Monday, November 30, 2015

Do You Gladly Accept God's Good Gifts While Rejecting His Perfect One?


Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:16-17

THERE is a great deal of confusion in the world about its Creator. There is more bad information than good, more false beliefs than true, and a lot of desperate hopes as well. Where does it all come from? The bad information comes from hearts blinded by sin, and the desperate hopes are born of fear regarding the One who fathered the heavenly lights. How could it be otherwise? Those are breathtaking credentials, and all we can hope is that Anyone so great will choose to be merciful to insignificant creatures like us. The state of confusion wouldn’t be so bad either, except that we are too busy talking, too engaged in pronouncing opinions and declaring philosophies about matters we are not qualified to judge. On the other hand we are too slow to hear, too slow to devote ourselves to the careful investigation of holy scripture, which is the true revelation of God that gives us new birth, heavenly Light, and which is able to save our souls. So when St. James informs us that the Almighty is good, the giver of good gifts, and that His unchangeable disposition is to be gracious to sinful men it is a most welcome message indeed!

James’ first concern is that his beloved brethren in Christ should not be deceived in this matter, but deception regarding the truth about God is legendary. It comes from the world as the blind attempt to lead the blind, from the devil who is the father of lies, from the human heart which is lost in a maze of falsehood, and from dysfunctional religions which lead men to believe in their own righteousness apart from Christ, which is impossible!

James’ second concern is to let us know that there are two kinds of gifts that God gives: good ones, and Perfect ones. Good gifts are the things we Confess in the first article of the Creed when we say: I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. These are the good favors God gives us, along with the Holy Spirit who enables us to recognize their source, be grateful for them, and respond to them in kind by forsaking anger, moral filth and the rampant wickedness of the world.

Why are these gifts called good? They are good because God is good and a good tree can only produce good fruit. “O give thanks unto the LORD for He is good and His mercy endures forever.” Arrogant skeptics loudly dispute this fact, but they argue from ignorance because they don’t understand what is truly good as God does. Impressed with their own arguments, they are like the fly that lands on the axle of the chariot wheel and says "What a lot of dust I raise!" They are called good because we need them to live and because they make life in this valley of tears bearable, and to a greater or lesser extent even joyful. But they are not perfect because none of them can fully satisfy us. We cannot eat once and never get hungry again; or sleep once and never get tired again. Nor can anything we obtain in this life give us the permanent rest and satisfaction the human heart desires more than any other thing! Every single thing we attain, however sweet we think it will make our lives, soon loses its appeal and we want something more, or something different. Do not be surprised by that dear Christians. It is one more symptom of the sin virus that yet dwells within us, but it is a temptation we should resist with all our might by praying for a thankful spirit, and by taking St. Paul’s axiom to heart that: godliness with contentment is great gain!
(1 Timothy 6:6)

God gives us many good gifts, but only one perfect one: new birth into eternal life by the word of God. This gift is called Perfect because unlike the Good ones which are only for this life, this one makes us complete and promises us the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at God’s right Hand. (Psalm 16:11) When St. James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, employs the word Perfect he uses a word that is packed with theological meaning. It is a synonym for holiness which we attain by faith in Jesus Christ. Noah was such a man, who was justified by faith in the coming Christ and declared in holy scripture to be “Perfect in His generation.” The lamb which the LORD commanded to be slaughtered and eaten for the Passover sacrifice (a prophecy of holy communion) had to be perfect because it looked forward to the One who is perfect in every way, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who by His death on the cross takes away the sin of the world, and gives us Light that no darkness can overcome.

Though our Old Man will remain corrupt for as long as we live, the New Man we receive in the New Birth of baptism is made perfect by the word of Christ: Be therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is Perfect. And those who are perfected by faith in Christ are urged by St. Paul to no longer be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. We are those people, perfect now by faith, but the day is rapidly approaching when we will attain to the full measure of the stature of Christ, when our joy will be full, and when we will most surely sing a new song with a new voice to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. When that day dawns and the perfect comes, all that which is partial will pass away and we will be made perfect and wanting nothing, as we experience the fullness of God’s perfect love which casts out all fear. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tired of Fighting the Unbelieving World? We Still Have Reason to Rejoice

REJOICE O GENTILES, with His people

Advent is a season to rejoice. We no longer have to rejoice with God’s people like the believing Gentiles did in past ages, because in Christ we are God’s people! By faith in His name we are children of Abraham and heirs to all the promises and comfort the Scriptures give. (Gal. 3:7) And that’s no small amount dear Christians. The Word of God we confess has sustained people throughout the long night of sadness; and will continue to do so until the end of the age and beyond, because like God Himself the Word is eternal.

Before we can rejoice, however, we first have to repent. Advent helps us do that. It’s a season dedicated to knowing and confessing our sins. As Christians we know that our wrongs were pardoned on the cross, but we must never think of them lightly. Sin robs us of joy. It’s the cause of the enmity that exists between fathers and sons, and sons and fathers. Sin kills! And except for the healing death of Jesus on the wings of the cross, the Day of the Lord that Malachi predicts would be a Day of Wrath. But in Christ it will be a Day of peace and joy for us.

We don’t like to think about sin. Those who don’t know how it is forgiven, by faith in the blood of Christ, must deny it, minimize it or otherwise make it disappear. Sad to say even many churches have banished the dreaded “S” word from their vocabulary. They’ve replaced that “black sheep” of theological terms with the word: brokenness. We’re not sinners, they say, but broken. Like a car. Or a window. One that can be repaired and then it will work again. If only it were that easy.

Yes, before we can rejoice we must first regret, and so the church’s color for Advent is purple. Scripture doesn’t command us to use that color but the church has always done so with good reason. Purple is the color of the God-Man Jesus Christ who came into the world to suffer for sin. When God gave His Old Testament church instructions to build a tabernacle in the wilderness the color scheme commanded over and over again, was blue, purple and scarlet in that order. Why? Because Blue is the color of the heavens and therefore of God; and Scarlet (red) is the color of the ground and therefore of Man who was made from the dust of the ground. When you combine those two colors, as happened when God assumed human flesh, you get Purple. So Purple is both the Old Testament and New Testament color for Jesus who became incarnate to reconcile Heaven and Earth, God and Man, by His blood on the cross. It was no coincidence that Jesus was dressed in a purple robe before His death. His tormenters were unknowingly proclaiming that Jesus is True God and True Man come to earth to suffer for our sins.

Advent is a season of rejoicing as well because in it we contemplate the coming Christ, and the end of all our sorrows. Before Jesus was born, the promise of the coming Christ kept God’s people alive, alert and filled them with all joy and peace in believing (15:13). Through the dark night of sin the Scriptures were preached, taught, prayed and sung even as they are today. The Word consoled God’s people in all the mortal anguish they suffered both personally and nationally as the Lord’s Suffering Servant.

