6 November 2016 - All Saints - Romans 8:23b-25

Please listen with me to these words from the 8th chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, beginning in the 23rd verse:

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

So far our text.

Ever since 1908, Chicago Cubs fans have been hoping for their team to win another World Series. And those who saw and experienced this long-awaited victory last week are very much aware of the fact that theirs is not the only generation that has been waiting for this.

Over the past few days, thousands of names of now-deceased Cubs fans have been written in chalk on the brick walls of the Wrigley Field stadium. Chicagoans are writing the names of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents on these walls, as a way of connecting their deceased family members to a sports achievement which they had longed to see in life, but which they had not been able to see before their life’s end.

There appears to be a feeling among their descendants that this sentimental gesture, in some way, is allowing them to be a part of that victory anyway, even after their deaths.

The most poignant story of this nature that I have read describes a 68-year-old man from North Carolina, who grew up in the Chicago area. As a boy and as a young man, he and his father enjoyed many a Cubs game together.

They had made a “pact,” that if the Cubs ever got into the World Series, they would listen to the games together. Their common love for baseball, and for the Cubs, was a bonding agent of sorts, for their own deeper love for each other.

In 1980, when the father was only 53 years old, he died of cancer. An opportunity for father and son to keep that pact had never come, before this Dad was so prematurely wrenched from his boy.

But for the last game of the series, on Wednesday, this son drove for ten hours, from his home to the cemetery in Indiana where his father is buried. And at his father’s grave, he listened to the game, and, with his father, heard the Cubs win in the tenth inning.

If the experience of Cubs fans waiting for a World Series victory for more than a century, can stir up these kinds of deep-seated emotions, how much more can the experience of the church, waiting for many centuries for the final fulfillment of Christ’s promises, stir up even deeper feelings?

Of course, the importance of several generations of Cubs fans waiting together for a sports triumph, is as nothing, when compared to the importance of scores and scores of generations of Christians waiting together for the second coming of Christ, and for the resurrection of their bodies on the Last Day. It is therefore to our shame, if we do not long for those things to come to pass, with the level of devotion and seriousness that should characterize such waiting.

Our Lord’s future visible return to this world, and everything that is now preparing the way for that profound event - and preparing us for it - are of eternal significance. And the thoughts on our minds today, on All Saints Sunday, should be appropriately serious and sober thoughts - as we remember all those who, through the many centuries of Christian history, have waited for these things to unfold, and who with us are still waiting.

One of the verses in the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” says this, in regard to the church of Jesus Christ:

Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.

Many Cubs fans have a sentimental feeling that they are somehow united with other Cubs fans, even beyond the grave. But for Christians, as we ponder our “mystic sweet communion” with the Saints of God who have come and gone before us, this is not merely a sentimental feeling.

This is reality. It is the reality of Christ, who is our Lord and theirs, our Savior and theirs, our eternal hope and theirs. What it is that made them to be saints, was the saving work of Christ on their behalf.

He took their place on the cross, and suffered for their transgressions. He also rose again for them, and in their stead was justified and vindicated by God the Father - who fully accepted his Son’s sacrifice for their sins, and for the sins of the world.

And while the now-departed saints of God still lived on earth, they, in their humility and penitence, were allowed to take Christ’s place, in their standing before God. Believing the promises of the gospel, they were justified by this faith, and were covered with the holiness of Christ.

All of this is what makes us to be saints, too. This is what gives us the confidence to stand before God, and to pray to God, without the fear that he will condemn us and destroy us. This is what gives us the hope that when we pass from this world, we will join the saints of old in the very presence of Christ.

We do not have a direct link to those who have already departed in the faith, and who are now with Christ on the other side of death. We do not seek to communicate directly with these saints, through prayers, seances, or other clairvoyant means. God’s Word actually forbids us to try to do this.

The connection that we have with them because of Christ, is a connection that is mediated by Christ. We are all mutually connected to him, from both sides of the grave.

Through our participation in the gospel and sacraments of Christ, on this side of the grave, we are united with Christ himself. Christ’s words of grace and pardon do not simply remind us, in a cerebral manner, of an absent Lord. Rather, they are the means by which Jesus himself invisibly comes to us, unites himself to us, and keeps his promise that he will be with his church always, even to the end of the age.

This is also why, when Jesus does return in visible glory on the Last Day, he will not be a stranger to his church. Because he has been discreetly visiting us and coming among us, by his Word and Spirit, all along.

We have been cleansed and renewed by his washing of regeneration all along. We have been sacramentally nurtured in our resurrection hope by his living body, and forgiven through the application of his shed blood, all along.

