knocks on that door, but they are afraid that all He will have is punishment for all of His servants. It is the unknown, the unexpected that scares them, the finality of His return, for at the point the door opens, they know there is no second chance.

In direct opposition and contrast to all the servants who aren’t watching, there is a group who is eagerly waiting for their Master’s return. These servants yearn for His return, they can’t wait. They examine His Words, but not to set dates. Instead, they pay attention to all that He told them because His Words are full of grace and mercy. His Words strengthen them and enable them to watch and wait. These servants do not fear His return, for they know that He has no wrath for them. He has made them His servants, calling them by name, and He will not act in wrath against those who belong to Him. They yearn for His knock on the door, for their existence in the house is anything but comforting for them. All they see around them is debauchery, suffering, and death, and they yearn for the freedom that only the return of their Master can bring. They know that they don’t belong in the house; it isn’t their home, even though the Master built it. When He returns, He has a new and greater home for them.

So these faithful servants watch. They are alert, ever ready for His return. They do not neglect their vocations, their tasks that have been given to them by their Master. They serve their fellow servants as He has appointed them to do. The father provides for his family, the mother teaches her children, the worker goes about his duties faithfully. They do the tasks set before them, living in the present while keeping an eye on the door, eagerly anticipating the Master’s return at any moment. As often as they can, these servants gather at the Master’s table, to eat the food that He has set before them. Without this feast, this constant nourishment, they wouldn’t have been able to wait this long. The other servants eat wherever they want; but these faithful servants go to the table of their Master. There they study His Words, there they receive His gifts. There they are strengthened to wait, they are encouraged to watch, they are made ready for His return.

For the moment is coming soon. The knock will be heard at the door, and heaven and earth will be shaken. “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The created order will be shaken, indeed, it will fall to pieces, leaving only what cannot be shaken, the Master Himself. He built the house, and upon His return, the time of the house will be over. It was built well, but now its walls and roof are collapsing, corrupted with sin, and its foundation is crumbling, infected by the stain of death. He must tear it down and rebuild, He must make it new, and that is what He will return to do. He must destroy evil to set His people free, and so His appearance on the clouds is the sign that sin’s power is over, death’s reign is done. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” It is a sign of terror to His foes, but the sign of deliverance for His faithful servants.

The Master will return to gather in those servants, to rescue them from their exile, to deliver them from their affliction. “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.” They will be led out from the captivity of their foes like Israel was of old, as God Himself brought out His people with a mighty outstretched hand from Egypt and from Babylon. His return is the completion of His journey, it is the reason why He left in the first place. His journey was to the cross, His journey was to the grave, and from there the Master journeyed to the right hand of the throne of God. Judgment Day was the day of His departure, the day of the cross. For on that Day, the Master was judged for the sins of His servants. The sun ceased shining and the earth shook; the house was shaken when its builder died. He was judged as the guilty one so that His servants would be declared ‘not guilty.’ When He returns, the Master will bring to full completion the verdict that has already been rendered; He will declare that verdict throughout the world. On that Day those who cling to Him in faith will be declared innocent, and they will be gathered into their kingdom, the new house that the Master will build, not because they were so righteous, or because their watch was kept perfectly, but because of His grace, because of His forgiveness, clung to in faith.

That Day is coming, it is coming soon. “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” You and I live in the household of faith; we are waiting, as our fellow servants have waited for two thousand years. And we may wait two thousand more, or He may return tomorrow. To the servants, it doesn’t really matter, for their task remains the same. They keep watch day after day, eagerly awaiting their Master’s return. For His return is not a day of wrath for His baptized people, for you and me; it is a day of glory, it is a day of grace, it is the day when He will deliver all that He won when He departed on His journey. He left so that He could return; He left so that His return would a day of inexpressible joy. We serve, we wait, we watch in a house that is crumbling, and we yearn for our deliverance. It is coming, it is coming soon. Our Master declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” His words promised His return, and He will return. To that the servants say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” In the Name of the Master of the house, Jesus Christ our crucified, risen, and returning Lord, Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Eve (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

