The Eternal Gospel

Text: Revelation 14:6-7

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In 1 Samuel chapter 3 there is the story of how Samuel was called by God to be a prophet. As the story goes, Samuel was a young boy who served in the temple assisting Eli the priest. One night, when he had fallen asleep, Samuel heard a voice call his name “Samuel!” He woke up at the sound of the voice and ran off to find Eli his master and teacher. When he found Eli, Eli was still asleep. He said to him, “Here I am, you called me.” But Eli had not called him and sent the young boy Samuel back to bed. This happened again two more times. Samuel heard a voice, ran to Eli, and was sent back to bed. Finally, Eli realized that it was the Lord calling Samuel and told to say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” if he heard that voice again. Sure enough the voice called out again and Samuel recognised the voice of the Lord and said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

This story of Samuel and his call is a wonderful little story. But there is one detail of that story that has always stood out to me. At the very beginning, before Samuel hears this voice calling his name or anything like that, we are told that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.”

That is a remarkable idea, the word of the Lord was rare. In this case it is referring to the fact that God had not been frequently speaking through a prophet like Samuel or some of the prophets that come later. Things were quiet at that time. I wonder sometimes if we can apply this phrase, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” to our own time. Is the word of the Lord rare today?

That’s a tough question to answer, but imagine living in a time when the Word of God was rare, where Bibles weren’t readily available in the language that you speak and understand the best (or even at all!). Imagine a time when church services were intentionally spoken and recited in a language that ordinary everyday people had no comprehension of. Imagine a world where the Bible is a closed book that is intended to be read by professionals only. In a world like that God’s truth gets forgotten, the Good News of Jesus Christ who was crucified and rose from the dead gets lost, God’s love and forgiveness for lost sinners like us gets overlooked and people start to think that they need to do good works to earn that love and forgiveness. God’s promises remain true, but they get forgotten. In a world like that sinners are left without hope feeling as if God is far off and inaccessible and God seems to be an angry God who strictly punishes sin.

That is the world that Martin Luther lived in. The word of the Lord was rare in his days. Bibles were not commonly read because they were all in Latin and normal people did not speak Latin. The people at that time, Martin Luther included, lived in fear and terror trembling at the thought of a God who punishes sin and they did not know the Gospel (at least not clearly) that Jesus Christ saves sinners without any work or merit on their part. This gospel was still true, still there the Bible, but it had been forgotten and was not understood.

But that all changed as Martin Luther studied the Bible at the University in Wittenberg. There, as Luther prepared to teach students about Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther stumbled onto this verse: “In the [gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.” This passage stumped Luther. As far as he understood things, the righteousness of God was God’s judgement against sin (bad news!) and the gospel was supposed to be good news (that’s what “gospel” means!). These two things did not line up, how can God’s judgement against sin be revealed in the good news of the gospel? But then, by the work of the Holy Spirit, it hit him: the righteousness of God is not God’s judgement against sin, but His own righteousness that He gives to sinners freely as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. And just like that the doors were blown wide open.

Luther taught, preached, and wrote as much as he could about this glorious good news he had found in God’s Word. Though it made him a criminal and an outlaw threatened with the penalty of death he carried on. He translated the Bible into the German language so that all people, for kings down to peasants could hear or even read the Bible in their own language. And because they could hear the Bible in their own language the people were confronted with the good news of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There in God’s Word they found the gospel, the goodness of God, His good news for sinners that Jesus Christ has done everything that is necessary for our salvation. The Word of God was rare in those days, but through Luther, God brought His Word back into the hearts, minds, and ears of His people.

Our first reading today from the book of Revelation was actually the text for the sermon at Martin Luther’s funeral. The pastor who preached that sermon thought that the angel that John talks about in these verses from Revelation was kind of like Luther. Revelation 14 says: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Now, Luther wasn’t an angel and people don’t become angels and angels don’t become people. But the idea is that Luther proclaimed the “eternal gospel” that this angel proclaims. This is the gospel that Luther found a new as He delved into God’s word and heard for himself the promises of God.

This gospel, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and has accomplished this salvation through His death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, is eternal. It endures forever. This gospel dates back to pretty near the beginning of time. Already in Genesis chapter 3 this promise is spoken to Adam and Eve after they have sinned. God promises to send a saviour who will crush the head of the lying, deceiving serpent and restore His people to Himself.

