The Cupboards Are Bare

At the city gates the widow of Zarephath stooped down low, gathering sticks, so that she could prepare her final meal. The God of life is found in the depravity of death. But the anxiety and worry of life will cloud our sight and we’ll miss the God who is standing in the middle of our troubles. The cupboard was bare, the flour was running out, and there was barely enough oil to do anything. Her anxiety about life, with many worries running through her brain, are interrupted from above. “Go fetch me a glass of water,” Elijah said, “and while your at it, grab me a small morsel of bread.” But I don’t even have enough for my son, the flour is running out, there is barely enough oil to do anything, and I’m preparing a meal of sticks. It seems as if death is reigning, worry is supreme, fear is everywhere.

The depravity of life had met this woman. Times were hard in Zaraphath. But, times were harder in this woman’s life. The weight of hunger, the disease of malnourishment, and the alienation of picking up sticks off the ground – had brought her beyond anxious. Her worry was her life, and her master was death.

Life is hard. Age gives aches and pains. We loose loved ones and the dinner table isn’t as full as it once was. Our minds are quickly distracted by worry and anxious thoughts. What will I wear? How will we feed our family? . . . How long will we have? What are you seeking? Even the wicked seek their own righteousness and love those that love them.

And how many masters do you have? You will love one and hate the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You either have one master or you have the other. It is impossible to serve them both. The widow’s master may be yours. One has many names and faces, as many, in fact, as you could possibly want. You can call him “God.” You can call him “Allah,” or “Buddha,” or “Scratch,” or simply make up a new name. He doesn’t mind. He’ll go by anything. He’s kind and tolerant…oh and patient. He’s never jealous and hardly ever gets upset. But he’s a liar…and a cheat. He’ll tell his followers they can have as many masters as they want. He’ll give you choices and let you indulge yourself. But it’s all so he can trap you…devour you and ruin you forever.

The other master is jealous and stubborn. He never bends and always demands. He won’t let you call him something else. He exposes the sensitivities of man. He calls you a sinner. He won’t let you have other masters. He is the God of truth. He is light of light. He has no empty promises and fading pleasures. He is life…but he is found in death. If you belong to him then you can follow no one else. But there is no need for anyone else. Jesus is life and comfort. He is help in every time of need. He is our rock and our fortress. And this Jesus still wants you.

Is your cupboard bare? Is your master anxiety, worry, and death? Who arrays the grass of the field? And who is it that makes the flowers grow and the sparrows fly? It is Jesus. Elijah answered the widow of Zaraphath with the truth of God’s word. As that woman made a small cake for Elijah, he gave that woman food from heaven. Jesus became her master there, even as he was her servant.

Standing in the midst of your trouble is Jesus.

Life will be hard. Times will be rough, and the cupboard may from time to time seem bare. To the human eye, the small morsel of bread on the altar may seem like the fixing of your last meal before you die. All the world seems like it is resting on your shoulders and your mind will seem like your master. Death will be your focus, and work will overwhelm you. But our God does not reign from heaven above—not yet, not now. His wisdom and power is only made known in Christ Jesus who reigns in the midst of his people. His reign and his work is here. Awesome and powerful and mighty only in Jesus. Without him and his righteousness, without Jesus, he has no mercy, no grace… we would not call him awesome, but awful.

What shall we eat? We shall eat the Body of Jesus, born of the Virgin, executed for crimes He did not commit, and raised again to glory by His Father given for you. What shall we drink? We shall drink the Blood of Jesus poured out outside the city gates for the remission of your sins. What shall we wear? We shall wear His righteousness, the wedding garment of joy that He provides by Grace.

You have a bread that will last forever. When the times are hard, and the morsels look small, know that God dwells here. His reign, his kingdom is here and everywhere his Word is preached and Holy Supper given…in a small voice and a morsel of bread, a sip of wine. He has conquered your hurts and sorrows. He has died so that you live. And so when you partake of his body. . . When the pastor places Jesus on your lips, you are partaking in your death. Life is found in the depravity of death. It is your death and it is Jesus’ death. It is a putting of his cross before you and in you…It is a death that frees you from Satan and eternal torment because it is the death of Jesus’ cross that stomped the head of the serpent and undid death and sin’s debt. It is your foundation and your life. It is your reward and your nourishment. On your knees, before that altar, your strength and your song are placed upon your lips and you are in fellowship with God.

Despite the temporary nature of the things God provides for us now, we know this: Jesus is coming back. Death has been defeated. He will not abandon us to the grave. For the meantime, it might get better and it might get worse. Lilies bloom, wilt, and die but new ones rise up behind them to bloom again. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Eat the Body of Jesus. Drink His Blood. Wear the clean garments of righteousness that He gives to you. All things pass away except this one thing: the Word of God. The Word made Flesh has paid your debt. You are forgiven, clean, and whole. And on the last day He shall call you forth from the grave. No one will stop Him.

