For this Sunday’s bulletin, click here: 3rd sunday of end times 2011.rtf

I’d like to begin this post by apologizing to the prophet Ezekiel. A while ago on Facebook I made comments to the effect that Ezekiel is not a book with a lot of gospel in it. There are very many harsh pronouncements of law, and these colored my opinion of the book at the time. (Part of the problem is that I was trying to hack through the book without sufficient background in the Bible — and that only comes with time.) After studying this text, I came away convinced that I was wrong. Ezekiel does have gospel — a lot of it! This text is just one example. If you take the time to pay attention and read slowly, carefully, and prayerfully, and ponder what you read, you will have no trouble discovering the good news Ezekiel had to bring. “Every prophecy and every prophet points to Christ,” Luther was fond of saying, and that saying certainly shows itself to be true the more you apply it. I don’t think this text would make sense if you didn’t see Christ in it. (Shows what I know…I will freely admit that I’m still learning, though.)

I was privileged to be the guest preacher for the Lutheran Chapel Service, the radio program put out by our area churches that airs on Sunday mornings. Local preachers take turns in a rotation and it was my turn. I like recording for the radio — it’s a lot of fun to think about who might be listening and what the gospel might do in their lives, and I’m good at the recording part of it, as far as that goes. Several have mentioned to me about podcasting my sermons, and I’d love to do that, but I just need to find the time to get it all set up. Stay tuned, as they say.

This Sunday, Saints Triumphant has a great Prayer of the Day, to wit:

Almighty God and Savior, You have set the final day and hour when we shall be delivered from this world of sin and death. Keep us ever watchful for the coming of Your Son that we may sit with Him and all Your holy ones at the marriage feast in heaven; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

As part of our worship this past Sunday, the Michigan Lutheran Seminary choir sang — and it was wonderful! They were in our area for the Choral Festival at Martin Luther College. That’s an event where Lutheran high school choirs from across the country gather together for a few days of long rehearsals, lots of singing, and lots of fun. We housed five young women from MLS, and they were a credit to their school. We didn’t have much of a chance to chat, though, because they spent such long days at the college. But we sure did appreciate their beautiful songs on Sunday morning, and the way they bolstered the congregational hymn singing! Alas, all was not fun and games — the choir kids also spread a nasty 24 hour bug among themselves and unfortunately among a number of us at church. (That’s why you’re reading this so late in the week.) But all seem to be recovered by now and hopefully we won’t have to do that again any time soon.

We also had a special Bible class critiquing the popular book “Heaven Is for Real”, which was well attended. Maybe I’ll post some thoughts on that book in the future (when I have more time, haha.) At any rate, enjoy the sermon.

May Jesus, the Good Shepherd and King of all kings, preserve you in the true faith and deliver you to life everlasting. Amen.

“The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Ephraim’s stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 “When your countrymen ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick, making them a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding,and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’” (ez 37.15-28 niv84)

Sometimes it seems like the whole world is falling apart. Nations are throwing off their leaders, sometimes violently; people are marching in the streets and making contradictory demands; employees refuse to work hard for their employers and employers take advantage of their workers. Children are disrespecting and rebelling against their parents and even against their teachers and the police and other authorities in their lives, while husbands and wives treat each other coldly, like enemies. Or they give the love and affection that rightly belongs to their spouse to another, hurting innocent people in the process. The old don’t understand the young and the young don’t care if the old understand them. Generations are segregated from each other, often to the point where communication seems impossible – we’re just not speaking the same language. Random violence stalks the land while people with agendas foreign to God’s Word work determinedly to undermine the very foundations of our society.

We’re not even at peace with ourselves many times. Witness the rise in eating disorders, mental illness, and addictions. The very basics of a person’s identity are now no longer taken for granted. Some young people nowadays even have a hard time deciding whether or not they should be a boy or a girl. We’ve come to such a point that someone who grew up as a girl can decide that they’re a boy and go on TV and dance, and millions tune in and approve. Such people certainly need our compassion and love, and they may need special help in other ways, but at the same time, whatever happened to being happy with the way God made you? Now it’s no longer God who decides who we are; we want to be the ones who decide what our lives will be like, who we’ll love, who we’ll marry, what we do with our bodies or our minds – consequences be hanged.

None of this is anything new. It’s all just more visible nowadays. The prophet Ezekiel confronted many of the same attitudes, if not the same practices and lifestyles, in his own day. He knew disunity and disorder. The political world was fractured – the kingdom of Israel had split in two and the two parts rarely got along. Part of it had been exiled to faraway Babylon, torn away from their homeland. It’s to just such people, who live with society collapsing in slow motion around their ears, that Ezekiel’s prophecy comes today.

The Lord instructs the prophet to take two sticks and write the names of the two kingdoms on them. Then he was to grip them together in his hand. Like all his action prophecies, this one was designed to get the people to ask – to make them curious. And when they became curious, the prophet was to give them a message of encouragement and hope. There would be one King and one Shepherd, the royal Son of David, who would deal decisively with the disorder forever. He would bring lasting unity and peace to God’s scattered people – bind them all into one forever, with nothing to scatter them or make them afraid ever again.