God’s Old Testament church looked forward, but we are different. We have a dual focus. We look back to the promise of God that was fulfilled so wondrously in our Lord’s incarnation. But we also look forward to His Second and Final coming. Jesus tells us that the last days, which began with His birth (Heb. 1:2), will be a time of great distress for the world and its people. Truer words were never spoken! In today’s Gospel lesson He teaches that men will stare in stunned confusion as they behold history’s final events. They won’t know what to make of the signs that will be evident in the earth and in the heavens above. But He also tells us that when we see these things happening, when we see the distress of nations that perplex everyone else, that we should stand tall! Stand tall and lift up our heads because they mean that the Day of our Redemption is drawing near.

Along with this Gospel assurance, our Lord also speaks a word of warning, like Malachi does in the very last sentence of the Old Testament Scriptures. He does so because, like the unbelieving world, we too can get weary of waiting, weary in well-doing. We forget to pray. Forget to trust. And just like the children of wrath we want to salve our present pain and future fears by intoxicating ourselves into oblivion. It’s all the rage. It’s how the world deals with spiritual angst. It should come as no surprise, because those who don’t have the instruction, endurance or consolation of the Scriptures have no other defense. Life hurts too much and men can only tolerate uncertainty for so long.

So Paul prays that God would endow His people with endurance, consolation and with a united heart and voice. We need endurance because we’re not allowed to quit. We’re not allowed to throw in the towel. Yes we’ve been shot by the devil’s fiery darts. Everyone’s been shot. But God’s Word, in ways we don’t even understand most of the time, gives us endurance. It gives us fortitude to continue in faith, hope and love and to do the work He gave us to do while it is day, “before the night cometh when no man can work.” (John 9:4)

We need consolation too, and we get it from the Scriptures, but the Scriptures don’t come to us naked. They come to us in the context of the church’s worship, where Jesus comes to us with healing in His wings by the appointed means of the Word and Sacrament. We come on empty but we leave on full, consoled by the forgiveness of our many, repetitive, repulsive sins and renewed by the word and promises of God.

Christian worship is the occasion where the words of our text, “Rejoice O Gentiles with His people” come to pass most perfectly. It’s the place where: with one heart and one voice we glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:13) We do that inwardly by faith, but outwardly as well by hearing the same Scriptures and praying the same prayers. It’s pre-written, canned, planned and engineered. Because short of a Script, one we believe with all our hearts, Christians will have no united voice of praise on earth. But we must, because the Mass is among other things, a rehearsal for heaven where there’s also a Script we will follow and believe unceasingly with all our whole mind and heart.

Rejoice O Gentiles with God’s people. We are God’s people. We were made so by the wings of the Cross of our Lord, who gives us endurance, consolation, and unity, so that with one heart and voice we can ever praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Living Through a Faithful Engagement


Watch therefore because you do not know the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13

TODAY is not the last Sunday of the calendar year but it is the last Sunday of the Church Year, and that reminds us once again that we who follow Christ are out of step with the world around us. Not only do we keep track of time differently but everything about us is different. The contrast between Christians and non-Christians is not always visible to the naked eye. On the surface we look the same as other people, we suffer the same trials and fall into the same temptations, but we are different, O Wise Virgins, because in our baptism we were married to the magnificent bridegroom Jesus Christ who has purified us from our sins, and will return to take us to the everlasting wedding hall.

The first century wedding customs we read about in this parable are not readily understood today, but let it suffice to say that in the parable Christ is the bridegroom and we are the virgins. The sleep is the long wait for our Lord’s second coming; the lamps represent our faith; and the oil is the Gospel which keeps faith alive. There are several important points in today’s unusual parable, but today we’ll only speak about two of them: the long wait for the Lord’s return, and keeping faith alive 'til that time.

From the church’s earliest history misguided Christians, anxious for relief from their earthly burdens, or sometimes just for their own gain, have tried to predict the end of the world. Please don’t pay any attention to such messengers because they don’t know what they’re talking about. That said, however, let us remember every emergency, every war and every rumor of war should turn our eyes heavenward. In
verse 13 the Lord commands us to "Watch… because we do not know the day nor the hour." But that “watching” doesn’t consist of trying to predict the un-predictable, and the world is not going to end in 2012. Instead the Lord’s warning is yet one more reminder to repent of our sins, and put on the helmet of salvation, because only the Gospel can afford us the hope and patience we need to navigate the storms that life brings.

Not only is there a long time between our Lord’s first coming and His second; there’s also a long wait between our marriage to Christ which takes place in Baptism and the day our eyelids close in death. Those years are marked by trouble, as we daily groan beneath the assaults of sin and of death and of the devil. St. Paul writes in
1 Cor. 10:13 that no temptation has seized you except the kind that is common to man. Is your life filled with hardship? Do you cry yourself to sleep each night? Are you afraid of the unknown future? Are you astounded by the addictive influence that sin exerts in your life in spite of your best intentions, prayers, hopes and struggles to the contrary? You’re not alone. This is what it’s like to live in a world which has divorced itself from the Almighty. St. Peter tells us in his first epistle (4:12-13) that we should not be surprised at the painful trials we are suffering as though something unusual or out of the ordinary were happening to us, but in this same letter he also makes this tremendous Gospel promise, that Christians throughout the world undergo the same kind of sufferings, and that the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory in Christ, after we have suffered a little while, will Himself restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. (5:10)

What can bring us peace during this ongoing war of our souls? What can shield us from death, refresh us when weary, and heal the wounds we invariably sustain as we wait for our Lord to return? Only the oil of God’s Word. The second thing this parable teaches is that, like the five wise virgins, we must keep faith alive '
til Christ returns. Let me remind you, Beloved, that we are sitting here today, inheritors of every grace and blessing in Christ, at peace with God, and calm in the face of deepest trouble, because our fathers in the faith took this charge seriously. Through struggles and sacrifices they contended for the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3) and delivered the life-giving Gospel to us in its truth and purity. Because of this we have the Words of Eternal Life. We have the Bible which is the word of God to us and for us. We have the creeds and confessions of the church catholic which give us the correct, that is to say the Christ-centered, explanation of what the Bible means. We have the Sacraments which begin Christian faith within us and nourish it through the long night of waiting. We have hymns which proclaim the Gospel, teach the faith, comfort us when troubled, and help us to pray, praise and give thanks. And we have the sacred ordinances of God’s House which faithfully transmit the Bridegroom’s words love and faithfulness to us in a decent, orderly and most beautiful fashion. All this has been done for us and now it is our job to do it for future generations. Our children need Christ. Our grandchildren need Christ. Generations in the distant future, whatever else they might need to survive in such a world such as we can’t even imagine, they too will need to know the old, old story of Jesus and His love. How do we keep our lamps lit? Faith is kept alive according to Article V of the Augsburg Confession by the Gospel and the Sacraments. These are the “oil” that we never want to run short on. Through these simple but powerful channels: preaching, water, bread and wine, the Holy Spirit works faith when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.

