Sunday, November 30, 2014

What preparations are necessary for the return of Christ?

WHILE WE WAIT

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12

The long awaited Savior, whose incarnation we mark with joy each Christmas, will come to earth one final time, not in poverty or humility, but with great power and glory, not to die again for sins, but to raise the dead.  On that day the long night of waiting will be over, and all who believe and are baptized will be incorporated into the glories of the Church Triumphant.  However far the devil, the world or sinful flesh has pushed us back a Great Reversal will take place when our God returns.  He isn’t coming to fix things or fine tune them but to hit the reset button, to create a new heaven and new earth filled with righteousness in which our every hope will come true.  May this good promise calm our troubled hearts and give us heavenly peace as we begin a new church year.

The opening words of our text are a bit curious.  St. Paul says “besides this you know what hour it is.”  He makes it sound as if God’s people have a special insight into the times, as if we know something the rest of the world doesn’t.  It’s no mistake that he speaks like this because we do.  We don’t know the day or the hour but neither does it matter because we do know the two most important things of all.  First that Christ will return, and second, how to prepare for His coming.

How do we know that our Lord will return?  Not from special revelations, or by studying the Mayan calendar, but from hearing and believing God’s Word.  Scripture teaches that the world had a beginning and that it will have an end; that it had a first day, and that it will have a last day, a day which will coincide with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, but our Lord’s second coming is not only a future event for Christians.  In his first epistle St. John states that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).  For Christians the return of Christ is as much a present event as a future one.  We experience it most fully whenever the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments administered.  In these gifts Christ truly comes, and imparts the merits of His death and resurrection to us.

The second thing we know is how to prepare for His coming; not by locking ourselves in our closets with our Bibles, but by dedicating our lives to all the things which Paul teaches in the thirteenth chapter of Romans.  We can think of this chapter as a catechism of Christian behavior while awaiting the Lord’s return.  He tells us here that, though we are citizens of heaven above, Christians are to be fully functioning members of society who obey the laws of the land, who love their neighbors, and who embrace the highest moral behavior.

It’s not only duty that drives us, but also a conscious awareness that our Lord could return at any time.  Every day that passes brings the event one day closer.  Every moment is pregnant with the possibility that Jesus could return and call an end to all the devastation sin has visited upon us.  Those who don’t know God’s Word don’t know where they came from so they can’t possibly know what their final destination might be.  They may have wishes and hopes, all men do, but they have no certain knowledge that can guide them when perplexed, or console them in life’s distress.  We do, Beloved, because we know that however bad things get, Jesus has the final word, and it will be a benediction for us.

We prepare for his coming by waking up from spiritual slumber and casting off the works of the flesh.  Why does Paul say it like this?  Because sin has a powerful sedative effect on us.  It puts us into a deep sleep regarding our present duties and our future destiny, so St. Paul sounds the alarm and pastors in every generation must do the same.

In biblical theology flesh is a synonym for sinful nature.  From its conception flesh is at war with God and there’s nothing that can be done to repair it, change it or even to improve it a little bit.  Flesh is like gasoline; if it gets too near a flame the result is always the same.  You can’t change gasoline by preaching to it or praying for it, and the same is true with sinful nature.  The only way to deal with flesh it is to drive the stake of God’s law through its grisly heart.  Flesh cringes at the law.  It fears it the way vampires fear sunlight and like Superman fears Kryptonite.  It doesn’t like to be hemmed in, told what to do or threatened with divine punishment.

What does flesh love?  It loves all the things the Apostle tells us to cast off in his little catechism.  It loves to party like there’s no tomorrow.  It prefers pleasure over duty.  It loves to get drunk and abandon self-control.  It’s devoted to fornication, adultery, casual sex, internet porn, orgies and every perversion it can think of.  It loves quarreling and jealousy until there’s not a scintilla of happiness to be found, and the whole world is at war with itself.  Is it any wonder, then, that our families are a wreck and our society a disaster?  These are the things that flesh loves, and the things that Paul sounds the alarm about.  There’s no human power strong enough to overcome them, but the Word of God is.  Therefore Paul, speaking as God’s apostle, instructs us to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!  Jesus is the Light; the light of the world and the light of life.  He is our armor against sin’s curse, death’s sting and the devil’s reign of terror in our lives.

He further instructs us to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh.”  This was done to us and for us in holy baptism.  The Bible says that all who are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27).  In that primary Sacrament we are dressed in the garments of salvation and robed with our Lord’s own righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).  We’re only baptized once but its benefits are everlasting, and we should remember that sacred event every day.  By contrition and repentance we should daily drown the Old Adam, with all his sins and evil desires, and emerge as new people to live before God in righteousness and purity forever, as we wait for history’s final and finest hour.

We don’t know when it will come, only that it will.  We know how to prepare for it by doing battle every day with temptation and living as new people.  Most importantly we have God’s ongoing Word of love to inform, pardon and empower us.  With these holy gifts we can wait calmly and patiently for the great and awesome day of the Lord to arrive.  Amen.


~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A story of love that goes beyond self-preservation

LOVE STORY

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:16-18

Throughout scripture we learn that love is the fruit of faith, but St. John tells us that it is also the test of faith. It makes perfect sense of course, because divine love is never only received but always given away as well. But first things first.

The most important article of faith in the Christian religion is that Christ loved us and laid down His life for us -- that He died so we might live! Became poor, that we might become rich! But such a thing makes no sense unless we first comprehend the jeopardy sin places us in. The thought of God’s judgment is so frightening that ever since the first transgression humanity has tried all within its power to be rid of it, but we are still afraid to die; afraid because we know that at the final judgment the secrets of our hearts will be revealed. Sin has painted us into a corner and every hour that ticks away brings us closer to the dreadful day.

Now it may seem cruel for God to frighten us like this, but it is not. Indeed it is a good thing because His Law prepares us to accept the truth of the Gospel. It crushes our self-righteousness and eliminates every excuse. And only when we are at the end of our spiritual rope does the glad message that Christ died for our sins eliminate fear and flood our senses with the joy of Salvation.

