Sunday, 19 November 2017

Pentecost XXIII (Proper 28 A) [Matthew 25:14-30] (19-Nov-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am (lay-reading).

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

He who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In the Gospel of Luke, there is a wonderful passage where we read about where Jesus went to the house of a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders at that time. And while Jesus was there, we read: A woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining in the Pharisees’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with ointment. Can you picture this event? Here Jesus is having dinner with these “respectable” people, and in comes this woman, and she is crying, she washes Jesus feet with the tears that are streaming from her eyes, and pours ointment, perfume, over his feet. And it’s strange—we are not told much about this lady. We are not told her name, we don’t know where she was born. The only thing we are told about her is that she was a sinner. And we might have all kinds of different ideas about what kind of a sinner she was. And yet, even though she carries so much shame and self-loathing, all of this sadness is poured out over the one person that can actually save her and help her. Here she comes and pours out her tears on Jesus’ feet. And not just her tears, but she mixes her tears with perfume—she pours out everything that comes from her heart, but then she also pours out this expensive ointment, a wonderful gift for her Saviour.

Of course, all the people who are there think this is all a bit strange, not just because of what the woman did, but because they knew that she was a sinner, as the passage says. Jesus says to them: Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Do you see how this works? These Pharisees, these religious leaders, didn’t understand that were sinners, and then, of course, they didn’t appreciate what a wonderful privilege it is to be in the presence of Jesus and to eat a meal with him and talk with him. And at the same time, this woman, whom we know nothing about except that she was a sinner—she knew what a privilege it was, she knew just what a joy it is was to be with Jesus.

And it’s strange: Jesus almost talks as if there is a scale: the more we are forgiven, the more we love. Jesus says: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. And so all of this woman’s sins are completely washed away. And yet, Jesus converts all of her sins into love. It’s as if the more a person is a sinner, the greater capacity they have for love.

It’s as if Jesus is running a recycling depot (in South Australia or Northern Territory, though!). People bring their bottles and cans to the recycling depot, and then they are given some money in return. The more bottles, the more money. It’s as if the more sins we bring to Jesus, the greater capacity we have for love. Now it’s no use turning up to the recycling depot with jewellery and expensive things. You can’t go up to the recycling depot and say: “I’d like to cash in my Rolls Royce. How much do you think it can be recycled for?” No—they will only accept cans and bottles.

So—it’s not as if we go and cash in wish Jesus all the things we think are good about us and valuable, but we go to Jesus and cash in all the things we hate about ourselves, which have made us worthless.

There’s a wonderful passage in Matthew where Jesus says to the Pharisees, the same religious leaders: Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. Now Jesus is not talking about all tax-collectors and prostitutes here. And Jesus mentions tax collectors here not because it’s a sin to work for the tax office, but because in those days these tax collectors were Jewish people who were working for the Romans, and collecting tax for the Romans. The Jewish people saw them as traitors. And much of the time they were traitors, because they lined their own pockets with the people’s money. And we know that in our times, prostitutes are always trying to tell people to avoid even calling them “prostitutes”, but to call them other, more dignified names, to cover up the shame. This isn’t what Jesus is talking about either. What he is saying is that there are going to be people that we despise—tax collectors and prostitutes—all throughout history who are going to go to Jesus and to cash in their sins for God’s free forgiveness. And there are going to be many people who are respectable, who are never going to bother, because they think they’re so good.

Martin Luther once wrote a letter to someone about this, where he said: learn Christ and him crucified.  Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin.  You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours.  You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not."  Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one.  For Christ dwells only in sinners.

So what does this have to do with our gospel reading today? Today in our reading we read: [The kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To the one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

When it says the man gave his servants “talents”, he’s not talking about “talents” like being able to catch a fish, or play the piano, or being able to balance a spoon on the end of your nose. It’s not talking about when we say a person is “talented”. A talent was an amount of money, 20 year’s wages for a labourer. It’s a lot of money. When Jesus says to the people “a talent”, I would think that today we might think “a million dollars.”

And here we see that Jesus is like a man going on a journey. He has died and risen from the dead, and now he has ascended into heaven. He is hidden from our eyes and we can’t see him anymore, but he still promises to be with us. He’s absent from us, as if he’s left the church on its own. But he says: Surely, I am with you always to the end of the age. And he says: Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

So the parable says that to us it seems as though Jesus has gone on a journey. But he will also come back from the journey. At the end of the world, Jesus will appear again and judge the world. We say in the Apostles’ Creed: He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

But in the meantime, it says that the man called his servants and entrusted to them his property. And when Jesus gives us his property, the most precious gift is the gift of himself. And each is given according to his ability. The ability here is the knowledge of sin. Remember the woman in Luke—she pours out so much love, her ability to love is so much, not because she was perfect, but because she was a sinner. She had sinned much, Jesus says, and then she loved much. Because she knew her sin so deeply, she had so much ability to be entrusted with Jesus’ property, to be entrusted with the forgiveness of each and every single one of her sins.

And so he we read: Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

Now later we read how the first two were rewarded, but the last one was punished. We read: He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master said to him, “You wicket and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Now if we want to understand this parable, we want to know what does it mean to bury the money in the ground, and what does it mean to double our money? The first two servants doubled their money, but the third servant buried his money.

Well, you see, the forgiveness of sins is such a wonderful thing. The greater we understand this, the more we will understand the Christian faith in all its joy. This of course, seems a bit strange to us: how can we receive so much joy from acknowledging all our failures? Well, it’s just like a plant or a tree—you heap manure on it and it grows. So also, our faith always grows out of manure, because it is always a faith in the forgiveness of sins.

Now, when we were baptised, Jesus gave this forgiveness of sins to us completely freely, and in the Lord’s Supper, he continually strengthens us in it.

