Monday, December 10, 2012

Sermon for 09 December 2012, Second Sunday in Advent C

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Malachi 3:1-14
My Messenger
Second Sunday in Advent C, 09 December 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the name of Jesus. Amen.
About the Cover: John the Baptist heralds our Lord’s advent, crying out in the wilderness for us to make ready the way for our King in lives of true repentance and God-wrought faith. Each year when John steps before us, he challenges us to stop playing religious games and to realize that welcoming the Savior, whose opposition to sin never changes, into our lives is a matter of eternal life or death.
Malachi, whose name means “my messenger,” is the last prophet of the grace of God until John the Baptist appears approximately 400 years later. And so it is fitting for Malachi to prophesy concerning the forerunner of Jesus, who will proclaim: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The prophet predicts the function of John: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (3:1). Jesus’ forerunner is referred to as one like Elijah in the concluding verses of Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (4:5–6; cf. Mt 11:13–14; 17:12–13; Mk 9:11–13; Lk 1:17).
In Jeremiah’s day, 600 years before Jesus, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. This we learned last week. The people were taken to exile in Babylon. Seventy years later, the exiles return.  Spurred on by the prophetic activity of Haggai and Zechariah, the returned exiles (under the leadership of their governor Zerubbabel) finished the temple in 516 b.c. In 458 the community was strengthened by the coming of Ezra the priest and several thousand more Jews. [The] King (Artaxerxes) of Persia encouraged Ezra to develop the temple worship (Ezr 7:17) and to make sure the law of Moses was being obeyed (Ezr 7:25–26).
Although the Jews had been allowed to return from exile and rebuild the temple, they were discouraged. Their land remained but a small province in the backwaters of the Persian empire. The glorious future announced by the prophets (including the other postexilic prophets, Haggai and Zechariah) had not (yet) been realized. Their God had not (yet) come to his temple (3:1) with majesty and power (as celebrated in Ps 68) to exalt his kingdom in the sight of the nations. Doubting God’s covenant love (1:2) and no longer trusting his justice (2:17; 3:14–15), the Jews of the restored community began to lose hope. So their worship degenerated, and they no longer took the law seriously. This is the situation Malachi ministered to, about 400 years before Christ.
Malachi once more reassures and warns his readers that “the day [‘that great and dreadful day of the Lord,’ 4:5] is coming” and that “it will burn like a furnace” (4:1). In that day the righteous will rejoice, and “you will trample down the wicked” (4:1–3). So “remember the law of my servant Moses” (4:4). To prepare his people for that day the Lord will send “the prophet Elijah” to call them back to the godly ways of their forefathers (4:5–6).
In walks one like Elijah, that is, John the Baptist, whom we read about on Sunday. A portion of St. Luke chapter 3 is our Gospel lesson this week, relevant to what Malachi said about the coming Lord: But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. St. Luke 3 shows that John does the work Malachi foresaw.
John certainly did exhort the people. But before he gets to the Good News, he proclaims the law. He shares about the coming judgment that the Messiah would bring:
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire...17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:9, 17)
The refiners fire. Thrown into the fire, Burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Malachi and John are talking about the same things. The reference to the coming wrath is both a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70 and the final judgment, the Day of the Lord that Malachi speaks of in chapter 4, the same chapter where he prophesied about John being one like Elijah:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal. 4:1)
Fire means judgment, coming wrath. The ax is at the root—a  symbolic way of saying that judgment is near for those who give no evidence of repentance. His winnowing fork. The chaff represents the unrepentant and the wheat the righteous. Many Jews thought that only pagans would be judged and punished when the Messiah came, but John declared that judgment would come to all who did not repent—including Jews.
After His first Advent, the judgment, wrath, fire, ax, and winnowing fork were reserved for the unbelieving Jews. The Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed yet again in AD 70. John preached, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” But his words were not heeded by many.  And destruction was the consequence. Both the preaching of Malachi and John the Baptist prepare us for what we know as the Second Advent, the Second Coming of the Messiah, the Christ as Judge. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” we are told. Our works do not earn our salvation, but our thoughts, words, and deeds can threaten our salvation, if they are not in keeping with repentance. Let us learn from the mistake of those who would not repent after hearing John’s preaching. Let us heed the words of our Lord’s messengers as we prepare for the Day of the Lord. It will be great and dreadful for those who do not repent. But for those who repent, the Judge is our advocate. Let us heed the words of our Lord’s messenger:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