But the love of Christ is not a one way street. God has so constructed us and so fashioned His love that it cannot be contained, so any version of the Christian faith that wishes only to receive is counterfeit and will lead us to hell. So please hear John’s words carefully. He wants us to be sure that those who know the love of Christ express the same to others, not because we are compelled, but because this is how divine love operates. Though we can hardly understand it, the kind of love that Christ pours out so liberally on us, sacrifices itself without seeking anything in return. Its single objective is the well-being of the person loved, and it never counts the cost. Such a love cannot originate from within because we have been compromised by sin, but its source is Christ and Christ alone. The closest comparison we have is the tender love of parents for their children; the love that several years ago sent a man into a burning building on Lakewood Heights Boulevard to save his trapped children. He failed in his mission, and died three horrendous weeks later in the Metro burn unit, but love was not dead. A fireman whose faith and compassion were aroused took some of the pooled up water that was used to extinguish the flames and baptized each of the children, commending them to the love of God.

How do we express this love on a daily basis? The call to sacrifice our lives is rare, so St. John gives us this simple rule that whoever has this world’s possessions and sees his brother in need but shows no compassion to him, how can the love of God dwell in him? He teaches us here that the way we imitate Christ is by responding to the need of others. Though it’s not as dramatic as running into a burning building, whenever we give to others we are giving away a part of ourselves, because to obtain the things we give we must expend the very restricted resources of our energy and our time. In that sense when we give to others we are giving them a piece of ourselves.

And who are the brethren John speaks of? It doesn’t take a theological degree to know that charity must begin at home. That should be obvious, but modern social theory confuses us. The world’s catechism tells us to think globally but please don’t do that because you are not responsible for the world, nor the world for you. Instead scripture teaches that each husband should care for his wife, and each wife for her husband, that parents should love their children and children their parents. The home, according to St. John Chrysostom, is the little church and this is the best place to exercise love. Here we know what the true needs are and what it will take to satisfy them. If we never do anything more than lay down our lives for our families by hard work, self-denial, and all the other needed sacrifices we have fulfilled the law of love.

If we are able to do more then charity extends next to the church, to those who are our brothers in Christ. Not by ecclesiastical welfare programs, but by each person looking to see where need exists and fulfilling it as best he can. Next we impart the love of Christ to others as the duty is impressed upon us each day. Do you ignore the beggar on the freeway exit ramp because you are afraid he will only drink it away? Don’t worry what he will do with it, just give it if you are able. True, the farther we get from home the harder it is to know if we are making the right decision, but God gives wisdom to those who ask. (James 1:5) The most questionable expression of love is large scale charity. The corruption is so great and the transparency so poor that we are best to stay away from it altogether. True, we may be forced to partake in it through taxation, but we should never think of it as Christian love.

So if love is the test of faith, how are we doing? Not so well? No surprise. Trying to love self-centered and greedy sinners like us is like running the Boston Marathon with a ball and chain around each leg, and a sack of potatoes on our back. But however bad our record has been, remember that Christ laid down His life for our sins; all of them. He forgives not only our past transgressions but the ongoing ones as well. He continues to call us out of the highways and by-ways of selfishness, and bring us into the banquet hall of the church where we receive more love than we could ever give away. So with these words of St. John in mind, may the love of Christ continue to flow to us, and through us! God grant it. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We show our gratitude by accepting yet another gift

RAISING THE CUP

But one of them, when he saw that he had been healed turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and he fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving, and he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-16

The gospels were not written to be a biography of Jesus. They do serve that function but that is not why they were recorded. Instead they stand written to be used in the church, by the church and for the church in order to teach us the Christian faith, which saves us from the leprosy of our sins, and re-creates us as the thankful people of God. What a wonder! that those who are un-holy on account of their transgressions, dying the slow death of a sinner each day, and cursing their Creator, should be made clean, made whole, made well and above all be made Thankful by Jesus. We are those people!

But what does it mean to be Thankful? In the daily business of life saying thank you is a mark of civility. It lets another person know that he has done something good for you, and that you recognize it and appreciate it. Thank you is also a sign of approval. Billions of times each day businesses and customers say thank you to one another to indicate that the transaction they just made is pleasing to them. However, in the church Thanksgiving is very different, not only in what we are thankful for, but how we express it! Like the lepers we, too, are afflicted with a spiritual disease known as sin. It is hideous, revolting and deadly not only to us but those around us as well. It is responsible for every trouble that the world knows, and it is the driving force behind the works of the Flesh which St. Paul catalogues for us in Galatians chapter five. Let us hear them again so that they might lead us to repentance, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

Whatever criticism we might level at the nine ungrateful lepers we can also learn something from them because they knew where to turn for mercy. They knew Who to call on when the world’s final answer was No! They knew that beyond the court of final appeals there was Jesus who, on account of His boundless love for sinners, was willing to say Yes, willing to do what no one else would, and what no one else could. With a command, “show yourselves to the priest,” the Word made Flesh cleansed their dying flesh and restored them to health. Now there is a reason to give thanks!

But even if only one out of ten returned to give thanks, the good news of the gospel is this: we are the One, not because we are more civilized or sanctified than others, but because in holy baptism God made us His own. He saved us from the Flood of Judgment that drowns the rest of wicked mankind, and brought us into the Ark of the Church, where the Greater Noah comforts us with the promise of a resurrected body that will never yield to illness again.

How can we give thanks for such a great Salvation? Are exclamations of praise, and hymns of glory nearly enough? They are surely a part of it if we take our cue from the Psalms which not only teach us the words, but also proclaim the reason for our praise. Or if we read the Revelation of St. John which gives us a glimpse of the worship that takes place in heaven. In chapter seven we find the whole company of heaven, which now includes the thankful Samaritan, falling down before the throne in worship, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen." What is the church’s liturgy except an earthly imitation of heaven, of the most noble activity any man could ever perform? And not only an imitation, but also a rehearsal, preparation for the day when we will be inducted into that white-robed assembly, a day we should not fear but rather anticipate with the greatest possible joy!