And from this forgiveness of sins comes everything. From the forgiveness of sins comes life in all its forms, and salvation in all its richness. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

And so, if we want to trade with our talents, what is Jesus asking us to do? He’s asking us to keep reading and meditating on and hearing the word of God. Because the word of God will continually reveal to us more sin, but then God’s word will continually apply to us more and more forgiveness. And this richness of the forgiveness of sins will eventually burst forth, like water being poured into jars, and it will overflow into other jars. When people realise just how rich this forgiveness of sins is, it will be impossible for them to keep it to themselves—other people will be encouraged by it and grow in their faith too. Think of this woman who was a sinner—think how much encouragement we receive from her, how when she trades with Jesus, and cashes in her sins, she rewards her: He says: Well done, good and faithful servant! Your faith has saved you. She loved much because she is forgiven much.

If we want to bury our talent in the ground, then we should stop listening to the word of God. Many people bury the word of God in the ground and don’t want to listen to it. But we might think, hang on, isn’t the talent the gift that Jesus gave to this servant? Yes, the word of God is Jesus’ property which he gives to the servant. The word of God speaks the forgiveness of sins to each and every single fault and failure that this man has. And yet, he buries it—even though he has received so much from it, he thinks it has no power. He thinks the Holy Spirit is found somewhere else that isn’t so boring and uninteresting.

And there’s a real temptation for us in this—we start to think that the word of God has no power. We stop valuing the word of God. We think we’ve heard the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins so many times before. We might think that most important thing about a church is how many people go to it, or how entertained people are there, rather than whether you can hear the word of God there. All this is burying the talent in the ground.

Jesus has given us so much. If all he had given us was the forgiveness of sins, then we should be happy. Because if we have the forgiveness of sins, we have everything we need—we can pray, we can go to heaven, we can be saved. But not only that, but through the word of God, and through the gospel, through the forgiveness of sins, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, a good conscience, a clean slate, and all kinds of gifts. St Paul says: To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. And the gifts just keep increasing.

Sometimes we see the forgiveness of sins and such a little thing. But it is everything. And Jesus says: You have been faithful over little. You have been coming regularly and diligently to my recycling plant and cashing each little sin, failure, and sadness. You have brought these things to me, and I have paid you back with my suffering, death and my blood. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.

Do you see? Our sin cost Jesus his life, but then he gives us eternal life completely and totally for free. Enter into the joy of your master.


Dear Lord Jesus, strengthen us with your holy and precious word. Send us your Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sin, but also strengthen us in your word that may not despair of your love but be constantly filled with your forgiveness, your grace, and your mercy. Teach us to be faithful to you, Jesus, and keep us safe in your hands. Amen.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Pentecost XXII (Proper 27 A) [Matthew 25:1-13] (12-Nov-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am (lay-reading), and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 9am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today, we read a very rich parable of Jesus, the Parable of the Ten Virgins. We read: Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. The scene that Jesus paints here is one of ten virgins who are bridesmaids waiting for the groom to arrive so that they can go into a wedding reception, or a wedding banquet. At weddings, it is always important that things run on time, and there are a lot of jokes about brides running late. If a bride arrives early, the car might drive around the block a few times so that they arrive at the church at the right time. But in our parable, it is a groom—a bridegroom—that everyone is waiting for, and he is so late that everyone falls asleep.

In our reading, we read that the ten virgins went to meet the bridegroom. And later we read: At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ So who is the bridegroom in this reading? The bridegroom is Jesus himself. One of the first things we read about in the book of Genesis is the marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with God himself as the match-maker and the celebrant. And then, right at the end of the bible, we read in the book of Revelation: I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. A couple of chapters earlier, we read where an angel says: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Right back in the Old Testament, in the prophet Isaiah, we read about a faithful servant of God speaking of God like their husband: I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. In Ephesians, Paul has a lot to say about this: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

And so you can see this wonderful reality described in the bible here of Christ as the bridegroom, and the church as his bride. St Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2: I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. He is not speaking only to the Corinthians who were outwardly celibate and virgins, but to the whole church here. And in the church at Corinth, there were virgins and widows, married people, and also people who had converted to Christ from prostitution, who were adulterers and who had slept around, and also Paul even mentions people who had converted to Jesus after having committed incest. But when these people repented and turned to Christ, they became virgins again, not because of themselves and their own righteousness and purity, but because of Christ’s righteousness which covered them. As it says in Isaiah: He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

In our reading, we read about the ten virgins: Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

On one hand, in the bible, the church is always depicted as Christ’s bride. But in this reading the bride isn’t mentioned, only these virgins, these bridesmaids. And so, we learn from this that in this life, in the church on earth, the bride of Christ is hidden, veiled. The church is often not a glorious place at all. It often seems quite ordinary, even a bit uninteresting and boring and commonplace. Sometimes in the church, there are fights and disagreements. From the outside, the church seems to have a lot of hypocrites. Many people don’t want anything to do with the church, because they see a community of ordinary sinners, and if God were really in charge of the world, why would he bother wasting his time with that lot?

But in this life, we don’t see the bride in all her glory. We only see ten virgins, five of them are wise and five of them are foolish. On one hand, the church is found wherever Christ’s word and the Gospel is preached in its truth and purity and where his sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are carried out according to Christ’s command and institution. The Word and the Sacraments are the Holy Spirit’s means that he uses to create faith in people. But on the other hand, not everyone who hears the gospel believes it. But faith is not something that you produce in yourself, but it is something that the Holy Spirit works in your heart. You might even think: “I want to believe, but I can’t”. St Paul writes that God wills and works in us to his good pleasure. If you want to believe, it means that God is already working in you, and you didn’t even know it. Thank him for working in you—he will continue to work in you, and he has already produced faith in your heart.

Now, the Holy Spirit is not a toy. He is the living God himself, and the Spirit of the Living God, and the Spirit of the living Jesus, who has risen from the dead. The Holy Spirit will not be manipulated. And so he works whenever and wherever he pleases in those who hear the Gospel. In John we read: The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. What this means is that just as we might be sitting inside one day and can hear the wind outside, so also when we hear the Word of God, we are listening to God’s own wind, the Holy Spirit. But just as you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going, so also we can’t see the Holy Spirit coming, and we can’t see the Holy Spirit working in this person and that person. As Paul says: I preached, [someone else] watered, but God gave the growth.