Matthew 6

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Ad Te Levavi Sermon

The end harkens back to the beginning and the beginning to the end. Watch, be awake, be ready, for the end is drawing nigh. The first day of the church year can only be seen in the shadow of Good Friday…where your sin, the reign of death, Satan— meets its match. The end is drawing nigh. So the King comes to you. He comes lowly, humble, riding on a beast of burden. He comes triumphant into the holy city, but he comes unlike any other king would. He comes unlike any other god would. This is the Savior of the Nations, the God of Creation, the government is on his shoulder, but he will not over throw Caesar. The emperor’s government will be an instrument to free the world and you from sin and death. “Hail to the Son of David, Hosanna!” the people shout.

So it is that the ancient Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent (Ad Te Levavi) is the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. The characteristic of the coming Babe of Bethlehem is defined by this. Your God comes to you: Lowly and humble. Advent is a season of preparation, but its name confuses it. Advent is Latin for “I come.” Jesus comes to his people. The Second Person of the Trinity is the great apostle, having been sent to interrupt the monotony of the world…to destroy the reign of a thief prince, to destroy lies, and to establish truth. He walks in the cool of the Garden of Eden, he comes down to see the Tower of Babel, he hears the cries of his people and comes to Moses in the burning bush to rescue and make well. Immanuel is God with Us…God visiting us, God keeping his promises. He rides into the holy city to die for your sins. He comes to Roswell even to have you for himself.

A God that throws off all conceptions of what God is. Not a divine watch maker that creates the heavens and the earth and then once the machine has been set in motion, goes to start another project. Not a god that needs to be found, approached, and appeased. He’s not abstract and unique to each person and their feelings. He is the true God that comes to find you. Seeks you out and comes. He is the God that is always revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. The face of Trinity is the blooded God-Man on the cross of Calvary…and there is no other god.

Whatever the reason the people filled the streets that day, they did not think they were participating in a funeral march. Perhaps they thought it was their freedom from Roman oppression or from the oppression of the Sadducees. It makes no difference. Not even the disciples of Jesus really knew what was going on. They had been in Jerusalem many times before and this had never happened. But this is the end. The beginning of our church year is informed and defined by that end. What is that end? It is the Good Friday, death on the cross, end. We will celebrate, but we will get the focus wrong from time to time, too. Crosses are gory. Death is usually an unpleasant topic. The temptation will be to forget your God: Jesus Christ and his coming, despite this season of piped-in Christmas music and crazy shopping. Satan will try to steal away the real reason you gather week in and week out. The world will try to convince you that you are on the “nice list” and that there is no reason to worry about payment for sin, crosses, and propitiation.

Nonetheless, the people shouted, Hosanna! It means, “Save us!” The people need saving. You shout, “Hosanna!” You need saving, too. And even if you were silent, the very stones would cry out. The Savior comes, the Son of David comes, to his creation, to his people. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! They sang. A people informed by the Holy Spirit. It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to them, but the very Spirit of the Living God. The Son of David comes in the name of the Lord to save his people from their sins. Jesus means “God saves!” The words of their cry were a people, a creation, a world reminding God of his promises.

Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we sing the Words of that Triumphal Entry. You will sing them again today, in fact. The liturgy, the great cloud of witnesses, you, the Church will remind God again that he is the God that Saves. You will put your hope in the God that comes. You will delight with the saints of all time that your God comes to you, lowly and humble, riding no longer on a donkey, but on bread and wine.

Once they were in the holy city, Jesus told his disciples that they would not see him again until they said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” You celebrate again today with the King that comes to find you and destroy your sins, to establish the truth of his victory over death and Satan…and you see him again. The words of our Lord come true, as you partake of his very body and his blood. You sing, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” with all the church with the saints of all time, with the great cloud of heavenly witnesses. You sing the acknowledgement of a God that saved and yet still comes. You sing of a God that washes you in that blood, makes you righteous, and names you with his name.

That means that the end harkens back to the beginning. Your end, your death, was your beginning, for you are the baptized of God. You have been marked by the blood of the Crucified One and Jesus has saved you from all your sins. He gives you his name. The cross is now your life. You have been made like him…redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Now the beginning of the Church year, that we celebrate today, is again the end of sin and death. And the characteristic coming of Jesus is not over, but new again today. He comes. Once he came in blessing, all our sins redressing; came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy; Bore the cross to save us; Hope and freedom gave us. Today he comes in Word preached and Sacrament given: all our sins destroying; came by means of his Spirit; Son of God most lowly. The bread of life to give us!

In the name of +Jesus. Amen.

