Sermon: Watching for Christ’s Return

Texts: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:1-13
Midweek Vespers for the First Week in Advent
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When it comes to being on the alert and ready at any moment, it’s hard to beat the Pony Express. The Pony Express was the mail service between St. Joseph, Missouri, and California. It depended on constant movement and readiness. Relay stations were established every ten to fifteen miles. A rider would shout aloud as he approached a station, giving the station master very short notice that he needed to be outside waiting with a fresh horse. When a rider came to the station where he would spend the night, another rider was already mounted and waiting. He had to be ready to grab the first rider’s bundle of packages and continue the trip.

When the transcontinental telegraph system was finished, the Pony Express became obsolete after just eighteen months. But the Pony Express gives us a great example of what it means to be always on the watch. The First Week in Advent reminds us that Jesus will return suddenly and unexpectedly.  The value of watching for our Lord’s return is what our two readings are about this evening. St. Paul says, “You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Th 5:2). And that is why Christ our Lord says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13). The question then is: how can I remain watchful? St. Paul tells us that we need to not be spiritually asleep and keep spiritually awake and sober. Let’s look at each in turn.

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Sermon: The Sudden and Unexpected Return of Christ

Text: Matthew 24:36-44
First Sunday in Advent, Year C
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

How many of you like Advent Calendars? Some people find great joy in the daily routine of peeking behind the little doors. Each day has a door corresponding to the days leading up to Christmas Eve. Each day you find the correct number, pry open the little cardboard entry, and discover a piece of chocolate—a foretaste of the stocking to come. It is a slow but steady countdown. Each day you know Christmas is one day closer. Each door announces precisely how much longer until the big day arrives.

Advent calendars are good at building anticipation for Christmas. “Do not worry,” the calendar tells us, “there are still fourteen more days until Christmas.” We have got lots of time to get ready. There is plenty of time to finish shopping. Advent Calendars work for our annual celebration of Christmas, but Jesus is not talking about Christmas in our Gospel reading. And, when it comes down to it, the First Sunday in Advent is not about Christmas. It is about the second coming of Jesus. Unlike Christmas, you cannot countdown to Christ’s second coming. There’s no special calendar that tells you there are only a certain number of days left until Jesus returns. “Concerning that day and hour no one knows” (Mt. 24:36). As a result, Christ our Lord tells us his return will catch many unaware. And yet, his return will be our salvation.

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Sermon: Reasons for Joy in the New Creation

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
Last Sunday of the Church Year, Series C
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last Sunday, we discussed the signs indicating that Christ’s return is near. Jesus prepared us for the increasing difficulty of the Last Days by reminding us of God’s tender care. This Sunday, we are going to look at what happens next. After the Church makes it through the Great Tribulation, after the Battle of Armageddon, and after Christ, himself returns, and the dead in Christ are raised, what happens next? Have you ever wondered what life will be like after Jesus returns? What will life be like in this new heaven and new earth? What reasons might you have for joy in the New Creation? Today, the Lord reveals a life we can barely imagine through the prophet Isaiah. God tells us life will be so good that we will “be glad and rejoice forever” (Is 65:18). Isaiah, the prophet, gives us three reasons to have joy and gladness in the New Creation. For one, our joy will be the work of God. Second, our lives will not be short. Third, our labour will not be in vain.

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Sermon: Jesus Prepares us for The Last Days

Text: Luke 21:5-36
Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost, Series C
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1889, Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the group we know today as Jehovah’s Witnesses, wrote a book called “The Time is At Hand”. The title for this book is taken from the language in Luke 21:8. I want you to listen to what he wrote: “In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished near the end of A. D. 1915” (Russel 1889, 99) Later on he continues, “Be not surprised, then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs … that the “battle of the great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1915, with the complete overthrow of the earth’s present rulership, is already commenced” (Russell 1889, 101). Isn’t it a bit ironic then that the verse from which the title of this book was taken says, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying… ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them” (Lk 21:8).

History has seen many end-of-the-world cults. One Lutheran pastor has noted that he has survived 26 apocalypses, and that if he survives another four, he’ll get a free large coffee! Such cults thrive because there remains an instinctive fascination with the idea of the end of the world. We think not only of cult groups but the guy downtown with wild eyes and hair wearing a sandwich-board sign warning that “the end is near.” These movements can make a person think that only crazy people and cults talk about the end of the world, but actually, wondering about the end is perfectly natural. We know that our lives end. We know that the lives of our loved ones will end. We see things in the world and society—wars and nuclear weapons—that have the potential to end life as we know it. So it’s natural to wonder. If we are spiritually minded, it’s also natural to wonder what God thinks about it. If Jesus had a sandwich board, what would it read? This morning we’re going see by look at Luke chapter 21. There Jesus prepares us for the Last Days. He does this by warning us about the dreadful things to come and by comforting us with a promise of redemption.

