Sunday, October 27, 2013

Freedom from Slavery

Reformation Day, (Observed), October 27th, A + D  2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Freedom from Slavery - John 7:31-38

          One of my pastor friends amuses himself by keeping track of the ridiculous things that Jesus' opponents say to Him.  In the Gospel for Reformation Day we have a truly magnificent example of this.  Jesus says to a group of Jews who have believed in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, 'You will become free.'”

          Oh really?  You sons of Abraham have never been enslaved to anyone, huh?  What about those ten tribes who never quite made it back from exile in Assyria?  What about Judah’s 70 years in Babylon?  Oh, and we’re not counting the 400 years the children of Israel spent in Egypt, much of that time spent building for Pharaoh, against their will?  Come to think if it, what about right now?  Why do you pay all those taxes to Caesar, and have all these red-garbed Italians marching through your streets and quartering in your homes?  Did you invite them?  Are you free to rule yourselves and do whatever you wish?  No. The Romans rule you.  They've conquered you, just like Pharaoh, and Alexander, Nebuchadnezzar, and more.  And yet you say, “we have never been enslaved to anyone.”  Truly classic.

          Speaking of slavery is a touchy thing for us Americans, and not just because of our ugly history with slavery.  Our primary values, supposedly, are freedom and self-determination, a nation of self-made men and women who pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  And yet, we voluntarily give up many freedoms.  Nicotine, prescriptions, alcohol and illegal drugs lead some of us around by the nose, preventing us from doing the things free people do, things like breathe deeply and think clearly.  You and I may avoid chemical taskmasters, and yet still find ourselves bound to powers outside ourselves.  How many of us are slaves to our work, missing out on the love of family and friends, missing out on the enjoyment of life, because we are driven to make a little more, to earn a bit more of the Almighty Dollar? 

Or perhaps we are slaves to entertainment and recreation, living shallow lives, plagued by debt and meaninglessness, because our focus is all on what we’re doing next Friday night, or when the newest version of Mortal Combat will be released.  Younger generations are increasingly enslaved to their devices, slowly losing the ability to hold a conversation face to face, or to listen to a sermon for more than a few minutes.  In my youth, the ultimate status symbol, a cool car or pickup, also offered a modicum of freedom, if you could afford insurance and gas.  Cars are still important, but what freedom does having the latest I-Phone really offer? 

          From the NSA to the IRS to the Department of Health and Human Services, we Americans are for the most part quietly accepting more and more intrusions on our precious privacy and freedom, perhaps because we are too busy trying to make a buck, or too busy watching the latest YouTube video on our smartphone.  And yet, we still claim to be the land of the free.  The Jews protesting Jesus’ promise of freedom are no more foolish than us.  

          We tend to think of our freedom in very human terms.  Are we politically free?  Are we free to live our lives as we see fit?  As foolish as our thinking about these things may be, Jesus is unconcerned with such freedoms.  Indeed, Jesus blows apart the usual way we think about freedom.  Jesus want to know, “Are you free to worship God without fear?”  “Can you laugh at the devil’s chains, because he has no claim on you?”  These are the categories of freedom Jesus is talking about, and bluntly. 

           “Amen, amen, truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.”  Ouch.  Like the Jews in Jesus’ immediate audience, the American in us says, “I'm an American, I haven't been enslaved to anyone!  I'm free!  I can do what I want.” Jesus reminds us there are chains around our wrists, the chains of God’s righteous judgment, the chains of satan’s biting accusations.  We are sinners, natural born sinners, and we cannot free ourselves from the chains of our sinful condition. 

          Now, we know this.  Of course we know this.  We’ve studied this, learning it from Catechism and Scripture.  We confess this, regularly.  We know that when we sin, we are slipping the cuffs around our own wrists.  So, naturally, we who know the truth about slavery and freedom want to resist sin, to flee from sin, to live without sin.     But our wanting doesn't seem to help, does it? The devil still yanks our chains, dragging us into sin without too much resistance from us.  At the very same time, we look at world around us, a culture arrayed against us, openly hostile to our faith, and instead of pouring our energy into teaching the world the truth, we want to throw up our hands and let the world just burn.  Indifference to sinners for whom Christ died is added to the list of our sins, wrapping chain around chain.  The devil is having a field day.