Our God is trustworthy and true, unchanging, reliable, and merciful. The world may change around us  and threaten uncertainty, so-called “tolerance” and a different so-called “truth” for as many people that exist, yet our Lord remains trustworthy and true, unchanging, reliable, and merciful.
Our offerings are acceptable to the Lord, and we bring them in righteousness, only because the Lord Christ has purified and refined us like gold and silver. But He did not purify us using gold or silver, as we confess with Dr. Luther: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. Amen.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Regarding Midweek Sermons at Advent Evening Prayer

As he did last Advent and Lent, Pastor Cain will be preaching on Wednesdays at Evening Prayer without a manuscript. Recordings of these sermons and services are available from the Church Office.

Sermon for 02 December 2012, First Sunday in Advent C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 Thessalonians 3:9:13
Thessalonian Faithfulness
First Sunday in Advent, 02 December 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

To the church, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace and peace to you. Amen.
Paul, Silas and Timothy shared these words of apostolic greeting with the church in Thessalonica, the original recipients of this letter, First Corinthians 3:9-13. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
Paul’s opening statement is wonderful for its focus. He expresses his appreciation for what he sees in the lives of the Thessalonians by giving thanks to God. He doesn’t merely say Thank You, but says I thank God for you. Amazing! What could cause such joy? Thessalonian Faithfulness.
Consider these thoughts from the first chapter: For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
In spite of severe suffering, they became a model to all believers, including us. And they shared in the same kind of persecution as Jesus and Paul himself, described in chapter two: 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
Those who persecute the faithful face the wrath of God, as evidenced by these two passages. Risking that wrath, the persecutors drove Paul and co. away from Thessalonica. Paul’s words continue: 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
Catechism classes hadn’t completed. Adult instruction wasn’t over. None of the new members was officially confirmed, we might say. Yet what does Timothy report to Paul and the others about what is going on in Thessalonica?
Chapter three says: Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.
These Thessalonians learned well how to stand firm. Seeing such a strong witness of the faith in the face of opposition is impressive. It can also make us feel inadequate. We wonder if we truly have enough faith, as if it were a cookie jar that we need to keep filled up ourselves. Do I have enough faith?  One can never get a correct answer if we start with the wrong question. And “Do I have enough faith?” is definitely the wrong question.
Ask instead, “Do I have a Savior?” Answering “Yes” is a confession and expression of faith. Faith doesn’t talk about itself. It points to the Savior and confesses Him. He is the one who has done the action already, obedient and faithful for your sakes. It was He who granted you faith as a Gift, working through the Holy Spirit. One could use a baseball analogy. The Holy Spirit grants us faith as a gift, in this analogy, a baseball glove. With that faith, we receive all the other gifts of God as if that baseball glove were catching the ball. God provides us the means to receive His many gifts of life, salvation, forgiveness, and peace. All are gifts to you, by grace, through faith. We, too, can have the gift of Thessalonian Faithfulness.
The Thessalonians had these gifts of God, yet Paul wished to return.
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you…
Persecution had forced them away, as we heard earlier. St. Paul describes in  chapter two what else was hindering their return. 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
I can identify with St. Paul. You are my glory and joy. It does my heart good so see so many of you here each Sunday and every special service, Thanksgiving Eve, Advent Evening Prayer, or otherwise. My prayer for you is the same as St. Paul’s in verse twelve: 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you…
Here we see the feet of faith. Faith at work, in other words. We know we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Faith without works is dead, we learn from St. James. Paul would certainly agree. The love God has given us in Christ shines forth from the Christian as an Advent candle shines for all to see—a witness to Christ. We love because He first loved us. And so the Advent joy spreads throughout the world as a witness to Christ, just as the witness of the Thessalonians spread throughout Macedonia and Achaia.
Paul’s prayer and my prayer continues: 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
This is incredibly consistent with our Lord’s prayer for us that we would watch for when He comes. This text teaches that He will come with all His holy ones. Who are these holy ones? Since Scripture interprets Scripture, we look to other uses of this text in the Bible. The most clear passage is: Matthew 25:31: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
This is consistent with the Old Testament use of the term holy ones. The Lord will return in glory with all his holy angels. And it is for this that we await as well.
In this Epistle lesson, Paul exclaims that he does not know how to give God thanks in return for the message Timothy has brought him about these Thessalonians. While Paul was praying that he might go and continue to teach them the faith, God had already preserved them in the midst of persecution through the teaching that they had already been given. Paul’s joy shows that God carries His people through tough times through the Word. God works through His Word even in the face of limited circumstances. God continues to work through His Word using His Holy Spirit. We have these same promises.
God cares through His people. Paul is evidence of God’s care for the Thessalonians and us. Apostles and pastors like St. Paul put a human face on the loving concern of God. In a similar but deeper way, that is the concern and love for us we see on Jesus’ face as He hangs on the cross. Jesus the God-Man prays that God would forgive us. And for Jesus’ sake, He does.
Paul continues to keep the Thessalonians in mind as he prays that God would enable him to come to them and enable them to continue to love in the midst of persecution so that they will be blameless in their service before God at the second coming of Christ.
And that is what we await as well. Here in this week’s Epistle, we see an incredible example of these Thessalonian saints waiting and watching in prayer, in the midst of persecution. Persecution has been with us since Jesus left, otherwise known as tribulations, challenges to our faith in the form of words or deeds.
As we continue into this season called Advent, we see a dual focus. We prepare alongside the people of old for the first coming of Jesus on Christmas. His birth, His sharing our flesh to be our Savior, His Incarnation. For us however, these events have already taken place. We continue to examine and ponder them every year so that Jesus’ work may always be on our hearts and minds—so that His name will always be on our lips in praise and thanksgiving.
Advent also has a second focus. The beginning of the church year is incredibly similar to the end of the church year—what we’ve been pondering the last month or so—the second coming. As we celebrate Jesus’ first Coming, we are always on guard for His Second Coming, and we remain faithfully watching and waiting, no matter what time of year it is.
Bulletin Back: Today we light the first candle of our Advent wreath. Its light flickers in the darkness to remind us what the Lord said through Jeremiah: “The days are coming . . . when I will fulfill the promise.” He keeps His promises. He who came as a babe long ago, He who comes still in Word and Sacrament, will appear as our salvation on the Last Day: “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
God bless you with Thessalonian Faithfulness this Advent season. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Sermon for 25 November 2012, Last Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29B)

