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Higher Things Reflections
Gospel Reflections on Scripture, written by Lutheran Pastors affiliated with Higher Things - Dare to be Lutheran.

The Third-last Sunday in the Church Year
Sun, 12 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Today's Reading: Matthew 24:15-28

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 25:1-18; Matthew 26:1-19

"Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15-16)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Jesus told His disciples what the End Times would be like. There would be an abomination of desolation and they would have to flee to the mountains. What is this abomination? What is this horrible thing in the holy place? Look no further than Calvary to see it upon the cross. The despised. The rejected. The hated. The sins of the world. All hung there on Jesus. All laid upon Him. There the Son of God was MADE sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)--to save us.

When we hear of such a thing what do we do? Flee to the mountains--to Mount Zion, the holy church where the One who was once abominable in our sins is now triumphant over sin and death. Mount Zion, the Holy Church where Jesus gives us His life-giving Word and Sacraments. Mount Zion, the Holy Church where we are rescued from the evil things which are tearing this world apart. Mount Zion, the Holy Church where Jesus reigns, no longer an abomination but risen and glorified.

Jesus was talking about that. His words also pointed to the day when the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and burn the temple to the ground. Can you imagine? A temple without God's presence. It's horrible to contemplate but that's exactly what was awaiting those who denied Christ and wanted nothing to do with Him.

But where Christ is, the abomination is gone. The holy place is restored. Sinners are saved. Sins are blotted out. Iniquities and trespasses are forgiven and covered. Salvation is delivered. Eternal life is gained. Jesus became the worst of the worst, so that He could made you the best of the best alongside Him in heaven. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Almighty God, we implore You, show Your mercy unto Your humble servants, that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with after the severity of Your judgment, but according to Your mercy; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect for the Third-Last Sunday)

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Saturday of the 24thWeek After Trinity
Sat, 11 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 23:21-40; Matthew 25:31-46

Deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me; deliver me speedily. (Psalm 31:2 from the Introit for Trinity 25)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The Lord delivers. That's what He does. That's the sort of God that He is. When He delivers, He saves. He isn't slow, at least, "not as some count slowness" (2 Peter 3:9). He's patient and long-suffering in His delivering.

When the going gets tough, we think the Lord won't deliver. We believe He's forgotten us. We doubt that He's even listening to us. The trouble we're facing gets worse, or at least not better. Our sins pile up. Our hope fades.

But the Lord delivers on His promises. He delivers His Son, "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary." The Lord delivers, being delivered up for us all: "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried." By doing this the Lord delivers you. Delivers you from your doubt and impatience. Delivers you even from death.

Yes, the Lord delivers. He delivers to you. Delivers His salvation, His forgiveness, His life. He delivers His righteousness to you at the font. He delivers His forgiveness to you, into your ears, with your pastor's Absolution. He delivers eternal deliverance to you in His Body and Blood that keep you, body and soul, to everlasting life.

The Lord delivers. He delivers on His promises. He delivers you by delivering His Son up FOR YOU. His salvation is delivered to you. Now no matter what happens to you, no matter what trouble, it can never truly keep you down. Not forever. You are delivered from sin, and you will be delivered from death and grave. Your Baptism says so, His Absolution says so, and His Body and Blood say so.

Yes, the Lord, who raises the dead, has "delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us" (2 Corinthians 1:10). He delivers. Jesus delivers, and Jesus has and will deliver you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Your soul in griefs unbounded, Your head with thorns surrounded, You died to ransom me. The cross for me enduring, The crown for me securing, You healed my wounds and set me free. (Upon the Cross Extended, LSB 453:5)

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Friday of the 24thWeek After Trinity
Fri, 10 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 23:1-20; Matthew 25:14-30

A declaration of Yahweh: "Behold, days are coming, when I establish a righteous Branch for David. A King will reign, be wise, and do justice and righteousness in the land." (Jeremiah 23:5)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Jesus is "Yahweh who saves." He saves His people. He saves them because they need saving from their sins. They're His people. How could He not save them? You, too! How could He not save you? He created you. He saves His creation.

Certainly there was nothing in you that deserved saving. You didn't earn it. You couldn't have! What's just and righteous is to throw you in hell, to not save you. Even after God saved you, you've sinned. You've turned away. You've been scattered by so many desires. So many things and people draw your attention away from your Lord and Savior. Does it even bother you?