In this way we have an ongoing fellowship with Christ while still in this world. The departed saints, who had believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, and who had trusted in his Word for eternal life, are enjoying their fellowship with Christ in the next world.

For them, this fellowship is no longer mediated to them through the earthly elements of water, bread, and wine. It is direct, because their sin is now gone. The Book of Revelation describes this as their being clothed in white robes - all the time.

The saints in heaven do still look forward to the ultimate conclusion of all things. They are, at present, lacking their physical bodies. But they know that someday they will get their bodies back, in the general resurrection.

They are waiting for this. We are waiting for this. We are all waiting for this together, in and through Christ. And someday, we will all receive what we are waiting for.

There will be new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. The dwelling place of God will be with men forever. The lion will lay down with the lamb, forever.

Cubs fans had to wait patiently for 108 years, for a World Series victory. In the context of baseball history, that was a long time. But what they waited for happened.

The church has been waiting patiently for the Lord’s return for about 1,983 years. That seems to be a very long time. And that wait is not yet over.

But from God’s perspective, it is not long. And when all things do finally come to their fulfillment and culmination, it will have been worth the wait.

The saints of yesterday, the saints of today, and the saints of tomorrow, will be fully one in Christ, rejoicing in eternity with each other, and rejoicing together with Christ. What we are all waiting for - on both sides of the grave - will have come. What we are all hoping for - in this world and in the next world - will have been fulfilled.

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Amen.

13 November 2016 - Pentecost 25 - Luke 21:5-36

vIn today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples about the future. And I’m sure that they are listening very attentively.

There is a built-in curiosity in all of us about what the future holds. This arises in part because of the innate sinful desire that we all have - inherited from our first parents - to want to be “like God.”

To know the future, is to be like God. And to know the future, is to be able to control the future. Or at least that’s the hope, if not the reality.

This yearning to know what is yet to come is why people often take a look at their daily horoscope in the newspaper, and that’s why they read what’s written on those little slips of paper in their fortune cookies at the Chinese restaurant.

People who are more serious about trying to find out about the future might go further than this. They might consult a fortune teller, or an astrologer.

Now, God’s Word forbids his people to do this. We read in the Book of Deuteronomy: “There shall not be found among you anyone who...practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, ...for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.”

The Lord’s disciples, as pious Jews, would have obeyed this prohibition. Unlike the pagans - who did consult oracles and fortune tellers, without any scruples against doing so - the disciples’ curiosity about the future would therefore usually go unsatisfied.

But now, as Jesus is willing to tell them what the future holds, they are listening with rapt attention. Now their curiosity can be satisfied after all!

They were, of course, hoping to hear something good about their future. In the same way, those who go to fortune tellers don’t want to hear about impending tragedies.

The people who write the fortunes for fortune cookies know that, too. Have you ever read a fortune in a Chinese restaurant that told you of coming evil or failure in your life?

People don’t want to hear about such things. We can assume that the disciples didn’t want to hear about such things either, as they listened to Jesus begin his discourse.

But when you open yourself up to hear about the future from someone who really does know what will come to pass - someone like Jesus - you take the risk of hearing things you don’t want to hear. You take the risk of hearing about sad occurrences and destructive events that you will not enjoy at all.

Because of the sin that infests this world, and that corrupts the people in this world, your future - if you are able to know what it will be - will not be a completely good future. Because of the devil’s constant efforts to turn the affairs of human history toward humanity’s destruction, the future - for all of us - will in fact often be characterized by much pain, suffering, and hardship.

And that’s what the disciples of the Lord find out when Jesus tells them what is going to happen in the coming decades - to them, to the church, and to the city of Jerusalem.

The Lord, as he looks to the future, sees and describes religious deceptions, and the intrusion of religious error: “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’, and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.”

Jesus sees and describes religious divisions, and troubling religious persecutions: “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. ...”

“You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

And Jesus sees and describes natural catastrophes and political upheavals: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

“when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”

“...there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles...”

Indeed, in the year 70 A.D. a Roman legion under the command of Titus Flavius did brutally crush a Jewish revolt against Roman rule that had been stirred up by the Zealots. And in this Roman victory, as a punishment against Jerusalem and the Jews in general, the city and everything in it - including the temple - were destroyed.

Can you imagine how the disciples’ eyes would have been gradually opening wider and wider, as Jesus continued to speak these frightening words to them? This is not what they wanted to hear.

This is not the kind of future they would have expected God to plan out for them. They may very well have regretted asking Jesus to tell them what was to come. Perhaps they would have been better off not knowing these things.