          But that field day is an illusion.  A lie.  How can I say that?  Am I not just fooling myself, to say that the dominance of the taskmaster satan is not real?  No.  I’m not lying, because it isn’t me saying so.  No, Jesus Himself says so.  “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  And the Son has set you free.  Christ has come and given us freedom, true freedom, not the self-indulgent nonsense our culture glorifies.  You may be an addict.  You may be foolishly spending your life chasing money or popularity or escape.  But the devil has no real hold on you, because the Son has set you free.  Only your unbelief can give satan power. 

     Only unbelief can bind you, so stop doubting, and believe the Good News!  Freedom has come to us as a person, a man, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, come to free humanity from sin and satan.  The Son of God has made us free by suffering, dying, and rising again.  All of the sins satan uses to accuse you and me have been paid for, in full, by Jesus.  So sin's hold is broken; the devil’s chains are shattered; the light of freedom is shining upon us.

          That's hard to believe.  We are plagued by our ongoing sins, and shackled by our sinful perception.  Little Trinity Erickson has just been baptized, and we rejoice.  But sad to say, Caleb and Jonetta will still have to discipline her, still have to deal with her sinfulness.  So also, we are baptized, brought into God's covenant.  Freedom has been promised to us, yet we see few signs of it.  Instead we see sin reigning in our members.  We see our failure to resist the devil's temptations, and our sin screams that God is lying when He says we are free.  But that screaming is just another lie.

          Listen to Jesus:  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth. That word in itself is scandalous enough to us, because we proud humans like to reject all truth that we cannot fully grasp, to deny any truth that is truly bigger than us.  But Jesus is very clear and specific about His truth, so our sin can only slam its head against it.  Jesus is the end of sin.  This is the truth.  There is no other.  Which means that all things that contradict that truth, including the voices in our heads, are lies.

          Christianity presents truth not as some kind of platonic concept floating out there in form-land, but as a person, a man, who sweat, hurt, ate, and drank.  This Jesus gives Himself to us as the truth.  In the upper room, as His disciples wallow in the slavery of doubt, the resurrected Jesus comes and presents His crucified flesh to the disciples and says, Peace be with you.  Do not be afraid.  Believe in Me.  Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, testifies that the whole of the Scriptures are pointing to Him, directing us to Him, to Christ alone.

          This truth, that Jesus Christ has come, and has taken our sin and destroyed its power, this truth sets us free.  No matter how the devil jerks us around, no matter what the voices in our head yell at us, no matter how our sin bogs us down, the truth, the divine truth, does what He was prophesied to do.  He takes the devil's head and crushes it under His boot.  How?  By letting the devil kill Him.  Even more, by suffering the punishment from His Father that our sins deserve.  Truly, the ways of our Lord are mysterious.

          The Reformation is all about recovering and proclaiming this Truth:  Jesus, the truth made flesh, was crucified and resurrected, to rob satan of all his power, thereby setting sinners free from sin and death.  Apart from this Truth, the Church has nothing.  With this Truth, the Church has all things.  From this Truth we live.  We do this living sinfully, to our great shame, and yet also joyfully.  Sometimes we drag ourselves, and sometimes we come leaping with joy, coming to gather together, around font and Scripture, coming, confessing our sins and kneeling at the altar, to be fed forgiveness by our gracious Lord, the One who lived for us, died for us, and by His resurrection frees us from the devil's enslavement.

          That's freedom.  It's a curious kind of freedom, one that often leads to earthly suffering and even imprisonment for Christians.  It’s a curious victory, because we who have already been declared victorious still must fight the sin inside of us.  But thanks be to God, we are free to fight it by His strength.  When we lose a skirmish, we come to Him, who has already won the war, coming to Jesus, to be set free again, so we can go out and fight some more.  This is the Christian life on this earth. 

But one day, when we die, or when our Lord returns, we will be free, fully free, forever.  The death of the Christian is the end of his struggle with sin; the souls of the faithful rest in peace with the Savior.  And, when Jesus returns, the souls at rest with God will be reunited to their bodies, their formerly sinful flesh, which will be resurrected pure, holy, and eternal, just like Christ's glorious resurrected body. 

          In the meantime, we abide in the Word of the Son, which makes us free, even now, and forever and ever, Amen.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pray, and Do Not Lose Heart

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, October 20th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Pray, and Do Not Lose Heart – John 4:46-54

     I preached on this morning’s Gospel from John chapter 4 at the recent Pastors’ Conference in Missoula.  I was responsible for organizing the worship, and I self-assigned this text, to allow myself to prepare one sermon for two different occasions.  Pretty sneaky, huh? 