What is Thanksgiving Day all about? What is so significant about a Thursday in late November that many people are given a day or the whole weekend off, that would send millions to the roadways or airports? Thanksgiving is a day of family, it is a day of relaxation, it is a day of football. Thanksgiving is a day to share in the bounty of the table, to enjoy a big meal together with those you love. But Thanksgiving is much more than food, family, and football. Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks! It is America’s own harvest festival. Here in November, having taken the bounty out of the fields and into the barns, an entire nation stops to give thanks. Today we have lost the significance of the harvest, even in rural Iowa; for centuries, if you didn’t have a harvest, you would starve. If America’s harvest failed, so would the nation. A harvest was worth celebrating! But from the very beginning, Thanksgiving Day has also been a day to give thanks for all that we have been given. So, Thanksgiving isn’t about a full table or a full house; even those who have very little, whose families can’t or won’t gather together, can still give thanks for what they have been given. And those who have much are called on to reach out to the less fortunate, extending hospitality and love to their neighbors in need, never forgetting that as they enjoy the bounty of Thanksgiving Day others go without.

But that still isn’t what Thanksgiving Day is all about; there is one crucial element missing. We don’t generically ‘give thanks’ on this day, we give thanks specifically, we give thanks to someone, we give thanks to God. Christians know the object of our thanksgiving quite well: He is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the only true God, the Triune God. Our God is due thanks and praise on this day, because He gives each and every one of the gifts we celebrate, as Paul declares in our Epistle lesson: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” 

The Church prays; that is one of her great tasks in this world. She prays for ‘all people,’ that great multitude that surrounds us in our nation and around the world. Why do we pray for them? Because they have needs! Christian or non-Christian, they need our prayers. And we need them. God uses other people to put food on our table, to protect us, to bring us water and electricity. All that we have comes from God through others, from our family to those we will never meet around the world. And so we pray for their needs, we pray for their safety, we who are in God’s family through Christ petition our Father for those around us. We pray that He would provide for them; we pray that He would provide for us through them. We pray especially that they would come to faith, that they would have the great blessings that we possess. Pray, dear Christians, pray! Pray for your grocers, your plumbers, your doctors! Pray for farmers, for teachers, pray for all!

Pray for your rulers. Pray for them, whether you voted for them or not, whether you agree with them or not. Pray that they would repent, pray that they would stay the course, pray that they would fulfill their duties faithfully. Paul singles out rulers because he knows that we have trouble praying for them, especially when they are seemingly anti-Christian. But he knows what rulers provide, what God uses them to do. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” God uses rulers to provide a peaceful and quiet life; to protect us from harm so that He can provide us with all of our needs of body and soul. Good rulers make it possible for food to get to our table; good rulers make it possible for the Gospel to go forth freely. Pray for your rulers, pray that they rule well, that they provide peace, safety, and justice, that they would be God’s instruments.

But while praying, while making your requests known before God, Paul exhorts us to give thanks for what God has already given. As we look through Paul’s letters, almost every time that he calls on Christians to pray, he reminds them to do this with thanksgiving. Our prayers flow more freely when there is a crisis, when we have a need, when something is on our mind. It’s much harder to remember to give thanks after God provides. And so Paul is constantly reminding us to give thanksgiving. You have many needs, many reasons to call on God in prayer; and He wants to receive your prayers, as we hear in our text, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” But you also have many needs that have already been fulfilled, and Paul exhorts us to give thanks.

For God provides, He is a giver God. He provides all that our body needs, as Luther declared in the Small Catechism: “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” He has given to you tremendous blessings throughout your life; He has provided through your parents, through your spouse, your neighbors, and countless others, including the rulers that provide for your peace and safety. He may not give you riches, but He provides for your needs. He may not give you perfect health, but He provides for healing or gives you comfort in affliction. His promise is that He will care for you, and He keeps His promises. In suffering or prosperity He is with you, providing, giving, sheltering you with His presence.