And so, we see this happen on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes down upon the disciples, but not everyone who sees this happening believes it or recognises it. We read: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Some were interested, but some mocked. When Paul preached in Athens, we read: Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So what we learn here is that we never know how the Holy Spirit is going to work. We should never second-guess him and say: That person’s never going to listen. We simply speak the word and go home, but the Holy Spirit then continues to work and create faith in people.

So on one hand, the word of God and the Holy Spirit comes to us from outside of us. And all of us hear the word of God altogether. But God doesn’t speak his word in such a way that it hits you on the head like a rock and bounces off. He calls you to believe it. And so, even though all kinds of people might come to church and hear the word, God calls each individual to be saved personally. Later in our reading we read: As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterwards, the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

We learn a few things here. Firstly, we learn that Christ calls us to receive the gift of salvation personally. When the time comes, it will be too late for the individual virgins to share their oil with each other. We can’t rely on others. We can’t say: I’m saved, because I go to church with bla-bla-bla, and he’s a good guy. Or: I’m saved because my grandma is a Christian. Or: I’m saved, because my grandfather, or my son, is a pastor. Or: I’m saved because I go to the church Martin Luther started, and he knew what it was all about. Or: I’m saved because come from such-and-such a country. No: we can’t get our righteousness from each other. We can only receive our salvation from Jesus and him alone. Now, sometimes, when a person dies, we don’t about their salvation, and so we might commend them to God in prayer and to his mercy. But this does not mean that our good works or our prayers can earn salvation for someone else. Some of you might have a relative or a friend who is not saved and is an unbeliever. Of course, we should pray for them every day and not give up. But we don’t pray that we would be their saviour, but that Jesus would be their Saviour. So salvation is through Jesus and Jesus alone. Peter says in Acts: There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. So the oil cannot be shared between fellow virgins. It can only be received from Christ and the Holy Spirit, through the living and active word of God.

But secondly, there is a very important teaching here that not everyone will be saved. This is a very unpopular thing to say, but we must learn from the Scripture and not from our own ideas that there will be a judgment, and that each person will be judged by God. There are a number of parables where Jesus teaches this: one of them is the wheat and the weeds, where at the end, the wheat and weeds are separated into different piles. Another parable like this is about the drag net which pulls in all kinds of fish, and then they are sorted into the good and the bad. And here in the parable of the ten virgins, there are two types of virgins: the wise and the foolish. The wise virgins are ready and prepared and they go into the wedding feast, but then there are the foolish virgins who are not ready and it is too late for them, and then the door is shut. So you can see that there is a judgment.

Now today there are many people who don’t believe this. First of all, many people say that there is no distinction between God and his creation. They say that God is everything, God is the universe, or that God is in everything. The first verse of the bible contradicts this and says: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God is the creator, and the heaven and the earth are his creation. Second, many people say that the Holy Spirit is in everyone. This is not true. Everyone is born with a conscience, everyone is born with a soul, but to be saved, Jesus says you must be born again, a second time, in Holy Baptism, and God gives the Holy Spirit as a gift. Instead of being united around Jesus and his word, many people today just want to be united in their feelings and experiences, and so there would be no difference between the Christian faith and any other faith. But Jesus says: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If this isn’t true, then Jesus is a liar, and he’s not the true God. If the words of Jesus are not absolute truth, then nothing in this world is right or wrong, there is no good or bad, no heaven or hell, and of course, the church has no mission, and the missionary zeal of the church completely dries up.

Instead, the bible teaches us that God is the Creator, and he has made heaven and earth as his creation, which is distinct from him. Jesus is true God who entered into this creation and took on human flesh, and then died on the cross and made a payment and an atonement for sin. Through faith in Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit. In the end, we will be judged; but through Jesus, forgiveness and eternal life has been won for us, and is ours through faith. Jesus is our Mediator, our Advocate, our Defender. The Holy Spirit brings us the Gospel, and through the Gospel the Holy Spirit creates faith in us. The Holy Spirit is the oil in the lamps, and the light of the Gospel in our hearts is the light. And so while we have the light of the Gospel shining among us on this earth, we need to make good use of the time we have to fill up our flasks with God’s oil. If we leave it, and refuse to believe the Gospel, there may be a time, then, when it is too late for us.

And so, at the very end of our reading, Jesus says: Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Jesus here is calling us to repent and to reconcile ourselves with God now, in this life, while we have the Gospel. Psalm 95 says: Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Isaiah says: Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. St Paul says in Romans: The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. And in Galatians we read: As we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone. The time for acquiring faith, and believing in Jesus, and receiving the Holy Spirit is now. It is not next year, not next month, not tomorrow. When we hear the Gospel, we can’t guarantee that it will be there for us when we need it. We might say: I’ll read the bible at home another day, but who knows if later you’ll go blind in your old age? People might say: I won’t listen in church all that carefully, but then later on they go deaf and it’s too late? They might say: I’d like to come to church, but then later they find themselves unable to come when they want to.

Or someone might say: I’m going to church at Easter. I haven’t gone to church for a long time. And then they go along, and the preacher tells everyone that Jesus hasn’t risen from the dead after all. It’s too late – the Gospel isn’t preached in that church any more, and the glory of God has departed from that place. They rejected God earlier, and when they sought him later, they couldn’t find him anymore. They might call for a pastor to come and see them on their deathbed, but then they can’t find anyone to come, because by that time, either no Christians live there anymore, or the Christians who do are too lazy and apathetic to come.

The time of grace is now. And while we have the Gospel, our Lord Jesus doesn’t call us to be apathetic, but to fill up, to stock up our vessels, and to keep our lamps burning. And when our lamps burn brightly, and when they burn with the wonderful light of God’s word and his Gospel, then the words will be fulfilled: Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Others may see the light in the lamps, and will say: I want to go and fill up on the same oil as they. I want to fill my lamp with the same word of God, and the same Gospel, and the same Holy Spirit.

And so, let’s be ready and prepared. Let’s continually learn God’s word, receive the free forgiveness of sins, and to fill up our vessels continually, so that when the time comes we can wake from our sleep and hear the words: Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him’. And those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast. Amen.