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 13:32-37
Stay Awake! Watch!
Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29B), 25 November 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus said: “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ words will never pass away. It is comforting that Jesus’ words are trustworthy and will come true, just as His prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple have already come true. Now, with eager expectation, we await Jesus to teach us about the end of all things. We await words that will be with us always, just as He is with us always even to the very end of the age.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. This sounds strange to us. Jesus, the Son, does not know these things? One of Christianity’s important teachings gives us insight into this question.
We are familiar with the Christian teaching that Christ is True God and True Man. As true God, He knows all, sees all, can do all. As true man, He bears our flesh, was born, ate, drank, slept, was tempted, and could die. These are the two natures of Christ: divine and human. The human nature at times made use of the divine nature. We see Christ change water into wine, hear the thoughts of the Pharisees, even walk on water. We also see the divine nature make use of the human nature. The divine cannot experience temptation in the way flesh can. The divine cannot die.
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. We know that according to His human nature, Christ did not know what day the Judgment will be, for He did not always make use of His divine nature. But as true God, He does know all things.
No one but God knows about that day or hour. No one on this earth can know or has the ability to find out when the Last Day will be. Dates have been predicted. They have come and gone with no result. That teaches us it is futile to guess when it will happen. What Jesus gives us to do is, WATCH! Stay Awake!
Jesus gave this very command to His disciples when He went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, recorded in Mark 14: 32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
On their own, the disciples did exactly what Jesus warned them not to do: fall asleep. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. We too, are like the disciples. We tire of watching. We fall asleep. If it were just up to us to be alert on our own, we would fail miserably. But He who commands us to watch is with us. He promised to be with us to the end of the age. He is with us. He who has made us into His Body and has built a magnificent new building out of us living stones is with us. He who was beaten and killed and thrown out of the vineyard has entrusted it to us. Christ Jesus helps us to watch. And wait. And stay alert. And be on our guard.
When Jesus ascended into heaven He entrusted His message to the disciples and promised them the Holy Spirit, so that the Word would go out with power. He left the house of earth and put his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
We are now his servants, whom He has put in charge of His tasks here on earth. We have His people to care for. To those assembled here and elsewhere around the world, God’s Word is preached in all is purity and the Sacraments administered according to the way Christ instituted them. We have his Gifts to share with all believers to build them up and increase their faith, forgiving their sins. We also have Jesus’ admonition from Gethsemane: Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. We are gathered here together to watch and pray every Sunday to encourage one another, and keep one another awake, on guard.
Two friends of mine recently wrote about When You Do Not Go to Church.
One Pastor introduces the article this way: It never ceases to baffle and confuse me when I hear people make the comment, “You don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian.” I used to try to respond to this with rather long-winded explanations of the third commandment, and the gifts given, and blah, blah, blah. Lately, I’ve just decided to respond to those comments by asking, “Really? Where does our Lord in His Word teach that?” Hint: He doesn’t! My friend, Pastor Weedon, offers this “take” on not attending Church.
“If I decided one Sunday just to skip Church that week, do you think anyone would notice? Ah, you say, but you’re the pastor. Yes, they’d notice. I agree. They would. But it also makes a difference when YOU decide to skip Church this Sunday.
“Each Sunday is a gathering of the family – and when a beloved family member doesn’t show up for the family gathering and meal at Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, there’s a hole, a gap, a pain that everyone feels. We’re all the less for that person not being with us to revel in the celebration of that day. Their absence diminishes the joy of the family. So when you choose to skip on Sunday, when you don’t come together with your church family to join in offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and to receive the gifts your Lord has for you, it’s not just you that miss out. Your extended family – the Church – misses out. They are diminished by your decision to absent yourself. The singing is that much quieter. The “amens” that much softer. The spot where you usually sit and stand reminds us all of your absence.
“Surely old Neuhaus was dead right on this: Christian discipleship should begin with a very simple commitment that any given Lord’s Day will find you in the assembly of God’s people, singing His praise, offering your prayers, receiving His gifts. The *only* reasons for missing is because you’re too sick to be present or because you’re away traveling – and even in the later case, blessed are you if you find the family gathered in that location and join with them.”
“Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25
End quote.
When we leave this place were we are renewed, refreshed, awakened, forgiven and go to our homes, neighborhoods, schools, jobs, and there carry out our other assigned tasks: to share this forgiveness with others saying to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!” We want our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones ready, watching for when we hear, “The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is here!
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
Dr. Luther wrote: May our Lord Jesus Christ perfect His work which He has begun in us, and may He hasten that Day of our redemption for which, by the grace of God, we long [for] with uplifted heads and for which we sigh and wait in pure faith and with a good conscience. In these we have served an ungrateful world, which is the incorrigible enemy of its own salvation. Come, Lord Jesus! And let him who loves You say: Come, Lord Jesus! Amen!
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sermon for 21/22 November 2012, Thanksgiving Eve/Day