He provides for the needs of your body because He has provided for your greatest needs, the needs of your soul. Our faltering prayers and weak thankfulness are only surface symptoms of our greater problem, the problem of sin; sin which leads to death, sin which leads to eternal separation from God in hell. Without God’s provision of our need for deliverance from sin, death, and hell, nothing else He gives really matters. And so while Paul exhorts us to pray for the needs of our body, he reminds us that God has bigger gifts to give, for He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He provides for your bodily needs through other humans, but to save you, God became man. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, who walked the way of the cross, paying the price for your sin. He provided for your greatest need with even His own life, for God “desires all people to be saved.” He desired your salvation and He accomplished it by shedding His own blood to redeem you. Now He works through people again, His believers who speak the Gospel, His pastors who preach, baptize, and distribute the Lord’s Supper, to bring this salvation to all, to provide for their greatest needs. Today we give thanks to Jesus for the salvation that He accomplished through the cross and empty tomb, but that is not the end of the story of Thanksgiving Eve.

For we celebrate two harvests on this day. We give thanks to God that He provides to us all that we need to provide for this body and life, we give thanks for the harvest of our crops. But we give thanks for another harvest, the harvest that is coming at the end of the age. In our opening hymn for tonight, we sang, “Even so, Lord, quickly come to Thy final harvest home; gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin. There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide: come with all Thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.” Thanksgiving Day points us to the Last Day, the Day when Jesus will return in glory to gather in His harvest. Without a successful harvest, people starve. Without Christ’s harvest, all people die eternally. His harvest is His greatest gift, for it is the culmination and completion of all that He did for us through the cross and empty tomb.

The final harvest gathers in all those whom He has planted through His Word and the waters of Holy Baptism, all whom He has fed and nourished with His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. He will come to gather in you and me, to bring us to His great barns, there to dwell forever with Him and all the redeemed. On this Thanksgiving Eve, our prayers and thanksgivings rise up to the God who has provided for all of our needs of body and soul. We give thanks for the redemption He accomplished and look forward to the harvest that is to come, saying with all the Church, “Even so, Lord, quickly come to Thy final harvest home… Come with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home!” In the Name of our returning Lord, who is coming again to gather in His people on His glorious harvest Day, Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Proper 27 of Series B (1 Kings 17:8-16)

“And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear…’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the seventeenth chapter of the book of First Kings. Dear friends in Christ, do you trust the Lord? His Word has declared that He will provide for your bodily needs, that He will care for you, but do you believe it? Or do you fear and worry, do you chase after the things of this world, working yourself to the bone to gain for yourself what God has promised to provide? Do you trust the Lord? His Word has declared that He holds all history in His hands, that He orders all things for your good, but do you believe it? Or do you fear the outcome of things in this world, from the affairs of governments and nations to the challenges that you meet in your day-to-day life? Do you trust the Lord? His Word calls on you to challenge Him in your giving, that when you place your hard-earned money in the offering plate He will provide, but do you believe it? Or do you fear, and through fear for your own needs hold back your bounty from the work of the Church? Do you trust the Lord? His Word declares that here in this place, through a man whom He has sent to you, your sins are forgiven, but do you believe it? Or do you fear and worry, clinging to your sins and doubting the absolution? You have great needs, of body and soul, and do you trust the Lord to provide, or do you really trust only yourself?

Elijah had great needs. When he appears on the scene, God’s Word declares through His mouth that a devastating famine would strike the land, punishment for the sins of wicked king Ahab. Such a messenger of judgment isn’t welcome in the king’s presence or anywhere else, and he becomes an outcast in Israel. He has no home, no shelter, no place to call his own. Elijah is truly and surely alone. And he is hungry. The prophet who declares a famine finds himself impoverished. He cannot escape the consequences of Ahab’s sin. His body needs sustenance, and there is no friendly house in Israel. Without some source of provision, without someone to take him in, he will soon die.