     The day before I preached on this text, I heard Pastor Nelson of Columbia Falls preach on a different text, on the parable of the Persistent Widow, from Luke 18.  You know that parable, the one where Jesus wanted to show His disciples that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart.  There was this widow with a grievance, and she just kept bringing it to the local judge.  He was a nasty fellow, fearing neither God nor respecting man.  He did not care to answer this woman’s complaint.  But, because she just kept pestering him, he decided that he would answer her prayer, he would give her the justice she demanded, just so her requests wouldn’t wear him out.  Jesus goes on to explain that, if this unrighteous judge gave justice to the widow who prayed without ceasing, how much more will God our righteous Father answer the prayers of His people.  So keep praying,  Jesus teaches, and don’t lose heart, no matter how much it seems God is not listening.  God will answer.  He will deliver you, and all His children.  

     Well, as I heard Pastor Nelson preach on the Persistent Widow, it occurred to me there were strong connections between that account from Luke 18 and my Gospel text, from John 4.  You know, all these connections between different books of the Bible are weird, almost as if the whole Bible has the same Author... but that’s another sermon.  So anyway, the theme of Luke 18 is amplified and exemplified in the reading before us this morning:  Pray, and do not lose heart. 

     As I did at the Pastors’ conference, this morning, I’m going to build on this theme a bit:  Keep praying, and don’t lose heart.  First, let’s dig a bit into the things that make us lose heart, or at least, things that make me lose heart.   
      The topic of our Pastors’ Conference was proclaiming the truth of God’s love for human life, from womb to tomb.  So I’ll start there.  It makes me lose heart that I am complicit in the murder of the unborn.  It gnaws at me that my tax dollars go to support the cause of those who actively seek to kill babies.  My tax dollars go to support the breaking of hearts, the hearts of women, mothers, who are lied to, told that the life inside them is just a clump of cells, and that ending a pregnancy is no big deal.  My tax dollars support death, through subsidies to Planned Parenthood and to embryonic stem cell research, and soon, under ‘health care’ reform, direct payments to doctors to cover the costs of abortions.  Like Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus by having all the baby boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem slain, our official government policy is to kill unwanted babies who may threaten our lifestyle.  And so my heart is brought low, because I live a very comfortable lifestyle, but have not done much to stop the state sponsorship of abortion.
     I lose heart, because people in my congregations, my members, souls God has put under my spiritual care, sometimes worship false gods, that threaten their eternities.  I know this is true, and yet I am afraid to name and condemn these idols.  Perhaps you’ll recognize some of these idols, common idols of our day, like the idol of casual sex and living together before marriage, a very popular idol, despite what God’s Word so clearly says.  Or there’s the idol of discrimination, which teaches us to despise and discriminate against other human beings because of their race, or their poverty.  
     Then there’s is the idol who teaches that Christians don’t really need to go to Church, that you can be a Christian just fine without gathering around God’s Word and Sacrament, even though the Scripture teaches us that it is in only from the Word and Sacrament that we can find the mercy we need.  And of course there is the idol of comfort and wealth and standing in the community, an idol which teaches us it’s fine to go to Church on Sunday, but don’t actually try to live as Christians Monday through Saturday, because our friends might think that’s weird.  There are so many idols that tempt us all, so many idols that I grow tired of confronting, or only want to confront indirectly, or better yet, pretend I’m too busy to notice.  It makes me lose heart.     
     I lose heart, because there are people I have opportunity to tell the Truth, about sin, about how God hates sin, and even more, the truth about God’s great work to overcome sin for us, so that we don’t have to be separated from Him, now, or in eternity.  God gives me many opportunities to speak of Christ and His Gospel, but too often I do not seize them.  I lose heart, and say nothing. 
     What threatens to make you lose heart?  Perhaps you lose heart because you pray, but don’t see results.  Perhaps you lose heart because your Church, the members of your Church, still reveal the same petty, sinful habits, hypocrisy, gossip, apathy and everything else, the same old sins that you’ve seen in them for thirty years or more.  Even more, perhaps you lose heart because just as soon as you notice those recurring sins in others, Satan reminds you of the sins that still plague you, including many of the ‘same old sins’ that you notice in others.      
     Jesus knew about all these failures, all these problems and sins that make me, that make us, lose heart.  Jesus knew about all these signs of unbelief that weigh on our hearts.  But for today Jesus sends us an even sharper problem to consider, an even stronger reason to lose heart – for their was an official, a  royal official, actually, probably a court official of King Herod.  And this royal official had a son, a son who was sick, very ill, at the very point of death.  
     All of  the things that make us lose heart are signs of the sin that permeates our world, and us.  And, because our sinful nature still loves sin, we are capable of pretending we don’t notice them, or simply pretending there is nothing we can do about them.  But, almost always, the threat of death in one of our children changes all that.  Having children is called procreation, that is, creating along with God.  There is nothing quite like being a mother or father.  Having children is the most visible, concrete God-like thing any of us are normally involved in.  As God loves humanity, so also we are hard-wired to love our children.  So, while other sins and problems may not cause us to do much, the threat of death to our child normally makes us desperate.  Death threatening a child will even make an atheist desperate enough to pray, the beginnings of faith, perhaps.  I myself am capable of doing nothing when I see the impact of sin in the lives of friends and members.  But if my son were suddenly at the point of death, you would see me act.   
     And so this royal official travels to find a wandering Jewish rabbi and begs Him for help.   For his trouble, Jesus insults the official:  Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.  But desperation can cause us to ignore insults and offenses.  The official, not losing heart, cries out again:  “Sir,” (well, actually ‘Lord’ is what he calls Jesus), “Lord, come down, before my child dies.”  “Don’t you get it, Lord!  My son is dying!”  A desperate prayer from the heart.