Dear Jesus, our loving bridegroom, keep us watchful and ready, and continually fill our lamps with your precious Word and your Holy Spirit. Wake us up from our sleep, forgive us all our sins, and lead us into the wedding banquet of eternal life. Amen.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Funeral of Elaine Hansen [Luke 23:39-43] (8-Nov-2017)

This sermon was preached at the Maryborough Crematorium, Maryborough, 1.30pm.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, 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 he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today as we come here for Elaine’s funeral, we have the wonderful privilege of entering into God’s presence, and receiving our comfort from him. Every time we gather together to hear God’s word, there is always something new to learn from him. God’s own comfort is not something that is natural to us, because we are human and he is God, and so it always must be taught. Especially today when we gather for a funeral in the face of death, it is a wonderful privilege and joy to receive our strength and comfort from God himself.

And so today we come together to thank God for Elaine’s life, to remember the good things that God has given to us through her, and to commend her to God and his mercy and grace.

Today for our funeral text, I’ve chosen a passage from the Gospel of Luke, from the part where he tells about the events of when Jesus was on the cross. Often when we see the cross depicted in a painting, or something, there are three crosses. The reason for this is because Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And our reading tells of a discussion that occurs between the two criminals and Jesus while they are there.

But let’s just leave this passage for a moment, and come back to Elaine. On the 18 March 1928, at the Nitschinsk family home, Elaine was baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The reason why this was because we Christians believe that Jesus died for the sin of the world on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday he rose from the dead. After he rose from the dead, he sent his twelve apostles out on a special mission and to them: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.

And so when the pastor, all those years ago baptised Elaine at her family’s home, he didn’t baptise her in his own name, and by his own authority. Instead he baptised her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus promised the apostles: I am with you always to the end of the age. So it’s not simply a pastor, or a human being, who baptises people, it is Jesus who does it. He is the one who works invisibly alongside and behind the pastor doing it.

So who is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Well, let’s go back to the very beginning of the bible, where it says: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It also says that he made people in his own image, male and female he created them, and God blessed them. We also read where it says: And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Later in the psalms, the poetry written by King David, it says: You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

We learn here from these passages that God is our creator and maker. God has made each person on this earth in his own image, but also makes each person unique. And it’s not as if God simply wound the world up like a clock, and then went on holiday ever since. He still provides for people and for the world. And so, when Elaine was a child, God provided her with a mother and father and a home. When she was older, God provided her with a husband, and children, and a home of her own. God provided her to you, however you came about to know her. And so all of this is part of God’s way of ordering the world, and providing for us and looking after us.

We also learn from the Scripture, that the world fell into sin. Adam and Eve, the first people, disobeyed God’s commandment to them, and they came under God’s judgment. They once could enjoy God’s presence in a perfect and wonderful way, but then after they had brought sin into their lives by their own doing, they could no longer live in the same way together with God anymore. With sin, came also suffering and death into the world. What this means for us today is that on one hand, all of us have been created in a wonderful way by God. And from our parents, we have inherited all kinds of good things. But also, because of sin, we also inherit the family debt. With all the good things that are passed down from generation to generation, sin is also passed down. We know that you don’t have to teach a child to do wrong—they do it all by themselves, because it’s already there, and it doesn’t need to be taught! St Paul says: There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And later he says: The wages of sin is death.

But this brings us back to words that were spoken to Elaine on the day of her baptism: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We have spoken about God the Father, our wonderful Creator, but also about the terrible way in which sin has come into the world. God the Father also sent his Son into the world, Jesus Christ. Jesus is both a true man, a real human being in every way, but also was true God at the same time. This is because Jesus had a human mother—the Virgin Mary—but had God the Father as his Father. And so, Jesus also lead a life that was completely and totally sinless.

Now, at Christmas time, we remember the event where Jesus was born. We remember the wonderful event where the Son of God who had existed from all eternity, who had been there with his Father at the creation of the world, now took on human flesh, and was born as a baby, just like you and I were. Christmas is the event where we remember who Jesus is—both true God and true man in one person. And then at Easter time, we remember the event what Jesus did, how he died on the cross, and rose again from the dead.

And this passage that I read before about the two criminals shows to us why Jesus died. And these two criminals in some sense give a picture of the whole human race. Everyone is a sinner without exception. And so the first criminal, we read, railed at Jesus—we might say, he mocked him, heckled him. And said: Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! What he meant to say was: If you really are the Son of God, why don’t you just get down off the cross? You don’t have to go through this!

And in some sense, he’s right. Jesus didn’t have to go through it, but he chose to. Jesus had once said: No-one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. So why doesn’t Jesus just get off the cross, if he has the power and the authority being the Son of God to do so? He doesn’t get off the cross, because he is doing something very important, in fact, he is doing the most important thing that has ever been done in the whole history of the world. He is making an atonement for sin, he is paying the price for our wrongs with his own life and with his own blood. And without him doing this, not one single one of us would have any hope at all.

And so this is where the other criminal comes in. We read: The other [criminal] rebuked him, meaning, he told him off, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

He says: What’s wrong with you? We’re being crucified because we committed a crime. The Romans used to crucify people who were rebels. And so these rebels knew that they were rebels, and they knew what the punishment was if they were caught. And now they had been caught. And the criminal says: we deserve what we are getting. But Jesus hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t deserve crucifixion, but he is doing it for you. He has done nothing wrong, and he makes a payment for you, who have done plenty wrong. And so, Jesus takes all of your sin and dies for it, and he gives you all of his innocence and perfection and he gives it to you, completely freely. St Paul says: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. For Jesus eternal life costs him his life, but because of this, he offers and gives it to you for free.

And so the criminal then says to Jesus: Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus does not require anything from this criminal. The criminal commends himself to Jesus and his mercy. And Jesus promises him the gift of eternal life.

There’s a wonderful text in the book of Romans, where St Paul says: God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. What this means is that the only person God has mercy on is a sinner. The only people that Jesus died for are sinners. This is what the thief on the cross came to recognise. He knew he was guilty, and that Jesus was innocent, and Jesus takes him with him, just as if the thief were innocent. The reason Jesus did this is because Jesus had taken the thief’s guilt on himself, and died for it himself.