But throughout history the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures have tried to bury this eternal gospel. At the time of Noah only 8 people in the whole world believed this message that God would send a saviour and that is why God sent the flood. At the time of Elijah there was just a small remnant, 7,000 people, who believed this promise.  Elijah despaired over how few people still believed. The same is true for the prophets who would come later, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. Then, when the Christ came into the world the world did not receive Him, but rejected and crucified the Lord of glory. Again, the devil, world, and our sinful nature tries to put down this good news from God. And it continues persecution, the killing of Christians, false teaching about Jesus and about how we get the forgiveness of sins, and even today laziness and a lack of care or attention for the Word of God. The devil, world, and our sinful nature try to extinguish this good news, but the gospel is eternal.

This good news will not be put down, it may seem to dwindle, but it will never die. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. God renewed His promise to Noah through the rainbow, Christ has been raised from the dead so that death has no power over him or us, and God has preserved His holy gospel through the hand of his servant Martin Luther clearing away the clutter and bringing forth the full gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of Jesus Christ for sinners like us will endure right through the Last Day when Christ comes again to raise our bodies to new life right on into eternity in the Kingdom of God. This eternal gospel endures today.

Is the Word of the Lord rare in our days? If it is we need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider whether or not we have taken that word seriously. We certainly have plenty of Bibles and plenty of ways in which God’s Word is readily available to us, but have we been as attentive to God’s Word as we should be? The answer to that question is probably not. Other cares and concerns creep up and snatch our attention away. Other things seem so important that they take precedence over God’s Word.

As we celebrate Reformation Sunday there is much for us to give thanks to God for as we rejoice in our heritage as Lutherans and the work of Martin Luther, but perhaps this is also a time to dedicate ourselves to the reading of God’s Word, to focus our lives around that Word, and to make that Word central to who we are as the people of God. Because it is in that Word that we hear the eternal Gospel that has been preserved and handed down to us through generation after generation. It is in that word we hear of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection on our behalf. Without God’s Word in our hearts, minds, and ears this saving message may fade into the background of our lives and we may forget it all too quickly. But through His Word God is working to bring this saving message to us every day and to call out to the world with His saving love. May this eternal, unchanging word always be near us and in us and may we respond to this word like Samuel did saying, “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

I want to close this morning with a verse from the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: “God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, goods honor child our spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!”

In Jesus name, Amen.

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Declared Righteous

Text: Luke 18:9-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is an important word in our Gospel reading today, the word is “justified.” We are told that the tax collector who had come to the temple in Jerusalem to pray and asked God to have mercy on him and forgive him went home “justified.” So what does that mean?

Normally when we think of justifying someone or something it means that someone is trying to make an excuse or a case for why they have behaved in a particular way. A great example is when kids are in trouble and try to get out of it. When I was in grade 2 or 3 I got in trouble at recess for pushing another kid. I didn’t mean to hurt him, but my friends had told me to stay behind and protect the snow fort we had just made and that’s all I was trying to do when this grade 4 kid came and started snooping around. So, I pushed him. I just didn’t realize that the principal was supervising recess that day and that she was looking right at me. I was sent inside and had to wait to talk to the principal. When she finally came I tried every excuse I could think of to justify what I had done. “I’m not feeling good,” “I’m sick!” “I’m having a bad week,” “It wasn’t my fault,” etc… None of them worked. I was still in trouble, still guilty, and would not get to go outside for the rest of the recesses that day.

This is what happens when we try to justify ourselves and our own actions. We cover up our guilt and the wrong we have done, but we never really get rid of it. And yet we keep trying to justify our own actions. Whenever someone has a problem with something that we have done or whenever our own conscience starts to feel guilty about something we have done we start justifying ourselves because we don’t like to be wrong and we don’t like to feel guilty. We come up with excuses for ourselves or we try to comfort ourselves by remembering the good things that we have done and focussing on those things. But our excuses are never more than just excuses and the good stuff we’ve done doesn’t excuse our bad behaviour. Justifying ourselves never actually deals with the wrongs that we have done it just tries to cover them up with explanations.

