GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN – EVER PRESENT LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS CHRIST.
In the 39 years since I studied in the Holy Land, I have shared this picture with you several times. Advent’s Divine Message of fulfilled Hope still shouts from that wilderness.
The Greek noun, "ϊρημος" means “desert wilderness”. As an adjective "ϊρημος" means “solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited”. The word has come into our language as “arid”, but the many shades of meaning in the Biblical ϊρημος certainly fit the Judean wilderness. Once you’ve experienced that wilderness, it becomes permenantly etched in your mind’s eye and has ever remained for me the ultimate and joyous symbol of our Ultimate fulfilled hope being loudly proclaimed in the place where otherwise there is no hope. It sparks our anticipation of celebrating God’s entrance into the world as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ and the eternal dimension He gives to our lives.
There are absolutely no natural resources in the ϊρημος - no way for edible plants to grow or for human beings or animals to survive even on the most primitive levels of existence.
Mentally and spiritually ϊρημος is unforgetable – “precisely because a person cannot by himself or herself live there. It is in the place where people have to choose whether they will put their trust totally in God or whether grumbling and impatient at having to depend only on God’s Grace, they return”³ to an unsatisfying status quo whose only benefit is familiarity with it.
For those who do not know Jesus, life itself is a barren wilderness.
In the year 26 A.D., much of the talk around the Holy Land was about a thirty-year-old preacher named John or, as many recognizing him from Isaiah's prophecy, THE VOICE OF ONE CALLING IN THE WILDERNESS.
1500 years before, the ancestors of the people now flocking to hear the fiery young preacher had lived in a wilderness like the one that surrounded his outdoor church — wandering there with nothing to guide them but God’s Own signs — living there with absolutely no water, no food, no shade except that with which God miraculously provided them. Those ancestors had lived there in that wilderness for forty years and, during that time, God’s people had been taught by God what it means to trust in God for everything. They weren’t able to buy groceries in a supermarket or even gather them from their own gardens. They certainly weren’t able to find them growing wild in that wilderness. Every meal came to them as a twice daily miracle from God. Water came through yet another daily miracle. God lovingly and faithfully even gave them the ultimate blueprint and guide for living these temporal years in The Ten Commandments.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN
I like using the words of St. Paul at the beginning of my message. It is the first thing I type into my manuscript, and the words have the effect of centering me. Grace. Mercy. Peace. We know that there is no grace in the news of the day, that’s for sure. I don’t want to begin there! There’s not much of mercy from people we meet. Make a mistake and you’ll likely hear about it --- from anyone and everyone. Peace? We look around, and peace as we think of it may be hard to find. Grace, mercy and peace all come --- they come on this day and in this place --- from God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And God’s grace and mercy and peace are the foundation for our hope. There is no other. There will be no other.
We begin the Christian year today – the First Sunday in Advent. And beginning, we look forward, not backward. The words of Jesus in our Gospel propel our thoughts into the future. Setting the stage for this teaching is pretty simple. Jesus has left the crowds behind and has this conversation with four of His disciples --- Peter, James, John, and Andrew. These disciples were the first to be called to follow Him, and the first three, Peter, James, and John, have formed a kind of inner circle among the disciples of our Lord. This particular conversation has earned the title of “The Little Apocalypse”. We listen in particular to the last part of it, but it began with Jesus telling them of the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place; strengthening them for their own trials that were to come; and, warning them of false messiahs and false prophets that would appear in the latter days. Then Jesus says,:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
How do we take this in? The imagery would have been familiar to these faithful Jewish followers. The word pictures come from the prophets: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Zephaniah, and Zechariah. They all spoke using similar imagery. Alarming as it may seem, we should remember that prophetic imagery was not always meant to be taken literally, especially apocalyptic symbols. God intends that His people will look for His power and might to be displayed, and be ready when the Lord comes again, which we indeed associate with the last days. Of course, the world will not recognize God’s display of power, and Jesus comforts those disciples and us that He knows us, calls us the elect, and will gather us to Himself. His Holy Spirit will alert us. This has been God’s plan from the very beginning. His plan has not changed. No matter where we are --- whether still on earth or already arrived in heaven. The Lord wants us to be with Him forever. Jesus continues:
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
On this next to the last Sunday of the Church Year, our focus continues to be on the Second Visible Coming of Christ at the end of the world. Last Sunday we looked at how we are responding to the question “Are we ready?” Today our attention turns to the basic response that can be summed up in one word - - Stewardship – our stewardship of those Divine Investments Jesus is making in our preparation.