And of course, that’s the way it is for us, in regard to our future. We’re not able to ask Jesus face-to-face what will happen to us in the future.

And so we don’t know. But if we are able to get past our wishful thinking regarding the future, we could probably make some educated guesses about how things might go, on the basis of the Lord’s teaching about life in this world in general.

If the original disciples were persecuted by hardened unbelievers for the sake of Christ’s name, then we too - who also bear that name - can expect persecution. If the climate and tectonics of the earth were destructively active in the days of the Lord’s original followers, and if we live on the same planet as they did, we should not be surprised if the same sort of storms and earthquakes happen now.

If the sinfulness of the human heart inspired men and nations in the apostles’ time to stir up political turmoil and violence, and if human nature is just as bad now as it was then, then we can expect this kind of turmoil and violence in our day as well.

And just in case ours is the last generation, in today’s text Jesus predicts what that last generation will experience when the world, as we know it, comes to an end. He says:

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Some people have the idea that if they believe in God, and pray, and go to church, then their future will be bright and happy; God will solve all their problems; and they will be protected from all hardships. But Jesus never promised this to those who serve and follow him.

In fact, he promised just the opposite. He said: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

As far as your future on earth in concerned, this, my friends, is what you should expect. When things unexpectedly go well for you in earthly matters, and when you do prosper and succeed, then you should be thankful for God’s special grace, and for his special intervention in preventing the forces of sin and evil from wrecking your plans, and ruining your accomplishments, as they would want to do.

But when things don’t go well for you in the affairs of this world, it shouldn’t surprise you. Hardship for God’s people, and trials and tribulations, are the norm, not the exception.

If God has allowed us, in this free and stable land, to experience exceptional happiness, that should not cause us to forget that it is exceptional.

There are many Christians today, living under various forms of oppression, who are experiencing right now the kinds of things that Jesus was talking about. And the time may come when we, too, will begin to taste more of the kind of suffering in this life that Jesus tells us we should actually expect.

To one degree or another, and in one way or another, our future in this world, and the church’s future in this world, will include pain and hardship, suffering and disappointment, mistreatment and oppression.

But that’s not all that our future holds for us. When Jesus tells his disciples in today’s text, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” and “some of you they will put to death,” he also adds these words: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

And when he described the end of the world, with all the upheavals associated with it, he concluded with this: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

And so, while it is true that trials and hardships are in your future, what is more important is that Jesus is in your future. You are a child of God who trusts in the Word of Christ, and who lives in Christ. Nothing that you will face, therefore, will be faced without Christ.

As Jesus promises, even if physical suffering and death may be your fate in this world; as far as your relationship with God is concerned, “not a hair of your head will perish.” When everything around you is burned away like chaff, and the world itself is coming to an end, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The reason why we can have confidence that Jesus will be in our future, with his protection and redemption, is because he is with us now, in the present, with his protection and redemption. And he is with us with his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.

As we sang in today’s Introit, from Psalm 121: “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

In Christ, your “going out” - your moving forward into the future - will be in the confidence of faith: a faith in God’s forgiving and renewing grace, and a faith in God’s fatherly kindness toward his children.

The world that you will face in the future will be a world that hates you. That is true. But you will not face that world in the paralysis of fear and uncertainty, because you will face it in union with a God who loves you in Christ.

And the love of God is stronger that the hatred of the world. The love of God, as it carries you into the future, and as it carries you through all the difficulties that you will face in the future, is an eternal love.

It is a love from which nothing can separate you, as you abide in the Word of Christ, and as you walk, with a clear conscience, by the Spirit of Christ. As St. Paul writes in today’s epistle: “the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”

Do you want to know what the future holds for you? Probably you are curious. Most people are.

But in the last analysis, you can’t really know very much about the future. You do not have access to a legitimate and reliable source for such information, as Jesus’ disciples did when he spoke to them of such things.

But when you know now, in faith, that your sins are forgiven through the cross of Christ; and when you know now, by the power of God’s living Word in your life, that Jesus rose from the grave for you; you can know that Jesus Christ is in your future.

He is in your future on earth, as your companion and shepherd in the midst of all the struggles you will face. And he is in your eternal future, in the joy of the everlasting life that he has promised to those who believe in him.

The Lord declares through the Prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me.” Amen.

20 November 2016 - Last Sunday of the Church Year - Luke 23:27-43

Today is the last Sunday of the church year. It is a day when we think about the “last things,” and about judgment day.