That’s the way it is when we try to justify ourselves, but what about if God justifies us? That’s really what is going on in our gospel reading today, God justifies the tax collector and He goes home guilt free, forgiven of his sin. When God justifies it is not just God making excuses for what we have done, it’s just God covering our guilt and our sin with Jesus and forgiving us through and through.

In our reading today Jesus tells us about two men who go up to the temple to pray. They probably came up to the temple at one of the appointed times when people gathered to pray. It might have even been at a time when sacrifices were being offered for the sins of the people. Anyway, these two men come up to pray. One of them is a Pharisee and he is a really good guy who takes his faith really seriously. He fasts two times a week, even though God never said that it was necessary for His people to do that. He is also generous with his offerings. He gives 10% of everything that he gets, not just 10% of his paycheque or of his income, but 10% of everything. 10% of the vegetables from his garden, 10% of his birthday presents, 10% of everything. He has gone above and beyond, by all appearances he is a righteous guy.

The other man who comes up to the temple that day is the exact opposite. A tax collector. Not only is he a lackey for the Roman Empire that everyone at that time hated, he is almost certainly a crooked tax collector. From time to time he probably shaves a little extra off the top of the taxes that he collects so that his pockets can be a little fuller. He doesn’t do all that stuff that the Pharisee does, he doesn’t go above and beyond, he has a hard enough time just doing the basics when it comes to following God’s law. All too often he even comes up short even in those efforts.

These two men come up to the temple to pray, but only one of them goes home justified. It’s the tax collector who goes home justified. His sins are forgiven. He prays, “God have mercy on me a sinner!” and God does not disappoint. Even though this man is anything but righteous, even though he is so far from righteousness that he doesn’t even dare to lift up his eyes to heaven, God declares that he is righteous, innocent of all sin.

That is what it means when God justifies someone, it means that they are declared righteous. Even though they are not righteous, even though righteousness is impossible for them, God declares them to be righteous for the sake of Jesus. God looks at this tax collector and all of his sin and says, “Not guilty.”

God has done the exact same thing for us. We are not righteous, there is nothing righteous, nothing good or holy about us. We are sinners. We aren’t tax collectors, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God just like he did. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves each and every moment of every day. We have not loved God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength each passing moment. We are sinners just like him. But God has looked at us in His mercy and has not counted our sin against us. His verdict for us is: “Not guilty.” Better yet, even though we are not righteous and we do not do the righteous things of God, God has looked at you and said, “You are righteous. Go in peace.” God has declared us to be something that we are not. Innocent. Righteous. Holy. And when God says something He means it. God said “let there be light” and there was light. God says, “You are forgiven, holy, and righteous” and you are forgiven, holy and righteous.

In a world where we are rewarded for trying our best and people get what they deserve this would seem to be completely backwards and completely unfair. But in the Kingdom of God this is the honest reality of human sin and God’s salvation. Sinners, not righteous people who have done the right things, are covered by the blood of Jesus that forgives them for all of their sins. This is what Jesus means when He talks about receiving the Kingdom of God like a little child. Children don’t bring their good works to Jesus, Jesus welcomes them just as they are.

This is the wonderful thing about tiny newborn babies getting baptised. They don’t bring anything to the process, they don’t do anything, they aren’t getting baptised because of how great and cute they are, they are getting baptised because they are sinners who need Jesus just like the rest of us. And there, in the water of baptism, they get Jesus. In baptism we were covered with Jesus so that, even though we are unrighteous, even though we are sinners, God would look at us and not see our sins but see Jesus our Saviour who bled and died for us. We have been covered with Jesus.

There is tremendous comfort in this reality for us that we have been covered with Jesus and declared righteous by God. This means that right now we are the holy people of God, but as we live out our lives there will be many times (pretty much every day!) when we realize again how we have fallen short of the righteousness we ought to have and have not lived up to God’s commandments for our lives. But here is the comfort, even though we continue to sin and fall short in our lives of God’s glory, He continues to declare us righteous, innocent, and holy. As we come to Him like that tax collector knowing that we have fallen miserably short He looks at us again and again and, for the sake of Jesus, declares us to be “Not guilty” again. As we remember our baptism, hear the words of absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus in Communion we are covered again with Jesus and God declares us to be righteous.