And so, in the same way, we thank God for giving Elaine to us, and for blessing us with her. Let’s thank God for creating her, and thank Jesus for the wonderful way in which he died on the cross, and made an atonement for the sin of the whole world. And so, as we remember all the many blessings we have received from God through Elaine, let’s commend her to God’s mercy and grace.

Jesus says: Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. Amen.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds safe in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Sermon for All Saints (5-Nov-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

May you be strengthened with his power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

When you hear the word “saint”, what do you normally think of? I think most people probably think of particularly significant Christian people who lived a wonderful life on this earth, who have now died.

Now the word “saint” actually means a “holy person”. When we talk about saints, it can mean two different things: it can mean those Christian people who have now died, but it can also mean Christian people who are still living, and who are wrestling in this life, and struggling with their sin and their problems. The first kind of saint—a saint who has left this earthly life—is a person who is now free of sin, but the second kind of saint—a Christian person who is still alive—is a person who is still wrestling with their sin. The second kind of saint is also a sinner at the same time as being a saint, whereas the first kind is not a sinner anymore because they have been set free from sin having passed through death. But we’ll come back to this in a minute.

Let’s talk about the communion of saints. In the Apostle’s Creed, we say that we believe in the “communion of saints”. And this is actually another name for the church itself. Now how does a person become a saint, and become part of this communion of saints? Well—Jesus sends out his workers with his Holy Spirit to gather a church to Himself, using the word of God, and the Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So Jesus himself actually calls us to be part of his kingdom, to be part of his fellowship, to be part of his communion, through his living word, which is spoken on earth. That’s what the church is here for: to make sure that God’s word is spoken here on earth, so that sinners may come to Jesus and be made part of his kingdom. Sinners—like you and me—enter into the kingdom of Jesus by being baptised, by being born again by water and the Spirit, or as St Paul says, being washed with water and the word. Holy Baptism is that wonderful event where Jesus gathers us to himself and brings us into his kingdom, and gives us his Holy Spirit. And Jesus doesn’t just set us out on the road to heaven, but he also feeds us along the way, and gives us his body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper. And so, Jesus continually gathers us together and strengthens us on the road.

Now, the word of God, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are not given to the church on earth as some kind of magic charm. Jesus doesn’t want us to look at his word and at baptism or at the Lord’s Supper as if we’re some cow in a paddock, starting at a new blade of grass in the field. No—the word of God—which is also the thing that empowers baptism and the Lord’s Supper—calls us to faith. The reason why God speaks his word, and baptises us and gives us the Lord’s Supper, is so that we believe in it! In fact, through God’s word, the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts. God gives us his word of law—to call us to repent, and to change our lives, and live differently. This word shows us that we are sinners. But then he also gives us sinners his word of Gospel—which points us to Christ, and what he has done for us in his death and resurrection from the dead. And it is the Gospel that makes us saints, that makes us holy people—not because we are already perfect or because we had made such an good effort, but because of Christ and his holiness. Christ then takes his righteousness and his holiness and he completely covers over all of our sin with it. Our whole lives as Christians is then learning to recognise our sin, to put it behind us, and to receive the forgiveness of sins. A Christian person, or a holy person, or a saint, is not someone who has achieved perfection in this life, because that is impossible. The only person who has lived a completely sinless life is Jesus. But when we trust in Jesus, and his sinlessness, and his holiness, then God takes your account and adds all of your sin to Jesus’ account. He charges the bill to Jesus, and Jesus paid it in full with his blood. And then God takes all of the righteousness, and holiness, and perfection that belongs to Jesus, and he adds it to your account. This is what it means in Genesis 15, where we read that Abraham believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Because of Jesus, God has counted his righteousness to your account. This means that are now free to begin a Christian life, a saintly, holy life. You will never achieve perfection in this life, but you will only begin it, one step and one day at a time, with Jesus your Saviour guiding you along the way, and forgiving all your new sins and mess-ups along the way.

Now, even though God calls us through his word and his sacraments, it is only the Holy Spirit who creates faith in people. There are some people who hear and are baptised, and who come to the Lord’s Supper, but don’t believe in them. They people are not saints, but are hypocrites. They are only part of the church in an outward, external way. This is a communion which includes believers and non-believers, saints and non-saints. But there is also an internal, hidden, spiritual communion of saints, which exists only among those who believe the promises of God in His word, and believe in God’s work in their baptism, and believe in Jesus’ work and presence and gifts in the Lord’s Supper.

But then, the bible uses the word “saints” in two ways, as we mentioned before. The first way is to mean those who trust in Jesus in this life and are still fighting against sin and the devil, and are still living their Christian life under the cross. But the second way the bible uses the word “saints” is to mean those people who have endured their hardship but are now in heaven, praising God. So for example, in Acts we read that Peter came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. This is the first meaning, referring to people like us, who are both saints and sinners at the same time. Many of the letters of Paul are addressed to the saints who are at Corinth, or at Rome, or wherever. But then we also have examples of the second meaning, such as when after Jesus died there was an earthquake, and it says: many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Here “saints” means those who were no longer sinners, but had died.

So, when we say that we believe in the “communion of saints”, what are we talking about? Are we talking about a communion of people on this earth who are both saints and sinners like us, or are we talking about a communion of people in heaven who have finished their struggle with sin and who are now perfect? The answer is that both we Christians who are alive and those Christians who are dead are together one communion of saints. St Paul says that we Christians are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. So when we call the church “the communion of saints”, we mean not just the members of the church that are still doing battle in this life, and fighting the good fight of faith, and wrestling against their sin, but also the church in heaven that is now perfect and glorious. We are altogether one church, one communion of saints. There are not two communions, but only one communion. There are not two churches, but one church. Sometimes we call the church on earth the “church militant” and the church in heaven the “church triumphant”. We are all one church, we are just on different sides of the grave. We are still struggling, but their struggle is completely over now.