But this is why the righteous Branch comes, the King from David's line. He endures justice, God's justice, His wrath for sin. Jesus has borne the brunt of it FOR YOU. He did because He bore your sins in His own body on the tree. Your sins became His. He did this FOR YOU because He loves you. Why does Jesus love you? Because "God is love" (1 John 4:8). And there on Calvary, at the intersection of the cross, God's justice and love meet.

The result of this wonderful meeting is righteousness. Righteousness FOR YOU. Yes, Jesus took your sin, but your sin gets swapped out for Jesus' own righteousness. That's the sort of reign Jesus has as "King of the Jews." He wins, purchases, grasps hold of that FOR YOU. Not only that: He delivers it to you. He does it with His Name, placing it upon your forehead with the Word-filled water of Holy Baptism. There He surrounds you, wraps you, and clothes you with His righteousness. It's yours! Jesus gave it to you.

You are saved. That's Jesus: "Yahweh saves." He dies for you. Takes your sins, but gives you His righteousness. That's the sort of King and God He is. He is just--enduring justice. He is love--demonstrating His love. He is righteousness, doling it out to sinners. Jesus Himself is your righteousness now and forever. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

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Thursday of the 24thWeek After Trinity
Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 22:1-23; Matthew 25:1-13

For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation. (Jeremiah 22:4-5)

You can't say the Lord didn't warn them. He warned Judah and her king over and over not to be secure. Just because they were God's chosen people and just because the throne belonged to David didn't mean the Lord couldn't or wouldn't stick them in time-out in Babylon. The king had a duty to provide justice, to protect the poor and the widowed, the alien and the fatherless. The mandates of the Lord were meant to be kept. And if they were broken, no king, no throne, no palace. Exile. Desolation.

That's precisely what happened. God raised up Babylon and its king, Nebuchadnezzar, to raid the land of Judah, topple the throne and the temple, and carry the people off into exile. Israel died as a nation. The throne of David died. They were buried in Babylon. And then they returned--a kind of resurrection and rebirth of the nation.

The history of Israel's desolation, exile, and return is the history of Christ, who is Israel reduced to One. He is the Davidic King in fulfillment. He kept the commands of God perfectly. He suffered for the sins of the people, for the sin of the world. He went into the desolation of death as Israel's promised King. He went to His Babylonian captivity in the grave. And there He broke the chains of death and trampled down the gates of Hades. He crushed the head of the serpent, the devil. And He raises up a baptized, holy, priestly people: a new Israel.

Death and resurrection are the mechanism of salvation and life. As it is with Israel and with Christ, so it is with you in Christ. Like Israel, you must die and rise with Christ. Be buried with Him in Baptism, be raised with Him through faith, be glorified in Him at the right hand of God. As Israel returned from exile, as Christ rose from the dead, so you will rise as one of the Lord's baptized believers, on the day of His coming. In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The King shall come when morning dawns And light and beauty brings. Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of kings!

(The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns, LSB 348:5)

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Wednesday of the 24thWeek After Trinity
Wed, 08 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 20:1-18; Matthew 24:29-51

Who receives this Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, "for you" require all hearts to believe. (Small Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar, Part 5)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The irony in the Lord's Supper is that those who think they are worthy to receive it are not. Being unworthy is to be worthy to receive Christ's Body and Blood. That is to say, Christ gave Himself into death to save sinners. He rose to free us from death. He gives His Body and Blood to us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. To receive Christ's Body and Blood is to receive a gift with a promise attached: Your sins are forgiven and God will raise you up at the last day.

Worthiness and unworthiness are not about something in us. It's not as if sinning less this past week has made you more worthy to receive Christ's Body and Blood. Rather, "worthiness" means this: "Receive it in faith." "Worthiness" is nothing other than believing that this is indeed the true Body and Blood of Christ, given for sinners, and that you are a sinner.

If we were to say, "I'm not a sinner" or "I'm not that bad of a sinner" or "This isn't really the Body and Blood of Jesus" or "I don't need forgiveness, or at least not a lot of forgiveness," that would be confessing unbelief. Unbelief is expressed by not wanting or caring about what is received in the Supper.