The difference between the two men who go up to the temple that day is not their line of work or the quality of their way of life. The difference is that one man goes up to the temple clinging to what he thinks is his own righteousness while the other man goes to the temple empty handed seeking God’s righteous verdict that he knows that he does not deserve. The one man thinks that he is righteous and the other man is declared to be righteous by God. Whatever goodness or righteousness that we think that we have is nothing more than worthless rags. It is much better to be clothed and covered with Jesus because He has taken away the sin of the world. He truly justifies us, not just making up excuses to cover us but covering us with Himself, so that we can take comfort in knowing that our sins are forgiven.

We have been justified, declared righteous, and it is not our own doing, but the work of God for Jesus sake. Amen.

He Will Come and Save You

Text: Luke 18:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Waiting is not much fun. No one, at least no one that I know, likes waiting. It is especially hard to wait for something that is very meaningful to us. The longer we wait the more and more we start to think that whatever it is that we are waiting for might never happen. As a fan of the Edmonton Oilers I know this feeling all too well. The Oilers have not been a good hockey team for a long time. It has been 10 years since the last time they were even a little bit competitive with the other teams in the league. For 10 years fans like me have been waiting for something to cheer about, but I am not that optimistic. If ten years of miserable hockey have taught me anything it is that I should not trust my team to figure it out and get any better. At the same time, deep down inside I know that it has to happen someday. Someday they will get better. I try to convince myself that it really is just a question of when. It’s not an “if” question, but a “when” question. When will it finally happen?

Jesus wants us thinking this same way about His return in our Gospel reading today. It is not a question of “if” Jesus will come back, but a question of “when.” Talking about His return in our Gospel reading today Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth.” I want us to consider a little bit this morning what Jesus is talking about here. We’ll start with that first part, the “when the Son of Man comes” part, and then we will get to the second half, “will He find faith on the earth.” But first, it is about the certainty that we have knowing that Jesus will come again. It is a question of “when” not “if”.

Having said that, it is not a question of “when” in the sense that we sit here and try to figure out when Jesus is coming. That is not for us to know, Jesus tells us that quite clearly. Instead, this “when” is a cause of certainty for us. Jesus is coming again, this we can be sure of. Jesus reassures us of this because He knows full well that His disciples (ourselves included!) will struggle through the ages wondering and even doubting if Jesus is ever coming as time just keeps rolling along. Every day that passes and does not see the return of our Lord is another day when people start to wonder if it is ever going to happen. This is nothing new, it has been going on for 2,000 years.  But Jesus gives us these words, “When the Son of Man comes…” When. He is coming. Even though He seems to delay and linger and we don’t see Him coming Jesus wants us to know that He is still coming.

And for us that is good news; for us, God’s elect, His chosen people, the Children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, Jesus coming again is the best news that we could ever hear. Because Jesus isn’t coming again to destroy us. He is not coming again to hurt or harm us in any way. He is coming again to rescue us and save us from this fallen, sinful, broken world that we now live and struggle in. He is coming again to finish what was started when He rose from the dead. Jesus was the first-fruits, the first to rise from the dead, and He is coming again that we who believe in Him might rise with Him into eternity. He is coming to vindicate us, give us justice, and save us from our adversary the devil and from death. This is the hope that Jesus sets before us today.

This hope is what Jesus is talking about in the parable about the widow and the unjust judge that Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading. He tells us about this widow who comes day after day to the judge asking for justice against her adversary. Someone has wronged her or taken advantage of her and she wants justice. She comes day after day asking him to do something, but He does nothing. He doesn’t care about this widow because he doesn’t care about God or about people. He just doesn’t care. But finally, after this woman has come and hassled him day after day he finally gives in. He finally decides that it will just be easier if he helps her out and gives her the justice she is looking for. So, he gives her justice. He punishes her adversary and gives her the justice she was looking for.

If an unjust judge who does not care about God or about people will eventually, after much hassling and pestering, give justice to this widow, will not God give justice to His people? Will He not save them from their adversary? Of course He will. God will save us and give us justice. He will deliver us from our adversary. Who is our adversary? The devil, this world full of sin that we live in, and even the sin that lingers in our own hearts. God will deliver us from all these adversaries. He will deliver us from evil. When the Son of Man comes He will save us from sin and death by raising us to new life.