But that is then and this is now. How do we give proper thanks today to the Great Physician, who took the leprosy of our sin into His own body on the cross? We ask as much in the Offertory verse, “What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me, who by His sacrament and Word has set His servant’s offspring free?” And we receive the answer to this most urgent question of the soul in the next sentence, “The cup of blessing shall I raise, my vows unto the Lord I’ll pay; offer the sacrifice of praise with all His people on His day! Amen”

How do we give thanks for so great a salvation? Not by giving, but by receiving; by coming to the Lord’s altar, to the Eucharist, a word which means Thanksgiving, so that we might obtain all the blessed benefits that our gracious God chooses to give us in this holy Sacrament: union with the glorified Lord, peace for all of our wars, pardon for all our wrongs and the divine might to turn from the works of the flesh, and to embrace the gifts of the Spirit which are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Alas! how poorly these things are understood in our day, but it need not be this way forever. Instead let us remember this: that as often as the church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist which Jesus gave His church, she is affording Him the highest and holiest thanksgiving that human lips can give. There is nothing higher, nothing better, and like the thankful leper our faith in Jesus makes us well. Amen.


~Rev Dean Kavouras

Friday, November 21, 2014

What does demon possession really look like?

REDEEMABLE

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might remain with Him, but Jesus sent him away, and said to him, "Return to your home and declare the many things that God has done for you."  And he went away then, preaching throughout the whole city all the things that Jesus had done for him.  Luke 8:38-39


THE difference between the demoniac we meet in today's gospel and all other people is a difference of degree, not of kind.  Apart from holy baptism all people are captives of the Tyrant and would have no hope of escape were it not for our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the one who crushed the Serpent's head and set all people free when He suffered death on the cross.  The account we have before us is an extreme one.  Most people who live in the kingdom of darkness are not this tormented.  The demon's name was "Legion," which is a Roman military term for a unit consisting of between three and six thousand soldiers.  It's hard to imagine just how possessed this man must have been.

Most unbelievers live productive lives.  They enjoy earthly blessings and can exercise self-control as well as anyone whenever it suits their purposes, but this raving lunatic was a menace to all.  He had to be chained and shackled lest he harm whoever was unfortunate enough to cross his path.  As often as he broke out of his chains, he fled from the living, preferring to stay among the dead.  For though he was a living and breathing human being he was as good as dead, consigned to a life apart from human society and condemned to suffer eternal fire with the demons who made their home in him.

All of that was about to change.  Jesus was coming to Geresenes!  The moment He got out of the boat the demons recognized him.  They knew that this Man is the Son of the Most High God and they trembled.  How did they know him, and why were they so afraid?  They had met before, long ago, when at God's command Michael and the Holy Angels drove Satan and his demons out of heaven on account of their rebellion.  We don't know much about that event, there are only hazy hints of it in Scripture.  Neither do we know any of the details of their rebellion except to say that it concerned the sin of pride, but whatever it was, their transgression was so bad that they became irredeemable.

What a horrible word!  Irredeemable.  What a horrible thought!

We, on the other hand, are redeemable.  However badly we have rebelled against our Creator and abused His gifts; however grievously we have transgressed His high and holy law, used his sacred name as a curse; made sport of hallowed things, and injured the neighbor He assigns us to love, we are redeemable!  We can confess our sins and be absolved.  We can claim citizenship in the Kingdom of God's own dear Son which He effected in us by holy baptism.  The Holy Spirit still calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us.  He still saves the souls of men and still fills the hearts of God's people with joy that overcomes the world.

Are we that bad off?  Can we go crazy like the demoniac?  Are we capable of the crimes committed by the man on Seymour Avenue?  Are we capable of doing what a 20-year-old man did in a Connecticut elementary school last December?  As Lutherans we understand original sin better than most, how destructive it is, how it corrupts our reason and our desires, so we must answer in the affirmative.  We don't want to think that we are capable of terrible evil, but we are, and if we are honest we will all admit that we have had our moments!

What is the difference, then, between you and the demoniac?  Between you and the most evil person you can think of?  Only three things, dear Christians:  fear of the consequences, good moral training, and the best gift of all, God's Holy Spirit Who makes our bodies His temple.  If we did not fear the consequences there is no telling what we might do to the people who wrong us.  If we did not have good moral training there is no predicting how we might react when people anger us.  Living in the society of other people is like two porcupines living in a shoebox.  What might we do without the power of the Holy Spirit Who is always at work within us to extinguish passion's fire?  Without His steadying influence we would be like the demoniac, or at least like the people who, witnessing this amazing miracle, promptly asked Jesus to leave.  Why?  Because they were afraid of Him, because they loved the darkness more than the light, and unaided by God's Spirit so do we.  But as Scripture says: where sin increased, grace increased all the more, which means that God's mercy always trumps human sin and thank God for that!

Yet, how do we thank Him?  How do we properly praise the one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light?  Should we do as the demoniac-now-set-free?  Should we run from place to place telling everyone we encounter about the great things that God has done for us?  There are those who say that we should, even that we must, but we are not called to be religious fanatics and you should always be cautious of people who wear their religion on their sleeve.*

Our confession of Christ is different than that.  More orderly, but no less powerful, no less true, no less Godly.  We confess Him in the home as we attend to our daily prayers, especially at meal times; and as we teach the faith to our children by word and deed.  We confess Him in the world as we let our light gently shine before men.*  We confess Him in the church as we pray the church's liturgy, sing her glorious hymns and most perfectly when we kneel in humble joy at the altar to receive Jesus Who dispels all of our demons, Who breaks Satan's chains of tyranny with His own flesh, and Who in baptism delivers us from death and the devil and gives eternal life to all who believe.  By God's goodness, we are those people.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

* I would like to clarify when we are in the world living in joyful obedience and gratitude to God that people will notice and we should be prepared to answer if they ask.  In this case, the people who lived in the town of the former demoniac would certainly have recognized him as the one who used to be so tormented and they would have been asking about what happened to him, what changed him.   Pastor is not telling us to keep our mouths shut about our faith, just that we should recognize that you can't plant seed on ground that isn't plowed, the surface is too hard and hostile to receive it.  When someone asks, they may have had their ground plowed, or they may just be trying to trap you with your words, but still, if they ask, we are not to judge.  We may speak then.  Otherwise we are to confess by our actions as he advises above.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Too important to care about those little people over there

SLAYING HUMAN PRIDE

I am crucified with Christ, thus:  it is no long I who live but Christ living in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me, and gave Himself over on my behalf.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:20-21

NATHAN, Jesus and St. Paul all had tough jobs in front of them, the hardest there is, to slay human pride.  Pride can be a good thing if we don't let it get out of hand, but to display it before men draws their envy, and to parade it before God...that is deadly; deadly because no one can be justified before the Great Judge on the basis of his accomplishments.  No one is that good, pious, holy or dedicated.  There is none that is good, no not one.  None, that is, save Jesus alone.