Many stewardship sermons begin and end with a discussion of finances – well important as the financial needs of churches are – and, make no mistake about it, they are essential – true stewardship is much more basic and larger than that.
One of the most important prayers we pray each non-Communion Sunday is that offertory prayer paraphrased from 1st Chronicles 29 - “We give Thee but Thine Own what’er the gift may be. All that we have is Thine Alone, a Trust, dear Lord, from Thee.” We pray with commitment about those gifts we offer with joy and thanksgiving on Communion Sundays - gifts that God has first given us – our selves, our time, and our possessions – those signs of God’s gracious Love that God has placed in our stewardship - our selves (our very lives which belong to God Who created us and makes us stewards of those God-given lives) - our time (those precious hours and minutes God has given us to live our temporal lives with and under God) - our possessions (our finances and other material possessions given into our stewardship by God). As we confess on those Communion Sundays it is the whole package – who we are, who we hope to be, what we possess. Dear Lord God, “We give Thee but Thine Own what’er the gift may be. All that we have is Thine Alone, a Trust, dear Lord, from Thee.”
As our Gospel text begins, it was the most important week in all of human history. In less than three days, Jesus would be arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified. The active days, the pleasant evenings, the words and actions of love and hope from their visibly present Jesus — all that was about to come abruptly to an end.
Jesus was trying in the quiet of the Mount of Olives to prepare His disciples — to tell them He knew full well what was about to happen and that it all had to happen for their eternal salvation and ours … to tell them that the most tragic of executions would be followed by His Resurrection and eternal life for all who believe in Him … to tell them He would return after death to be visibly with them a little longer before returning to His Father in heaven … to tell them He would, at the right time, visibly return to take His followers home with Him eternally.
And Jesus was preparing His disciples for the time between His Post- Resurrection Ascension and His 2nd Visible Coming — for those days when He would no longer be visibly present with them. In His death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished everything necessary for our eternal Salvation. There is nothing left that we or they need or could do for our Salvation.
The only thing left to be done by us is to believe in Jesus and all He did – and God through His Holy Spirit even gives us the Faith to believe and to live that Faith. God enlightens, enables and equips us to be the true stewards of our new life in Christ that Jesus was calling His original disciples and us to be.
In those days between Jesus’ Post- Resurrection Ascension and His 2nd Visible Coming, Jesus’ resurrected Voice would never be silenced – and those disciples and each of us would be channels through which Jesus would continue to speak and to act. God was making Divine Investments in them – and in us - expecting a good accounting of the stewardship of those Divine Investments.
God has many tasks and responsibilities for us as individuals and as a congregation. God is still investing those signs of God’s gracious Love - – our selves, our time, and our possessions — expecting a good accounting of our stewardship of those Divine Investments.
Teaching His original disciples and us by means of a parable we can all relate to, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven – the Kingdom God makes us a part of from the moment of our Baptism and through all eternity – that Kingdom of Heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to the one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.”
Seated around Jesus in the garden and hearing His prophetic words and warnings, it must have been obvious to the disciples – as it is to us - that the man traveling to a far country was Jesus Himself –ascending into heaven. That being true, his own servants are those who have committed our selves, our time, and our possessions to the discipleship and stewardship to which Jesus calls us. His goods are our selves, our time, and our possessions which He delivered to them – and entrusts to their care and use and ours.
In Jesus’ parable, I am reminded of a sharecropper system. The man traveling to a far country owns the land, the seed, the tools and the crop. As part of a debt that is owed, even the sharecropper belongs to the man traveling to a far country and in the end a full accounting must be made to the owner by the sharecropper servants.
The debt owed to Jesus by His original disciples and by us is far greater — beyond comparison — to any sharecropper’s debt. But God’s ownership of our lives and resources is not based solely on a debt – though we do owe God our divinely created and redeemed lives. In faith, we freely place our lives in God’s loving and faithful hands and our stewardship of what God has given us shows the depth of the faith God has produced in our lives.