     His son was dying.  Whenever I hear of the death of a son, it always makes me think of one thing.  From Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, to the death of the first born in Egypt, from David praying against the death his sin inflicted on his first son with Bathsheba, to the Widow at Zarepheth, cursing Elijah for the death of her son, dying sons always make me think of one thing.  The son of the royal official was dying, just as the Son of the King of the Universe would soon be dying, on a cross, for the sake of faith and the salvation of households. 
     I’m pretty sure that trying to psycho-analyze God is a mistake, but the anguish, the persistent, desperate, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer prayer of the royal official does make me wonder.  The official’s fatherly anguish makes me wonder a bit about the anguish of God the Father, as His only begotten Son died on the tree, under His own wrath against human sin.  God the Father punishing God the Son, the desperation of it is beyond comprehension.  It is something Jesus never tries to explain to us. 
     But what Jesus does want us to understand is that the son of the Royal Official was at the point of death, a death that Jesus could and did prevent.  However, in a few years, the Son, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the very Son of God, would die, by the predetermined will of His Father. 
     The Son did die.  And yet, miracle of miracles, the Father did not lose heart.  God did not lose heart, even when Jesus, God’s Son made man, died for the sins of the world.  God did not lose heart: in fact, the death of the Son reveals the Father’s heart.  For God is love, and love is this:  the Father sending the Son to die, in order to take away the sins of the world.  This love of God, revealed and delivered in the dying and rising of Jesus, washes away all sin.  The sin of abortion is forgiven by the blood of Jesus.  Whether you have had an abortion, or pressured your wife or girlfriend, even if you have made your living off the abortion industry, or simply sat idly by, ignoring the issue as millions die, all of our sins regarding abortion have been taken by Jesus to His Cross, and buried there.  So also our sins of idolatry, of gossip, of apathy, every sin that plagues you and plagues me, all forgiven, paid for, taken away, by Jesus.   
     There was a certain hour which came for the royal official, the seventh hour when the he heard Jesus make a promise, the same hour when death was turned away from his son.  So also, there was a certain hour for God the Father.  The hour came, the early morning hour when the Son of God rose, at just the right time, on the third day, the long foreshadowed third day, the day whose proclamation creates new hearts, hearts washed clean from all the heartbreaking failures that seek to drive us down into unbelief.  The Holy Spirit by the proclamation of the Cross and Empty Tomb creates new hearts in us, by the forgiveness of all our sins.  In the proclamation of the raising of the Son who died, we are given bold new hearts, which are by their new nature lifted to where Jesus is, hearts that rejoice and overflow with the new life we have by faith in Christ.    
     And so, for another day, we do not lose heart, but rather we pray, including prayers of thanksgiving and praise, prayers of supplication and intercession.  We pray, with new hearts, for the Son has died, and risen, for you, and for me.  Amen. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Wedding Garments

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, October 13th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Wedding Garments – Matthew 22:1-14, Isaiah 55:1-9

     Nothing seizes one’s attention as fiercely as the proximity of death.  I had a plan for today’s sermon, an outline and a sure direction, and was in fact just sitting down to write it when my brother Bill called to tell me our brother Karl had died.   The very unexpected death of my oldest brother Karl seized my thoughts.  Amidst the shock and sadness another thought forced its way upon me.  While making phone calls and shedding tears, I realized, as God would have it, there was a different sermon I needed to write, the sermon that flows from the interaction of my brother’s death, and today’s parable. 

