Sunday, January 15, 2017

Epiphany 2 Sermon

Epiphany 2 – John 2:1-11 – January 14th and 15th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
It's not how I would have done it. That's what I thought as I sat and looked at our Gospel text. There is Jesus, and this wedding at Cana is His first miracle - as John puts it, "
This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory." The miracle in today's text is a sign - it is meant to reveal who Jesus is. It shows forth, it manifests His glory. That is what it does. And yet, as I was sitting there, tired and cranky and up entirely too early, the thought that struck me is that if *I*, Eric Brown, wanted to give a sign of *my* glory, this isn't how I would have done it. And all that goes to show is that too often today we don't think about "glory" like God does, we have a fallen, skewed view of glory. Let's look at this text and examine it in light of "glory" - knowing that the text itself defines this as truly and properly revealing glory.

"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples." Here's the very first thing to note. This isn't the place where we would expect there to be a show of glory. Cana - okay, it's a town, but it's a backwater town off in the mountains. It's not Rome, it's not Jerusalem - it's not the big leagues, it's minor league. It's not big time, it's just some piddling wedding off in the boonies. And even there, Jesus is just a guest, a cousin of the groom, probably. Jesus isn't the center of attention, he's not even in the wedding party! How is this going to be glorious? And there's the first problem. We all too often associate "glory" with fame. We associate glory with being the center of attention. And this is what all too often we sinful folks want - we want attention, we want a bigger and bigger stage where everyone will see me and laud me. When I was little and playing wiffle ball in the front yard, I didn't day dream about hitting a weak bloop single at Single A Peoria, I was going to hit a towering grand slam in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to win the Cubs the World Series. That's what we think of when we think of Glory. In fact, we will even call people who draw attention to themselves "glory hounds". But this is not what the Scriptures speak of when they speak of Glory.

In fact, Jesus does the opposite. "When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine.' And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever He tells you.'" Before we look at the idea of glory here - a note about "Woman". This isn't like some guy today saying, "Woman, go make me some pie". In the ancient world, that was a term of respect - more like "Ma'am". So Jesus isn't being rude to His mom here - in fact, He's being very polite. But note the situation. There's Mary. And she knows who her Son is. She's been waiting thirty years for this whole Messiah thing to take the stage - and she wants it now. Let's get this show on the road Jesus - they are out of wine. And Jesus' response - what does this, this lack of wine, have to do with Me? My hour, my time has not yet come. Note this about Christ's glory - He's not seeking it - rather it will come when it is time. Christ is not about seeking fame and fortune and personal glory. That's not His focus, this isn't a selfish thing. I'm not here at this wedding to get famous, Mom. My life isn't about everyone saying, "Wow, look at how cool Jesus is, He's so awesome." That's not the glory I seek. Moreover - Christ will be glorified when the time comes. It will come when the Father glorifies the Son. John 17 begins with Jesus, just before He begins His passion, praying, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you." When Christ Jesus talks about glory, it isn't about fame. It is about Him suffering and dying. You want to see Christ's glory, you want to see the Son lifted up - it's not going to be on the shoulders of the team after he leads the game winning drive - it's going to be on the Cross. There's the glory - the Cross. That Jesus will forever be known as Christ the Crucified. That He will be forever the Lamb who was slain.

When we think of glory, we think of it as something self-serving. Of drawing attention to ourselves. Of making our life better. That's just sin, that's the impact of sinfulness and selfishness upon us. Jesus turns that on its head. His glory comes in serving, in seeking and saving the lost. It comes when He draws attention not to Himself, but to the Father - for God so loved the world that He gave His Son. Behold Christ on the Cross – this is to redeem you, this is to show you the love that the Father has for you, this is to give you eternal life. Do you want the evidence, the proof that Jesus is the Messiah? Here it is - He's not seeking after His own fame, His own glory - He simply wants to restore you to life and salvation so that God the Father might be praised eternally. Now, will Christ receive praise for this - sure - but that's not the point, the goal. The point is always the Father and you. Of course it is - Jesus is perfect, He fulfills the Law. What is the Law? Love God, love your neighbor. When you see Jesus on the Cross, what is He doing? Loving God and loving you, His neighbor - winning you forgiveness and restoring you to God.

