Tuesday, November 26, 2013

St. John Chrysostom on Abortion

In reading Chrysostom (347-407 AD), I am struck again and again by how 'contemporary' he is.  Much of what he says could be preached today without any changes.  This points to both the timelessness of human depravity and the timelessness of God's Word.  Chrysostom can apply the Law with a bite that no one can squirm away from, but he also declares the Gospel in all of its sweetness.  This quote is directed against men who commit sexual immorality, which often, then as now, leads to another sin.

“Drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder.  For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born.  Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing into slaughter?...  For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 520)

Chrysostom was surely speaking to our age!  What doesn't appear in this quote is the beautiful message of the Gospel, that Christ Himself hung upon the cross even for those who have committed abortion, even those who through promiscuity put another in a situation where she listened to her fears and the voices of the culture.  Jesus died for those sins, as He did for all others--there is forgiveness, there is healing in Jesus Christ.  He is the friend of sinners, all sinners, and He bore our burdens all to the cross.  Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me--Amen!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Proper 28 of Series C (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13)

“Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” 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 morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the final chapter of Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica. Dear friends in Christ, once I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is coming: Look busy!” Apparently you can goof off behind His back, but when you see Him coming, you better pretend to be busy, because He is quite literally bringing the wrath of God. There is some truth there: Jesus is coming, and He doesn’t want us to be idle as we wait. In fact, just after our Gospel lesson, Jesus warns us to be well-prepared for that day: “Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Jesus is coming: be prepared! He is surely coming, and He is coming as a thief in the night, at an hour that we do not expect, and so our task is to work while it is day, for the night of judgment is coming, when no man can work. How are we to wait? Jesus tells us: “Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all the things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” We wait in prayer, in worship, and in our Epistle lesson, Paul tells us another way we are to wait: by working!
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” Jesus is coming: don’t be idle! We are called to spiritual labors like prayer and worship as we wait for Christ’s return, but also physical labor. Paul commands us to work in these latter days, to stay away from laziness and avoid idle people. He has little patience for those who are able to work, who are able to earn their own living, but yet do not. “Even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Those who can work should work. Now, we shouldn’t make Paul say more than he is saying. He isn’t condemning those who cannot work because of disability, disease, or age; he isn’t giving us political fodder for debates about welfare and food stamps. He is simply giving us the principle: Christians who can work should work.

This is fundamentally a seventh commandment issue: “You shall not steal.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.” The seventh commandment is all about work, the earning and management of possessions and money. Laziness steals from others, especially those writing our checks, and we do this even when we are full-time workers. I’ve been an hourly employee: I know how it goes. Even as your pastor, I humbly confess before you today that through mismanagement of my time or just plain laziness, I myself have sinned against you in this way. Idleness steals from your neighbor, because you can work, but don’t, relying on what others earn through their labors, or else when you work, through laziness you steal time and resources from the one who hired you.

Lazy, idle hands are, as the saying goes, “the devil’s playground.” Idle hands lead to many sins. Idle hands get us into much trouble. “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” You all know what a busybody is: someone who doesn’t have enough of their own things to do, so he or she intrudes on the business of everyone else. Not only is idleness stealing from your neighbor, in violation of the seventh commandment, but idleness can lead you into violation of nearly all the rest. Idle hands have led many into violation of the sixth commandment—“You shall not commit adultery”—and even into disobedience to the fifth commandment—“You shall not murder.” A busybody is often a gossip; add the eighth commandment to the list: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Meddling in the affairs of others, busybodies speak when they should be quiet. No wonder Paul says, “Such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

If they will not listen, if we will not listen, then Paul’s instructions to the Church are clear: “We command you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” As with any other sinner, those who are idle busybodies are to be admonished and called to repentance, along with any who steal from their employers through laziness. If they repent, rejoice and forgive, for you have gained your brother or sister. But if they persistently refuse, Paul says to ‘keep away’ from them, that is, they are to be put out of the fellowship of the Church, both so that they will not corrupt others and also so that they will see their great sin and be brought to repentance.