Nathan the prophet, who we met in today's Old Testament lesson, had a demanding task.  He was assigned to cut his monarch down to size.  David had sinned grievously before the Lord.  He got too big for his britches and took what wasn't his to take, another man's wife.  That is a sin that the Lord will always avenge.  Then, to cover his tracks, he did something more treacherous yet, he had her husband murdered.  It just doesn't get much more despicable than that.   

The Lord was angry!  He was livid!  But even then He did not stop loving David, and He won't stop loving you either!  Even so, He did not sweep these sins under the rug.  Instead He sent Nathan to do what is always a dangerous undertaking: to correct a sinner.  One task made more difficult because this sinner was the King who no one dared approach without an invitation and an intermediary if he valued his life.  However, Nathan was no fool.  He did his task in the most intelligent way he could, by telling the king a parable.  We could all learn from him.  We won't repeat the parable here (2 Samuel 11:26-12:14, as above) but only say that Nathan was good enough, and David humble enough to come clean, and to be alarmed over his wrongs.  May we all be so alarmed over ours, and may we also believe the words that the Lord told David through his pastor, "The LORD has put away your sin, you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die."  This was the worst possible news, a child dying for the sins of his father, but in the larger scheme of things, this death also had a bright side.  It was a living prophecy of another Son of David, One Who would be born a thousand years in the future, and Who would redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  Jesus is that Son.  David's Son and David's Lord Who by His sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sins of the world and brings redemption to us all.

St. Paul's job was no easier.  In his epistle he was trying to convince the Galatians that the Gospel he preached, and that they once believed, is the only true gospel there is.  He set out to persuade them that the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation cannot be earned by us, but that they become ours by faith and faith alone; by trust in the Son of God Who loved us and handed Himself over into death on our behalf, Who became our substitute on the cross to answer for our adultery and our sins of murder by His agony.

There is something in our make up -- pride is what it is -- that insists that we are quite capable of mending our own broken fences with God.  After all, isn't this why God provided a list of do's and don'ts, so that by following them faithfully we can obtain His favor?  Or as one neo-evangelical clergyman recently said: so that we can make God happy?  God forbid!  As Nathan had to slay the dragon of human pride in David, St. Paul did the same for the Christians in Galatia, and by his letter which the Holy Spirit preserved for the church, he does the same in us today.  We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that good behavior or personal piety reconciles us to our God.  That can be accomplished by one thing only, by faith; faith in the only object worthy of our confidence, the reigning and returning Lord Jesus Christ.  Neither must we forget His promise that in baptism we are crucified with Christ.  That is Paul's meaning in our text when he says, "I am crucified with Christ," for that is what happens, sacramentally speaking, in baptism.  The Old Man is put to death and we are born anew of water and the Spirit, and therein declared, once and for all, forever and ever, righteous before God.  That is something that you definitely want to be!

Yet if Nathan and St. Paul had tough jobs, our Lord had the hardest of all!  He too combated the pride of the Pharisees, even as He glorified the humility of the sinful woman who literally worshiped at the Lord's feet; feet that would carry the Lord to Calvary, where they would be ruthlessly fastened to the cross with nails, so that the death would be especially slow and agonizing, for that is what our sins merit.

That is why if anyone thinks that he can justify himself, or atone for his own sins, St. Paul clearly states in today's epistle lesson that our Lord was crucified for nothing.  He was not!  He sacrificed His life for lost and condemned creatures who have no other way of salvation, no other way of atonement, no other way to find peace with God.  All this is given to us as a gift in our baptism which, though it takes place only once, its effects last forever.  Baptism is not something we do for God, but something that He does for us.  Let us always remember that.  At the font we become children of God for time and eternity.  We become new people with new hopes, new dreams and new determination to do battle against sin, and to live for our Lord now and always.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our Lord Jesus Christ is real healing for your real pain

THE HEART OF COMPASSION

This work is in the public domain in those countries with a
copyright  term of life of the author plus 90 years or less.
And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." And He came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother. Luke 7:13-16

If you want to excel at baseball keep your eye on the ball; if you want to do well at driving, keep your eye on the road; and if you want to win the final victory over sin, death and the devil then keep your eye on Jesus, by hearing His Word and receiving His sacraments.

There were many people in Nain that day, but none more important than Jesus the merciful and compassionate Lord. Though the God/Man had just healed the Centurion’s son in Capernaum, and made the 20 mile journey to Nain, He wasn’t too tired to help, nor had He exhausted His resources. People on the other hand, even the most generous and best-intentioned, can run out of the time, energy or wherewithal to help us, but not so Jesus. His faithfulness is Great, and His mercies new every morning (Lam. 3:23). He came to the bereaved town, and according to St. Luke, He “entered” its gates.