With this hope in front of us Jesus begs us not to lose heart. Just like that widow who pestered the judge day after day, Jesus invites us to pray to God every day for deliverance from this world of sin. He will answer those prayers. This persistent widow reminds me a bit of the first dog that we had when I was a kid. When my brother would try to practice piano she would come up and stick her nose right under his hand and bump it so that he would make a mistake. She would keep doing this until he got up from the piano bench and got her a treat from the cupboard and then she would go lie down until she was ready for another treat. Jesus calls us to be persistent like this in our prayers. To trust that He is coming again and to pray that it would happen soon so that we can be saved from our adversaries. He promises us that He is coming and urges us not to lose hope and to be persistent in our prayers because it is a question of “when” not “if.”

But even with this promise doubt still lingers. As we deal with our adversary, the devil, every day and the consequences of sin we can start to wonder if this deliverance is ever going to come. Or maybe as the delay goes on and we don’t see Jesus coming back we just start to forget about it altogether. Maybe it has just drifted out of our minds and we don’t think about it anymore. Sometime I wonder if that is the situation in churches today. Do we really truly believe anymore that Jesus is coming again?

That brings us to the next part of our verse and what Jesus says to us today, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth.” Jesus is coming, that is certain, but when He comes will He find faith on the earth? Will there be faithful people who believe in Him? This ought to be a scary question for us. Especially as we see churches everywhere shrinking and less and less people bother to go to church on Sunday. When Jesus comes again will there be faithful people on this earth? Notice, Jesus does not say “Will there be churches?” but, “Will there be faith?” There will be churches, churches will still exist, but will the people in those churches be faithfully looking forward to the coming of Jesus? Will they be eagerly waiting and praying for the deliverance that Jesus promised? Or, will they have given up hope? Will they have forgotten about this promise from Jesus altogether?

Those are tough questions and if we take Jesus seriously and our faith in Jesus seriously then they should also be questions that shake us up a bit. Will there be faith on the earth when Jesus comes back? If it were up to us the answer would be no. You and I cannot cause faith to exist in our own hearts let alone cause faith to exist in the rest of the world. We can’t, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus or come to Him and we can’t cause other people to believe in Jesus either. Human hearts and minds are sinful, they cannot believe or understand who Jesus is, they can’t choose to trust in Him or believe His promises, sinful hearts can’t choose to have faith or keep the faith that they have been given.

But it’s not up to us, it is up to God and His Holy Spirit. And He has given us what it needed in order to keep this faith that He has given to us. He has given us His Word, signed, sealed, and delivered in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His Word that speaks life into our dead bodies and forgiveness into our guilty hearts. His Word that speaks faith into us. And He knows that doubts and questions that assail us, so for the times when words don’t seem like enough He gives us something more. In bread and wine at this communion rail He gives us the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus so that we can taste and see that the Lord our God is good. And, finally, He gives us prayer so that we can call out to Him in our distress and know that He will hear and that He will deliver us on the day when Jesus comes again.

Jesus is coming. That’s a “when” not an “if”. And when He comes He will find faith on the earth because as long as God’s Word is taught and read there will be faith. The Lord will bring to completion the good work that He has begun in us and that will happen on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ, the day when He comes again. And so, knowing that our Lord is coming to save us, let us always pray and never lose hope. Amen.

Recognising Jesus

Text: Luke 17:11-19

Prayer of the day: Almighty God, You show great mercy to Your people in all their troubles. Grant us always to recognise Your goodness, give thanks for Your compassion, and praise Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

I watched a funny video a few weeks ago of people getting picked up by ride-sharing companies like Uber and things like that and being driven to their destinations. Unlike regular old taxis, when you go with these ride-sharing companies you never really know who you will get as a driver, they are just regular people in regular cars. At least that’s what you’d expect. In this video I watched the people who called for a ride were being picked up and driven around by National Basketball League all-star and hall of famer Shaquille O’Neil. Shaquille O’Neil or “Shaq” is a huge man (6’9”, 325lbs) and he has an even larger personality. Shaquille O’Neil is someone that most people would recognise pretty easily, but as he came to pick these people up he was disguised with wigs, fake glasses, mustaches, and stuff like that. No one recognised him, at least not right away. Towards the end of their trips some people started to catch on, but most people didn’t figure it out until the wigs and the rest of the disguises came off. Then, when the recognized Shaquille O’Neil and realized who had been driving them around, they got very excited. Some screamed and laughed, other pulled out phones to take a selfie, and others asked for an autograph. But until they figured it out is just seemed like an ordinary ride across town. If they didn’t recognise him it didn’t mean anything.