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 Timothy 2:1-4 [5-8]
Prayers & Thanksgivings
Thanksgiving Eve/Thanksgiving Day
21/22 November 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
Guest Preacher at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. [1:2b]

Tonight’s [Today’s] sermon text is the alternate Epistle lesson appointed for a day of national Thanksgiving, from 1 Timothy chapter 2: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours.
St. Paul urges us that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. How often are other people forgotten in your prayers? Yes, it is certainly good to pray for our families, our loved ones, our congregation, but that is not to be where our prayer stops. ‘All people” is a lot more inclusive than we think.
Consider how prayer is manifested in practice here. The liturgy heed’s St. Paul’s urging when we often begin the prayer of the church like this: “Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.” That opening invitation to prayer asks you to join with the whole congregation, the whole church, in praying for Christians specifically, in addition to all people. This is a good practice, a practical example of how theology is to be in action—not just sitting in an ivory tower or somewhere on a shelf collecting dust.
How can St. Paul’s urging be made a part of your personal prayer life? Consider another example found within our worship book. Open up Lutheran Service Book to page 294. These pages offer you a rhythm for your daily prayer as an individual, a couple, or a family. This works well for youth group, elders, or LWML meetings.
We are called to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people. Consider each day of the week. Sunday-for God’s gifts to us. Monday-for the baptized. Tuesday-for those who are tempted. Wednesday-for families and schools and the neighbor. Thursday-for the Lord’s Supper. Friday-for the preaching of the cross of Christ, for the persecuted, the sick, and the dying. Saturday-for faithfulness to the end, for the return of the wayward or erring, for all pastors and people. Do you see how this weekly rhythm could be useful? This is but one type of resource for daily prayer.