Jesus is best known for coming when everyone else is going; entering when everyone else is running away. He came to our sinful world in order to exchange His wealth for our poverty, His glory for our shame, His life for our death. He rode into Jerusalem even though He knew there was a price on His head, 30 pieces of silver, but unlike so many meaningless deaths today, the death Jesus suffered eradicated sin and reconciled man to his Maker. He still comes to men today whenever the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered, and He’s slated to return to earth one more time to judge the living and the dead, to open our graves, and to lead us into the Kingdom prepared for us before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). Whatever might be vexing us today Dear Ones, neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Luke the Evangelist also makes note of the fact that Jesus saw the woman’s distress; He sees ours as well. When everyone else is too absorbed in their own lives to take notice of our tears; even when those whose vocation it is to care for us seem to have forgotten we exist, we know that Jesus is aware of our pain and will always answer our cries for help. Our prayer is the same as David’s in the 142nd Psalm, “…there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living." Jesus didn’t merely take notice of the woman’s distress, anyone with eyes could have done that, but He did much more. He also had compassion on her. Not the smothering sentimentality people practice today, nothing is more insidious. It’s the flip side of cruelty. It reduces people to adorable little stuffed animals, and when you do that, the next thing you know you’re sticking pins in them.



Besides His wholesome concern, Jesus also ventured to speak words of comfort to her.  Now it might not sound very compassionate to say to a widow who just lost her only son: stop crying. We might expect such a thing from the cruel world. “Get over it,” they say. “Life goes on, it’s been 6 months already.” “Here’s a list of grief counselors. Why don’t you give one of them a call.” But when Jesus says to stop crying it’s not empty words, nor does He say it because He has nothing better to offer, or because He’s uncomfortable with grief like we are. He says it because He has the power to stop the source of the tears. How often we have stood helpless in the face of death, bereft before the caskets of our loved ones wishing that Jesus would do for us what He did for the widow in Nain. All we can say about that, dear Christians, is that Jesus will. He is the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes in Him will never die (John 11:25ff). The best is yet to come!

What a contrast St. Luke provides for us here. Two only-begotten sons meet; one coming, one going; one who is Life, one who is dead; the unstoppable force of Life encounters the immovable object of Death. Who will win? If Jesus touches the funeral bier with the dead body on board, what will happen? Will Jesus become infected and die? Or will the Life of Jesus transfer to the dead boy so that he will live? The answer is both! Jesus imparted His life to the boy, and pledged to suffer the death due to sinners in his place, even as He has done for all of us.

Though a touch would have been enough, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, did more. He spoke living words to this dead boy: Young Man I say to you, Arise! With those words the young man came back to life, sat up and began to speak. St. Luke doesn’t record what he said, but we can be certain that he spent the rest of his days confessing the power and the love of Jesus who dries the tears mothers cry, and gives life to the dead.

In a final act of mercy Jesus returned the boy to his mother. Her joy was unspeakable, but we must not forget that the reunion was temporary. Some time later both mother and son died, even as we all will, but this reunion was the model for another, later and greater one which our Lord insured by His own resurrection from the dead, the one we still look forward to today.

This is the Christian faith, Beloved. Like the boy of Nain we were all dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). But Jesus came, Jesus saw, and Jesus exchanged His life for our death. It’s the faith that sustained Job in all his troubles; the faith of Olga Frantz who was baptized 120 years ago at Christ Lutheran Church; the faith believed by those from whom we inherited Christ Lutheran Church; and by God’s ongoing compassion, the faith that will continue to be proclaimed and believed here for many years to come. Amen.


~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Will God Indeed Dwell on the Earth?

GOD IS PRESENT


But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built?  1 Kings 8:27

THE hardest thing for a Christian to believe today is that God does indeed dwell on the earth, not just by virtue of his omnipresence, or in our hearts by faith -- those things are true -- but they are not hard to accept.

To believe that Jesus is factually present in the church, in the word and the sacraments, proves too much for us to handle.  When confronted with that fact, sinful nature wakes up from its slumber and frantically douses any sparks of faith that might give us comfort.  It then doubles its efforts to make sure that God is nothing more than a spiritual reality for us, one who sends His best to be sure, but who is separated from us by time and space.

That's the way the old man works and there is nothing we can do with him except declare war against him and put him to death.  This is what Jesus means when he instructs:  if any man would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  St. Paul teaches us the same thing when he says:  make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires...for if you live according to the flesh you will die!

Like Martin Luther (after whom no boulevards are named) we should learn to say whenever we are tempted, or feel weak, afraid or ready to give up, "but I am baptized!"  I belong to Jesus!  I am a new man in Christ, risen from spiritual death, qualified and equipped by God's Spirit to conduct spiritual warfare.

It isn't only sinful nature that makes us doubt our Lord's bodily presence in the Word and Sacraments, but also the persistent influence of Puritanism, which is in the water we drink and the air we breathe.  Many Christians believe that Jesus gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.  They believe in the cross and in the redeeming blood of Christ, but they scorn the delivery system that the Savior established and flatly deny it to their people.  Too many Lutherans, pastor and layman alike, think that these religionists are our friends, and that we have something to learn from them.  We do not.  Neither must we poison our minds by tuning in to their radio stations, their internet sites or by using their deadly devotional literature (such as "Our Daily Bread.")  Instead let us learn once again that God does indeed dwell on the earth, not merely as a notion within our minds, but factually in the Word and the Sacrament.  Whenever we hear God's Word in the church it is Jesus speaking to us.  The lips are those of his designated servant, but the voice is the Lord's own.  This is why pastors wear vestments.  It is not the man who is the center of attention, but Jesus himself, and what God speaks with His mouth he carries out with His hand.  He promised to redeem us from our sins, and he gave Jesus to be our Savior.  "You will call His name Jesus," the angel told St. Joseph, "for He will save His people from their sins."  And what a good thing that is!  Where would we be without the Gospel, without the promise that our sins will not reap the temporal and eternal punishment they deserve, but that God pardons them all, and blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ?

We should never think lightly of God's love for sinners.  God is not a co-dependant who pretends like they never happened, or sweeps them under the rug.  Instead Jesus, who dwelt from eternity in the blessed society of heaven with saints and angels, left His throne to take up residence with sinners on earth.  In answer to Solomon's question:  Does God indeed dwell on earth?  Jesus answers yes!  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  He chose to humble Himself and to assume the form of a slave; to become one with His brothers and to bear human nature with all its weakness, misery, suffering and death.  To be certain, His death was very different from ours, for it is the one, eternal sacrifice that deletes the sin of the world, reconciles us to the Father, and promises endless joy and lasting peace to all who believe.  We are those people!