Is it any wonder then that throughout the long night of waiting faithful Christians have committed the Gospel to song? So that whether healthy or sick, troubled or happy, in want or prosperity, whether blessed with every good gift or stripped of every earthly prop they could always remember the Bridegroom who loves them and who will usher them into the wedding hall? There is no adequate way to communicate the immensity of this proposition by words alone – that sinners are made spotless by the death of Christ, and brought into a marital relationship with this King of kings. But music can adequately tell the story and stimulate the healthy emotions which attend such glorious concepts as the Christian faith holds. Each time we sing “Wake awake for night is flying” we are graciously invited by the Word of God to remain alert as we wait for the Lord to call us home, to avoid the many false Christ’s who regularly make their grand appearances in our lives, to look forward to our heavenly home, whose twelve gates are each carved of a single pearl, and to sing eternal praise and non-ending songs of glory to the bridegroom, who by His death and resurrection on our behalf has made us His bride. It’s a marriage which will endure for eternity.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, November 20, 2015

Are we making a display of OUR piety rather than actually loving people?


And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zechariah 7:8-10

IT'S hard to be a Christian! On the one hand it is our duty to love God with our whole heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves – which is immensely, but those little words “love God” include a whole corpus of spiritual duty; a commitment to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ by immersing ourselves in the church’s worship, prayer, personal devotion and by taking advantage of the church’s teaching ministry – which for Christ Lutheran Church consists of catechism class, choir and the Sunday morning study of Scripture. Furthermore the words “love your neighbor as yourself” contain yet another large obligation, arguably more difficult than the first, because it is easier loving God whom we cannot see than our brother with his many glaring faults.

It is hard to be a Christian because the devil, world and Flesh put up stiff resistance which wears us down. It’s also hard because we don’t want to become Pietists in the process. We don’t want to wear our religion on our sleeve, so to speak, because while many think that obvious displays of religion make the love of God attractive, it usually has the opposite effect. This is why Jesus tells us that when we pray we should do so in secret, when we fast we should do so with a happy face so that no one would ever suspect, and when we give alms that we should do so with such discretion that not even our right hand is aware of what our left hand is doing.

With ditches on the left and ditches on the right how ever do we stay on track? It is impossible, of course, apart from God’s Word, so Zechariah’s message is just as important for us now as it was to the Old Testament church 26 centuries ago. In the year 538 BC God’s people were released from Babylon where they had been held captive for 70 years. They were set free and encouraged by King Cyrus of Persia to return to Israel and to rebuild their beloved temple. Church history tells us that he even gave them funds to get the project started, and a letter of authorization in case any local rulers objected. God richly blessed His people through Cyrus and those early days of liberty seemed more like a dream than reality. Their energy was boundless and they felt equal to any task, but as time went on they met defiant opposition from the people who occupied the land and their enthusiasm soon began to wane. They finished the temple’s foundation, but that’s as far as they got. The work ceased and for many years nothing more was done.

They developed a national case of lethargy that they could not shake, so God sent Zechariah to encourage them, and to complete the building of the temple. It would now be more important than ever because the age of prophecy was coming to a close and the temple would have to carry God’s people. It would once again be the place where God dispensed the remission of sins, life and salvation to His people until the birth of Christ, the true Temple of God, which was “destroyed” on the cross and raised again on the third day.

The opposition wasn’t their only distraction. When they lost sight of the temple and the grace that it conferred, they lost their virtue as well because faith and works always go together. Getting stuck on minor points, they wanted Zechariah to instruct them in the proper rules for fasting, a sure sign that their religion was dying. Zechariah had to remind them that the temple was most important because it conferred God’s grace to sinners, because its rituals, teachings and sacrifices looked forward to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world and restore us to righteousness before God by faith. What was true then is still so today, we cannot fight the good fight unless we are strong in faith; unless we are refreshed and renewed by the blessings that the church imparts in Christian worship.

Since faith must always be active in love, Christians still need to hear Zechariah’s admonition, “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” These are the meat of Christian faith. These are the activities that best display who Christ is and what He does for us. These are the desirable qualities that make the love of God attractive to the world.

God does not care if we fast or not. He does not care if we take all our meals at McDonald’s or if we are Vegans, because the Kingdom of God is not about meat and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17). Instead, God wants our lives to center on Christ our King who came to us in the weakness of human flesh, and who rode into Jerusalem, humbly, on a donkey, in order to meet with certain death, just as Zechariah predicted that He would. It is about the triumph over sin and the victory over death that He won for us by dying and rising again. It is about the blood of the covenant which sets us free from the waterless pit and makes us instruments of God’s peace, Good Samaritans who are always ready to: render true judgments in a world of lies, show kindness and mercy in a cold and cruel world and to do good to those who are most helpless.

No it is not easy to be a Christian, to stay focused, strong and virtuous, but we have God’s Word to keep us on track, to teach us, fortify us, forgive us and fill us with joy and hope in believing, to instruct us as to what is important and to see us through to the end. As St. Paul reminds us: He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God grant it. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, November 16, 2015

God doesn't need anything from us.


What shall I offer to the LORD for all His benefits to me?  I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.  I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.  Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.  Psalm 116:12-15

THAT question, "What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me,"  is a question born of faith; a question that springs from the soul that has been redeemed by Jesus.

The question itself makes sense to any reasonable person.  When someone saves you from great harm, or does you a great deal of good, it is natural to ask:  what can I do in return, how can I express my thanks?  But God needs nothing from us!

Yet there is an answer to the question, and David who asks it teaches us the answer, "I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD."  Such an answer, dear Christians, is only known to those who have the mind of Christ; those who are baptized and catechized by the Word of God.  You are those people.

If we were to reduce the answer to a single word it would be faith.  Our Lutheran confessions teach this over and over; that faith is the highest form of worship there is.  The confessors did not invent this answer or pull it out of thin air as some seem to do, but it is the steady teaching of God's Word.  Holy Scripture says that, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  In the 106th Psalm we learn that Israel, "believed God's Word and sang His praises."  And in the Book of Jonah we find that the people of Nineveh, "believed Jonah's divine message and repented of their sins."  This is the faith that causes all of heaven to resound with joy and is the highest form of praise there is.