     For death is also in close proximity for Jesus, as He tells this parable, just a few days before He would go to the Cross.  And it seems, at least in my reading, that our Lord’s attention is very tightly focused.  It is Monday of Holy Week.  Just the previous day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, hailed as the new King David by the crowds.  Jesus rounds off His Palm Sunday with a little Temple cleansing, and some very pointed parables, told against the chief priests and Pharisees.  Now it is Monday, and these Jewish leaders are plotting how to arrest and kill Him without causing a riot.  At various times in His ministry Jesus taught about many different aspects of life, about family, and reconciliation in the Church, about charity and good works, and humility.  But at this moment, His death bearing down, Jesus focuses.  In His telling of the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus focuses on the most fundamental question – who will  spend eternity feasting in the grace and glory of God’s eternal wedding banquet, and who will be cast out, into the outer darkness, that place of weeping, and gnashing of teeth?’

     There are many players in this drama, but the focus, as is normal in the kingdom of heaven parables, is on the actions, directions and words of God.  The King, the Father of the Son, prepares the banquet, slaughtering His oxen and fattened calves, or, if you prefer, sacrificing them, another meaning for the Greek word thuo.  Everything is ready: the servants have already delivered the invitations to the guests, the sacrifices are complete, the King even goes so far as to re-send the servants, to seemingly beg the invited guests to come to the best party in town.  But they are rebuffed.  For the invited guests are busy, distracted by work, by business, too busy to be bothered with the feast. 

     Jesus in these kingdom of heaven parables compresses all of salvation history into a few words, so we should not be surprised to see ourselves in them.  The immediate referent of Jesus’ description of the invited guests who refuse the King’s hospitality is certainly the people of Israel, who again and again spurned the Lord, His ways, and His prophets.  But we too, Christians living two millennia later, all too often behave the same way.  Can any of us truly say we have never ignored the invitations of our Lord to sit and dine and celebrate with Him, ignoring Him because we have “more important” things to do?  When Christians make a habit of declining the feasts of the Lord that He provides in this life, then the coming of death is much more troubling.  We may know he is baptized, and how he used to confess and exercise his faith, but we haven’t seen him in Church lately.  Such drifting away is a troubling thing to consider, when death comes.  Christians care about one another, and so when a brother or sister in Christ drifts away, we hurt too. 

     I struggled with something like this yesterday.  Not that I know my brother Karl wasn’t attending a Christian Church, but rather I simply don’t know if he was or wasn’t.  Karl was a bit of a hermit, rarely communicating with his brothers and sister.  I’m not much better.  If I weren’t married to Shelee, I’d be pretty hermit-like, too.  Karl and I got along fine, we just didn’t communicate much. 

     Karl was baptized, confirmed, and through the years, actively wrestled with faith.  But I don’t know what had been happening lately, an uncertainty which made yesterday even harder.  Don’t be a hermit.  Paul tells us we should, as much as it lies with us, be at peace with everyone.  I think for brothers to be at peace implies more communication than Karl and I could muster, so that knowledge and familiarity can drive out uncertainty, which is the enemy of peace.  I’m left with uncertainty because of our lack of communication, but that of course does not shorten God’s arm.  My knowledge of Karl’s faith is not the deciding thing, thanks be to God. 

     But, as with the invited guests in Jesus’ parable, sometimes people do leave the Church, and there’s no uncertainty.  That is an eternally frightening thing.  The Jews who killed the Lord’s prophets, and the priests and Pharisees who plotted Jesus death both come to mind.  They were called, invited guests to the Lord’s feasts, but they wanted their own glory, they preferred their own banquets.  Big mistake.  For there is only one everlasting feast, only one way to live happily ever after, and that is by taking a seat at the heavenly feast of God. 

     And, as Jesus goes on to tell us, everyone is invited.  The feast is prepared, the sacrifices have been made, and the King sends out His servants to bring in everyone, bad or good, no matter, go get ‘em, fill my table.  What, you don’t think your worthy to attend such a fine celebration?  You’re low class, lacking the proper clothes?  Well, that’s exactly right.  But come anyway.  Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  This King is so determined to have a full table at the wedding feast of His Son that He sends messengers to bring in anyone and everyone they can find.  The King even provides them with the necessary wedding clothes.   