While many Christians would agree that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, it is in the faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that Jesus still dwells among us; in the Word, as we said above, and in the Sacrament of His body and blood which is the focal point of Christian worship and Christian joy.

John Calvin, the spiritual father of all the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, did not believe that our Lord dwells on earth.  He said of the Sacrament that:  the finite (bread) cannot contain the infinite (Christ).  A very nice proposition, one that the devil happily endorses to be sure, for he fears faith in the Sacrament more than anyone.  You see, the wonder of the Gospel is not just that our Lord dwelled among us once upon a time, but that He still does; that the infinite God-Man graciously does consent to come to us in, with and under the bread and the wine, and to be factually present in the mass so that no matter how troubled we are or how far we have strayed from mercy, we always know where, "to obtain mercy and grace to help in times of need."

We can be certain, just as Solomon's prayer shows us, that what is transacted in the church is transacted in heaven.  When we pray here in God's true temple which is Christ, God hears in heaven and answers.  When we seek remission for our wrongs, God forgives.  When we pray for constancy in our vocation, devotion to duty, and to remain in the one true faith unto life everlasting, the prayer prayed here is heard in heaven and God grants it.  

Now thank we all our God.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The sweet reward for patient faith.

THE DAY IS COMING

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze says the LORD of hosts, so that it it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.   Malachi 4:1-2

As the church year winds down it reminds us that our lives are winding down, and so is the whole cosmos.  It tells us that the day is drawing near when our Lord will hand us the "exceedingly great and precious promises" that we pray for in today's Collect.  But in today's gospel lesson Jesus warns us not to be deceived by the signs of the times.

Why does he say that?  Because He knows how desperate we are to quit the wretched condition of this hopeless world.  He knows that we are easy prey to anyone who promises us deliverance, anyone who says, "I am he," or "the time is at hand."  One of the devil's surest weapons is, as we sing in the hymn "deep guile."  He is pure deception, pure evil and there is no goodness in him.  He has only one desire: that you should share in his everlasting misery in the Lake of Fire.  To this end he is at work day and night convincing all men, Christians included, that they can find "happy ever after" by pursuing the things that God forbids in the Commandments.

Now the devil does not need to get his hands dirty in the process, for he has a large contingent of evil angels who prowl about like roaring lions, seeking someone to devour.  St. Peter fortifies us with this word, "resist him standing steadfast in the faith."  That means to do exactly what you are doing now; to run with all due haste to God's house where you obtain the only help there is for such a struggle as this.

He also has his minions in the world.  Malachi calls them arrogant, evil-doers.  Who are they?  They are the ones who reject Christ crucified and who would deceive you into doing the same.  They are found in government, entertainment, education, fashion, industry...and in churches too.  They write books for teens, produce pornography for the Internet and create products that promise you heaven on earth...if only you will fall down and worship them.  They are the ones who turn fathers from their children -- a plague that has reached epidemic proportions in our day.

But Malachi bolsters us with his prophecy.  He refuels us and prepares us for the battle of the seven days ahead until we will meet here again with Jesus to be cleansed by the Word He speaks to us, and he reminds us of a future day when the Lord will appear, in recognizable form by every eye, in order to set right all that is wrong, to burn up the arrogant, and evildoers like stubble 'til there is nothing left of them, neither root nor branch, top or bottom.

Malachi's prophecy was first fulfilled by the Lord's death on the cross.  The burning wrath that Jesus suffered is God's judgment against sin!  Yes, the cross means our salvation, but we must not forget that first it is judgment with extreme prejudice.  It is the retribution that all people merit for their wrongs.  We are those people.

Among the most mis-understood words of Scripture are the Lord's so-called "end time prophecies" that we heard in today's gospel reading, but we should learn today that the things Jesus says there are first a prediction of His passion and death which was only now days away.  It is the Desolation He speaks of, for no greater crime ever was committed than for sinful men to crucify the Lord of Glory.  No greater assize ever convened, or terrible sentence ever passed.

It is His death that quaked the earth!  His death that set kingdom against kingdom: Christ's against Satan's.  His crucifixion that darkened the sun, moon and stars so that blackness covered the whole earth for three hours, so that no human eye should behold the appalling transaction now taking place, the awful cost paid by One Man to make many righteous and loose them from Satan's death grip.  It is not without reason that Jesus tells His hearers to flee the scene, and to ask the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the wrath that is to be revealed on Calvary.

Do you think of Christ but lightly, a Savior for others, but not for you?  God forbid.  For since the Lord's death God no longer judges men on the basis of their deeds, but on the basis of their believing, or their refusal of the same.  St. John writes, Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  Thank God that we do believe with Spirit-born faith and are no longer under condemnation!

Malachi's words have two other applications as well.  The immediate one is the Eucharist which is not only salvation but also judgment:  Judgement against the unbelieving world, condemnation against those who scorn the Lord's body and blood, then and now, and against any who dare to receive the holy sacrament without repentance, and without faith in these words given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  But for those whose confidence is in the cross, whose hope is in Jesus and not in their own righteousness, it is the remission of sins, life and salvation!  Remember those words, dear Christians!  Remember them for your daily struggle with sin, with sorrow and with suffering, and for your last hour, for none will be more precious then!

The prophet's words do also speak of the Last Days of the cosmos when the Sun of Righteousness will arrive with healing on His wings, to obliterate every enemy that can now hurt you, and to eradicate all who will not avow Jesus as Lord.  It is then that the last words of the prophet will come true, that we, filled with unending joy and overflowing gladness, will go out leaping like calves freed from their stall.

Come quickly Lord Jesus.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Are we comfortable in our sin?

DO YOU WANT TO BE HEALED?

When Jesus saw him lying there, He knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be healed?"  John 5:6

What a question the Lord asked the man that day, "Do you want to be healed?"  The answer is obvious, isn't it?  Maybe not as apparent as we think.  After all the Lord is no fool, He had a reason for asking.  Sometimes people get used to being sick, it becomes their way of life, all of their assumptions are built around their condition.   After 38 years a person may grow used to the attention, used to the pity, it is who he is, what he knows and a change may not be as welcome as it seems.  For many today, in our warped and twisted society, disability means free money, and there is no stronger or more addictive drug than that.  Therefore the Lord's question, "Do you want to be healed?" makes more sense than we might think. 