The faith we are referring to is not humanly generated faith, neither is it attached to the things that people normally award their trust to: other people, human institutions or so-called march of human progress.  Rather it is faith gifted in baptism that is anchored in the death and resurrection of Christ; God's own sacrifice complete, that frees us from our sins and delivers us from death and the devil.  There is no greater good, no greater salvation, and no better honor of God than to believe the Gospel with all your heart.

That being the case it is no mistake that the church has always connected this Psalm with the Lord's Supper.  It is quite possible that the Lord and His disciples sang these very words as part of the Passover they celebrated on the night in which our Lord instituted the Cup of the New Testament in His blood!  It is the cup that our Lord first drank by His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death; a cup so appalling that even the Son of God recoiled from it, praying that, if it were possible, if there were any other way, that this dreadful cup should pass from Him, but there was no alternative; no other way to balance the cosmic books, to right all that our trespasses make wrong, or to release us from the servitude we so happily sell ourselves into as often as we cater to our broken desires.  The Lord delivered Himself into evil, in order to deliver us from it, and delivered we are because the cup our Lord gives us to drink in holy communion is drained of all bitterness and "runneth over" with health and salvation.

That said, we should also know that the church of the ages has consistently understood this Psalm not only as eucharistic, but also in connection with martyrdom, especially the verse "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints," for the two always go together.  When the Lord asked James and John if they could drink the cup He was about to drink or be baptized with the baptism He was about to receive, He was establishing the essential relationship between the sacraments and our dedication to follow Him along the way of the cross.

In the church's early years, when the sleeping dog of state might wake at any moment and deal grisly death to a Christian, martyrdom was the believer's supreme identification with the Lord's death.  Though it was a frightening prospect, it is also one they embraced and held dear because they trusted in what awaited them thereafter, and because they knew that God would give them special strength to endure it.  He will do the same for you in all your trials.

We have not been called upon to make that sacrifice, but it is a rare moment in history when Christians somewhere are not suffering for their faith.  It happened countless times during the 20th century under Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and the Soviet communists.  Not only Jews were persecuted, but Christians, too, were targeted for extinction, especially clergy.  It is happening today in the Mid East where Christians must live under unbearable conditions of servitude to their Islamic masters or die.  Those are the choices and many have suffered the fate of John the Baptist, or of our Lord in recent months.

No, we have not been called upon to make such sacrifices, but there are sacrifices for us to make.  The writer to the Hebrews teaches us to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God."  He then goes on to teach us what that means: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."  We learn the same thing in our Old Testament lesson today, that God's people should do justice, love to perform acts of mercy, and walk humbly with their God.

There is nothing that God needs from you, but He is most highly praised, honored and glorified when you believe His word and receive His gifts; and when you extend the mercy you have received to other people whatever their needs may be.  As the days of the church year, of our lives, and of the world dwindle down, let us so engage in these things.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, November 9, 2015

A taste of the New Creation


And the man believed the word Jesus spoke to him, and went on his way.  As he was returning home his servants met him and announced to him, "Your son lives."  John 4:51

AS THE CHRISTIAN YEAR comes to an end mother church directs our thoughts to the end of all things, when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  At that time, in the words of our Lord, "all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of Man and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."

There are only two ways to deal with that day, dear Christians:  one works and the other does not.  A person can deny it, diminish it or invent distractions for it -- reincarnation being the current rage -- or he can do what the government official did in today's gospel lesson.  He can believe the word of Jesus; the word of the one who made the ultimate sacrifice to save men from the judgment their sins incur, and who distributes blood-bought salvation to us here and now in the church by the Word spoken and the means of salvation administered.  Therefore let us take a closer look at today's gospel so that we can better understand what the Lord gives us here today.

St. John first notes the Lord's  movements.  He makes a point to tell us that Jesus came from Judea where he went to be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness for us and to underwrite the sacrament He instituted for us, so that the baptism the church administers still today is not an empty ritual, but the holy sacrament that delivers from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, even as the words and promises of God declare.

St. John; further notes that Jesus returned to Cana where He earlier changed the water into wine.  While many take this first of the Lord's miracles as a teaching on holy communion it can be better understood as teaching baptism.  As ordinary water became wine, which stands for the gladness of salvation in Scripture, even so ordinary water combined with the word and institution of Jesus becomes a  washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit:  our entrance into the New Creation that Christ is and accomplishes for us.  By it we can say to all parents:  Your son lives!

Note too. the drama when Jesus is flagged down by a government official -- a representative of King Herod or maybe of Caesar -- scripture does not say.  In any case he is a man who wielded great power over the lives of other people;  a man who was used to speaking and it was done, but who is now helpless in the face of illness and death, yet he is a man who is wise enough to come to the place where true grace is found; to Jesus who is the King of kings, whose power is unlimited, and whose mercy is legendary.  This mighty man could not save what was most precious to him, but Jesus could.  Jesus did, and He does the same for you!

Our Lord says to this father, unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.  It sounds like a rebuke, and if it were it would not be out of place, but we need not take it that way.  Rather take it as a fact.  We learn from St. Paul that humanity is blinded by the "god of this world," so if the Gospel of salvation is ever to pierce the spiritually blind heart of man, it will require mighty signs and Jesus is happy to provide them.  Yet they should not be interpreted as mere attention grabbers or public relation stunts.  They are much different than that.  A sign points us to something real, in this case, to the One who is the Resurrection and the Life, the One who has power over the wind and the waves, and who bestows salvation upon us by His blood.

What Jesus does here is but one of many signs indicating that the age of darkness is over, and the new era of Light and Life in Christ is begun.  Though the End had not yet come, our Lord is already on scene, already undoing the damage of sin and bestowing tomorrow's gifts today as He scatters illness, fear, pain and death for this  man and for his son with a word:  Your son lives!

We should not be surprised at this.  In today's Old Testament lesson we read, "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," but when St. John takes up his inspired pen he writes what we could think of as a New book of Genesis, only this time Adam who failed is not at the center, but Jesus.  "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth."  This is a New Creation Narrative that cannot fail.  In Genesis 1:3 God says, "let there be light," but in John 1:9 we find that Jesus IS the light; the Sun of Righteousness that enlightens every man who enters the New Creation by the Jordan River of holy baptism.

What was lost by Adam is regained by Christ.  What Satan destroyed Jesus reclaims and makes new, but He does not merely restore Eden; He gives us something magnitudes greater of which Eden was but a dim reflection.  He restores us to the true image and the true likeness of our Father by cleansing us from our sins by His blood.  He shows us signs and wonders in the church that change our status before God from lost sinner to glorious saint.  We see them with our eyes, hear them with our ears, we perceive them in our healthy and higher emotions, and taste them on our tongue in the holy Eucharist.