In Hebrews chapter 12, the writer reveals to us something that is very special about what it is that we are part of when we gather here as the church. We read: You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and to the multitude of many thousands of angels and to the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven; and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Now, we could talk about those verses all day, but listen to those words that we have come to the multitude of many thousands of angels, to the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven…to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Those who have died in the Christian faith are with Jesus, and we also in this life on earth come to meet the same Jesus. We Christians don’t just share all kinds of wonderful blessings of the Holy Spirit with each other here on this earth in the church, but we also belong to the same fellowship, the same communion of those holy people and saints who are already in heaven. In Ephesians 2, it says that God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In Colossians, we read that our heavenly Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. To be transferred out of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom means to enjoy now the fellowship not just with other Christians on this earth, but also to be one fellowship with all those who have already died and are now in Paradise with Jesus.

In our order of service that we use week after week, we say some words before the Lord’s Supper which reflect this teaching. When we have the Lord’s Supper, we sing a song called the “Holy, holy, holy”, or in Latin, it is called the “Sanctus”. This song is sung by angels in the bible. We read about the angels singing these words in the book of Isaiah and also in Revelation. But before we sing this, the pastor says that we are singing “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven”. Not only are the angels singing with us but also those who have died in the faith, the company of heaven. This is a wonderful confession of faith, and it shows us just what the church on earth is. But it’s not as if the church in heaven are simply joining in with us—the worship of God is going on constantly in heaven, and when we join together as Christians to worship him, we are simply joining in with them. They add their voices to ours, and we add our voices to theirs.

But before we finish this sermon today, I’d like to mention one more thing. When it comes to understanding what it means to live a holy life and to share in God’s holiness, let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. When the first people, Adam and Eve, were created, they were perfect, holy, and pure. God had created them in his image. This is the first state or condition of the human race. And what a wonderful thing it must have been to live like that and to have been there!

But then, after that, things changed: there was the fall. Adam and Eve sinned, and since that time, every single human being (except Jesus himself) was conceived and born in sin. Before the fall, there was no sin. But after the fall, then there was sin, and the human race came under the judgment of God.

But then, later, something else changed: there came a Saviour. Jesus died for us on the cross, and he won for us the forgiveness of sins, and he sends us the Holy Spirit. Now, as Christians in this life, it’s not as though we now live without sin, but our sin is forgiven, and is not charged to our account anymore. So we live then as people who are both holy, and saints, but who also live struggling and wrestling against our sin.

So what happens when we die? Well, our bodies and our souls are separated, and for the first time, we will be completely free of our sin. On one hand, we will depart to be with Christ, as it says in Philippians 1. Just like Jesus promised to the thief on the cross, on the day of his death, Today you will be with me in Paradise. But this is not the end. Because God didn’t simply create us as spirits, or souls, but he created us with bodies. In Genesis 2, it says: then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. So what’s going to happen to our bodies? Are they just empty shells, empty husks? No—the Scripture also promises a resurrection of the dead. St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15: Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must on immortality.

Now, when we go the shop and buy a packet of chips, we throw away the packet in the bin. But God does not treat our bodies like an empty chip packet! He created our bodies, and so in a glorious way, at the end of the world, he promises to glorify our earthly bodies in a new way, and to reunite and redeem our bodies from the dust and the ashes and the ground, and raise them up, and reunite them with our spirits and souls. On one hand, when we die, our souls go to be with Jesus in heaven. On the other hand, our bodies will be buried in the ground. But there will also be a time when body and soul is reunited in a glorious and wonderful way, and our bodies will be raised from the dead. How we will go through this after we have died, we don’t know. At least, we know that we won’t be waiting for all this out in some sort of corridor, or in purgatory, but in heaven with Jesus. But remember, that when that time comes, we will enter not into a life with minutes and days and hours, but as the bible says, eternal life. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.  St Paul also says in Philippians: Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Do you see the wonderful victory of the resurrection of the dead in this passage? Even in 1 Corinthians 15, St Paul says that Christ is the firstborn to rise from the dead. This means that the reason Christ rose from the dead was so that he would be the first, and to point your eyes forward to the day when you also will be risen from the dead. This is what we say in the creed when we say: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Now, on the other hand, there is another way in which people look at these things, which is not correct. Instead of seeing Adam and Eve created in the “image of God”, people see humans as having been created as “little gods”. Then when the fall happened, they believe that the problem is that people forget that were created as little gods, and their sin is not that they disobey God, but that they just don’t live up their potential. Then instead of treating Jesus as their Saviour, they see him just as their teacher, who came to remind us humans of the knowledge that we forgot that we really were created as “little gods” after all. And then, when we die, what happens? Instead of believing that they then become free from their sin, they believe that that as “little gods” they are now free from their bodies. This means that they think the body is a bad thing, and just an empty chip packet to be thrown away. But if the body is a bad thing, why did Jesus have one? Why did he choose to have nails and spears put through it? God created us human beings with both body and soul, and he has his Son to redeem us in body and soul, and he will also make us holy in body and soul. And so, this is why, after the Lord’s Supper, we say: The body of our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy precious blood strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life eternal.

So let’s praise our God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for drawing us together in faith into one communion of saints, with all believing Christians throughout the world and all those who have died in Christ. And let’s also praise him for the promise that he has made to us to raise us up with him on the last day together with all those who have died in the faith, who are alive with him. Amen.

Dear Jesus, once again today we come to you to sing our “Holy, holy, holy” with the angels, the archangels and all the company of heaven. Strengthen our faith by the power of your Holy Spirit, until that time when we depart to be with you, and enjoy life together with you in Paradise with all your saints. Amen.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sermon on Reformation III: God's work in the Reformation (29-Oct-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Prayer: Sanctify us in the truth, Lord; your word is truth. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. And today in our church, we are using the colour red. In most Lutheran Churches today, there are only generally two days when we use the colour red. One is the day of Pentecost, and the other is today, when we celebrate the Reformation. Red has to do with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Now the colours themselves are not all that important, but I’d like to talk in our sermon today what Pentecost and Reformation have in common. Now there are a lot of things we could say that are different about them: Pentecost is mentioned in the book of Acts, it is an event which is mentioned in the bible. It is the day when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, and when the first Christians were baptised and believed in Jesus. On the other hand, the festival of the Reformation is a day which is not mentioned in the bible at all, it commemorates a day much later in church history, where a Catholic monk nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church of Wittenberg against the teaching of indulgences.