This King would be like no other king before or since. His reign would extend throughout time and eternity. He would rule over the very hearts of His subjects. The King Ezekiel prophesied would do this by getting all the way down to the root of the problem: the sin that lives in every human heart.

The disorder that pervades our society and threatens to tear us apart really comes from inside us. It lurks inside us. It makes its presence known sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, but it’s always there. It’s like a wild beast hiding far back in a cave that ambushes us when we don’t expect it. Ezekiel speaks of this when he prophesies that under this King we will no longer defile ourselves with our idols and vile images or any of our offenses.

People are great at defiling themselves. We all know how to find what we crave; we all know where to go looking for what we want, even if we might feel guilty afterward or we know somewhere in our mind or heart that what we’re doing isn’t right. It doesn’t matter. We want to do it anyway. Sin’s pull in the parts of our body is too strong. It leads us astray and then our hearts condemn us; our consciences become burdened by the knowledge of what we’ve done. We are defiled; corrupted, impure. Sin promises to let us escape our problems for a while, or feel better about life or about ourselves, or help us become what we long to be, but it’s all a cruel illusion, a killing joke – lies sold by the devil, lies pushed by the world, aided and abetted by our flesh. We defile ourselves over and over again. We defile ourselves with hatred, anger, hardheartedness that refuses to show love to our brothers and sisters. We defile ourselves with drunkenness and promiscuity, with selfishness and pride and arrogance and meanness, by thinking we’re better than other people. We defile ourselves over and over and it’s so hard to get clean, or stay clean for long.

God provides that cleansing. The waters of Holy Baptism that splashed on our foreheads also swept away our sins in the mighty flood that rushed out of Christ’s pierced side on the cross. His blood wipes out every stain, all the dirt and filth we’ve covered ourselves in, and we are spotlessly clean – without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. Christ has cleansed you of everything wrong or wretched or unholy in you. God looks at you and He sees…Jesus. Through faith we are pure and fresh and new. All our sins are gone – taken away forever, as far as the east is from the west, because He has had compassion on us.

Thus we are His people – God’s very own, bought and paid for with God’s own blood. We belong to Him totally and eternally. No one can snatch us out of His hand. We are no longer sold into the slavery of sin – we are free, and the Jerusalem that is above is our mother, as St. Paul says in Galatians. We are headed for heaven, not for hell! God is our God now – not ourselves, not the devil who receives most of the worship that’s offered in this world, not our craving and appetites and lusts and desires that ruled us with an iron fist before. We do not live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again – Jesus Christ the Son of God, who makes us the people of God and unites us under Himself in His eternal, glorious reign.

He is described as “My Servant David,” both King and Prophet at the same time. He rules over His people, saving us from everything that attacks us or threatens to scatter us. He is the King who wins every battle for us, the champion who routs every enemy we face. When we are too weak to defeat all our enemies – like our own flesh, which is always with us; the world, which is much more numerous and energetic in evil than we are in doing good; the devil, with his cunning schemes and traps – when we are too weak, He is always stronger – and He always delivers us. He preserves our lives in the battle and He rescues us from every evil attack, and He will bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom. He smashes the power of the enemy by His doing and His dying, and by rising back to life to prove that we really are forgiven, that we are free.

Thus we live under Him in His kingdom, and we follow His laws and decrees. We are careful to live by His Word, because this pleases Him, and by it we show that we are His very own, a special people loved and made holy by Him. The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 61 of his book, calls us “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”

Our dwelling place will be the heavenly Promised Land – the paradise of the redeemed, promised to all who love and trust Him. He promised it to our forefathers, and what they have obtained is ours also – a place in the heavenly country. All who trust in Christ have a place there – even the youngest no less than the oldest and most venerable. We all have a place around God’s throne because by faith we all lay hold of Christ, our King and Shepherd. Heaven is our permanent heritage, which no one can take away from us. Nobody can make us leave. Nothing intrudes to pull us away from Him – not sin, not old age or sickness or death. There Christ will be all in all, and we will finally see Him as He really is, because we will be like Him.

His covenant of peace with us will be an everlasting one, the same one we have now: initiated and conceived in God’s heart of grace before time began, carried out and accomplished in the fullness of time, given to all who believe in God’s Son through the Word and the Sacraments. We get a slight foretaste of that glory every time we partake of the new covenant in His blood, the Sacrament by which our Lord fulfills His promise to be with His people to the end of the age. God deigns to dwell with us when our Lord Jesus is truly present with the bread and the wine, just as He promised; He does not shrink back from such sinful people as us. Instead, He does something about it: He forgives us. He cleanses us, feeds us, comforts us, strengthens us to go out and live for Him for another week, always looking ahead to the day when He will dwell in our midst forever, because we will finally be with Him in heaven. Eat and drink and believe: this King came for you. This Shepherd laid down His life for you. We are His Israel, and He Himself will save Israel from all their sins. Amen.

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