But Jesus is full of love for His neighbor, and running out of wine at your reception would be a lousy thing, so He does decide to act. But again, note how He acts. He doesn't stride into the middle of the reception hall and say, "Hey guys, I heard you were out of wine - well, BLAMMO!" No, just very quietly we hear this: "Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it." See how quiet this is. Nothing spectacular. Just simple water to wine, in the back, where only the servants see. And did you note the vessels? Jesus doesn't walk up to the empty wine barrels and with a loud voice say, "BE FILLED!" Nope. Purification vessels. I'm not really here to make wine - I'm here to fully and completely purify you guys. But go on, be about your business, and let the master of the feast taste the wine, so he can be about his business. There's no seeking of fame, just showing love and care and being done with it.

And the master tastes it, and the water has become wine, and he's confused, because: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This again is backwards. The master of the feast had one main job - to keep everyone having a good time without letting them get sloppy drunk. So what did you do - the first glass of wine would be "good" - that is high quality and also strong - so that everyone starts to feel good... and then you bring out cheaper, watered down wine, and keep things under control that way. But this is good wine. Strong, tasty, high quality, uncut. The kind of stuff you wouldn’t normally serve at the end of the party because that could lead to things getting well out of hand. We aren’t used to good wine this late in the game - why didn't you bring this one out first!

The wine, the food, everything was good at first. At Creation we have the Father seeing that it was good. If Adam got around to making some wine before the fall - guess what, it would have been good too. And then the fall. And then things get worse. And we had to have a master of the feast to keep things from falling to a drunken brawl, because after the fall we could find ways to mess anything up. Even parties. We'd start fights there, at a celebration, at a happy time - in parts of my family fighting is almost a Christmas tradition. And parties with no master to keep things in line - they'd get sloppy, things would just get messy. And now Christ comes, and He makes wine... and what is it? GOOD wine. Why? Because He is God, and He has come to make all things good again, to restore creation, but more than that! He comes to take sin away from mankind to where we can have all things good again and not abuse them. When we get to the feasts of eternal life, the wine there will be Good, but it won't be a problem because we won't be abusing God's good gifts to us, ever. And there is Christ Jesus, in the back, quietly doing what He does, being who He is, True God and True Man who restores creation and loves God and neighbor - and this little foretaste of the life of the world to come is in this master's cup, and the master doesn't know how to handle it.

So then, this is how Christ manifests His glory. At Cana, we see a glimpse of who He is, we see a glimpse of true glory, rather than the false, fleeting things we hope for. We are sinful men, we fall short of the glory of God - but there is Christ Jesus, the image of the invisible Father - and He goes quietly about His business. He will restore creation, He will win forgiveness for you with His death upon the Cross, He will rise from the dead to destroy death. And He will do this for you, in a simple quiet way that the world will hardly notice. He will take water, not from a purification rite vessel, but from a font, and with that Water and His Word He will wash away your sins, tying you to Himself. He will bring you to His feast, His Supper, to give you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. He will give you life and salvation and forgiveness so that you might be with Him forever. This is the glory He craves, to rest ore you to whom God had created you to be - His companion, His friend, the people who would dwell with Him in His presence for all eternity. And this is what Christ Jesus will do, and nothing will stop Him, for He is determined to show you perfect and complete love and forgive you all of your sins and raise you again on the last day. This is how He manifests His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World+ Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Do You See Christ?

What do you see?  Do you see Christ?

I will contend that the heart of the Christian faith is seeing Christ.

John, when he was baptizing, saw Christ - Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Stephen, when he was being stoned, saw Christ - Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

John pauses the great action of his life to see Christ; Stephen sees Christ even in the midst of his death.  They see Christ.

What do you see?  Do you see Christ?