Your hands were created to give to others, not simply to receive. Even Paul himself, who was entitled to receive pay for his proclamation of the Gospel, didn’t exercise that freedom in order to set an example for the Thessalonians and for us. “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any one of you.” Paul didn’t act as if he were entitled to a free meal—in fact, he never ate in Thessalonica without paying for it! “It was not because we did not have the right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.”

We are called upon to follow Paul’s example, to work, to labor, not for our own good, to fill our own checkbook or belly, but to serve others. That is what work is for—you work not for yourself, but for the good of those around you. Your neighbors need your labors: the person who you serve or who buys the product you produce, and the family you provide for with your paycheck. God gave you hands to give to others, not simply to receive. Those who can work should work, not being a burden on others, but seeking to serve others, providing for those who truly cannot work for their own bread. Jesus is coming, and we are called upon not to look busy, but to serve others as we are able, putting the gifts God has given to us to work for the good of our neighbors.

Repent of your laziness, repent of your idleness, repent of being a busybody. Repent and throw yourself on the mercy of the One who labored, who worked for you. Jesus Christ was not idle, he was not lazy, but he willingly and tirelessly put in the work that was necessary for our salvation. He lived a life in accord with all the commandments, laboring to fulfill each and every one of them on your behalf. Then He faced the whip and the scourge, He carried His cross out of the city and up the hill, and finally He endured that cross, scorning its shame. His labors were all for you and for me, to pay the price for our sin, to eliminate all that stood between us and God. He labored to win forgiveness for your idleness; His bloody work atoned for every time that you are lazy and steal from your neighbor. You are forgiven by the shed blood of Christ! His labors were excruciating, but He didn’t shrink from the terrible work he had to undertake. And then, having accomplished His labors, having finished His work, Jesus, like His Father, rested on the Sabbath, only to come forth from the tomb on Sunday victorious over death itself. Now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God, from whence He will return on the Last Day.

We wait for that Day working in service to others. Someone once asked Martin Luther what he would do if he knew that Jesus was coming back the very next day. He answered, “Plant a tree.” His point was that we simply go on living, laboring, serving others in every way that we can, even as the day of our Lord’s return comes ever nearer. Christians serve others in imitation of Christ’s greater service toward us. Christians serve others in eager anticipation of His return. We serve others with an eye watching the horizon for our returning Lord, with an ear cocked to listen for the final trumpet.

“Jesus is coming: Look busy!” the bumper sticker says. I would alter that slightly—“Jesus is coming: Rejoice!” That coming Day is a day filled with joy, as God proclaims to us through Malachi: “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You will go out leaping like calves from the stall.” We rejoice on that Day because it is the day of victory, the day when Christ gives to us the eternal inheritance that He has prepared for us, all that His labors have won. On the Last Day, Christ’s empty tomb finds its completion in our empty tomb; His rest from His labors becomes our eternal rest from our own. On that Day we will find rest, having labored in this world in service of others, carrying the burdens of our neighbors. In the new heavens and the new earth, there will be work, but it will no longer be a burden, instead a great joy, for all things have been made new in Christ.

We are prepared for that day by the forgiveness that Christ won; only by His grace are we made ready for His return. Neither our physical nor even our spiritual labors can make us ready, for all that we do is stained by sin. We don’t place our trust in our work as we approach the Last Day, we place our trust in Christ. His blood-bought forgiveness makes you ready, for it cleanses you from every stain. It is His labor, not ours, that prepares us to receive Him when He comes in glory. Having been forgiven, having been cleansed, having been prepared by His gifts, we need not fear the coming final day. Instead, we can follow the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Our redemption is drawing near, won by the labors our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. He is coming soon—Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Proper 27 of Series C (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17)

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 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 morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago, from the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Church in Thessalonica. Dear friends in Christ: do not be disturbed by what anybody tells you about the end times. Many false prophets have gone forth, and they will continue to go forth, pointing to signs, predicting the end, stirring you up. They sell books by the millions, they peddle their complicated calculations, they set dates, and when they are wrong, they quietly recede back into the shadows, leaving many Christians deceived. The Thessalonians were stirred up by a letter claiming to be from the apostles, and Paul writes our text to calm them down: “We ask you, brothers, to not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” Speculation on the end of the world has been going on long before Paul wrote these words, and it will continue until the end itself comes. The false epistle read by the Thessalonians is just one of many falsehoods to come (you can find many more at Barnes and Noble). But don’t listen to any of that noise. Do not be disturbed by words that don’t come from God; turn to the Scriptures to know what is going to happen at the end.

The Scriptures are clear: the end is coming, Jesus will return. That is the promise of the resurrected One, the One who cannot lie. He will come at an hour that no one expects, like a thief in the night, and when He comes, He will send forth His angels to gather in the saints. The Scriptures are also clear: before Jesus returns, before the glories of that great Day, this world will get far worse. “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” Do not be deceived: the man of lawlessness is coming. Elsewhere in Scripture, he is given this title: the antichrist. Do not be deceived; he will come, and he will bring great evil with him.

The man of lawlessness “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” He will set himself in the very temple of God; he will exercise his influence within the Church, and there he will deceive many into sin and unbelief. The rebellion led by the man of lawlessness won’t be a rebellion against governments but a rebellion against God, a turning away from Christ to antichrist, a great apostasy from the true Church to the one sitting in the temple of God. Do not be deceived! The man of lawlessness will be a leader in the Church; his threat comes from within the bride of Christ, seeking to corrupt and destroy her. He will speak convincingly, he will even do miracles, and he will lead many away from the true Christ to worship him. The end times will be filled with earthquakes and famines, wars and rumors of wars, but the greatest threat is the spiritual threat, the great apostasy brought by the man of lawlessness.

Do not be deceived, stay on your guard! The man of lawlessness, the antichrist, is coming, and he will seek to carry you and me into sin and destruction with him. If history has been filled with people predicting the end or claiming to know the signs that the end is coming, then there has been an equal amount of ink spilled trying to identify the antichrist. And some have been closer to the truth than others. The Lutheran confessions correctly find that in their time, the office of the papacy can only be described as antichrist, since the papacy set itself in the place of God by claiming that Christians cannot be saved without it. Others have suggested political or religious leaders of all kinds. Each generation has seen those who fit the description, but only God knows who is an antichrist, and who is the antichrist, the ‘man of lawlessness’ who comes before the end. Do not be deceived; our task isn’t to identify the man of lawlessness, our task is to stay clear of his influence.

Paul tells us that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” We don’t know when the man of lawlessness will come, and we don’t know who he’ll be, but we do know his spirit, the mystery of lawlessness, is already at work among us. Do not be deceived into sin by the serpent’s oldest question, “Did God really say?” Do not be deceived by the mystery of lawlessness, which explains away or defangs the law, saying that its commands are outdated or don’t apply to you. The mystery of lawlessness searches for loopholes, it finds the law flexible, seeing gray where the law is black and white. Do not be deceived by the serpent’s lie: “You will be like God.” The mystery of lawlessness wants us to call the shots, to determine right or wrong for ourselves, finally to worship ourselves in place of God; its goal is to lead us to sin, unbelief, death, and hell.

Do not be deceived, the mystery of lawlessness holds great sway in our world; even if the man of lawlessness has not yet appeared, he has many followers who hold sway in every generation. The threat is real, and it is terrifying, for the man of lawlessness is after your soul, and he will destroy your body to get at it. Those who refuse to worship him, who refuse to join him in his lawless, sinful ways, will suffer. Lawlessness is never content until all are lawless. The last days will be days where it will be terrible to be a Christians, as we experience persecution on a scale never seen before. Today we have it pretty cushy as American Christians, but we have the guarantee of Scripture that persecution is coming, that persecution will come before the end. The only thing holding back the man of lawlessness is the work of Christ Himself. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “You know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.”

Do not be disturbed, Christ restrains the man of lawlessness through the work of the Church, the proclamation of His Word of forgiveness throughout this world. Jesus tells the disciples that because of their preaching, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” The preaching of forgiveness defeats the mystery of lawlessness, it delivers us from the evil that seeks to lead us into unbelief and destruction. The power of the man of lawlessness is the power of sin’s bondage over you, and Christ’s Word of forgiveness, spoken through the Church, breaks those bonds. The Absolution casts Satan from heaven, Christ’s Word defeats the one who leads us into sin by forgiving that sin. Do not be disturbed, the power of Christ’s Word is the power that protects you from anything that the man of lawlessness or the mystery of lawlessness can do to you.

This fight is not ours to win. Do not be disturbed, it is Christ who fights with us and for us against lawlessness. The fight is His, and the victory is His. The man of lawlessness, the antichrist, will come, and his deception will be great, but his defeat is sure. Paul calls him the ‘son of destruction;’ he will be destroyed, because he has already been conquered. Christ fought this enemy, and He triumphed, for He defeated all evil upon the cross when He paid the price for your sin. Do not be disturbed; Christ has won the victory over all who hate us! The devil, and his ally, the man of lawlessness, are enemies crushed by the power of the cross. There Jesus won the victory, there Jesus struck the serpent’s head, there He robbed death of its power, forgiving all sin. There the law was fulfilled on your behalf. He went to battle for us on that Good Friday, and He won the victory—the empty tomb proves it! The man of lawlessness can rage all he wants; he is a defeated enemy, he will be destroyed. Do not be disturbed, the victory remains with Christ.

Paul tells us that at the end, “the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming.” Christ will simply appear, and the man of lawlessness, along with all sin, all evil, and death itself, will be destroyed. The man of lawlessness will rage all he wants in the latter days, but his days are numbered; when Christ appears, he will be killed by the breath of His mouth, and the saints will be delivered, set free from his power forever. The fight is not ours to win; the fight is Christ’s, and the victory is Christ’s. When Jesus appears on the clouds, when the final trumpet sounds, your victory has come, and Christ will gather you and all the saints from the corners of the earth to dwell with him forever.

Do not be disturbed by the events of the last days. Much of what Scripture teaches us about the last days is disturbing and frankly terrifying, but Paul leaves us with comfort, with confidence, with the assurance of victory despite all that we experience. “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Stand firm, you are chosen by God in Christ. You are the chosen, the elect, the Baptized, called to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Stand firm in that identity, do not be disturbed as this world hastens to its end. You are Christ’s forgiven saints, and you have the sure and certain promise of an eternal inheritance.

Stand firm, the same power that holds back the man of lawlessness until the proper time is the power that will destroy him in the end: the power of Christ, the power of His Word. Cling to that Word in these latter days. “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” We can only find comfort and strength in the coming tribulation and persecution by clinging to the Word, to Christ’s forgiveness. We are prepared for the Last Days by studying that Word, by receiving the Absolution, by eating and drinking Christ’s Body and Blood. Christ gives us His grace precisely for these latter days, to strengthen us, to comfort us, to bless us. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” Amen.

Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saints' Day Observed (Revelation 7:9-17)

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 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 celebration of All Saints comes from the First Lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Revelation to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, sinners wear clothes. At the end of Genesis chapter two, with the earth brand new and ‘very good,’ Moses tells us “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Clothing has nothing to do with protection from the weather, with fashion or style, or even with modesty. It has to do with shame. When the man and the woman fall into the first sin, they feel an emotion that is foreign to them, and it is completely overwhelming. They feel guilt, they feel shame; they know they have violated the only command their Creator had given, and now they are exposed, unprotected from God’s wrath. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” We wear clothing because we are sinful; we cover up because our bodies are no longer perfect, but corrupted by sin. Those who parade their bodies before the lusting eyes of the world only prove that their conscience is so damaged that they no longer feel guilt or shame. They have forgotten a fact that, deep down, is apparent to all people: sinners wear clothes.

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints on earth wear filthy rags. Isaiah teaches us, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” We came into this world naked, but even from conception our spiritual dress is a stinky, smelly pile of rags. The Scriptures may call all who follow Christ ‘saints,’ and so we are, but we remain sinners. On All Saints’ Day we cannot forget that all the saints were or are also sinners, from Adam and Moses to Peter and Paul to your relatives and you yourself. We soil our clothes in sin, even so-called ‘good church people.’ Sin makes us dirty; each and every sin adds a new stain to our garments. Every sin you commit should make you feel dirty; if it doesn’t, you are fooling yourself. Sin’s greatest delusion is to make you think that you are clean when you are in reality covering your nakedness with rags of filth. The clothes make the sinner, and ours are filthy.

No matter how much we scrub, we cannot get them clean. There is no detergent that we possess that can take the stain away. Not that we don’t try. This world offers plenty of detergents that claim to remove the stain, from self-help to self-medication, but none of them can do anything to make them even fade. And if detergents don’t work, we try a different tactic: we make our rags look fancy, we pile on make-up, trying desperately to cancel out the dirt with some good deeds, but there is no covering our filth. Isaiah told us that already: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our garments are dirty, and no amount of making ourselves look pretty is going to change that reality, nothing we do can make them clean. There is no escaping this fact: sinners wear clothes.

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints on earth wear robes of tribulation and suffering. You wear hospital gowns while facing surgery, a long battle with a disease, or have the effects a traumatic accident. You wear funeral suits; your best clothes for an encounter with your greatest enemy. The clothing we wear reminds us of our sin, it reminds us of the consequences of that sin, that the “wages of sin is death.” We wear suits around or in coffins, we wear hospital gowns when we are in pain, when we are threatened with harm to our body. Sinners wear clothes, the filthy rags of sin, and the clothing of sickness and death. Our clothing, seen and unseen, remind us of sin, our own sin, and the sin of this fallen and world, where bad things happen even to all the saints.

What kind of clothes do you wear? Many of the saints wear prison uniforms. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus promised us suffering and persecution in this world. Maybe one day you will wear a number on your back because you confess Christ. This is happening every day in our world, and while persecution seems foreign to us, history teaches us that it is never far off. A Roman Catholic bishop once said, “I will die in bed, my successor will die in prison, his successor will die a martyr, and the one who comes after him will begin to rebuild from the ashes.” All the saints are hated by the devil, and his ally, the world, and they will do all they can to stomp us out, persecuting and even putting us to death. Sinners wear clothes, clothes that remind us of the corruption that fills us and our world.

Through your own sin, you are clothed in filthy rags, through the corruption of this sinful world you wear hospital gowns or funeral suits, and through the sin of others against you, you may even be clothed in prison uniforms. But God provides a different set of garments. Even after condemning their sin, even after cursing the very earth because of them, God in His grace provided clothes to the first sinners. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” The first to die in God’s once perfect creation were the animals that shed their blood to make clothing for Adam and Eve. But those garments of skins could never cover up guilt and shame. Another set of garments was needed, given through another death. John saw these robes, he saw all the saints wearing them, and he was told, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. All other blood stains; this blood purifies, it makes white, it cleanses us from all of our filth. It takes polluted garments and makes them white, shining robes. The Lamb was slain, sacrificed on the altar of the cross, and His blood cleanses because His blood atones, it is the price that pays for sin, that eliminates guilt and shame. What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear robes washed by Christ’s blood in the waters of Holy Baptism. There is a reason why in the history of the Church, both children and adults were given white robes at their baptism. In the font we are made clean, in the font our robes are washed in the shed blood of the Lamb. What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear robes washed daily in a return to the font. We take our filthy rags, soiled with every sin we commit, and in repentance we scrub them clean in the blood of the Lamb. We dip our robes in His blood when we hear the Absolution, when we feast on His Body and Blood, for in those gifts, we are made clean once again.

What kind of clothes do you wear? All the saints wear the white robes, the baptismal robes, even when they wear hospital gowns, even when they wear funeral suits, even when they wear prison uniforms for the sake of Christ. Even when facing the ravages of sin, they are clothed in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. We can’t see them now, but we will: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” All the saints will wear the robes of victory in the resurrection. They wore the baptismal robes throughout their lives, hidden from human sight, but on the Last Day, every eye will see all the saints, clothed in the white robes of the resurrection, around the throne, singing songs of victory. The white robes are garments of triumph, triumph over sin, triumph over death.

All the saints have conquered, not through their own strength, but through the Lamb’s shed blood, and they will dwell in victory with Him forever. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 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.” Those robes are fireproof; the fires of hell, the fires of judgment will not touch all the saints. The saints hungered and thirsted in this world; clothed in the white robes, they will have no more lack. The saints grieved as they suffered from sin, death, and from all who hated them; wearing robes made white in the Lamb’s blood, they will have no more tears. They will be sheltered by Christ, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, and He who shed His blood on the altar of the cross will shepherd them to the eternal green pastures. Saints wear clothes, robes made white in the blood of the Lamb, now and forever.

What kind of clothes do you wear? You are a saint, you are baptized into Christ, you have made your filthy garments white in the blood of the Lamb. Saints wear clothes; not the filthy clothes of Adam, but the glorious clothes of Christ. “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” Even now you wear the shining baptismal robes, the pledge and guarantee that you will one day join that multitude before the throne, wearing the robes of the resurrection. That multitude includes all the saints, Old and New Testament, from every nation under the sun, even those we hold dear, those we have laid to rest among us this past year: Margaret, Earl, Gloria, Tina, Mavis, and Joe. You have a place in that multitude, standing next to Saint Paul, or Luther, or your grandmother, your sister, your child. There you will rejoice, there you will celebrate, singing with all the rest: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” In the Name of the Lamb who was slain, in whose blood we have washed our robes and made them white forever, who will return on the Last Day to take us to join the multitude before the throne, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pray without ceasing

When Saint Paul tells us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), this seems to be downright unreasonable. How can we spend our entire day praying? Even if we could manage to achieve such a feat, it would be to the detriment of all of our tasks in this world. The baby wouldn't get fed, the yard wouldn't get mowed, your spouse wouldn't get a kiss, but at least you would be praying! This seems to be a command that only a monk or a nun could fulfill, someone who has dedicated their entire lives to prayer and contemplation. Surely Paul isn't talking to someone who has a 'real job,' who has a family to care for and responsibilities to so many!

But we can't explain away this command. Paul actually calls on us—each and every one of us—to 'pray without ceasing.' We can't escape this demand, from Christ's apostle to Christ's people. All of those excuses and complaints about neglecting our God-given responsibilities simply mask the truth. And the truth is, we have trouble giving one hour a week to prayer, much less an hour a day, making a call to constant prayer seem so ridiculous that we cannot even consider it.

But praying without ceasing doesn't mean that we spend our days with our eyes closed and our hands folded. Instead it means that prayer is interwoven into our entire lives. We are constantly conversing with God, in good times and in bad, bringing our every need to His throne of grace. When a need for prayer arises, we don't try to remember it for evening devotions, we pray right then and there. We are in conversation with Jesus throughout our day, bringing Him into our lives everywhere we go. Jesus is truly present with us in all that we face in this world. To pray without ceasing is to acknowledge that fact, asking the Lord who is there with us in the challenges and joys of this life to grant us peace, comfort, and deliverance.

How can we pray without ceasing? Our spontaneous prayer throughout the day flows from our ordered prayer every week in the Divine Service, and every day in morning and evening devotions. These ordered prayers give form and content for the prayers that arise for the needs that fill our days. We are taught to pray in the Scriptures and the historic prayers of the Church, and then we take that knowledge out into our lives in the world. We are filled with God's Word in the quiet of daily and weekly prayer, and then that Word flows into our lives in this loud, busy, and dangerous world. Around the Church's altar, around the family altar, we are prepared to 'pray without ceasing.'