 

Nicodemus, do you not know…

John 3:1-15

In the name of the Father and of the ☩Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It’s not by blood…It isn’t the will of the flesh…It isn’t of the will of man, but it’s of God, that you are called heavenly heirs.  It isn’t by our own reason and strength that we call Jesus, Lord – but because we have been born of the Spirit.  Not presenting yourself once again in your mother’s womb (No!)– but passing through water combined by the command of God to the living Word of God.

Nicodemus – are you not a teacher of the children of Israel and yet you do not know that the Law does not lead to eternal life?

God’s holy law only points to that which is greater.  Moses and the prophets only direct us to the Son of Man lifted up.  And so just like Moses lifted up the serpent – the Great Serpent and deceiver of our souls is destroyed ONLY!! —by the Son of God, lifted up.  That he who first deceived by the tree of knowledge, would see his destruction by a NEW tree of life – Golgotha’s cross.

God lays down his life to redeem rebels who have forsaken Him.  For his own did not receive him.  AND…the world did not know him.  The world does not love him, and yet he loves them (He loves you).  This work of God is his love.  This is how he loves:  He dies the death we deserve, exhausts his own wrath, and satisfies justice.  And so we can rightly say God is LOVE.

And it’s this love that is the toughest thing to grasp!  It makes mad the children of men as they wag their tongues: Foolish are these Christians – stupid is this thing they call the Gospel!  For this gospel makes it sound like you don’t do a thing to inherit the Kingdom of God.  It makes it sound like you are passive receiver.  Nicodemus would agree.  Doesn’t a person enter the kingdom of God through the Law, through his own works as he pleases God by his doing?

Jesus says: no, a person must be born anew, from above.  God lavishes his love upon the sinner – from above sinners are made new.  Rebirth is it. Rebirth it has to be!  Holy rebirth – where the Holy Spirit gathers you up and places his mark upon you.  He bathes you in God’s eternal and powerful love.  The love that is so great and precise that he knows the intimate details of each person, even counting the hairs on their heads and their chins.  Not a generic love, the way some people love cats and chocolate – no a love of deliberate action.  A birth from above, o passive receiver, uniting us to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

And, this, the world hates. It’s not that the world misunderstands Jesus or you for that matter or me. The Gospel is clear. IN YOUR FACE clear. You are a passive receiver, saved by Grace —through faith in Jesus Christ and it isn’t your own work, it is the gift of God. You are his workmanship and the object of his love. It is that this infuriates the world. It is a stumbling block and foolishness and they hate it and they Him and they hate you for it.

Our God—this JESUS—deliberately laid down his life for a specific kind of person. Jesus comes only for sinners.  And so this birth of baptism makes children of God.  Baptism calls the lost and rescues the sinner.

Baptism shows the individual, specific, unique love God has for each of his children.  Your God has deliberately and specifically rescued and recreated you – turning what was doomed for demise (an eternal damnation) into heavenly heirs and children of God.

This Holy Trinity, of which we celebrate today, has rescued and recreated you in the waters of Baptism—naming you as his own.  We are no longer who we were.  We have been drawn into his death and resurrection, expelled from the womb to life eternal, born again of Water and the Spirit, renamed and reclaimed into the name of the Holy Trinity (The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit).  So also he continues to rescue and recreate you, today.  Your name has been called out and your heavenly Father lavishes his love here upon you.

Create in me a clean heart, we will sing.  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.  He does just that.  He takes what was broken and shed upon the cross of Calvary and rescues and recreates us again.  Resting upon our altar – the God Man Jesus brings heavenly glory and calls you by name again.

The Word was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to us whom the Holy Spirit has showered the love of God upon – to us – The Children of God – born of water and the Spirit…we behold the glory of the cross.  We see the salvation prepared before the face of all people and we hold onto our King and our God.  Children of God, once again, COME, be guests at the Father’s table, with the Son as your Host with the unity of the Spirit.

**But you might be thinking that your sins are too much. You can’t come because you aren’t worthy of a King GodMan. Like Nicodemus who had to come to Jesus by night or Isaiah who shouted “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips!” But you would be wrong about Jesus. He’s the one that brought you here. And just like the angel that carried a live coal to Isaiah’s lips, so also a live coal—the Living, Resurrected Lord will be carried to your lips…he bids you welcome and worth at his altar. Have your sins purged and the coal of Jesus’ sacrifice burn away your sin.**  Dine on his body.  Drink his blood.  Lift up the Cup of Peace.  Our God and King we see, as at the rail, here, on bended knee our hungry mouths from Him receive the food and drink of immortality. The victory is declared HERE…in this place…again today.  God’s love is lavished upon the children of God and you are renewed, recreated, and made whole and complete again. Your sins are forgiven.  ✞ In Jesus’ Name ✞

Soli Deo Gloria!