What you are experiencing here today is Jesus at work healing your sin sick soul and raising the dead to incorruptible life.  In Him you live.  Your son lives.  Your daughter lives.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, November 6, 2015

On hardship, persecution, and struggle with sin while in this world


"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. 16:1 "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. "I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 15:26–16:4 ESV)

Dear Fellow Redeemed:

Betweenity is a hard place in which to live, and that’s where we are. We live between the past and the future, between yesterday and tomorrow, between celebrating the Ascension and Pentecost and between our Lord’s Ascension and His Parousia, His coming again in glory and judgment. So what is life like in Betweenity? It’s difficult. That’s what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus prepared the disciples for the time between His death and resurrection and for the time between His Ascension and His glorious return. And what Jesus says to those disciples is meant for us too.

Jesus says that in this world you will have hardship. And while you know that to be true, Jesus lovingly warns you of it so you will not fall away when it happens. For the hardships of this world have a tendency to choke faith out, especially if you think they’re not supposed to happen, as many erroneously teach. When the job is lost, when the diagnosis is dire, when the prayer is not answered as you desire, when the loved one dies too soon or too cruelly: have you not doubted the Lord and his care for you? Have you never wavered, never fallen away? Have you never been blinded and confused and scandalized by the lies the world, the devil and the false church tell about these hardships?

They tell a story that’s tempting to believe, but it’s all lies. For this world has everything backwards: as Jesus says, the world even thinks it is doing God a favor by killing His Christians. And if the world gets this wrong, is it any wonder that it gets so much else wrong as well? The world would tell you that your worth is determined by how much you make, rather than by who made and redeemed you. The world, via its music, and television and movie screens, shouts the tired old message that rather than the mysterious union of husband and wife for the procreation of children, God's gift of sex is really just a toy like any other to be used as we wish. For instead of seeing our bodies as the Temples of the Holy Spirit, the world claims that we in our bodies are really nothing more than apes with clothes on. The world tells husbands to abandon wife and children if it suits him, and it tells mothers they may abandon their children even while they reside in the womb.

Such demonic lies prove beyond any doubt that the world really is under control of the father of lies. And because the world believes and follows that liar, it is utterly dysfunctional with sin. And the hardest thing is that world resides in each of us as well. Though you may well thank God that you have avoided these obviously worldly sins, you will still have reason to strike your chest and pray to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” for make no mistake: our Lord says that cruel words against your neighbor are just as  murderous as abortion, lustful thoughts are just as adulterous as abandoning your spouse for another, and the love of money, which is our real national past time, leads to untold sorrow.

So as you follow Christ who gave His life for you, the world will throw you out of its synagogues. The world will kick you around, hardships of all sorts will come, and friends will despise and forsake you. And what do you do then? Rejoice. Rejoice because in each of these hardships the Lord is teaching you there is a better life outside the synagogues of the world, for they are not your home. In each of these hardships the Lord would remind you not to get too comfortable here. Your citizenship is in heaven, your life is hidden with God in Christ.

Yes, the world will mock you for following a God who gave His only-begotten Son over to a cruel, shameful death. Yes, the world will think you’re mentally unbalanced for believing that the Almighty God of the universe delights to be called your Father and counts the hairs of your head. Yes, the world will be falsely pious and call you cruel for daring to say that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ.

Beloved, Jesus came to take those lies of the devil and the world to the grave and leave them there. He came to take away the sins of the world by bearing in His body all your wrongs, your transgressions, your rebellion against heaven, your fears, all your alliances with the sinful world, all your cruelties, all your lies, all your brokenness and sin: He came to bear it all that He might take it from you and give you His holy life as your own.

That’s how Christ saves you and all the world. He paid no homage to the world's wisdom and did not care that it called Him a fool. He let the world do its worst to Him so that it can never do its worst to you, for our Lord Jesus Christ took all the sins of the world to the tomb and left them there by rising from the dead. Sin, hell, and death now have no mastery over you because they have no mastery over Him, and you are in Christ by the power of the Helper, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He has drowned you in baptism and left your sins at the bottom of the font while drawing you forth to new life. In your baptism you were plunged into Christ's death and resurrection and this is your new reality. You are forgiven and free. You are the baptized child of God. You are risen from the dead.

So this world’s threats are meaningless. The devil, the world, and the flesh may prowl around like a roaring lion seeking whom they may devour: but for those in Christ, all the devil may do is roar for he has had his teeth and claws pulled out. So do not be afraid when hardship comes. Do not think for a moment that your heavenly Father has abandoned you. For the Father Himself loves you, and has saved you for His own Name's sake. He has gathered you out of the world's Synagogues to be His own Holy Church, the spotless Bride of Christ washed clean in baptismal waters flowing from the spear-pierced side of her Husband. He has replaced your stony heart with a heart of flesh and breathed into you a new spirit. For though your heart and flesh are corrupt, He gives you the incorruptible Body of Christ for your food and fills you with the Blood that the heart of Christ pumps. Though your spirit was foul and twisted, He has filled you with His Spirit in Baptism – and indeed He breathes this sweet breath of the Spirit over you again and again as you come to receive Holy Absolution.

For the Lord always has gifts to give, and you have come to the right place to receive them, for here, in His Holy Church, the Lord offers to you all He has, for He offers you all that He is. The Lord is your strength, your life and your light – and He is here again to fill you with His forgiveness, love, and mercy. For that is what the Divine Service is: the Lord's service to you. That Service was performed on the cross – and now what Jesus did for you on the Cross is delivered to you here as He comes to you personally, as He gives you the very fruits of His cross in His Body and Blood. This is true reality where all is set right and square, where the madness of the world and its lies is held at bay. For where Christ, the God-Man, is, there is your home, your peace, your comfort, your joy in all hardships, your key to eternal life, and your promise of the resurrection.

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

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts
and minds through Christ Jesus.

Pr. Timothy J. Landskroener

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It has been a long time since the Church has publicly and unmistakably called people to be like Jesus


Come, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3

NEXT time you go grocery shopping take a look at the list of ingredients of the things you buy. Do they make you think about farms and fields, or do they remind you more of beakers and lab coats? People who became alarmed by this trend in the last century started an industry called "health foods,” but unfortunately that doesn’t solve our problem because neither junk food nor health food satisfy the hunger of the soul. Therefore God gave us a food that turns evil into good and restores the divine image to us. Jesus calls it the Bread of Life.