When you look at the Supper - do you see Christ?  This is My Body, This is My Blood.

When you look at your neighbor - do you see Christ?  Whatsoever you have done to the least of these, My brothers, you have done it unto Me.

When you look at your own works and accomplishments - do you see Christ?  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

So many things vie for our attention, our focus.  They demand that we focus upon them.  My ego,  my pride want my attention.  My neighbor's pride, my neighbor's sin demand a focus, a reaction.  The world wants its due.  Yet all of these are a distraction, the vain and final gasps of the defeated fallen world.

Everywhere you look, there is Christ Crucified.  When you see your pride and ego, that has already been taken by Christ and crucified with Him.  When you see your neighbor's sin, that has already been taken up by Christ.  When you see the world, it is passing and Christ Jesus who made it shall make a new heavens and a new earth that will declare His glory without blemish or stain.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany Sermon

Epiphany (Observed) – Matthew 2:1-12 – January 7th and 8th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
So, who were the wise men? No, really, who were they? I ask this because we all love the wise men – we will sing “We three kings of Orient are” with gusto... well, except for you folks who act like shy three year olds and refuse to sing. But the song's not quite accurate – they weren't kings. In fact, even calling them “wise men” sort of softens our text. That sounds so nice – wise men, full of learning and understanding. No, let's go with the old King James for a moment – they were “Magi”. So then, what's a Magi? If you are a Jewish person living in the first century, what's a Magi? The Magi were the famous, fearsome villains of the Old Testament.

Magi is where we get the word magician from – and in the ancient world, these were the powerful and mysterious court advisors who caused Israel no end of troubles. When Moses goes to tell Pharaoh that God has commanded him to let His people go, it's the Egyptian Magi who oppose Moses by their secret arts. Or in Babylon – it's the magi of that day who get Daniel thrown into the Lions' Den, who try to kill Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. They are bad guys – they are Jafar from Aladdin – any decent, self respecting Jew would view one of the magi with fear and revulsion.

And yet, what happens in our Gospel text this morning? “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.'” Do you see just how unexpected this is? You have the fearsome, mysterious villains show up, and then instead of hatching nefarious schemes – they ask to worship. Where's the newborn King? We wish to come and worship, for we know that the promised King of the Jews is God made flesh. It would be like Darth Vader walking in, asking for a bulletin, and then saying, “Oh good, Divine One - I love 'This is the Feast.'” It would be utterly shocking and jarring.

And it is worthy to note that throughout this lesson, the Magi are the good and faithful folks. And it's good for us here in this room. While I've got enough Jewish blood in me to skate on by, by in large we here are Gentiles, non-Jews. And by Jesus' Day the assumption was that if you were a non-Jew, well, tough luck, you're just going to go to hell. Good Riddance. This attitude was so strong that in his Epistles, Paul has to emphasize that the Gentiles get salvation too - “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” And this is the point that Matthew is making by including the tale of the wise men in the Gospel; this is what we celebrate this Epiphany. See, even the Gentiles, even the worst of them have the Gospel, good news preached to them, and are brought by God to faith in Christ Jesus.

This should be a great thing! And yet, our Gospel lesson is not all sunshine and daisies. “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod is troubled. Jerusalem is troubled. Do you get how backwards this is? If anyone should be celebrating hearing of the birth of the Messiah, it should be Jerusalem. It should be the King who sits on the throne, for God Himself who is truly King of Kings and Lord of Lords has come! And yet – they are troubled. Why? Well, they aren't thinking theologically, they aren't thinking of their sin and their need for a Savior – they are thinking worldly, politically. They are thinking in terms of their everyday life. Herod the King hears of a new king – and he becomes jealous, fearful. Ain't no king going to take my throne. By the end of Matthew 2 Herod will have ordered the murder of infants to try to secure his throne. It's heinous. And Jerusalem – we don't want a change in government, a revolution. It's bad enough we have Roman occupiers, we don't want any of this, our humdrum life will be disturbed. It is the great irony of this text – the folks who should have been most excited by the coming of Christ are terrified, whereas the folks we figured couldn't care less travel far and endure hardship to worship Him.