In Jesus’ parable, the man has three servants — to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. A talent was originally a measure of weight. Later the word came to denote a fixed amount of silver or gold, approximately $1,000.00 by our standards. Our own English word, “talent”, comes from this parable. More precious than silver or gold, our talents are our God-given faith and our selves, our time, and our possessions - raw materials to accomplishment in Jesus’ Name.
In Jesus’ parable, there is diversity in the way the talents are distributed — as there are, of course, in our lives. I know you are glad that with my musical abilities I did not tune the piano or even play it and that with my carpentry skills I did not build the pews. I am even more certain you are glad that the people who did those tasks did so well with the talents God has invested in them.
God asks that I use any preaching or teaching skills He may have given me to the best of my ability and effort.
Jesus tells us that “he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.” Each made a proper use of the investment and made a 100% profit. When we use our God-given selves, time, and possessions, God makes Himself responsible for the results and they prosper beyond what even we can see.
To both the five-talent servant and the two-talent servant, He said, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” He is saying, “I am going to increase your joy and your involvement in My kingdom. There will be more talents — more enlightenment and empowerment from the Holy Spirit … greater maturing in your faith and in your ability to serve and contribute.”
It is the basic nature of every talent and resource God gives us that the gifts are given to be used. We show a total lack of gratitude and thankfulness when we fail to acknowledge the Source of our resources and when we fail to use those resources. The first two stewards acknowledged, “Lord, you delivered to me five talents …” — “Lord, you delivered to me two talents ..“. As we ourselves confess “Lord, We give Thee but Thine Own, what e’er the gift may be; All that we have is Thine alone, A trust, dear Lord, from Thee.”
The five-talent servant and the two-talent servant truly caught the vision of what the man traveling to a far country was doing in their lives and acted accordingly – acknowledging the giver and using the gifts according to his will – as we are called by God to do with His Divine Investment in us.
“But he who had received one talent went and dug in the ground, and hid the Lord’s money.” We are like the proverbial ostrich burying our God-given selves, our God-given time, our God-given possessions and, yes, our God-given Faith for like the one talent man in Jesus’ parable, we show a total lack of faith in the Giver when we fail to use all that God gives us and equips us to use.
“Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.”
The fact that he had only one talent is no excuse. God only gave him as much as God knew he could handle. Of what value would additional talent be to the man who could not even make use of the one talent he had?
It is all too easy to relate to the one talent steward - so human to make excuses. “I’m really not very good at that. I don’t have the time. People don’t respond to what I do.” As human beings, we have so many ways to return The Lord’s Divine Investments to God unused.
As JAMES (2:26) wrote, “Faith without works is dead”. If faith doesn’t change and empower our lives and increase our stewardship, it isn’t faith.
The Lord did not bother to refute the steward’s slander – that wasn’t the issue. Instead he said, “We’ll let your own words be our starting point. If what you say is true you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. If you believe I am that difficult a master, why did you not share those resources with those who would have properly used them? At least then the gifts would not have been wasted.”
Then The Lord took even the one talent from the slothful steward. If we don’t use our God-given faith, we lose it — it lives in spiritually active lives or it dies. If we don’t use the life, talents and possessions God has given us, we lose our ability to use them.
As William Barclay reminds us, “The best way to prepare for the Coming of Christ is never to forget the Presence of Christ.” Jesus died on the cross to restore the relationship God has established with us – and He daily gifts us with all we need to live in that relationship. When we are open to Him, Jesus never fails to work through us. How abundantly God has gifted us to follow Him as we lovingly and faithfully proclaim and share The Word of God as revealed incarnately in Jesus Christ and inerrantly in The Holy Bible.
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS — OUR PERSONAL LORD AND SAVIOUR — AND GREATEST GIFT. AMEN.
24th Sunday After Pentecost
November 19, 2017
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio
Two Questions Everyone Must Answer
“TWO QUESTIONS EVERYONE MUST ANSWER”
Text – JOHN 18:33—38a
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR – CHRIST THE KING.
Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year and as we anticipate Christ’s Second Visible Coming and our preparedness for that Judgment Day, our focus is on our temporal and eternal Lord – CHRIST THE KING. When we face CHRIST THE KING on Judgment Day and prepare to enter into the full glory of The Kingdom He has prepared for us, there are two questions everyone must answer.
The first question is “Is CHRIST THE KING?” Pontius Pilate a low level Roman political appointee stood face to face with God Who came to earth as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to achieve eternal Salvation for all His subjects and asked, “Are you The King of the Judeans?”
We all know this King’s name is Jesus – the name given to Him by His Heavenly Father, through the angel Gabriel who said to
Mary, “You will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”
Ìησους in Greek and Joshua in Hebrew means “God saves” and, in those years when the names people gave their children said something about the hopes and dreams they had for their children, Joshua was a name people of faith often gave to their children Who they prayed would put their total faith in God Who saves.
We are all familiar with the man who replaced Moses as the leader of God’s people and whose father, Nun, named him Joshua. That Joshua knew how miraculously God saved His people from slavery in Egypt and as miraculously saved them from starvation and thirst wandering 40 years in the barren wilderness. Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land confident that God would save them from the strong evil forces in their path. His name proclaimed his faith in God Who saves His people – freeing them from slavery and giving them a Promised Land. Confident in God Who saves, Old Testament Joshua followed wherever God lead him and God’s people. Joshua lived by the faith he had in God Who saves.
God named His Own Son Jesus – “God saves”. But with this Joshua-Jesus there was a difference. This Jesus is God Himself coming as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to save us – not from temporal slavery in Egypt, but from the slavery sin and death hold us captive to – and to lead us not into a temporal Promised Land, but into the full Glory of CHRIST THE KING’s Eternal Kingdom.
And Jesus has a title. The Christ - χριστος in Greek and Messiasin Hebrew - means The Anointed One. In the Holy Land, kings and prophets - called to service by God - were anointed with oil, blessed, and empowered to serve. CHRIST THE KING was divinely anointed to establish His Eternal Kingdom and to make us citizens in it.
The high priest and other Judean officials - putting their temporal positions and political expediency ahead of their God-given Faith - feared Jesus’ growing popularity and His exposure of their failure to lead their people according to The Word of God. To remove Jesus as that threat to their positions, they accused Him of challenging the authority of Caesar.
Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you The King of the Judeans?”
Showing His knowledge of the political force attacking Him, Jesus asked Pilate, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Judean? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed You over to me. what have You done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world.”
Jesus was not saying He does not have authority over this world.
He was saying that The Source of His Authority is not of this world.
He said, “My Kingship is not of this world; if My Kingship were of this world, My servants would fight, that I might not have been handed over to the Judeans.” Temporal rulers assemble temporal servants to fight for them and to overthrow their enemies.
When God was visibly here as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ, the world was ruled by Caesar with the iron hand of the legions of Rome. Jesus replied to the Roman governor Pilate, “My Kingship is not of this world.” The Source of CHRIST THE KING’s Authority was and is divine and His Reign eternal.
Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”
Jesus came as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to redeem us as members of His Eternal Kingdom so Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to The Truth. Every one who is of The Truth hears My Voice.”
Pilate’s response brings us to the second question we all must answer. “What is Truth?” Sadly today, Truthis something many in the media, in government, in entertainment, in education and even in the church have problems defining.
Twentieth Century heretics did not invent political correctness.
It was well established even before Pontius Pilate practiced it. To Pilate, truth was what Rome and Pilate said it was and what they said it was was whatever was politically expedient at the moment. Pontius Pilate could truthfully find Jesus innocent of all charges and still sentence Him to be crucified because that was the politically correct thing to do.
Jesus said, “if My Kingship were of this world, My servants would fight.” We are all familiar with militant Muslims who practice Jihad. Sunni ISIS members are caliphatists. A caliphate (
خِلافة) is the official Islamic world government ruled as a dictatorship by a caliph and Sharia Law. The caliph (خَليفة khalīfah or successor) is Muhammad’s successor – not as messenger of God, for they say Mohammad was God’s final messenger – but the caliph is successor as commander of the faithful and conqueror of all who do not believe as the Caliph believes. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaims himself to be the caliph - the absolute ruler of the worldwide Muslim state. All Christians, Jews, and Muslims who stand in the way of his caliphate world conquest are the enemies to be eliminated.