“Then the Word of the Lord came to him, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Siodon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’” God’s Word promises that the Lord will provide for Elijah. The prophet is sent outside of the borders of Israel, to a region of unbelievers; Elijah must depend upon the generosity of a foreign widow. The Lord calls on Elijah to trust His promises without seeing. That is what faith is: believing what God has told you, even if you don’t see it, even if you cannot comprehend how He will do it. Faith means entrusting the future to the One who holds all things in His hands. He promises to provide, He promises to give, even if He uses strange and unlikely means. This woman wasn’t so much commanded to feed Elijah as chosen to do so—she had no idea that the Lord had appointed to her this task! This is how God works; He promises to provide for our needs through people we don’t even know, using others to bring us His great provision. Do you trust the Lord? Elijah does. He doesn’t argue, he doesn’t hesitate, if there is any inner conflict he doesn’t express it; instead, he believes and he goes. “So he arose and went to Zarephath.”

Elijah doesn’t escape the famine in Zarephath. In fact, when he meets the widow who is to provide for him, it seems that God hasn’t just made an unlikely choice, He has made a bad one. “And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.’ And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, and only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.’” Do you trust the Lord? Do you trust him when you can’t tell what He’s doing, when His plans to provide for you seem to be falling apart? The woman who is to provide for Elijah can’t provide for herself. She and her family are under the threat of death. Do you trust the Lord? Do you trust Him when you can’t see a way out, when you hit rock bottom, when you are at the end of your rope, like the widow preparing a meal “so that we may eat it and die”? This woman is living in despair; she has lost all hope, there is nothing left for her but to accept death.

In the midst of her despair, her poverty, her need, the Word of the Lord speaks through Elijah His prophet: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” The promise of the Lord appoints unlikely means to provide for this widow; the jar and the jug will not cease to provide for the needs of her body. God calls on her to trust without seeing, to not fear even though she cannot see the end of her fear. Elijah calls on her to use the last of her flour and oil to make his cake. She has to clean out those jars, look in on their emptiness, and believe that when she returns they will be full again, that God will keep His Word. She is called upon to trust without seeing. Do you trust the Lord? Do you commend yourself into His hands when threatened with disease or with death, or do you live in fear? Do you really believe that He can provide, that He will provide? Would you bake a cake for prophet in faith, or make a cake for yourself in fear, “that we may eat it and die”? Do you trust the Lord?
The widow of Zarephath did, as did the widow in our Gospel lesson. These two women, with literally nothing to their name, trusted in the Lord to provide. Jesus watched as the widow in Jerusalem placed into the treasury two small copper coins. She trusted the Lord, that He would provide according to His promise. She gave in faith, not fear. And Jesus praises her, saying, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” She gave up everything and commended her life into the Lord’s hands. The widow of Zarephath did the same; she trusted the Word and promise of the Lord through the mouth of His prophet: “And she went and did as Elijah said.”

The Lord’s Word remained true; His promise came to pass. Elijah said, “Do not fear,” because there was no reason to fear—God promised to provide, and He would provide. “And she and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.” God’s Word doesn’t lie; it has power to do what it says. Through His Word, the Lord appointed a widow to feed His prophet, a woman who had literally nothing in a strange and foreign land. Elijah believed, the widow believed, they trusted that it would happen, and it did. The Lord provided for the woman, for her family, and for His prophet until the days of famine were over. They trusted without seeing, and they saw the Lord fulfill His Word. Do you trust the Lord?

The answer, of course, is “no.” You don’t trust the Lord. I don’t trust the Lord. We may say that we do, but in reality we worry, we fret, we despair, we fail to commend ourselves, our bodies and souls, and all that we have into the Lord’s hand. Our actions are motivated by fear. Elijah speaks to you and to me what he spoke to the widow: “Do not fear!” Repent of your fear, of your worry; there is no reason to fear. God is faithful to His Word, He is faithful to His promises. Elijah’s words are pure grace—do not fear! God sent His Son Jesus Christ to deliver and forgive those who struggle to trust. Do not fear! Jesus gave up everything for you, as our Epistle lesson declares: “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Both the widow of Zarephath and the widow in Jerusalem gave up everything they had to serve the Lord, trusting that He would provide for them. Jesus follows their pattern, He sacrificed Himself, all that He had, for your salvation. He died for you and me who sin by our failure to trust, He died for our greatest needs: forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gave up everything, trusting that God would provide; and He did, according to the power of His Word, raising up His Son on the third day.