I was thinking about this video this week because our gospel reading today is all about recognising Jesus. The reading we have today is perfect for thanksgiving Sunday, we heard about Jesus healing ten men who had leprosy. According to Old Testament laws people with leprosy had to live outside of town. They could not live in their homes or with their families, they had to stay outside the camp or the town. So these ten lepers had grouped together in a kind of leper colony, it seems, and they lived outside of a town. When these men saw Jesus coming into their town they call out to Him because they have heard about Jesus and know the kind of healings that He has done before. They see a glimmer of hope here, a chance at healing and salvation, and they call out to Jesus saying, “Have mercy on us!” Jesus, of course, is full of mercy for sinful broken people like us, so when they called on Him asking for mercy Jesus does not disappoint. He looks at them, has mercy on them, and tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.

Whenever a person who had leprosy got better that was the thing to do. If you wanted to get let back into the community and be allowed to go home again you needed to go to the priest so that he could make sure you were better and offer the proper sacrifices to God giving thanks and making you spiritually clean and forgiven. So these men, still not healed of their leprosy, set off to go see the priest full of hope that they will be healed. Along the way that is exactly what happens, all of a sudden they were healed.

Nine of those men continued on to go show themselves to the priest. They were healed, they were clean, they were going to get to go home again! Imagine how excited they must have been. One of them, however, turned around. He went back to Jesus fell down at His feet and praised God that he had been made well. Ten were healed, but only one gave thanks to Jesus.

Our first reaction might be to think that this is a story about how we should be more thankful. Those nine lepers did not bother to come and thank Jesus and we should be like that one who did, but there is nothing here that says that the other nine were not thankful. I’m sure they were very thankful for what had happened to them, they went to the priest, arranged for the various sacrifices and ceremonies to take place and, in doing so, gave thanks to God for what He had done for them. This is not a story about how some people are thankful and others are not. Instead, this is a story about recognising Jesus.

That is the difference between the one formerly leprous man and the other nine who do not come back to Jesus. Those nine do not recognise who Jesus is. When these men look at Jesus they don’t see the Son of God, they don’t see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, they don’t recognise Jesus. And, because they don’t recognise Jesus, they go elsewhere to give thanks to God. But this one man does recognise Jesus. When he has been healed he goes back to Jesus, praises God in a loud voice and falls down at Jesus’ feet. He goes back to Jesus to praise God. By faith this man recognises that Jesus is the Son of God. He recognises that Jesus is the source of this wonderful blessing that He has received. He recognises Jesus.

This is a remarkable thing. This man has tremendous faith to believe this about Jesus. John tells us in the beginning of his gospel when he talks about Jesus coming into the world that, “He was in the world and the world was made by Him, but the world did not recognise Him.” The world does not recognise Jesus. Our own sinful hearts and minds, by their own reason or strength, can’t recognise Jesus. Even though the entire world was made through Him as God spoke the world into being this sinful, fallen world does not recognise Jesus as He comes into the world. Even as Jesus does miracles like the one we read about today, the world does not recognise Him. Nine out of the ten do not recognise who Jesus is and they do not return to give thanks to Him.

After Jesus rises from the dead there is a remarkable story about how people finally come to recognise who He is. Jesus joins two of His disciples on the road as they are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As Jesus walks with them they do not recognise who He is and they tell Him about everything that happened that weekend as Jesus was crucified and died. Jesus starts to teach them that this is what the Bible always said needed to happen, but they still don’t recognise Him. But finally, as they sit down for meal together and Jesus breaks bread their hearts and eyes are opened to see and believe who Jesus really is. During supper Jesus takes bread and, when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples just like He did with them on the night when He was betrayed and arrested, in the Last Supper, the first Communion service, their eyes are opened and they recognise Jesus. The Holy Spirit is at work here opening hearts and eyes so that we recognise Jesus.