Faith, on the other hand, born of the Spirit's work in us, receives this gift knowing that we don't deserve it and have not earned it. Faith doesn't look for some "worthiness" in how good a person we are. Faith simply says, "Jesus has a gift for me. This gift saves me. Forgives me. Promises me eternal life. Thank you, Jesus. Amen." That is true worthiness: nothing other than believing those words of Jesus, that His Body and Blood are given and shed FOR YOU. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

O grant, most blessed Lord, That earth and hell combined May not about this sacrament Raise doubt within my mind. (Your Table I Approach, LSB 628:5)

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Tuesday of the 24thWeek After Trinity
Tue, 07 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Today's Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 11:1-23; Matthew 24:1-28

Who rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The powers of darkness and death don't have any power over you. Death's day is done, Satan's kingdom is conquered, and sin's price is paid. Jesus took care of all that. He endured the darkness and the despair of the cross. "The sun was darkened from sixth hour until the ninth hour" (Matthew 27:45), and He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)

He did this FOR YOU. Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. He died for the times when you wander back into darkness, the devil's schemes, and sin. He died for the sins that bother you, the sins you find yourself in, the messes you've made of your life, and your relationships. He rose from the dead for the death that will claim your body through sickness, cancer, tragedy, or old age.

You really have been given an inheritance with the saints in light. You were brought out of the domain of darkness, and now you are in the light of the Lord because you've been baptized into Him. The gates of the Kingdom are no longer closed to you: Your pastor's Absolution has opened the gates wide open FOR YOU. You've received the very means of redemption: Jesus' own Body and Blood, in the Supper.

You've been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. You've been ransomed from the domain and power of darkness. You have the forgiveness of sins this redemption and ransom have won. You've received it at the font, in the hearing of the Gospel, in receiving Absolution, and in eating and drinking of Jesus' Body and Blood in the Supper. It may not seem like it at times, but the Kingdom is yours now. Jesus' Word and gifts say so. His cross won it and He delivers it--both now and forever. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

The watchers on the mountain Proclaim the Bridegroom near; Go forth as He approaches With alleluias clear. The marriage feast is waiting; The gates wide open stand. Arise, O heirs of glory; The Bridegroom is at hand. (Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers, LSB 515:2)

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Monday of the 24thWeek After Trinity
Mon, 06 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Today's Reading: Isaiah 51:9-16

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 8:18-9:12; Matthew 23:13-39

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD! Awake as in the ancient days, In the generations of old. Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, And wounded the serpent? Are You not the One who dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; That made the depths of the sea a road For the redeemed to cross over? (Isaiah 51:9-10 NKJV)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Does the Lord save or not? Is the Lord true to His promises? Does He have the power to rescue or not? He most certainly does, but when we're struggling with our own doubts and sins, when we're in a world that hates us for believing in Jesus, when we're surrounded by hardship, struggle, sickness, and death--when all of this happens, we doubt that the Lord has any power to do anything at all!

"So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isaiah 51:11 NKJV).

But He does have power. Yes, He ransomed and redeemed you. He saved you from all your enemies: sin, death, even the devil himself! He died. He rose! There's no ending to Easter. Jesus' tomb is empty. Your grave will be empty someday, and then there will be "no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4), only eternal joy in Jesus' presence.

"I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, 'You are My people'" (Isaiah 51:16 NKJV).

You can be certain, without any shadow of a doubt, that such joy awaits you. It's true that you have a heavenly Father who loves you, who protects you, who holds you in His hand. Where's your hope, your confidence, your joy now? It's not only in Jesus' dying for you, but Jesus delivered to you. In the Word!

He used that Word with water to make you His dearly loved child. He puts that Word into your ears in the Scriptures, your pastor's preaching, and your pastor's forgiveness. He puts that Word into your mouth: Word with bread and wine give you the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Word, for your forgiveness and life.

You're the Lord's. Eternal life is yours. Jesus and His Word are yours. It's a done deal. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

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The 24thSunday after Trinity
Sun, 05 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Today's Reading: Matthew 9:18-26

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 7:1-29; Matthew 23:1-12

Now when the crowd was cast outside, He entered and grasped her hand, and the girl was raised. (Matthew 9:25)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Jesus. That's His name, God's name. It means "Yahweh saves." It's not just His Name, but it also tells us exactly what He does. He saves. It's why He was born, and why He was supposed to be named "Jesus." As the angel told Joseph, "She will bear a son, and you will call His name 'Jesus' because He Himself will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

Yes, Jesus saves you from your sins. He came to die and rise from the dead to do that. But Jesus also saves from sickness and death. That's what He did for the woman with the flow of blood: "Be of good cheer, daughter: Your faith has saved you" (Matthew 9:22). Her faith trusted that Jesus would do that, and faith receives from Jesus what He gives. He also saved that girl from death. She was dead. Everyone knew it, but to God death is only a nap. So Jesus pulled her up by the hand, resurrected from death.