Do not fear! Jesus holds your eternal salvation in His loving hands, and you can commend to Him all else, trusting that He will provide. Do not fear! Jesus provides everything that you need for this body and life; He has provided throughout your life, and He will provide, even through unexpected means. Do not fear! Jesus promises that you will receive all things through His death and resurrection: forgiveness of all your sins, freedom from the captivity of Satan, and an eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus doesn’t promise earthly riches, He delivers heavenly riches. The widow in our text wasn’t blessed because she now had a full belly, she was blessed because she was a believer in the true God, and she has eternal salvation through the redemption of Christ. Do not fear! Jesus promises that all things in this life, both blessings and sufferings, are ordered to your ultimate good. The cross proves it; it’s the eternal declaration that God loves you. Do not fear! The One who holds your life in His loving hands is the One who died for your sins. He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you; He has promised that He will provide. He is faithful, His Word is true—do not fear! In the Name of Jesus, who became earthly poor that we would become eternally rich, Amen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

All Saints' Day (Matthew 5:1-12)

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on the Festival of All Saints comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, you are not alone. In fact, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, you are surrounded by the saints. This cloud of witnesses is the repentant faithful, some living, and many departed, who heeded the call of our Lord by God-given faith. So you are a saint, and so am I. A saint isn’t someone who is perfect, it is someone who belongs to Jesus. And saints are blessed. That is the message of our text: saints are blessed. You are blessed; I am blessed; that great cloud of witnesses that went before you is blessed. We are blessed and in great company, though to our eyes and to the eyes of the world, we appear cursed and alone.

When you suffer, not when you struggle in this world of sin, you feel alone, you feel cursed. You feel like God has abandoned you, that you are the only one to suffer the way that you have. You feel downtrodden, trampled upon by this world, by physical and spiritual enemies. You are the poor in spirit, for you struggle to maintain your faith, you struggle to stand up against Satan’s attacks. He isolates, he divides, Satan makes you feel alone and forsaken by God and everyone else. You mourn; you mourn your own sin, and you mourn the dread effects of this sin in this world. You mourn your own mortality, you mourn the loss of loved ones, you mourn the corruption of sin that fills you. You mourn because your own life is threatened, you mourn because you will one day die. You are meek, because this world runs over you; it has little regard for those who don’t exalt themselves. Every day is filled with challenges and new suffering, with Satan’s arrows and the world’s attacks. You hunger and thirst for righteousness, for blessing, but fulfillment seems impossible, for your know your sin, you know your mortality, you know the sufferings that you deal with in your life.

You are not alone. All the saints suffered. We think of the saints, from those we read about in the history books to those whom we know and love personally, as exalted people, as supermen or superwomen in the faith. But they too mourned; they mourned their own sin, they mourned their poverty, they mourned over the death of loved ones and their own deaths. They were poor in spirit, struggling with doubt and the attacks of Satan. They were meek, beaten down by a world that has many ways of making the saints miserable. The world laughs to hear such a wretched, pathetic band called ‘blessed.’ All the saints suffered. Some were cast to lions, some were burned at the stake, some lost their heads in the guillotine. Some suffered from cancer, from heart disease, from Alzheimer’s. They tried to bring peace, but were persecuted; they showed mercy to others, but the world showed them none.