He Himself is that Bread. He is the Life-bringer, the Incarnate Word who once came in the flesh to redeem us; and who still comes to us in the scriptural and sacramental Word. This is where we locate Him today. This is where we delight in the richest fare and absorb the very life that He gives. Don’t be scandalized by this. Don’t be offended because God uses such under-whelming measures to dispense such over-whelming blessings. When Jesus told the Jews who were following Him: unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you, it stopped them dead in their tracks! They turned away at that moment and decided to go it alone, to try to live without the Living Bread, without the Good Shepherd to lead them beside still waters.

The Old Testament Lesson for today is a gracious invitation that beckons all who hear it to become partakers of God's life-giving food and drink. The original people to hear these words were the Judean exiles. Using the Babylonians as His agents God uprooted Judah from the land. He scattered them and deprived them of every earthly blessing in order to reprove them for their sins; for their idolatry and materialism, their lust and immorality, for larceny and greed, sorcery and fortune-telling, and above all for refusing to heed His Word. They were out of faith and out of hope so they hung their harps on the willow trees by the rivers of Babylon. They had no more songs to sing. Each day they would hear the local water vendor come down the street crying out: Come, everyone who thirsts, come buy a drink. He was a salesman trying to make a few shekels, but Isaiah was not selling anything. He was speaking for God. He was telling these exiles that God would again remember His Covenant, that His intentions were to draw near to His people again, to gather them back the Promised Land and to revive them under a New and better Covenant. By such promises as these God fed the souls of His ancient people.

We, too, are exiles; aliens on the devil's planet so the same gospel applies to us. The same prophet who spoke to the Old Testament church speaks to us. He assures us that though we are captives at this time our pilgrimage will soon end, the Savior will soon appear, our eager expectation will be fulfilled and we will be ushered into the Heavenly Banquet Hall. What does all this cost? It is free of charge. It must be so because we are all spiritually bankrupt. As the Jewish exiles could not afford the water in Babylon, so we have no ability to purchase God's mercy or to buy our way out of trouble, but Scripture assures us that Jesus paid our debt, in full, on the cross, and that God's grace is free to us. By it He finds us, calls us, chooses us, justifies us, keeps us in faith and makes us holy.

So why isn't everybody lined up to receive it? Are they pretending not to notice? Actually, they aren't pretending. They really are unaware that God gives these things because they're too distracted by what they think they want. They're looking for Mammon's goodies. They want to replace “the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting” with “the abolition of sin, and good times that never end.” When Jesus returns there will be a bonfire of all such vanities, but as St. Paul says God has called us to holiness. He made us holy in baptism, and continues to feed us with the flesh and blood of the Holy One of God. He wants us to intentionally pattern our lives after Jesus who is Holy. It has been a long time since the Church has publicly and unmistakably called people to be like Jesus. Even faithful church members do not actively seek that kind of holiness. They probably find the call to it unfamiliar. In what does real holiness consist? That we fear, love and trust in God above all things. That we treasure His Word, love His house and dedicate our lives to doing His will, but anyone who takes God's Commandments seriously also realizes that he fails early and fails often. In Babylon the Jews quickly adapted to the culture, and when it was time to go home many preferred to stay. In like manner Christians accommodate themselves to the surrounding culture. They prefer Babylon to Jerusalem, and the Church today finds few people who want to be like Jesus. We are more like the Galileans who were glad to follow the miracle-working Prophet up to a point, but bailed out when the conversation turned to crosses. By the sacrifice of Christ God made atonement for our materialism, our egotism and our short term goals for the soul. The Bread of Life gives new life; the Son of David died and rose again to raise up a new house of David. God joined us to Jesus in Holy Baptism giving us each a part in His death and resurrection. Jesus calls us regenerate, "born again of water and the Spirit." The Spirit of God makes us His new Israel. The Holy One dwells in the midst of us. How could we not be holy if the Holy One is constantly touching us?

How does this sanctity express itself? By the way we believe, the way we live, and the way we suffer. Without a single word these things preach a better gospel than a hundred week-end evangelism seminars, and they show the world that sainthood is not dead.

God, through the prophet, still calls to men today. He summons us to leave Babylon and to enter the Jerusalem above through the doors of the church. He who died and rose again is truly present with His church now and will be with it hereafter. Is it any wonder that the mountains are dancing?

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Are we trying to renew the Christian faith...or change it?


So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:31

NO other section of the Christian church celebrates Reformation, but Lutherans do.  Some say it is divisive, but Reformation is one of the most important events in the history of the faith, and it should not be forgotten.

In Eastern Orthodoxy today's Festival isn't even a blip on the radar.

For Rome it is an event that ignited tremendous fear and rage.  It initiated a mighty "counter-reformation" that tore through the world like a bull in a china shop, one that never lost steam until the early 1960's.  Now Rome speaks of the reformers with faint praise.

Protestants of every stripe think of the Reformation as "a nice start," but one that needed them to bring it to completion.  Their completion, known as the "radical reformation" with its denunciation of liturgy, ceremony and sacraments, has done more damage than good.

But for dyed-in-the-wool Lutherans, Reformation is a festival day; a day to rejoice in the glorious liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which was restored to God's people;  the holy unadulterated Gospel of salvation, which cleanses us from all of our sins, and promises us the unending favor of the Most High, not as something merited by our good behavior, "for there is none that is righteous, no not one..." (Romans 3:10), but founded on the grace of God, grounded on a disposition within the heart of Him who is all compassion, to rescue us from ourselves, to save us from sin's curse, sin's penalties and the devil's tyranny by the redemption He provided for us in Christ Jesus.

We should also remember today that Reformation is, in the eyes of many, a case of conceit.  For those who are committed to the doctrine and practice of the Lutheran confessions believe themselves, and not Rome, to be of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  Christ Lutheran Church is among that number, but there is no sense of superiority, only deep humility; deep humility and endless praise and glory to God that the everlasting gospel can still be found on the earth, that there is a church to tend to the needs of our souls, one that will never harm us or encumber our already burdened consciences with pious-sounding instructions on how to attain God's favor.

There are some things we should realize about this remembrance that stirs the blood of every one who humbly wears the name Lutheran:

First, note that it is called Reformation and not Revolution!  There was never any intention to start a new church, as if such a thing could even happen, for there is "one Lord, one faith and one baptism," only one.  All others are impostors.  Instead it was an earnest attempt, with divine aid, to restore the true church to the true way.  Anyone who reads the Augsburg Confession, the chief Symbol of the Reformation, will find it to be a statement of, and subscription to, the historic catholic faith.  They will find that it retains the true doctrine and practice of the centuries while just as strongly rejecting those that harmed God's people, of which there were terribly many.