That's the promise of Jesus' resurrection: You will rise from death. Now, you may get healed in this life like that woman. Praise God! But you may not. Your great-grandma, your friend with cancer, will die, but Jesus will raise their bodies from the dead. Just like that girl. Her sickness killed her, but Jesus raised her from the dead like you get woken up from your afternoon nap. That's the sort of Jesus He is: He saves.

Jesus is the God who saves. He saves you. He saves from sin, from sickness, and from death. Sin is certainly taken care of. His death and resurrection show that. He might heal from sickness. He might not. But what He does promise is to raise you from the dead. Cancer won't win, nor death in any form. On the Last Day, Jesus will prove it forever.

That's the promise of your Baptism. You're in Jesus, and you've already died and risen in Him. It's the promise of His Body and His Blood. He delivers you His Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. His Supper "keeps you in body and soul unto life everlasting." That's His Name for you. "Yahweh saves." Jesus. And He saves you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

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Saturday of the 20th Week After Trinity
Sat, 04 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 5:1-19; Matthew 22:23-46

In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. (Psalm 95:4 from the Introit for Trinity 24)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Jesus made everything. He's God, after all. True God from...well, forever. He was the Word by which God the Father created all things, and the Spirit was there, too, enlivening all things as the Lord and Giver of life.

Tomorrow, we worship. You may bow, you may kneel, you may offer to Jesus, the Father, and Spirit prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, but the chief parts of worship, the most important things, the things that are absolutely necessary for there to be any worship at all are these: the Lord's Word and His Gifts.

He is the giver of all good gifts. He created all things, and He gave all of creation as a gift to mankind. He got His hands dirty and formed, fashioned, and molded Adam from the mud of the ground, and He sculpted, refined, and made beautiful Adam's bride from his side. He upholds and sustains all of creation. He holds all of creation in His hands--all of it His: every river and lake, ocean and desert, valley and mountain, every animal, and every single person.

This God, the gift-giver God Jesus, got His hands dirty again. He was born, and then the hands that molded mankind, the hands that uphold the hills, became nail-pierced hands. For our half-hearted worship and praise, for our money, our popularity, our success, our desires, that is, for our false gods--for all of this, the true and living God, Jesus, died. When Jesus saves you, He does it with all the things He Himself created for you. On a hill He made, He was crucified and died for you.

Within a hill He drew out of the waters, He was buried for you. By His Word and promise He makes the waters He created and from which He created all things the waters of your new creation in Him. And with fruits of creation, the bread and wine, He delivers to you His own Body and Blood.

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Friday of the 20th Week After Trinity
Fri, 03 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Today's Reading: Ephesians 5:15-21

Daily Lectionary: Jeremiah 3:6-4:2; Matthew 22:1-22 thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ... (Ephesians 5:20)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. St. Paul, when teaching us about our lives as new creations in Christ, doesn't really give a bunch of commands as much as describe what we are now in Christ. So how does your life match up to the description? Are you always thanking God for everything?

Maybe not so much. Maybe instead of giving thanks, we complain. Complain about others and what they are doing. Complain about what we want but don't have. Complain that we don't like what's going on, what we're going through. Maybe instead of giving thanks so much we do a lot of whining to God or others.

This seeming inconsistency between what St. Paul describes and how we live and act is reconciled in Christ. As Christians we are "simul justus et peccator" (at the same time righteous and sinner). But because you are baptized into Christ, your new man always does give thanks. Your old sinful nature, the complainer, gets drowned each day in the contrition and repentance that is given to you in your Baptism. Christ, on Calvary, bears your complaining and whining. The Spirit pleads and prays and cries out to God all the time, constantly, always.

You know the drill. "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." "Be thankful." "Make sure to say thank you." And so on. And that is all good advice to be learned and followed. And we ought to repent of our self-centered whining. But realize also that this apparent contradiction is resolved in Jesus, who both puts to death the old man in us and who gives life to the new man through His own death and resurrection.

You are baptized. You are forgiven. You are fed. In Christ, with the Holy Spirit living in you, you do always give thanks to God in and through Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus perfectly loves and thanks the Father and since He lives in you, so do you! In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

O Father, God of love, Now hear my supplication; O Savior, Son of God, Accept my adoration; O Holy Spirit, be My ever faithful guide That I may serve You here And there with You abide. (How Can I Thank You, Lord, LSB 703:5)

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