On our own we cannot recognise Jesus or even begin to comprehend what He has done for us. Our sinful minds just can’t see it or understand it. That’s why in the collect of the day we prayed in the collect of the day today asking God out of His great mercy to grant us the ability to “always recognise Your goodness.” Only God can open our eyes to understand His goodness, to recognise what He has done for us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.

But it doesn’t just stop there either, the prayer goes on. After asking God to help us recognise His goodness we asked God to help us “give thanks for His compassion and praise His holy name.” When we recognise who Jesus is and what He has done for us thanksgiving and praise naturally flow from that. Just like the riders who went crazy when the recognised Shaquille O’Neil as their driver, when our eyes are opened to see and understand who Jesus is all we can do is give thanks and praise Him. That is what that one leper did. By the work of God in him he recognised Jesus and all he could do was return to give thanks.

This is important for us to consider on a day like today, a day when our focus is on giving thanks in so many different ways. Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily a Christian holiday. People all over our country are giving thanks today, Christians and non-Christians alike. But there is a difference between how Christians give thanks and how non-Christians give thanks. Better yet, there is a difference between who Christians give thanks to and who non-Christians give thanks to. As Christians we have a God to whom we give thanks forever, but we don’t just give thanks to God. Anyone can give thanks to God and lots of people do, but we give thanks to Jesus because we recognise Jesus as the Son of God our Saviour who took all of our sin in His body on the cross and rose victorious to save us from death. We give thanks to Him because He has healed us from our sinful disease and rescued us from death. We give thanks to Him because we were leprous sinners outside the Kingdom of God but He has made us clean so that we can enter and rejoice in that Kingdom.

What a blessing it is to recognise Jesus and know His salvation for us. May we recognise day by day the goodness of our God who has given us His Son and thank and praise Him always for He has had mercy on us. Amen.

Love in a Cold World

Text: Revelation 3:15-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

We are a little over a week into fall now and you’ve been able to tell the difference outside. Not quite so hot anymore, is it? This past week actually I had to turn on the furnace at the church as I sat in my office. We had a couple of days that were rainy and pretty cold. It is fitting then, that the theme that the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Canada has come up with for their LWML Sunday this year is “Love in a Cold World.” You can see how they have illustrated this on the cover of the bulletin today with a heart of flames on a cold black backdrop. But the “cold world” that is being referred to here is not a world that has moved from one warm season to a cooler one, this is not a physical coldness that we are talking about. Rather, it is a spiritual coldness.

When I saw this theme, “Love in a Cold World,” one of the first things that came to mind for me is something that Jesus said in Matthew 24. There, talking about the last days (the days that began when Jesus ascended into heaven and the days we now live in), Jesus said, “In those days because lawlessness will be increased the love of many will grow cold.” The love of many will grow cold, that is the kind of coldness we are talking about this morning. Jesus tells us that this coldness is coming. Because of sin, because of lawlessness, because of humanity’s continual rejection of God’s Word and rebellion against His commandments the love of many will grow cold. It is indeed a cold world that we live in.

All around us lawlessness, sin, abounds. And in that world of sin love is lost. Sin is the opposite of love. Sin thinks that it knows what love is, but it only knows self-serving, self-satisfying love. Sin’s version of love is based simply on emotions and what makes us feel good, or on desires and the things that we want, or on some physical kind of love. But sin does not know real love, the self-sacrificing love of God. And so as sin abounds the love of many grows cold. The world we live in grows colder and colder. This ought not to be a surprise to Christians like us, Jesus said this would happen.

But there is an important question that we need to ask. The question is, has our love grown cold? Are we, the church of God here in this place, among the many whose love has grown cold? We are Christians, we love one another, so surely this kind of thing can’t happen to us, right? But it happens all the time.