Many types of appeals to God are mentioned. Supplications. Prayers. Intercessions. Thanksgivings. A supplication is a request, usually for ourselves or those close to us. Intercessions are prayers on behalf of someone else—on their behalf. Thanksgivings are the most neglected of the bunch, in my humble opinion. Nearly everyone calls upon the Lord in their time of need. Few, as in the Gospel lesson, bother to send the Lord a Thank You Note. I thank God for the Lord gathering you here this day.
Prayers, generically, are conversations with a loving Father. Prayers, specifically, hearken back to Acts 2:42 where the believers devoted themselves to the apostolic teaching-the Word of the Lord, and to the fellowship of the breaking of bread-the Lord’s Supper, and the prayers, plural. Here the term “prayers” refers to the liturgies of the church, drawn from the Synagogue and Passover liturgies of the Jews.

We are called to pray for all in high positions, all in authority. We regularly pray for the President, Congress, Judiciary, the Governor, Legislature, and all who make, administer, and execute our laws. Elsewhere we are told to pray for our enemies. Remembering that and this 1 Timothy text, every politician is covered, every President, whether you like him or not.

All such prayer is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. What is the purpose of such prayer? First, it is so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. Sounds good. Second, it is the desire of God our Savior that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
God did not set out to condemn anyone. Human beings were created in the holy divine image. That was lost due to the actions of man and woman, not God. Hell was originally created for Satan, but sadly, those who are not in Christ end up there, too. That is not God’s ultimate purpose. God’s desire for you, yes, you, is that you be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Note that Paul does not use the plural here—truths. There is one truth here and it’s God’s. It’s not what I say or what the man on the street says. It’s what the Lord says. Paul elaborates on this truth in the verses following the appointed Epistle text:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…
Here is a foundational text for our assertion that only Christians can truly pray. There is only one God, as the Scriptures say. Therefore, all other so-called gods are false, and don’t even exist. We are also told, tangentially, that no other mediator can give us His ear. It is possible for people to try to address God in the wrong way. Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man. Therefore, dialing heaven through Joseph Smith, Mohammed, and Mary, are all a waste of time. Jesus, the one mediator, is the only true way to connect with the one true God.
St. Paul then, tells the Truth, not just his truth or his opinion. If you and I and the whole congregation, our sister congregations in the LCMS, and all Christians are truly united in the Truth, then that unity would do a number on anger and quarreling. Think about what you personally have quarreled over in the past—what you regularly and repeatedly are angry about—things you may well be quarreling over right now, even here in the congregation.
Ask yourself a couple things about whatever the issue is. (Don’t worry about the person you’re quarreling with. He or she should be doing this exercise, so you won’t have to do it for them.)
Are you thankful that you have a brother or sister in the faith? Some Christian communities meet in hostile territory. We meet in freedom, and yet we quarrel about little things.
Is the issue about God’s Truth or something less significant, like your personal opinion on something? Christians are certainly allowed different opinions where God’s Word is silent, or where He allows Christian freedom. How can you accommodate your brother or sister in the faith? How about the rest of your Christian community here?
How can you pray for your brother or sister in Christ, for your congregation that together we may remain united in Biblical teaching and Biblical practice?
Finally, confess your sins to God, where you have broken the Ten Commandments, failed to offer thanksgivings, or failed your brother or sister in Christ. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all, including you. He is the one mediator between God and man, and your Savior. Then, go and confess your sins to your neighbor, and forgive those who come to you.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 
Let us give thanks for the salvation given us by our Savior’s death on the cross and resurrection. Let us give thanks for the physical blessings he has given us. And let us make thanksgivings for all people—not only thanking God for what He has given us and them, but also, thanking God for one another, brothers and sisters in the faith. Amen.

Grace be with you. [6:21b] Amen