The story of judgment day is a story about trial and punishment for some, and about trial and vindication for others. Everyone whose conscience tells him that someday he will stand before the Lord almighty - to be judged, and to give an account of himself - does think about what the outcome of that trial will be for him.

We all think about it. And if we don’t, we should.

As we think about it today, however, we would note that the Gospel reading from St. Luke that is appointed for us is not actually about that ultimate, future day of judgment. It is about the suffering and death of Jesus on Calvary’s cross, almost 2,000 years in the past.

But that doesn’t mean that today’s Gospel is not also about judgment - about trial and punishment; trial and vindication. In some ways the events that took place on Calvary are a foreshadowing of the final day of judgment.

Therefore, if you want to know how you will fare on that final day, as you stand before the Lord with your life laid bare before him, look at the events in today’s text. Look especially at the two thieves, who were crucified on either side of Jesus.

And listen to them. As you listen, compare what each of them says, with what you sometimes say - or at least with what you sometimes think. And then ponder the fate and destiny of those two men, in view of what they say in today’s text.

Before he was nailed to the cross, Jesus had been tried before the Sanhedrin, and before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Jesus had been accused of many things - none of which he had actually committed. But he was found guilty anyway.

At a deeper level, he was found guilty according to the predetermined purpose and will of God. According to God’s plan for our salvation, our sins, and the sins of the whole world, had been credited to him, and placed upon him. He had become our substitute under the condemnation of the law.

And we are guilty of all the things of which Jesus was accused - and then some. So, having been put on trial, and then having been found guilty, he was now, on the cross, suffering the punishment that his guilty verdict - our guilty verdict - deserved.

But Jesus’ “trials” were not yet over. He had to endure yet another trial - another evaluation, another judgment. “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’”

This criminal, like Jesus, had had his day in court. He had been tried and convicted. And now he is being punished for his misdeeds.

But even in such a circumstance, as his earthly life is being drained out of him on his cross, and with his last bit of strength, he, as it were, puts Jesus on trial once again. He tests Jesus.

The thief demands that Jesus prove himself - that Jesus demonstrate to the thief’s satisfaction that he deserves to be called the Christ. Otherwise, in the tribunal of the thief’s unbelieving and arrogant mind, Jesus will be found wanting, and in a sense will once again be found guilty - guilty of a kind of fraud, for not doing what a Messiah is supposed to do.

And, of course, Jesus fails the criminal’s test. He does not climb down off the cross.

Jesus does not deliver the thief from his deserved fate, either. And so Jesus is, according to the thief, deserving of the punishment he is receiving after all, for not being the kind of “Christ” that the thief demands he be.

But as the thief was judging Jesus in this way, he was really judging himself. By refusing to acknowledge Jesus on Jesus’ terms, as the Redeemer and Savior of sinners, his sins remained upon him.

Jesus was dying for him, and for all people. He was fulfilling his divine mission. As God in the flesh, Jesus was rescuing and restoring his own creation in his suffering and death.

But contrary to what God would have wanted, this death will now be of no benefit to that thief. The thief is so busy judging Jesus, that he cannot see that he himself is being judged - not just by the Romans, but by God’s holy law. VHe was so busy passing sentence on Christ, for his failure to do as the thief wanted him to do, that he could not see that sentence was being passed on him - not just for his earthly crimes, but also for his hardness of heart and unbelief.

The thief’s suffering on his own cross, for his own sins, was indeed a foretaste of his final judgment. And it was a picture of the final judgment of all who are like that thief - of all who, in their own minds, put Christ on trial, and in their hearts condemn Christ because of his failure to be and do what they want him to be and do.

Does that describe you? What kind of attitude toward the Lord do you harbor, when he doesn’t do what you want him to do?

In modern times, the unquestioned existence and authority of God is not the starting assumption for people, as it used to be. God is now expected to prove himself.

And when he doesn’t, he is judged by the children of our skeptical age to be unworthy of their faith and obedience.

Such people are hypothetically willing to obey God only when he commands or allows what they have have already decided they want to do anyway. That’s usually the criterion people use to judge God, when they, as it were, put him on trial.

This is what goes through their heads, and maybe through your head: If I were to acknowledge that God is God, and let him be my God, would he cramp my style, and stifle my ambitions? Would he deprive me of my happiness, as I have defined it?

Would he decline to satisfy the aspirations and wishes that I bring to him? Would he try instead to impose his will over my will?

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then I will judge him to be unworthy to be God - or at least to be my God. And I will pass sentence on him, and punish him with my unbelief and indifference.

Sounds silly, you say? Well, it’s not.