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Sermon: God’s Children Now and Forever

Text: 1 John 3:1-3
All Saints Day
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All the best-known saints have their own feast days. These are usually the day they died. St. Valentine gets February 14th, and St. Patrick gets March 17th. But All Saints is a day to commemorate the unnumbered, unnamed saints across time and place. Today, many Christian congregations also remember their loved ones who have died during the past year in the faith. And we’ll also be doing that today. However, the Apostle John’s first letter reminds us that celebrating “all the saints” will include the living. All baptized Christians can be included in the same company as those who have come before. All of us. Hopefully, will gather before the throne of the Lamb to worship. So, this morning the epistle explains who we are now. John then talks about what we will be in the future. Finally, he mentions what we are to do in the meantime.

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Sermon: The First and Chief Article

Text: Romans 3:19-28
Festival of the Reformation
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What would you say is the most essential teaching in the Christian faith? What doctrine comes first before everything else?  What is the most important thing the Bible has to say to you? A few teachings come to mind as possibilities, but only one doctrine is the most important. Today we commemorate the 505th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian friar and professor of theology Dr Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the castle church door for debate concerning the sale of indulgences. However, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, Dr Luther found Christianity’s chief teaching. Romans made Luther see that the Church of his day had misunderstood how we are justified. To be justified means to be pardoned by God, acquitted, and declared innocent, and to have the relationship between God and us put right again. The question before us this morning is how, according to Romans, will we be justified? Paul tells us two things this morning. He tells us how justification doesn’t happen and how justification does happen.

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Sermon: Will You Go Home Justified?

Text: Luke 18:9-17
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Series C.

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pharisees are the worst, aren’t they? They are judgmental. They are arrogant. They think they are better than everybody else. They are so proud of doing the right thing all the time. Pharisees are the worst! Yet, we cannot understand this parable correctly if we think of the Pharisee as a terrible person. When we hear the word “Pharisees”, we think of hypocrites, religious show-offs who lived to get praise and honour from people instead of God. We think of people who made detailed rules for others to live by but did not live by those same rules themselves. When Jesus first told the parable, people saw the Pharisees differently. What Jesus said about the Pharisee was designed to shock us so we would look at our own lives. The shocking part is that the tax collector “went home justified before God” and not the Pharisee. What were the Pharisees doing, and what were they not doing? What was wrong with their hearts? If we are to go home justified this morning, we need to see what Jesus is warning against.

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Sermon: Persevering When Discouraged

Text: Luke 18:1-8
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you ever get discouraged? Of course, you do. From time to time, all of us are tempted to lose heart. When life gets hard, and no relief is in sight, despair can set in. Some of you are in the middle of this right now. Life is a mess, and you may feel like you’re barely hanging on. Day after day, month after month, your resolve can be slowly ground away. The danger with discouragement is that it can wither our faith. Our prayers stop, our attendance at Church slips, and we slowly fade into unbelief. The threat is so real that Jesus finishes our text this morning wondering if he will find faith on the earth when he returns. Life is so tough that it can knock you right out.

Jesus knew being his followers would be demanding during this time before his return. He knew we’d be tempted to give up. How do we keep going when it’s so hard and when we’re tempted to throw in the towel? This is why Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow, so that no matter what happens, we may not give up.

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Sermon: Giving Thanks to God

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Day of Thanksgiving
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the rarest qualities on earth is gratitude. A Scottish pastor in the nineteenth century once visited an elderly parishioner. During the visit, the lady complained at length about everything and everyone. Finally, hat in hand, the pastor rose to leave. His only comment was a phrase from Psalm 103:2, “And mind you, forget not all his benefits.” Thanklessness isn’t anything new. Today we have never had so much, and yet many remain ungrateful. And we’re not immune. This ought not to be. According to the Bible, there is no such thing as a thankless Christian. The account of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel reading addresses the issue of being thankful in a powerful way.

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Sermon: Faith in the Midst of Injustice

Texts: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 17:1-10
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Justice” is a word you hear a lot today. People are very concerned that the injustices they perceive get righted. Can you think of a recent injustice many feel needs to be corrected?  We live in a world which cries out with Habakkuk, “How long, Lord, will you be deaf to my plea?” We realise that there is injustice, and we attempt to fix it. Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t. Our best solutions are temporary fixes. We encounter wrongdoing, violence, strife, and discord erupting, justice being perverted or denied to many, and the poor being ignored and forgotten. When we see all that, we can start asking, along with the prophet, where is God? Why isn’t God doing something about all this terrible injustice? This morning, we’ll look at what God has done about it.

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