Do you know what happened on Reformation day? Martin Luther was a pastor in Germany, a Catholic priest and a monk, and a teacher of theology at a university in a town called Wittenberg. At that time, in the 1500s, the pope was building a large church, the St Peter’s church in Rome. Part of the money-raising activities included selling something called an indulgence. Many Christians at that time believed that after they died they could not go to heaven straight away, but would have to spend some time to pay off their sins in purgatory, which was a halfway-place between heaven and hell. But you could make your time in purgatory a bit shorter by buying an indulgence, which was a certificate from the pope which cancelled some of this time in purgatory. The church was cheating people into giving money to the church, and they were, let’s say, selling the forgiveness of sins for a price.

Martin Luther became convinced that this practice was wrong, and wrote 95 brief statements about the issue, and he nailed them to the church door in Wittenberg for public debate. Now, what does this have to do with the day of Pentecost? What do the two things have in common?

Well, let me come forward now to today. Have you ever heard the term, “the end times”? Have you ever heard anyone talk about the “end times”? Have you ever thought that maybe we are living in a time close to the end of the world? Have a think – if you look back on history and think about the last thirty years, how do you think it might compare to the next thirty years? Do the next thirty years make you worried? Look at what has happened in the world in the last fear years—we have had so many things change in the world, there is an enormous amount of suffering going on in the world that makes us all wonder where it is all going to end. Jesus says that in the last days there will be wars and rumours of wars, distress of nations, people fainting with fear

I have heard many Christians recently say to me that they think we are living in end times. What do you think? Do you think the “end times” are now, or do you think they are still centuries away?

Well, let me tell you something – the bible talks a very different way about the “end times”, or we might say, “the last days”. Let’s go back to think about the day of Pentecost: the disciples were all gathered together and there was a great wind, and the disciples all received fire upon their heads, they spoke in different languages and tongues, and there were people from all over the place who were there who could hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. And we read: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Isn’t it an amazing thing that there were all these things going on, and yet not everyone was convinced by it? Some were amazed and perplexed. Some thought the apostles were drunk.

But then Peter, the apostle, stands up and he begins the first Christian sermon. He says: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. The third hour is 9 o’clock in the morning. Peter refutes those who thought that they were just drunk. But then he gives an explanation about what was actually happening. He says: But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. What Peter says is that what these people could all see happening before them, where the Holy Spirit was being poured out, was the exact thing the prophet Joel had said many hundreds of years before. And the prophet Joel said: In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Did you hear that? Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. And Peter says, this is exactly what is happening right now, today. But… did you hear when it would happen? Joel says, and Peter quotes, that it will happen in the last days. In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.

What this means is that according to the bible, according to Jesus’ own apostles, it is already the last days, right from the day of Pentecost. Of course, we might say, the last days have been going on for a long time. Well, we can leave the timing of things up to God. But according to the bible, the last times is not particularly now, it is not particularly in the future, but it has always been the last days, since Jesus himself poured out his Holy Spirit on the church. The time of the Holy Spirit is the last days of the world. It is the last days, because Jesus has died and risen again. Sin has been paid for. We are not looking forward to some later days when sin will be paid for again. All the sin of the world has been taken upon the shoulders of Jesus your Saviour, and he has already died for it. It has been done, and it is finished, as Jesus himself said on the cross. And now, we are simply looking forward to Jesus’ return at the end of the world.

The whole time there has been a church, the whole time where the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the church, is a time which the bible calls the last days, the end times.

Now, if we go now to the first letter of John, he says something very strange about the last days. In 1 John 2:18, John writes: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist has come, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

This is a very strange statement to our ears today. What is John talking about? He says, just like Peter said on the day of Pentecost, that it is the last hour. And he says that there is something going on in the church that proves to us that we know that it is the last hour. What is this thing? He says: As you have heard that the antichrist has come, so now many antichrists have come.

What is the antichrist? Well, the antichrist is a false Christ. It is a replacement Christ. It is a christ who is not Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, Jesus says: False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. So what is this false Christ? What is this antichrist?

Let me explain. Everything good that God creates, the devil always tried to make a fake. He always tried to make a counterfeit, like a criminal who makes counterfeit money. So even the devil tries to copy God the Father.  We have our loving heavenly Father, but then Jesus calls the devil a father too, he calls him the father of lies. We have the Holy Spirit, but then the devil also has a team of spirits too, not the Holy Spirit, but evil spirits, unclean spirits, or demons.

But then the devil also tries to make a fake christ. We have Jesus Christ, who is our wonderful Saviour from sin, who made an atonement and paid for our sin through his holy, precious blood and his perfect sacrifice on the cross. But then the devil wants to point us to another christ, a fake christ, a christ who does not need to atone for you but makes you do the atoning, a christ who does not pay for your sin, but makes you pay, a christ who does not shed his blood for you, and does not make a sacrifice for you, but demands all kinds of destructive sacrifices from you.

Jesus Christ is true God and he became a true man. And the devil also wants to use real people, true men, true human beings, as his agents, to do his work. Jesus Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. The word “Christ” means someone who is anointed. Jesus Christ was anointed to be our high priest, our prophet and our king. And so, the devil wants to try and make a pretend Christ, an antichrist, who is not anointed by the Holy Spirit, but by an evil spirit, and is not a priest who prays for us, but is a false prophet and a false king.

But St Paul also has something to say about this antichrist, in his second letter to the Thessalonians. He calls the antichrist “the man of lawlessness”. He writes: The man of lawlessness…takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Now, what is St Paul saying here? Today, there seem to be a lot of people talking about who they think the antichrist is. Some people said that Hitler or Stalin is the antichrist. Some people thought Barak Obama was the antichrist.

But St Paul says that the man of lawlessness takes his seat in the temple of God. This means that we find the antichrist, not outside of the church, but inside the church. Yes, the antichrist can even be a leader in the church, even a pastor, even a bishop, or even a pope.