The theme verse that the LWML chose for this Sunday and our text this morning comes from the book of Revelation chapter 3. At the beginning of the book or Revelation there is a series of seven letters that are written to seven churches. These letters are dictated by our Lord Jesus and recorded by the apostle John so that they could be sent out to the seven churches. Our text this morning comes from one of those letters, the last of those letters, which was written to the church in a place called Laodicea. This is what Jesus instructs John to write to this church: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

This church in Laodicea had grown cold. Not completely cold, only lukewarm, but it would have been better if they were just cold all the way through. Instead they were just tepid, lukewarm, middling, and blah. Neither here nor there, hot nor cold. They remind me of something that happens sometimes when I heat food in the microwave. I try to time things up just right so that the food is hot, but not so hot that I have to wait forever before I can eat it. But if you get things wrong and don’t leave it in the microwave long enough you get food that is hot on the outside and cold on the inside. Not a nice combination. The people in the church in Laodicea are like that, neither hot nor cold, and here Jesus tells them that because they are neither hot nor cold He will spit them out of His mouth. He is disgusted by them. They deserve to be sent away.

Churches do grow cold. God’s people do grow cold. Our love grows cold. The coldness in the world around us that Jesus says will increase as lawlessness and sin abound creeps into the church and even our love grows cold. The coldness and sin that is out there in the world is also alive and well in our own hearts. Lawlessness, the desire to rebel against God’s Word lingers in our hearts and because of it our love grows cold. We get tired of loving the people around us because they aren’t all that loveable sometimes and loving isn’t always much fun. So our love grows cold. We get complacent sometimes and are content just to sit back and watch the world go by without lifting a finger to love and care for anyone. And our love grows cold. It happened in that church Laodicea and it happens here too. Like them we become lukewarm Christians, the kind that are spat out by Jesus and sent away.

All of this paints a pretty bleak picture. The thought of being “spat out” or cast away from Jesus is terrifying. It is hard to hear words like this spoken to Christians and even to ourselves. So where do we find love in this cold world? If we look into ourselves we will never find it, but if we look to Christ we will find more love than we could have ever imagined. We find love in this cold world in the manger in Bethlehem where love was born into the cold darkness of sin. We find love in this cold world on the cross where love died for us and our salvation. We find love in the empty tomb where victory over this cold world was sealed. We find love in this cold world in Jesus. His love for us is eternal and unending. Jesus is love in a cold world, not you or me, Jesus. Despite our constant sinfulness, despite our lack of the love for one another, our Saviour’s dying love remains warm and true. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He warms our hearts with His love and forgiveness and gives us love so that we might love one another.

With this perfect love in mind, St. Paul wrote these words in our epistle reading today: “fan into flame the gift of God… for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Fan that gift of faith into burning flame, Paul says. Your God has so loved you and cared for you so deeply that through His Son He has rescued you from this loveless, cold world. He has given you the gift of faith to believe in this glorious salvation from sin and death so that you might know God’s love for you. And now, Paul says, fan that faith which has been given to you by God into a flame.

So how do we do that? How do we fan into flame this gift of faith that God has given to us so that our love is not lukewarm but a warm glowing love for the world to see?

It would be tempting to think that we just need to commit more energy to our faith, try harder to love, work harder as a Christian. A lot of people think this way. The world is full of people who claim to be “on fire for the Lord” or “on fire for Jesus.” They are energetic, enthusiastic, and seem anything but lukewarm. They try and try and try to live lives that are filled with love for Jesus. God bless them for trying, but those efforts will always come up short. Anything we do will always come up short because sin remains in us.

The only way that our faith is fanned into a flame that glows warmly in this cold, dark world is through receiving Jesus again and again through His Word and Sacraments. There Jesus gives us Himself, His own body and blood, His own Word, His own forgiveness, His own love so that we can be so filled with His love that we love one another. Only there, only in that way, is the coldness of our own hearts dealt with. Only Jesus and His blood shed for us, not our own efforts, can forgive our cold hearts and create in us new hearts that are filled with love.

So how do we avoid becoming lukewarm Christians? We go back to God’s Word and read and hear His words and learn again of His forgiveness. We come to the altar and receive Jesus body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. Then, filled with Jesus, we can go out into this cold world and love. We can be the love of Jesus in this cold world. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus, the lips and voice of Jesus, to this fallen world.

Because of sin love grows cold. It is a cold world that we live in, sin and lawlessness abound. But we know Christ, the one who conquered sin and the grave. His love warms the coldest heart with the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life. May we be filled with that love so that we too may love in this cold world. Amen.