Secondly let us remember today that the church constantly needs reforming.  Lutherans in America today are in grave danger.  Our distant cousins in the ELCA have gone the way of the world.  They "love the praise of men, more than the praise of God." (John 12:43) so they bless whatever society blesses, even the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.  If we were Roman Catholics we might pray to St. Jude, who is the patron saint of hopeless causes, but instead we pray, Kyrie Eleison, and take heed lest we fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

If the ELCA is faithless Israel, the LCMS is her younger sister, faithless Judah who eventually adopted all the sins of her older sister.  It just took her a little longer.  Our church body is in shambles.  There is little knowledge of, and even less hunger for the historic Lutheran faith, which is both catholic and orthodox.  Neither are the solutions political ones, electing the right Synodical President or establishing better policies.  Though the solution is unclear, it is your pastor's opinion little good will occur in our Synod until the Sacrament is restored to its rightful place; until it is as highly prized as the sermon.  With that blessing it is possible that a new era of grace may descend on the LCMS and that her other problems might quickly dissolve.

The words of our Lord in today's gospel lesson are a harsh rebuke, but do you remember who they are directed to?  Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  Jesus is the Word and His Word is the truth.  We are not talking here about a religious proposition to be examined, debated, and if found acceptable to be subscribed.  Instead, we are talking about Jesus as a flesh and blood reality.  In the beginning was the Word, the spoken Word, the discourse uttered by God, the Word which, in fullness of time became flesh in the person of Jesus, who resided in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, raised from the dead on the third day, seated at the right hand of God and received on our lips in the Eucharist.   This living Jesus, still true God and true man, is the truth who roots out deception from us, cleanses us with the hyssop of His blood, and instills His truth in our inward being. (Psalm 51:6)

It is by trust in Him and trust alone, without the works of the law, that sinners are justified before God.  We are those sinners, so justified; justified and made new creations who love one another as Jesus loved us, who lay down their lives each hour in sacrificial love for one another.  By this and by the faith we confess each Lord's Day in the church, all men will know that we are the Lord's disciples.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, November 2, 2015

Who are these clothed in white robes?

Revelation 7:2-8
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Then one of the presbyters addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?"  Revelation 7:13

ALL SAINTS is a festival day of the church, a day set aside each year to thank God for giving us such a "great cloud of witnesses," and a day to exult in the blessed future we will share with them in heaven, in Christ.

It is an especially important day for Lutherans because we are so influenced by Puritanism that we don't think heaven is very populated.  We think of it as inhabited by God, some angels, and our deceased loved ones, but rarely do we give serious thought to St. John's vision, "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!"

We don't give such things much consideration because we have never been taught to know the saints of the ages, those who endured torment and humiliating death rather an deny the name of Jesus.  To our shame we do not know the lives of Ignatius, Polycarp, Perpetua, Felicitas, Sebastian, Alban or Agnes, yet these names represent only the tiniest fraction of saints who, by their blood, advanced the one, true, saving faith to every corner of the globe so that we might sit here today, the beloved children of God by faith in the world's only Redeemer.

So it is only right that we should exchange our tiny vision for the beatific one that St. John reveals; that we should put aside parochial thoughts of "me and Jesus," or "me and Christ Lutheran Church" and by God's grace obtain the "strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."  (Eph. 3:18)

What St. Paul speaks of in this verse happens each Sunday in the church, where we obtain a glimpse of what is happening in heaven, but not a vision only because we, the baptized people of God, are also privileged to play a most vital role in it.

As we have said before, people talk about "going to church on Sunday," but that does not begin to cover what is happening here because God has given us, the Church Militant, a privilege greater than even the Church Triumphant.  He has given us the exclusive mission of preaching the Gospel to all creation until the end of the age, not only to people but to angels, to demons, in short to all things visible and invisible, so that at the name of Jesus, spoken in the church's worship, every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

"Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?"  St. John asks the heavenly Presbyter.

Who indeed!  They are the believers of the ages who were willing to suffer and to die for the Holy Name.  They are the great "cloud of witnesses" (for that is what the word "martyr means) who taught the world by their death that there is only one Lord, one true faith, one baptism that delivers from death and the devil:  all others are impostors, but such exclusive claims were too much for the vain-glorious Roman Empire to bear, so it became the business of the State to extinguish this holy fire with ISIS-like cruelty so that Rome alone in all her magnificence and all her hubris might be the sole object of men's worship and of men's allegiance, but a strange thing happened!  The more they afflicted the church, the more she multiplied and grew!  The blood of the martyrs, far from extinguishing the holy faith, watered it, nourished it, and spurred it on as nothing else possibly could, until finally in the fourth century, in the dying words of Emperor Julian, "the Galilean conquered," and the one time persecutor of Christ became the conduit to spread the Good News to every corner of the globe.

"Who are these clothed in white robes?"  Martyrs, yes, but not only martyrs, for this Great Multitude that no one could count also includes believers who did not die for their Lord, but lived for Him; faithful followers who devoted their every effort to the service of their God.  Their lives were dedicated to worship, prayer, study, teaching and to beautiful works of charity that softened stony hearts, and taught them to love their God and Lord.  They healed the sick, clothed the naked, and fed the hungry and stood with the oppressed.  Among them are names like Ethylberga, Macrina, Collette, Paulinus, Gregory, Hilary, Brigitte, Martin (of Tours) and of recent memory Mother Theresa.  Among their most prized virtues were humility, poverty, chastity, fasting and other forms of self denial.

"Who are these clothed in white robes?"  They are martyrs, and the faithful of history, but the number also includes you.  In holy baptism you, too are clothed in the white robes of Christ's own righteousness.  Your sins are washed away by the blood of the Lamb shed on the cross, and taken to your lips in holy communion at the altar.

This being the case let us discard our ignorance of holy people and resolve to study, and to imitate the Great Multitude that no one could number, for we are part of it.  Let us be willing to give up our lives if need be, but if not our lives then for certain our sinful passions, vain pursuits, creature comforts, and the sins of the flesh that are so highly glorified and praised by the dead culture about us, so that we might, with clean hearts and clean hands, worship the Lamb upon the throne and be reckoned in that number that no one could count.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Beware of false saviors


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!"  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen."

THIS Revelation text is an interlude in the cosmic battle that rages all around this joyous scene.  Today, as always, the Church of Christ rejoices in the midst of chaos.  In an earlier time and in another place Martin Luther is reported to have made critical comments about the useless witness of the "paper saints" of his day against the doctrinal chaos of the church.  More importantly, St. John's text warns us: BEWARE OF FALSE SAVIORS!  The red dragon and his beasties (one from the earth and the other from the sea) are frauds.  They act like little messiahs, little saviors, little gods.