You might sometimes look at all the things that happen in the church, and you might think: I thought the church was supposed to be the place where people love each other, just as Jesus taught. Well, you’re right, but I’ve got news for you—the church is full of sinners. There’s no one else here. We are all sinners who need forgiveness and salvation. Sometimes, sin takes over the church in some way. Or sometimes, there’s a terrific Christian person who makes a wonderful contribution to their congregation, and the other people, and even pastors, are jealous of them and want them out. People shake their heads and despair about that lovely little thing which we call “church politics”!

Let’s go back to Martin Luther. He lived in a time where people didn’t know what the gospel was, because the church taught something else. People were incredibly burdened, because the church taught them about God, but in such a way that they were not sure that he loved them. People knew about Jesus, but not in such a way that he knew him as their loving Saviour. People knew about heaven, but only as a faraway place which they had to climb up to, and as a place which they just had no certainty at all that they could ever achieve getting there. Nobody knew God’s grace and his forgiveness, they only knew about earning their way to heaven and doing good works. A time of great spiritual darkness had come over the church. Another spirit was at work in the church. Jesus was taken away from sinners, and he was replaced with human rules, human righteousness, human efforts.

But meanwhile, the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the day of Pentecost. And he was not finished with the church. He had raised up little people all throughout the centuries who noticed something was wrong and who said something. One of these people was an English man called John Wycliffe. He was one of the first people to translate the bible into English. Also, you might have heard about a man called John Huss. He was from Bohemia, which is now where the Czech Republic is. But he was burned at the stake.

Then later there was a man in Germany called Martin Luther. And the Holy Spirit had pushed down very hard on him. Martin Luther knew the great darkness that was around him—and we’re not talking about moral darkness. There has always been moral darkness—I’m talking about spiritual darkness, about the darkness of false teaching. Luther knew his sin well, and when he measured it against God’s righteousness and God’s commandment, and all he could see was his failure, he thought that no matter what he would do, he could only go to hell. He thought God was torturing him, that God was an angry monster.

But then, he read the bible. And what did he find there? He found the simple clear teaching that a person is not saved by their works, but by God’s grace, and this wonderful grace of God is not earned by us but it is received through faith.

St Paul says in Romans: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… He also writes: Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me also read what it says in Ephesians: For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Now there are some amazing things that then happened in Luther’s time. Can you imagine living without the forgiveness of sins? Can you imagine it? Maybe you have had a time in your life where all you could see was your sin, and nothing else, but then you realised in a new way that you had a Saviour! Maybe you came to Jesus later in life, and you know very well what the darkness from before feels like! Maybe you have gone through a dark period of suffering, and you cried to God, wondering where he was, and what he was doing, and maybe you thought that Jesus had abandoned you!

But can you imagine the whole church everywhere having to live in nothing but that darkness! Can you imagine everyone everywhere having to live without the gospel, without hope? And then the Holy Spirit used an unlikely person like Martin Luther to bring it to light again. And at the same time, the pope rejected it. He wrote that Luther was a wild boar let loose in God’s vineyard. Just like the day of Pentecost, where some people thought that the apostles were drink, some people thought that Martin Luther was nothing but a drunken German. And in a way that still impacts our lives today, instead of listening to their powerful human leaders who wanted to exert their mere human authority without the Word of God, many people listened to the word of God, they listened to Scriptures, they listened to God’s voice. St Paul says in 1 Thessalonians: When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. Instead of listening to the words of men, they listened to the words of the Holy Spirit which he inspired. What happened at the time of the Reformation was that the Holy Spirit showed that he still cared about the church, and that he would not keep silent, but still wanted to comfort poor sinners. The Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that Jesus’ words would ring true: You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. What a wonderful thing it is to know the truth of the Gospel, and to be set free from the condemnation of the law!

You remember we were talking about the antichrist in the church. Still today many people believe in a false christ. They seek a Jesus who is not described in the word of God. They paint their own image and their shape their own statue of a Jesus that suits them, and they fall down and worship it. People look to church leaders as its saviours, in world councils of churches, in shallow empty documents, instead of the real Jesus as its saviour. We seek empty human unity, instead of the real unity around Jesus and his word. Instead of seeking church unity around the word of God, and unity in teaching and in doctrine, people seek a unity of their experiences—and say that all religions are basically the same, we all say that our religions basically make us feel good, and we don’t need Jesus. If we think we can come to God without Jesus, then we are basically saying that Jesus isn’t God, and that he’s just a wise man, a kind of mystic, or a good example. St Paul said to the Corinthians: If someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with readily enough. The message of the Reformation is a call to repentance. The first of Luther’s 95 These were the words: When Jesus said, “Repent”, he meant that our whole lives should be one of repentance. All the great movements of renewal in the church have been ones of repentance. John the Baptist said, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Jesus said: “Repent and believe the Gospel”. And today, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation should call us to turn back to the word, to put away our fake Jesus and fake Christ that we make for ourselves, and turn back to the real Jesus, who has baptised us, who feeds us with his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and preaches to us the forgiveness of every single one of sins. The reformation calls us to recognise our sinful condition for what it is, and to receive our Saviour for who he is, without any works or any contributions from us whatsoever.

So what about the fake and pretend Christ whom the devil seeks to create? What does the bible say about him? St Paul makes this wonderful prophesy that the Lord Jesus would slay him with the breath of his mouth.

What is the breath of Jesus’ mouth? It is the wonderful preaching of the Gospel! It the powerful breath of the Holy Spirit. And wherever the word of God is preached in its truth and purity, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, wherever the free forgiveness of sins is shouted from the rooftops, the darkness is destroyed, the devil is cast out, and all the ideas of mere men crumble to dust. This is the wonderful event that we are commemorating in the church today: when the Gospel after so many years of darkness was preached in all its clarity again. No wonder many people have thought that the Reformation was like the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first came down! That is the great victory and the reason to celebrate the Reformation.

We don’t believe a human word, but we believe in a word that comes from God. The gospel is God’s own voice from heaven which says: I have sent my Son, he paid for your sin, and now I want you to hear my voice loud and clear all throughout the church on earth: I forgive you all your sins! Amen.

Lord Jesus, in these last days, keep the pure and clear light of your word burning strong in your church on earth. Bless us and uphold us until that time when we see you finally face to face. Amen.