In the midst of the threat from ISIS, there is an even more dangerous enemy. It is the assault – inside and outside of Christ’s Church – on the Faith, Ethics and Morality of CHRIST THE KING’s Kingdom in heaven and on earth. It is the failure to recognize the Lordship of Christ and The Truth of His reign. It is the devaluing of human life and the destroying of the family God Himself created. It is the world’s idolatrous beliefs and its lack of God-given Faith.
There are always enemies of Christ’s reign who know that to attack Christ they must destroy Truth – as today they rise to launch the most pervasive attack on Christian beliefs and morals in the history of the world – some of the attacks come from idolatrous religions and some from hedonistic organizations. We are seeing the tragic human harvests created by both groups.
Those who promote old sins as new virtues and who belittle the Authority of God's Word like to accuse those who are faithful to THE WORD OF GOD of being judgmental and of thinking too highly of themselves. Nothing could be farther from The Truth. Those who are faithful to THE WORD OF GOD are people who recognize we are all sinners who don't have all the answers. Those who are faithful to THE WORD OF GOD know that God does have all the answers and that, in Love and Grace, God is willing to share The Truth with us and through us.
The Truth is that Jesus - God saves - is Emmanuel– God with us – God as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ coming to save us from sin, death, and the devil. The Truthis The Christ is The Ultimate Sovereign establishing His Eternal Kingdom for our temporal and eternal citizenship.
As I began to write this sermon, I wrote phrases like the ultimate truth and the real truth – how redundant! Truth is Truth – it is or it isn’t.
Is Truth the politically correct pronouncements of a ruler who proclaims Jesus totally innocent and condemns Him to a politically correct horrible death? Is Truth the words of some judges, politicians, media figures, preachers, bishops and others who make of truth whatever suits them and their desires in the moment? Is truth political forces, in the name of religion, murdering and raping to make their brand of idolatry the world’s truth? None of that is Truth.
Jesus is The Truth. Jesus says “I AM THE WAY” (God’s Grace alone in Jesus Christ is THEonly WAYto our Salvation). Jesus says “I AM THE TRUTH” (our God-given Faith in God and in God’s Word is based on THE TRUTH). Jesus says “I AM THE LIFE” (THE only real LIFEis revealed and lived in Jesus Christ – all else is mere existence and a very temporal one.) Do we want The Truth? Jesus is The Truth.
“Jesus, Are you the King?” “Jesus, What is Truth?” Pilate didn’t really care about Jesus’ answer to those questions – not while Pilate was busy putting together his own agenda driven, politically correct version of truth. THE TRUTH is an encumbrance to people - inside and outside of Christ’s Church – who make their own pseudo truth a political correctness branding all who dare challenge it prejudice. Ultimately Pilate didn’t care and they don’t care.
Today – this final Sunday of the Church Year – we focus on CHRIST THE KING and The Truth. About that we care. About that we
must. That is The Truth from CHRIST THE KING.
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST THE KING AND HIS WORD NOW AND ETERNALLY.
CHRIST THE KING – THE LAST SUNDAY OF THE CHURCH YEAR November 26, 2017
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio
Are We Ready?
“ARE WE READY?”
Text – MATTHEW 25:1—13
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
Throughout my years as a pastor, one of the most often asked questions has been “Are we in the last days?” The question never surprises me because in the 1st Century, Jesus’ original disciples were already asking that same question – and it has been asked in every generation since. Jesus warned that no one knows the day or the time when this world will end – and the signs of that ending have always been with us – growing more intense with each generation. Admittedly those signs have never been more prevalent and dynamic than in this present age.
The end is coming and God Who alone knows when has given us fair warning which brings us to a far more important question. That question is “Are we ready?”
In this morning’s Gospel text, Jesus is focusing on that question and says “The Kingdom of Heaven shall be compared to ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”
Some knowledge about the marriage customs being practiced when Jesus spoke in our text is very helpful in understanding Jesus’ parable. God Who created human marriage and made it the foundation of every culture in modern and ancient times – until our own – often used marriage as a parable comparing it to the only relationship God honors more highly – God’s Own eternal relationship with us.