In the days of St. John, the emperor claimed to be god.  One's entire existence depended on the whim and fancy of the Roman Emperor.  If you would not offer sacrifices and promise total loyalty to the deified emperor, you could lose your job, your family -- and maybe even your life.

Have you ever heard of Polycarp (69-155 AD)?  He was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.  He was arrested while serving as bishop of Smyrna (Turkey).  The local governor offered to set him free if he would curse Christ.  Bishop Polycarp would not.  Instead he witnessed:  "Eighty and six years have I served Christ and He has done nothing but good.  How then could I curse Him, my Lord and Savior?"  So he was burned alive.

A contemporary of Polycarp was Ignatius (35-107 AD) -- another disciple of St. John the Evangelist.  He served as bishop of Antioch and is listed as one of the five Apostolic Fathers of the Christian Church.  For his teaching and witness to Christ, he was arrested by the emperor Trajan who sentenced Ignatius to death -- throwing him to the wild beasts at Rome. (cf. Eusebious, Church History.)

I mention Polycarp and Ignatius because we can learn from their history to interpret today's history.  This conflict between the True Savior and the false saviors of the world has gone on and continues today until the very end as is revealed to us in St. John's Revelation.  Economic, political and religious Utopians are totalitarians that tolerate no opposition, especially from the church, especially from Christians who bear the mark of God's holy name on their foreheads.  Hence the lesson:  BEWARE OF FALSE SAVIORS!

False saviors ask you:  Do you want to succeed in the world?  Do you want to enjoy life?  Then deny Christ.  Curse Christ.  Live as if Christ is a nothing.  Live outside your baptism.  Perhaps then, the Utopian totalitarians won't harass you or kill you.  And why is that?  It's because they have taken from you all that is genuine, all that matters, all that's real, and permanent.  The red dragon and his beasties (the political and religious totalitarian powers in every age) form an unholy and evil alliance to deceive and defraud.  They promise everything -- world transformations -- hope and change -- and yet they deliver nothing.  They promise life -- life without end -- but they only deliver death.  They promise heaven but their ways of idolatry and immorality lead the inhabitants of the earth (i.e., unbelievers) to a hellish end. 

God's Holy Law has shined its piercing light on all that is false and damnable in our world, and in you.  You are judged and have been found without  a holiness of your own in this life.  You have tried your denials, made your excuses; become angry and defiant before the Lord.  You have tried to resist the false saviors by your own might.  This is all to no avail.  God's Law grinds slowly and with irresistible pressure on sin and sinner alike.  REPENT.  CONFESS YOUR SIN.  BELIEVE HIS GRACIOUS FREE FORGIVENESS.  Do not compromise.  Do not give in.  Follow the Lamb -- the Lord Jesus Christ.  He alone is the Savior.  Polycarp and Ignatius followed Good Shepherd Lamb Jesus even when death stared them in the face -- even when the temptations of Satan and his little beasties were so enticing and alluring.

The story of Polycarp and Ignatius is not unique.  Millions more have been sustained by their Lord Savior and not compromised the faith.  Those who follow the Lamb who died for them are an immense crowd, a mega church of enormous proportions.  Here the Book of Revelation reveals what is genuine, what matters, what is real, what is permanent.

Here is what is true, genuine and real: "A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" is white-robed because they are covered with the Blood of the Lamb.  Sing ALLELUIAS to the truth-filled Word that sets you free from all that is false and contrived.  God's Holy paradoxical revelation continues.  These rejoice with palm branches in their hands because they have died and yet they live, having come out of the great tribulation of this life in which the red dragon Satan and his little beasts rage against Christ and His church on the earth.  These believers have followed the Lamb to the bloody end; to the empty tomb and the glorious Resurrection.  Even if their confession of Jesus cost them their life, and now they rest.  ALLELUIA!

In heaven, "Standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb," they are eternally safe.  The victory has been won!  Good Friday's Lamb is the Savior.  "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb."  All the angels in heaven join in the praise.  A sevenfold praise of: "Amen!" [i.e., It is TRUE, eternally CERTAIN!] To our God be the praise and the glory and the wisdom and the thanks and the honor and the power and the strength forever and ever.  Amen!"  In other words, if there is any glory  it belongs to God.  If there is any wisdom it comes from God alone.  Salvation comes from God and the Lamb Jesus who gave His life into death as the only atoning sacrifice for the salvation of sinners!  This is true.  This is genuine.  The sevenfold doxology of praise means completeness!  I.E. All there is belongs to God and to the Lamb. Alleluia!

The economic, political and religious Utopians are frauds, fakes, Antichrists!  Satan and his beasties will oppress and persecute the church and those who follow the Lamb.  Such tribulation comes through oppression and injustice of all kinds: political, social, economic and religious; all to tempt you to forsake Jesus, to compromise, to call it quits, to stop following the Lamb.  Again, I say, REPENT!

Hear the true Gospel announced to you.  Lamb Jesus has won the victory!  Salvation belongs to Him.  He won it!  That's Calvary.  That's His empty tomb.  It's Resurrection and Ascension, and it's all for you, and for all those loved ones who believed in the Lamb and followed Him -- faithful until the end.  ALLELUIA!

Now those who have gone before us rest in the safe-keeping of their Shepherd's arms.  It is God's own mystery, yet to be revealed, of how we too are gathered together with them in this worship that is described here in the Book of Revelation with all the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  Yet let not your heart be troubled neither be dismayed.  You have heard His promised forgiveness that is all-sufficient for today and all days until the last day when He comes for you and all His saints.  Then, all the sin and all the consequences of sin in this world are no more in heaven: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more sickness, sorrow, want or care, no more tears, no more death -- only life.  "For the Lamb at the center of the throne is [your] shepherd."  He is the living water that grants eternal life to those that believe in Him.  ALLELUIA!

Jesus is the real Savior.  He wins and delivers salvation.  He uses the troubles and the heartaches of this world to strengthen your faith in Him.  Do not despair.  Heaven is yours.  Death is changed.  Death is now the doorway to heaven.  ALLELUIA!

Today in the Lord's Supper the Lamb gives you a foretaste of that heavenly feast to come.  He spreads His protecting shielding tent over you right now.  At the Sacrament, you are before His throne.  He reigns right here and now -- for you, with His Body, with His Blood.  The Lamb promises that all your sin is forgiven and that eternal life is yours.  What is there left to say?  How about this?

ALLELUIA!  "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"  ...  To our God be the praise and the glory and the wisdom and the thanks and the honor and the power and the strength forever and ever.     Amen!"

Rev. George Fyler