This is certainly true of spiritual healing.  We are born of sinful parents and come from the womb, not innocent as everyone assumes, but stained with the sin of Adam.  We are not neutral about transgressing the desires of our God, but rather we are born on the wrong side of the fence and the grass does not look greener on the other side.  For that to happen we must first enter the pool, not the pool of Bethesda, but of baptism.

It is probably safe to say that  most people would like to be delivered from their afflictions: to be saved from spending their sparse resources on doctors, medical tests, surgeries, pharmaceuticals and insurance premiums.  They long to be released, and to live their lives free of care, and free of pain.  It is no idle saying that: when you've got your health you've got just about everything.  Indeed, health has become the rage of the age.  There is a pill or a treatment or a preventative regimen for everything.  Ten thousand Internet sites have the answer to whatever ails you, and if only you will believe, if only you will send in your money, you too can live happily ever after dot com!

No, the Lord did not ask a strange question.  The man certainly wanted to be free of his condition, as did the other people who came to what must have been the Lourdes of the day, but the Great Physician's question goes deeper than that.  This man wanted to be free from the symptom, but Jesus came to cure the disease.  Why was this man sick?  Why are you sick?  Why do we succumb to the things that we do?  Why did a 43 year old man stand on the crest of the roof of his house on Storer Avenue last week raging at the world, howling at the moon, and threatening to end it all?  It is because of the disease at the heart of it all, the spiritual sickness, the deadliest disorder of all, our own transgressions.

Now you may think of sin as something theoretical, the crossing of an invisible boundary put in place by an imaginary God.  You may say:  those rules may be true for you, but don't impose your morality on me.  Fair enough, but if sin is only a construct, and the ten commandments only the invention of ancient men to make us behave better, not carved in stone, but as easily deletable as the pixels on your computer screen, then why do people suffer and why do they die?  Why, in their very rare sober moments, when all earthly props, earthly intoxicants and earthly diversions give way, why do they justify themselves and assess "I am a good person."  "I have lived a good life?"  What does it matter if there is no sin, no God, no objective, divine, timeless and universal standard bigger than we can understand?  And why are they afraid of God, afraid of death, and plagued by regret and anxiety?

But let us not over analyze, for no one can understand these things apart from the Spirit of God who is given to us as a baptismal gift; the One who enlightens us, gives us repentance, faith, self-control and all of His virtues, and who will raise us up, as on eagle's wings on the last day, for St. Paul writes, "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies..."

It is true that, "No one can say that Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit," but with the Spirit we are able to see what human eyes will not, and what human hearts cannot, namely that Jesus doesn't only cure disease but that He Himself is the cure!  His blood, shed on the cross and applied to us in baptism -- and factually received by our mortal flesh in the Eucharist -- cures the disease and gives us life in a world without end, but what is that life?  For that we must turn to the Revelation of St. John.  This book is not the sci-fi adventure that radio preachers claim it to be.  It is, instead, the vision God gave to St. John as he celebrated the Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day while suffering exile in the gulag called Patmos on account of his faith in Jesus.  Even under those circumstances, perhaps because of those circumstances, God gave him eyes to see what sin's cure really means.  What wondrous health and well-being we are given as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, whatever we might look like now:  scarred, crippled, weakened by illness, marred by the ravages of sin both within and without.

Whatever the medical images might show there is something that they cannot see, that we are dazzling saints in the most important eyes of all, the eyes of Him who washed us clean from all sin in the pool of Holy Baptism.  We are the glorious Bride of Christ whose radiance is like the most rare of all jewels, bound for the place where no lamp or sun is needed for the Lord Himself will shine His living light upon us.  That's what Jesus does for all who are sick unto death with sin.  He makes them well, makes them holy -- like Himself -- by His blood, by His Word, by His Sacraments.   Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, November 10, 2014

Who is footing the bill for your paradise?

WHERE IS YOUR HEAVEN?


Public Domain

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without cost.  Revelation 21:6

IT is hard to think straight.  It is hard to understand the sparkling message of the gospel because of all the devil's lies that float through the air and take up residence in our minds, spoiling the perfect vision of our Christ, and of the life He promises to give us.  That is why it is worth the effort to come to God's house where we clear our heads, because there is nothing greater that a person can possess than God's promise of everlasting Life.

What we learn from our Scripture verse today is that people are thirsty.  We are thirsty but we don't always know it because we quench our thirst with the devil's Kool Aid, and for a moment it seems to satisfy us, but only for a moment because, like drinking sea water, the more you drink the thirstier you get.  Jesus knows this.  It is why He came to live with us, to be our Savior, to willingly suffer and to sacrifice His life as the remedy for our sins.  It is why He gave us His Spirit, His church, His Word and His Sacraments: to answer our crying need and to quench our thirst for righteousness which can be satisfied in no other way.

There should be no doubt in our minds that Jesus is the Fountain of the water of Life.  David knew it a thousand years before Messiah's birth.  With the eye of faith he could say of Jesus, "For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light."  He understood that Jesus is Life and that Jesus is Light, not just for a select few, but for all who thirst in sin's arid desert.  In the church's earlier century baptism was often known as "enlightenment," which is a good name because it doesn't only give us spiritual birth, but also spiritual vision to see what the eyes in our heads cannot.

Yes, it is hard to see straight.  This is why we worship, because the church's liturgy untangles the world's liturgy, and fills us with life and light.  But perhaps the most confusing word the Lord speaks here is the phrase without cost.  That one really throws us.  We all know, or at least should know, that nothing in the world is free.  It may be free to one person, but only at the expense of another.  Whenever any person gets paid without working, another person must work without getting paid, but that is not how the world is meant to operate.