     God has to do this of course, if He truly wants to have the wedding feast of His Son filled with guests.  God has to provide the wedding clothes, because no son of Adam has proper clothes for heaven.  All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.  Our sinful nakedness is plain to see before the judgment seat of heaven.  Not one of us deserves a seat at God’s eternal feast.  But God has prepared His sacrifice, the death that takes away our unworthiness.  God has given His very Son to take away our sins, paying the price in suffering we deserve, on His Cross.  The feast is truly prepared, by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So, come, join the feast, marvel at the wedding clothes God has prepared for you, and, wearing them, rejoice that you have a seat at God’s eternal table. 

     How do you wear these wedding garments?  What are these wedding garments?  Good questions, especially since the King will be making an inspection of His guests.  ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’  We do not want to hear those words.  Anyone found trying to wear his own clothes will be cast out.  The wedding garments are the righteousness of Christ, which He gives to you by faith.  Your sins make you dirty, unfit for the Kingdom of heaven.  But Christ’s perfect righteousness, both His sinless life of service, and His sacrificial death, are His gift to you, given to you first in your Baptism, a gift renewed and restored whenever you hear the Word of forgiveness. 

     To try and enter the feast in your own clothes is to trust in your own righteousness, to trust in your own goodness, that you have somehow overcome your own sins and earned your seat at God’s table.  This is impossible.  This is not tolerated by God, the King.  Only clothed in the righteousness of Christ, only by wearing the garments of baptismal faith, can you take the seat God offers you. 

     This is the invitation that God sends His servants out to deliver on the main roads, out in the world.  Sadly, as with the original invited guests, so also today:  the invitation is often not well received.  No one wants to be told their own goodness is worthless, that all their righteous deeds are as filthy rags.  But it is true, and only when we despair of earning God’s favor are we ready to receive the death and resurrection of Jesus as Good News.  Until we sinners know our need, the Cross is an insult and an embarrassment.  But once we know the outer darkness our sinfulness has earned, then we are eager to wear the wedding garments, the free gift of forgiveness. 

     So, to go out and seek more people for God’s wedding feast must include thankless work of pointing out human sin.  Not just to unbelievers, but also to believers, for unbelief clings to us all in this life.  Unbelief clings, but God’s wedding garments cover all sin.  So rejoice, and come to the wedding feast. 

     Three final thoughts.  First, that last line of the parable might be troubling you:  “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  Sounds scary.  Sounds like uncertainty may be inescapable.  But only if we ignore the rest of the parable.  The King, that is God, invites all to the wedding feast, that is, to come into His heavenly kingdom.  The “unchosen” one, the one who is cast out, is the one who tried to take his seat, without wearing the gifted wedding garments.  You are baptized into Christ.  Cling to, believe in, celebrate this mysterious, wonderful gift of righteousness given to you through the washing of water and the Word, and then relax.  You are not nor will you be secretly “unchosen,” for God has baptized you publicly.  He won’t go back on His Word, you can trust it – in your Baptism you were clothed in Christ.  He is your wedding garment. 

     Second, you may be worried because you are still a sinner, and all too regularly stain your baptismal garment.  You should be worried.  It is the great shame of Christians that we are still such sinners.  Repent.  Amend your ways.  But even more, come, come and wash your robes in the blood of the Lamb, make them white as snow again, and again.  Your faith makes you want to stop sinning, and you should strive to live without sin.  But your remaining sinful nature means you will not conquer sin in this life.  However, by confessing your sins, receiving the absolution, and kneeling to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed to forgive you, Christ make your robes white again, and again, until that day when Jesus will separate you from sin forever. 

     Third, you may be doubting that simple water, bread and wine can do such great things.  Sadly, there are many Christians who deny and argue endlessly that anything real happens in Baptism and the Supper.  Well, water, bread and wine do not do great deeds.  But God, by combining them with His Word, can and does do whatever He promises.  Remember what He said through Isaiah:  My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways.  God is not bound by what makes sense to us, but He has bound Himself to His Word.  And His Word most  certainly promises that Baptism is your death and resurrection with Jesus, that in Baptism you received forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit, and that Baptism now saves you.  The Lord has also promised that His Supper is a communion, a participation in His Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.   The Lord’s Supper is like the rehearsal dinner for the heavenly wedding banquet, but one at which the Host never tires of cleaning up your stained wedding garments, once again.  To keep you in forgiveness is God’s great joy in this world.  You too can rejoice, and rest, in this Good News, until the day you die, and then live again, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.