Because that is exactly the kind of thinking that is taking place, even if it’s not formulated in precisely those terms, when people who should know better choose their agenda over God’s; when they choose their standards for happiness over God’s; when they chose to live by their own moral code - or usually their own immoral code - rather than by God’s.

That’s the kind of thinking that is taking place when we might ponder the question of whether faith in God is useful or not; or whether God, if he does exist, will make himself useful to us or not.

If God is not useful, and if faith in God does not produce the desired practical results, then there is no reason to believe in him, or to acknowledge him.

To the extent that you do think in this way, put God to the test in this way, and live in this way, you are like the wicked thief at Calvary - who was, in effect, putting Jesus on trial all over again.

And if this attitude toward God and Christ defines your life, you had better be concerned - very concerned - about what judgment day will hold for you.

But the other criminal in today’s story was not thinking or speaking in this manner. In the case of the penitent criminal, there was no testing of Jesus, and no demand that he prove himself to be a Savior worth believing in.

Instead, this other thief tested himself, and he - in his conscience - put himself on trial. In his unpretentious and undemanding honesty before God, he found himself guilty of his sins, and admitted his fault.

He realized that in himself he had no defense before the bar of divine justice, and that in himself he had no hope for vindication and acquittal. But at the same time, he looked to the sinless man dying next to him, and he listened to the words that this man was speaking about forgiveness for sinners.

And he knew - he really did know - that this man, with his divine grace and love, was his hope.

This other criminal therefore rebuked the first one, saying: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And then the penitent thief looked toward Jesus, in hope, and with all the strength that was left in him, said to him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus is the king. He will not ultimately be ruled by the demands of any man. Jesus is the judge. He will not ultimately be put on trial by any man.

But Jesus is also the Redeemer. He had done nothing wrong, as the penitent thief confessed. His death, therefore, was a vicarious death.

That means that it was in the stead of others, and for the benefit of others. It was in the stead of the penitent thief, and for his benefit.

And it was in the stead of you and me, and for our benefit. Jesus represented us, and died for us, as he carried our sins to the cross, and as he submitted himself to the judgment of God’s holy law against our sins.

The penitent and faithful thief would be vindicated, therefore, and acquitted before God, because all the penalties that he owed were being paid in full for him, by Christ. And that payment would be acceptable - eternally acceptable - because it was the Son of God himself, in human flesh, who was making that payment.

For this reason - and for this reason alone - the penitent thief, who now trusted in Christ and in Christ’s righteousness, would not face his imminent death in fear of divine punishment. He would face his death in peace.

Beginning that very day, when he departed from this world, he would rest in Christ in the next world, to await his resurrection. Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

And the penitent thief also knew, with the confidence that Christ’s words instilled in him, that on the last day, as he stood before his Savior’s throne, he would be vindicated in Christ, acquitted in Christ, and forgiven in Christ.

At the final judgment, his sins will not be held against him, because his sins have already been lifted off of him, and been placed onto the Lamb of God, who carried them to the cross.

The words that Jesus spoke to this penitent thief at Calvary, he says also to you: as you cease and desist from judging him, and putting him on trial in your mind and heart; as you judge yourself instead, and admit your sins; and as you turn to him in faith, and pray: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He then says to you: “you will be with me in Paradise.” With these words, he removes from you the fear of God’s judgment. And he fills you instead with the hope of an eternal enjoyment of God’s fatherly love.

Your sins will not be held against you on judgment day, either, because of Jesus. You will stand before your Savior without fear, having been justified with his righteousness, regenerated by his Spirit, and transformed into his image.

The penitent thief didn’t have very much time to enjoy his new life in Christ, in this world, before he passed into the next world. But you have the blessing of time - time to be what the forgiving and regenerating word of Christ has made you to be, from now until you fall asleep in the Lord.

You have time to be bonded ever more closely to Jesus in your faithful partaking of the Lord’s Supper. You have time to glorify God in a life that is fruitful with good works, performed in godly love for your neighbor.

You have time to live out, in faith, the acquittal and vindication that is yours already in the death of Christ on your behalf. You have been baptized into the death of Christ. As with the penitent thief, the cross of Christ is where your sins have already been judged.

On judgment day, you will stand before Christ, to give an account of yourself. But this will not be a time of shame and disgrace, because the basis for your evaluation on that day will be God’s pardon, and God’s blessing.

Christ himself will claim you as one of his own, recreated in his image by a divine grace that is even now filling you, and working through you.

We close with these words from today’s Old Testament lesson, spoken by God through the prophet Malachi:

“They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” Amen.