There are plenty of people who would tell you otherwise, and they will prove it to you if only you will vote for them.  If only you will send them your money, if only you will surrender your liberty to them.  They are found everywhere: in education, entertainment, business and technology.  They abound in false religions and are well represented in the  many defective brands of the Christian religion as well.  They all promise you the same thing: heaven on earth.  Don't forget that because THAT is how you can always spot them, and you will save yourself a lot of pain and a lot of sorrow if you remember that one thing.

However badly we want to believe them and to hope and pray that they are right, there is no heaven on earth!  But there is heaven in heaven!  It comes from Jesus, who is the fountain of life.  His cross and resurrection are the unshakable foundation on which the new heaven and new earth are built, but nothing is free, not even our salvation.  It is given to us freely, yes, but that is different.  That is the gospel.  In a word that God freely gives us an inheritance that we do not merit and that we could never obtain for ourselves, but salvation was not free.

In order to delete the sins of the world Jesus had to go where no man could go, and do what no man could do.  He told the disciples on that dark and doleful night that He was going away for "a little while."  He was going away to take care of His Father's business, to provide redemption for a lost world and for the rebels that inhabit it.  In human terms it was "a little while;" three days, but no person can rightly estimate what occurred in that period of time.    Yes, salvation is given to us freely, as a mother gives milk to her infant, and as a father gives good gifts to his children, but it was not free to Jesus.  He went to Gethsemane where He sweat great drops of blood, where His soul was sorrowful to the point of death, where He prayed to God that if there were another way - any other way - that the cup of our sins which He was about to drink, should pass from Him.

But there was no other way, so Jesus drank it to the bitter end, to quench sin's judgment and to make all things new.  Now that is what we must remember and look forward to most of all; not the false promises of heaven on earth, but the renewing and restoring of all things in Christ, to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Now we have sorrow, but we will see Jesus again, and our sorrow will be turned to joy.

Even though there is no heaven on earth, we do get a taste of the future blessedness now.  As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord's redeeming death, which imparts every spiritual blessing to us until He comes again.  As often as we remember our baptism as we do at the invocation, as often as we hear the words of absolution which purify us from the daily soil of life, as often as we hear God speak to us in the Scriptures and pray to the Father for all that we need in Jesus name, in short, as often as we come to God's house we are drinking deeply from the springs of the water of life, and our thirst is satisfied.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras


Friday, November 7, 2014

What more could we want?

WHEN THE SHEPHERD SAVES

My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  John 10:27ff

THE Bible uses many metaphors to describe our relationship to God, but the picture of Jesus as our Shepherd has always been a favorite, not only for those who know the pastoral life, but even in the concrete jungle people understand this picture and love to think of themselves as sheep with Jesus as their shepherd.  Why shouldn't they?  Anyone who hopes in Christ knows that He does all the things for us that shepherds do for their sheep.

Like David, we know that with Jesus as our shepherd we will never be in want.  We believe that in Christ, God will supply all the things that we need for both body and soul.  He gives us rest in the green pastures of His love, He leads us to the still waters of His grace and He restores our bruised and wounded souls with the inexhaustible riches of His mercy.

However, these benefits are not mere metaphors.  They are grounded in the reality of baptism.  Here the living word of God is spoken over us to sanctify us and make us God's own children.  Living water is applied to our mortal flesh which, according to the Lord's own promise, forgives our sins and makes us fit to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, for nothing unholy can enter there.  We also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism so that we are able to see what the Jews in our gospel lesson could not; that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the Shepherd of Israel who is enthroned between the cherubim, who leads Joseph as His flock. (Psalm 80)

Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but that is not all He is.  Scripture also casts  Him as the Lamb; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the Lamb who sits on heaven's throne to be worshiped now in the church and for all eternity in a world without end.

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is our mighty defender who did battle against the devil at every turn.  He conquered him in the wilderness showing Himself to be the stronger man; and as a matter of course set helpless people free from Satan's deadly grasp whenever He encountered them in His earthly ministry.  He does the same today whenever any person believes and is baptized into the strong name of the Trinity, but when the time was right, when all things were fulfilled, the shepherd became the sheep.  He became the Lamb of God who by His suffering and death expunged the sin of the world.  He ended the human/divine conflict that began in Eden.  He brought a screeching halt to the world's enmity, to man's cruelty to man, by establishing a new and holy law that taught the world a new and wondrous way to live:  that we love one another as He loved us.  When the Lamb of God died, Satan's kingdom crumbled, and when He rose again on the third day the grave lost its victory and death lost its sting.

Yet for all the similarities between our Lord and the near eastern shepherd, there is one big difference.  Shepherds did what they did for a living.  However sentimental or solicitous they were of their sheep, they were, in the end, protecting their investment.  They sold the much coveted wool for money, and when a sheep could no longer produce it became lunch.  Not so with Jesus, quite the opposite!  He takes nothing from us except our curse and gives everything to us: His glory and His righteousness.  He gave His life for ours, and established the holy supper so that the sheep might feed on the shepherd until we reach the goal we hear of in today's first lesson.  The people described there from every nation, tribe, language and people, are seen in St. John's vision wearing robes that were made white in the blood of the Lamb.  They are the ones who passed through the Great Tribulation and dwell safely in the shelter of the Lord their God forever and ever.

We have the same promise of safety even now.  The One to whom all heaven ascribes all power and might tells us here that no one can snatch us out of His hand or out of His Father's omnipotent hand.  That is a promise you can rely on at all times and in all places.  As Luther writes in his Christmas hymn, "Christ is your brother you are safe," but unlike those saints in glory who have gone on ahead of us, we are still in the midst of the Great Tribulation.  We still need to contend with temptation, sin, guilt and shame; with the lingering consequences of our sins and the collective sin of those around us.  It is still our calling each day to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow our Lord in the paths of righteousness, then on the appointed day to pass through the greatest tribulation of all.

Where do we obtain the supernatural strength needed for this task?  Only from the supernatural food which the Lord Himself prepares for us in the holy supper.  This is the table David predicted in the Psalm , set before us in the presence of our enemies, the feast given to fortify us against sin and death and propel us heavenward.  Here we receive all that we need to pass through the great tribulation and to attain our destination where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras