12 November 2017 - Pentecost 23 - Psalm 84:1, 3, 9-12

In today’s Introit, comprised of selected verses from Psalm 84, we sang about the contentment we experience when we are in the Lord’s house - where his Word is proclaimed and where he is thanked and praised for his goodness and grace.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!”

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

This is a feeling to which I hope we all can relate. This is a feeling that I hope we all have when we are here, in this place.

Oh, it’s not the wood and plaster of this building that makes us feel this way. It’s what goes on here. God dwells here, and acts here for our temporal and eternal benefit.

Here sins are confessed and absolved, and we are made clean before God. Here the Lord speaks, and we listen. Here God’s Word shapes and reshapes our desires, our commitments, and our priorities, and then gives form to our prayers and petitions.

Here the gospel is proclaimed into the ear, into the mind, and into the heart. Here the body and blood of Christ come to us and enter us, nurturing us in both soul and body, renewing our faith and our resurrection hope.

Indeed how lovely, and how joyful, is this place - this safe and peaceful place - where God dwells. And as we encounter God here - indeed, as all Christians encounter God in their houses of worship, to the extent that they do encounter him in these ways and for these purposes - they, too, feel what we feel.

And they and we know and experience what the text of today’s Introit goes on to describe:

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

We can assume that the members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, had this feeling, this confidence, and this joy, as they gathered for worship in their sanctuary last Sunday - even as they no doubt had felt that way whenever they gathered there on any Lord’s Day.

God makes promises that they expected him to keep for them. God pledges to bestow blessings on those who trust in him, that they expected to receive.

As Psalm 84 says, “the Lord is a sun and a shield.” By means of his Word - when it is taught correctly - God, like the sun, shines his light of truth into the hearts of his people. And God, like a shield, protects his people from the enemies of his light, and from the enemies of their faith and salvation.

And as Psalm 84 also says, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” From all reports, and from interviews with friends and survivors that I myself have seen on television, we can say that the members of First Baptist Church did walk uprightly; and to the best of their knowledge of his ways, they honored God. They walked by faith; and according to the light they had, they lived out their faith in their community.

We hear the Biblical exhortation: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” We do this, and we believe this.

As a good God, God does only what is good for his children. This is an article of faith for us.

God is not the source of evil. We know this to be true because of who God is, even when it may seem - in the outward appearance of things - not to be so. But, evil does exist in this world, flowing from the devil’s rebellion, and from the wicked human heart.

The members of First Baptist Church knew this, before this past Sunday. But last Sunday, even as they were in the Lord’s house - his special dwelling place - they were directly attacked by the powers of darkness in an almost unimaginable way.

A hate-filled atheist gunman systematically tried to exterminate the entire body of worshipers in that small congregation. It has been reported that every single person in the building was either killed, wounded, or injured.

Where was God’s shield of protection over them? Where were the good things for these people that God had promised he would not withhold?

As we are troubled by these questions, and as we ponder these things with unsettled hearts, we are reminded that God’s perspective - on these things, and on all things - is an eternal perspective.

God himself is eternal, in his own immutable existence. As Psalm 90 confesses:

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

And, God’s redemption and salvation is likewise eternal. Psalm 103 proclaims:

“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Unlike God, we do not live above time, but are locked within it and within its limitations. Our perspective is therefore very different from his.

When King David states that “the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty,” we think of this as a long life, as compared to a life span of, say, fourteen years - which is how old the pastor’s daughter in Sutherland Springs was. This daughter will not see a fifteenth birthday.

And for us, that is truly sad - not just seemingly sad, but really and truly sad. But this sadness can be tempered as we consider that when God’s people cross over into eternity - whether it is at the age of fourteen, or eighty, or one hundred - they then will see things more so as God sees them now.

What that will be like - and what that is like now, for those who are with the Lord - was described in last Sunday’s reading from the Book of Revelation:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

From our perspective now, it does matter if a redeemed and forgiven child of God departs from the tribulations of our world, into this otherworldly bliss, at the relatively early age of fourteen, rather than at a more advanced age. Real tears are shed at this thought.

But I am sure that when we, too, are on the other side of death, and have joined the rest of God’s saints, from all nations, in his eternal peace - offering him eternal praise - it will no longer matter. Every tear will be wiped away.

And while we wait for the time when this will be our experience, rather than the grief we experience now, St. Paul speaks these words of hope to us now, in today’s reading from his First Epistle to the Thessalonians:

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. ...”

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”

“Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Jesus came into the sinful world as it is, with all the brutality and injustice that have characterized the world since the fall of Adam, the murder of Abel, and the days of Noah. And from inside that world, Jesus preached a subversive message of repentance and forgiveness to those who had been captivated and corrupted by the world, but who were now going to be rescued and regenerated.

As Jesus preached these things, and touched minds and hearts with the saving power of his words, the world itself remained what it had been. And the world - and Satan, as the prince of the world - killed Jesus.

Of course, God used this for his own purposes. He brought good out of evil, without thereby pretending that the evil was really good, because God is greater than evil.

His love for man is greater than the devil’s hatred for man. Everything the devil does with the purpose of harming us - which may indeed harm us at a certain level - God turns, toward his own purposes.

Jesus died for the redemption of the world that killed him, and for the redemption of all who inhabit the world. When he rose from death, he opened for all a pathway out of death into life.

Through his Word and sacraments he now puts his life into those who have turned away from the death of sin and who cling to him. He says:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Jesus also says: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

After mentioning some of the frightening things that were going to happen to him and to the disciples, in conjunction with his coming passion, Jesus told them:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In Christ there is peace, even when there is nothing but turmoil all around you. In Christ there is life, even when there is nothing but death all around you.

On another occasion, as recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus also said these important words to his disciples - and to us:

“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.”

“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

The ministry of the apostles - and the ministry of the church today - is fundamentally a ministry of the Word. God’s Word is not flashy, and by worldly standards seems not to have any power.

By it, mountains are not moved, and nations are not conquered. But for those who receive it by faith, God’s Word enlightens the mind, liberates the will, soothes the conscience, comforts the heart, and saves the soul.

Christians do not live a charmed life in this world. If they did, the evidence of the true power of God’s Word in their lives - their eternal hope, and their peace with God - would be obscured by the temporal successes and material prosperity that superstitious unbelievers would readily notice and be drawn to.

But it is precisely in the midst of suffering and persecution - circumstances that they share with Jesus, when he walked the earth - that the Lord’s disciples find their voice; and speak, to the hurting and frightened humanity that surrounds them, a divine message of eternal forgiveness in Christ, of eternal life in Christ, and of eternal salvation in Christ.

Christians bear witness to the reality of God, in a world that has cut itself off from God, not by their lack of trials and sadness, but by how they bear with the trials and sadness that they have in common with all other people. And sometimes, Christians bear witness to the reality of God by how they depart from the world.

When, according to God’s inscrutable will, it is time for one or many of his children to fall asleep in Christ - confessing Christ to the very end - then in faith we accept this, and in the hope of the resurrection welcome this.

We are comforted to know, as Psalm 116 declares, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” And to quote St. Paul again, while Christians do grieve at a time of such a loss, they do not grieve “as others do who have no hope.”

When Christians of any age depart from this sinful world, we are able to see in faith - as God would see it - that this is the ultimate and irreversible fulfillment of what they had always prayed for: “thy kingdom come”; “deliver us from evil.”

On the night of his betrayal and arrest, in his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus offered to his Father in heaven this prayer for the disciples:

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them... I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. ... Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

We are indeed kept from the evil one, when - by God’s grace - we live in faith; we renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil; we confidently believe the truth of God’s Word; and we joyfully embrace Christ.

We are also kept from the evil one, when - by God’s grace - we die in faith, forsaking all earthly security, and lifting up our eyes to what God has prepared for us beyond the horizons of this life, in the heavens, where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us.

We do not know what will happen in our future. We do not know the circumstances in which we will be called from earth into the presence of Christ. We do not know what kind of suffering or persecution awaits us while we remain in this world.

But what we do know - and what the now-departed believers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs knew - is that Christ is Lord of all, at all times. He has purchased us with his blood, and so we belong to him.

Therefore, to quote St. Paul, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

Sometimes we have peace in this world. Sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are victimized by violent attacks, and are even killed, by those who are influenced by the prince of this world.

But in the midst of such deprivations of worldly peace, we still have peace - a different kind of peace; a peace that no one can undo and take away from us. Jesus says:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

In this divine peace, we hear and heed St. Paul’s encouragement: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

We do not share some of the beliefs that would be held to, by a Southern Baptist church. And they do not share some of the beliefs that we consider to be Scriptural and sacred. Most of those differences will probably not be completely sorted out before the end of this world.

But we do have many things in common with our Southern Baptist friends. We had many things in common with the members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs who are now gone from this world.

And in that vein, we close with these words, from the translation of Martin Luther’s well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” that is printed in the hymnal that their church used:

That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever! Amen.

19 November 2017 - Pentecost 24 - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In an episode of the T.V. show M*A*S*H from many years ago, the Frank Burns character was talking with the Hawkeye and Trapper John characters about fear of the dark. He told them that he was not afraid of the dark, because there’s nothing there in the dark that is not there in the light.

I suppose there’s some validity to that, as far as inanimate objects are concerned. But there are also living beings in this world, who think, plan, scheme, and connive.

And these living beings - whether it is a cockroach crawling onto your kitchen counter, a mouse crawling into your pantry, or a thief crawling through your window - quite often use the cover of darkness to do things that they would not do in the daylight. They choose to act in the dark, so that you will not see them coming, and not know what they are up to - until it’s too late.

In today’s lesson from his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul uses the illustration of a thief in the darkness to describe the great shock and surprise that will come upon the unbelieving world when the Day of the Lord arrives. Do notice, though, that it is not Jesus himself who is being described as a thief.

When Jesus returns visibly to raise the dead and judge the world, he is not going to be stealing anything that does not rightfully belong to him. All things were created through him.

And he has redeemed all men by the shedding of his blood. We therefore do not belong to ourselves. We were bought with a price.

Jesus is the rightful Lord over all people, both those who acknowledge him, and those who resist in unbelief until the end, and enter into judgment. But they will enter into judgment because of the hardness of their own hearts, in spite of the fact that Jesus was their Creator and Redeemer.

And so, according to Paul’s imagery, It is not Jesus who is a thief, but it is the Day of the Lord that comes like a thief. In other words, that day sneaks up on people who are not expecting it, and who cannot see that it is coming, because of the darkness of their minds.

“While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

As he goes more deeply into the metaphor of darkness and nighttime, St. Paul expands on the reasons why those who are in the dark do not notice what is approaching.

Not only is the darkness itself like a curtain or pall that hides the approach of a nighttime intruder; but the person who is being intruded upon is also distracted from his watchfulness, by those things in which he is engaged, in the darkness. The apostle writes that “those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.”

When my son was a baby, he was a very sound sleeper. He could sleep through anything.

One time, when he was just a couple months old, he was napping directly below the smoke alarm in the apartment where we were then living. Something on the stove, in the adjacent kitchen, started to burn, which set off the smoke alarm.

As it was blaring with its loud and shrill tone, my son did not stir at all. He just kept on sleeping, the whole time the alarm was sounding.

Today, while the world still awaits the return of God’s Son, God is giving us every opportunity to become ready for his coming. The condemnation of God’s law continues to blare at us - in the Ten Commandments and in our own consciences - as it warns us of God’s impending judgment against all of humanity’s sinful rebellions against his word; all of humanity’s arrogant defiances of his authority, and all of humanity’s selfish exploitations of others in the pursuit of power and wealth.

God’s law is blaring its warnings to you, and against your transgressions. God is graciously working to rouse you from your slumbers of moral and spiritual indifference.

Are you hearing him? Are you waking up? Or are you still asleep in the darkness, unresponsive to his warnings, ignoring his voice?

St. Paul writes elsewhere that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God. Literal intoxication is a violation of the fifth commandment, and is an affront to the God who insists that we honor him with our bodies and minds.

“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” the apostle writes.

But drunkenness, in the context of today’s lesson, is also a metaphor for a deeper and more pervasive kind of problem - when people are driven by an inner, destructive compulsion to fill up that place in their lives that is supposed to be filled with the joy of Christ, with a craving for carnal pleasure instead; and when they seek to find in chemicals - or in any other earthly thing - what they should seek to find in God’s Word alone.

Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you know the renewing and cleansing power of the Spirit of Christ in your life?

Or do you, in the darkness, fill your mind and soul with other spirits - with other things: things that do not renew you, but that wear you out, and use you up; things that do not cleanse you, but that pollute you, and poison you?

Those who morally pollute their minds and souls in this way, as a literal drunkard pollutes his body with alcohol, do not know that the day of the Lord is approaching. Those who “tune out” the warnings and admonitions of God, as a physically sleeping person “tunes out” the sounds of the world around him, are totally oblivious to what is coming.

The Day of the Lord is sneaking up on them. When it does come, therefore, they will be unprepared. They will be judged, and condemned.

And if you are in this situation - if you are, on the inside, trapped in the darkness of unbelief; if you are blinded by this darkness to the truth of God - then the day of the Lord will come upon you as a thief in the night.

That day will come. Nothing will change that. But you will not be ready for it. And you will be eternally destroyed by it.

But if you repent of your sins, and turn away from them; if you truly want to rise from your sleep, and be purged of your spiritual drunkenness before it is too late, then know this: Jesus Christ is the light of the world, who dispels all darkness, and who overcomes all the works of darkness. And you, who know him by faith, are not in darkness.

St. Paul says to those who abide in their baptism - who die daily to self, and who rise daily in Christ: “You are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”

“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake. ... Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.”

As you live in Christ - by faith in his words of pardon and life, and bearing the fruits of a wholesome love for your neighbor - the day of the Lord will not surprise you like a thief. The visible coming of Jesus on the last day will not shock you.

And that’s because those who are children of the day, and who live in the light of Christ, are actually quite used to Christ coming to them all the time. He doesn’t come visibly, of course. That unique mode of his coming is yet to occur.

But invisibly, he comes whenever his words of pardon and life are proclaimed. Jesus said to those ministers whom he sent forth to preach in his name, “The one who hears you, hears me.”

And this is especially so when Christ speaks these words through his ministers: “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.”

In his gospel, Jesus is here among us. As we abide in him, and he is us, we do grow in humility, and in our awareness of how desperately we need him in life and in death.

We also grow in our trust in him, as he remains ever faithful toward us. And we grow in our desire to be like him.

Those who are without the faith that God’s Spirit gives, are blind to the things that Jesus does among us. They are in the dark. They cannot see him, even as they cannot hear him.

But we are in the light. It is always daytime for us, as we walk by the light of Christ. By faith we can see and hear everything that he does and says in Word and Sacrament.

According to the new nature that his Spirit has birthed within us, we are very comfortable with Jesus, and rejoice to be where he is. He does not frighten us.

And so, on the last day, when Jesus makes the transition from his many invisible comings, to his one, ultimate, visible appearance, we, by faith, will be ready. We will welcome him, and we will rejoice.

The children of darkness will be terrified by his appearing: terrified and shocked. We will not be.

In the peace of the gospel we will be calm, as our beloved Savior, and our familiar friend, comes among us once again - and ushers us into something new, something wonderful, something eternal.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that...we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another, and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Amen.

26 November 2017 - Last Sunday in the Church Year - Matthew 25:31-46

“And he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” With these words, or words like them, we regularly confess in the Creed our expectation that the momentous and sobering events described in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, will indeed happen. Christ will visibly descend to the earth in judgment, and all will stand humbly before him.

The Augsburg Confession reiterates this conviction in the following words:

“Our churches teach that at the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead. He will give the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but he will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end.”

At this time in human history, Jesus is not visibly present on the earth. This does not mean, however, that Jesus is currently absent from us.

In commenting on the section of the Augsburg Confession that was just quoted, the twentieth-century theologian C. H. Little wrote:

“The reference in these words is to a visible advent of Christ. It is not intended to deny that Christ is with his people now, or that he has been with them perpetually since the close of the period of his humiliation, in fulfillment of his promises: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’; and ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’

“Wherever the means of grace are administered, there Christ comes through the Holy Spirit to apply the salvation which he has wrought for us. But the meaning of the above that Christ will come visibly with power and great glory...” So far Dr. Little.

The difference, then, is that at the present time, Christ’s presence in the world, and among us, is hidden, and is not visible to our physical eyes - except perhaps for very rare occasions when someone may have a miraculous vision of him. For the duration of this age, when Jesus comes to us to teach us, to forgive us, and to renew us in our faith in him, he does so hidden within human language in its spoken and written forms; hidden within a washing of simple water; hidden within the eating and drinking of common bread and wine.

He covers over his bright, shining glory with these simple and unthreatening things, so that we, in our frail and sinful condition, will not be overwhelmed by that glory. In our weak and mortal state we cannot stand in the presence of Christ’s uncloaked divine majesty. So, he doesn’t make us do it.

But, he does still make himself available to us whenever we need him. When our conscience has been stirred by the warnings of God’s law, and the Holy Spirit has given us a yearning for the forgiveness and saving grace of Christ, we always know where to go to find him.

We can always locate our hidden but truly present Savior in the preaching of his gospel and in the administration of his sacraments. We see him there with the eyes of faith, because he has told us in his faith-creating Word that this is where he is.

In the text from St. Matthew that we heard a while ago, Jesus tells us about another way in which he is already present among us, now, as we wait for his visible appearance on judgment day. Listen again to the words that will be spoken to the resurrected righteous ones as they stand before his throne on that day:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

In many passages of Scripture Christ has revealed that he is truly present for us, and is ready to be the giver of his salvation, in his Word and sacraments. We don’t physically see him there, but we know that he is there because he has told us that he is there.

In today’s Gospel text Christ has also revealed that he is truly present for us, and is ready to be the recipient of our love, in, with, and under our needy brothers and sisters. We don’t physically see him there either, but we know that he is there because he has told us that he is there.

Now, when your conscience tells you that have sinned, that you need God’s forgiveness, and that you need to get right with God once again, do not look to the good works that you might be able to do for the needy as the place where you can find what you need at such a time. Jesus, as the forgiver of sins, does not come to us through the poor and needy, but through the means of grace.

But when you already have God’s forgiveness; and when, as the fruit of a living faith, you want to demonstrate to Jesus your gratitude for his saving mercy toward you - according to the new nature that the Holy Spirit has birthed within you - then, at such a time, and for such a purpose, your struggling brother’s need, and your afflicted sister’s need, are precisely where you should look, in order to find the place where your love for Christ can best be expressed.

Jesus is there. He is hidden, but he is truly there, as his Word says, waiting for you to seek him out in love. He is there waiting for you to show to him your compassion and generosity.

He is there waiting for you to share with him of the material blessings that have been bestowed on you in this life. “I tell you the truth,” he says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

When is the last time you fed Jesus, or gave him something to drink? When is the last time you showed your Lord some needed hospitality, or clothed him? When is the last time you cared for your Savior in his sickness, or visited him in his loneliness?

Hopefully we are eager and willing to go to Christ for help when we sense our need for it, and to seek him out in the means of grace in order to receive spiritual blessings from him. But how eager are we to go to Christ in order to help him and show him our love and gratitude; and to seek him out in the needs of those who are poor, or disadvantaged, or the victims of injustice, or hurting in any number of other ways? Maybe not as often.

As we think this morning particularly of judgment day, and of what the Lord will at that time tell those who are destined for eternal fire - that is, those who are without faith, and consequently also without the fruits of faith - it gives us pause:

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. ... I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Isn’t it a wonderful thing, therefore, that Jesus himself has done everything that is necessary for our salvation? It’s a wonderful thing that our lack of showing love for him, of which we repent and which we regret, is forgiven today through his great and perfect love for us.

When we were hungry with the emptiness of spiritual death, he filled us with himself, and gave us the bread of life to eat. When we were parched with the thirst of a dead and dry unbelief, he gave us the water of life which flows as an endless fountain.

When we were aliens and strangers, he made us to be a part of his holy people and his beloved nation, and built us into the living temple which is his church. When we were morally naked before God, unable to cover the shame and filth of our own unrighteousness, he clothed us with himself in baptism and put his own righteousness upon us.

When we were sick in our sinfulness, he bestowed on us the medicine of immortality - his own life-giving body and precious blood, given and shed for the remission of sins. When we were slaves and captives of Satan, he set us free with the glorious liberty of the children of God - in whose mansions we have an eternal home, which he has prepared for us.

Our loving works for Christ, which we perform in faith, are nevertheless imperfect. Our compassion for the poor and needy, which is a part of what we are as Christians, is nevertheless impure. Our love for others, which is real, is nevertheless a pale reflection of what it should be.

But Christ’s work for us and for our redemption was and is perfect. His compassion for us and his desire to save us was and is pure. His love for us and for all his people shines brightly and warmly, now and forever.

Because of his great work for us, his great compassion for us, and his great love for us, we who cling to him in faith, who are clothed in his righteousness, and who depart from this world in this faith and with this righteousness, will stand before Christ on judgment day without fear.

He has already justified us, acquitted us, and pronounced us to be not guilty in his Holy Absolution. With all our hearts we have believed his words of pardon and hope.

And because he cannot lie, but is in his person the Way, the Truth, and the Life - by whom we come to the Father - he will not change his mind on the last day. St. Paul comforts us in this regard in his epistle to the Romans:

“Jesus our Lord...was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

As we humbly yet expectantly await the day of Christ’s visible return, we known that Christ is already present in the means of grace, to which he continually draws us, to forgive our sins and to preserve and strengthen us in our faith. And we know that he is also already present in the needs of our brothers and sisters, to which he also continually draws us, guiding and prompting us to those works of mercy through which we exercise our love for him.

Jesus warns that on judgment day the unrighteous and wicked “will go away to eternal punishment.” But he also promises - to you and to me - that those who are righteous - righteous in the righteousness of Christ - will go “to eternal life.” Amen.