This world has no mercy, no peace to show to the saints, for it had no mercy or peace to show Christ. The saints are not alone; they follow the pattern of their Lord. The eternal Son of God humbled Himself, becoming poor in spirit and humble. He came not as a triumphant king, but as the poor in spirit. Jesus mourned; He mourned the sin that filled God’s good creation, He mourned the death that afflicted His people. Jesus mourned when Lazarus died, He mourned when He looked to His own death in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was meek, refusing to fight the world as they seized Him in the garden, as they put Him on trial, as they used the scourge against Him. For Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness, He hungered and thirsted to make us righteous, and this was the only way. He was merciful, healing disease and caring for the poor, but the world showed Him no mercy as they nailed Him to the cross. He was pure in heart, without any sin at all, but the world treated Him as the worst criminal when they crucified Him. Nothing the saints have suffered in two thousand years of persecution, nothing that you have suffered in this world of sin, was avoided by Christ. The saints are not alone; you are not alone. Jesus suffered all. Jesus suffered for all.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christ made Himself the poor in spirit, He humbled Himself, becoming last of all, becoming obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. And for that He is called blessed. He is blessed for in that moment of suffering, that moment of sacrifice, He received the kingdom of heaven. He was enthroned upon that cross. Jesus is blessed, despite all appearances to the contrary, despite the opinion of the world. He is blessed because He went to that cross in obedience to the Father’s will. He went to that cross bearing the sin of the world on a mission of salvation. He went to that cross as the Peacemaker, shedding His blood to make peace between God and man. He went to that cross as the merciful One, showing mercy to those under the penalty of eternal death for their sin. He is blessed because He did this in accord with the will of His heavenly Father. He is blessed, and He is the source of blessing to His saints.

Like their Lord, all the saints suffer, they all suffer the effects of sin, they all suffer the persecution of a world that despises them. You are not alone. But in the midst of that suffering, all the saints are blessed; they are blessed through Christ. To be blessed is nothing else than to be delivered, redeemed, saved by Christ’s shed blood. They are blessed because they will receive the kingdom through Christ, an inheritance that no one can take away. They will be comforted, comforted forever. They will inherit the land, as Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” What awaits them is not some disembodied existence in the spirit realm, but a physical eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Their hunger and thirst will be satisfied, forever, at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end. They shall see God, for their hearts have been made pure, not on their own efforts, but by the cleansing of Christ. They will forever be called sons of God through Christ. To the world, all the saints are a miserable, pathetic band, hardly worthy of the effort it takes to squash them; but in God’s eyes they are blessed—forever.

You are not alone. You are a part of that great multitude that John saw, you are a part of all the saints. You are poor in spirit, impoverished, without any merit to bring before God. But Jesus comes to you and gives you what you need; He has suffered and died for your sin, to give you a kingdom that will never fail. You mourn now in this world, but a Day is coming when you will be comforted, forever. Death itself has been defeated, and you are looking toward an eternity without sin and without death. You hunger and thirst for righteousness, yearning for holiness, but in Christ you will be fully satisfied. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” You will see God, face to face, with your own eyes, for Christ has cleansed you, He has made you pure in heart. You will be called a child of God for eternity, as John tells us in our Epistle lesson: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Today RayLee is called a child of God, for she has been cleansed and made pure in heart, she has been filled with Christ’s own righteousness in the waters of Holy Baptism. She has joined with all the saints through the washing of the water with the Word. She is not alone.

You are not alone. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: all the saints, some named, but many, many more unnamed. Some are remembered by history; some are remembered by the friends and family that held them dear. Some still labor, some are at rest. But all are together the great cloud of witnesses, all the saints. You are not alone. Together with all the saints you possess all things; you possess the kingdom, you possess Christ’s own righteousness; salvation belongs to you. You enjoy Christ’s gifts here in this place: forgiveness of sins, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the fellowship of the redeemed. The kingdom belongs to all the saints, to you and to me, right now. But yet, all the saints still wait. All the saints wait for the final and full bestowal of all that Christ won. Yes, our loved ones who went before us, along with all the departed saints, now dwell with the Lord, but even they are waiting, earnestly crying out, ‘How long?’ For the final destination of the departed saints is the new heavens and the new earth. It is the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. They wait for Christ’s return along with you, for on that Day all the saints will receive the promised inheritance.

You are not alone. All the saints possess the kingdom now, but they will possess it fully only on the Last Day. So all the saints now wait, some away from this world of sin and some still in the midst of it. Suffering will characterize life here on this sinful earth; you will still mourn, you will still be persecuted. But this suffering, this mourning and persecution is transformed, because you have a promise of future glory that is more certain, more powerful, than anything that this world of sin can do to you. You are blessed, with all the saints, now and for eternity. In the name of Jesus, who became poor in spirit to bring the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit, you, me, and all the saints, Amen.