Let this be a lesson and a reminder to us, my dear friends – because we have the two paths, the two ways of living laid out before us. We are those who have known God, who have heard the Gospel, the Good News of the salvation that this Christ Jesus has won for us by His death and resurrection. Do we rejoice in this salvation and worship God with thanksgiving, or do we spend our time worrying more about how our everyday lives are going? Are our minds going to be upon the Spiritual and heavenly, as the Magi's are, or will we be focused just on trying to make the best buck here and now? The truth of the matter is that laid out in this text we see one of the ways that Satan will attack us in the year to come – and that is by making our fears and worries about our life in this world overshadow the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Seriously, just watch, listen, see how often the world preys upon your fears, even does its worst to you. People mock and mistreat you, abandon you, expenses flair up, politics is foolish and dangerous, on and on it goes – fear this, fear that, more and more fear. Yet over and against that – God Himself became man for your salvation, and He has called you into His everlasting Kingdom – even if you are the worst sort of lout He has called you and gladly forgives you – see, He's even called the Magi.

Well, it's fine that you say that Pastor, but life is hard and scary, and it's not like this pollyanna, happy feel good story of the wise men visiting Jesus! Well, actually, that's another thing that we miss in the story of the wise men. It's not really all that happy. Consider – they find out from Herod that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, they head there, and we hear this. “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Well, what's so lousy about that? Well, let's ponder these gifts for a moment, shall we? We know the first, we all get and understand gold. Cash money. That's never a bad thing to get – I doubt any of us opened a gift and said, “Oh, look, money, how sad.” Gold is a fine gift – a tribute fit for a king. But that's not all the wise men bring. They bring two other things.

They bring frankincense. So, what is frankincense? What is it used for? Well, it's incense, it's the stuff they burned in the temple when they were doing sacrifices. In the Old Testament, whenever there's a sacrifice, whenever there's a burnt offering, they are always also burning incense, making a strong, powerful smoke with a sweet smell. Why? Because they were doing burnt offerings. This isn't the smell of the grill on a warm spring day, this is burning flesh. It's not a nice medium rare, this is burnt to ashes – a horrid smell. And so the incense would be burned alongside the sacrifices – in fact, it was basically always going in the temple. So this gift of frankincense is a gift you give to One who is going to be making a sacrifice. Yes, while Christ Jesus is our King, worthy of Kingly gifts like gold, He is also our great High Priest who will tend to the sacrifice that we need.

And what is that sacrifice? Well, for that we consider the third gift. Myrrh. What's myrrh? It's the spice you used when you buried someone. John records for us in his Gospel that when Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus buried Jesus, they brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes. Do you see? Myrrh is not a happy gift. Especially not for a child. The wise men bringing myrrh to a child is almost like showing up at a Baby Shower with a gift certificate for a new coffin. And yet, that is what they bring. Why? Because this Child they have come to worship is the God who will go to the Cross and sacrifice Himself so that we would have salvation.

Do you see? The wise men aren't sugar coating anything. They aren't acting as though life in this world isn't going to be all happy-happy joy-joy all the time. They know the trials that Christ Jesus will face for them. They even learn the dangers they face on account of Christ – “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” We can skirt by this verse, not think anything of it, but it is really a scary verse. If you were going back to the East from Bethlehem, you would go through Jerusalem. The only other way would be to trek through the desert, and no one would want to do that. Yet, that's what God warns the Wise Men – flee, flee to the Desert, for if you go to Jerusalem Herod will kill you. And yet, so be it. They worshiped in joy, with great joy, for their Savior was born, and even though their path now led through the desert, they had seen their salvation, and they went in peace.

And so, my friends, what does God remind us of this Epiphany? He reminds us that Christ Jesus is the Savior of the World, that no one is too lousy, too much of a rascal or villain for His salvation. Christ Jesus has won salvation for you, His forgiveness remains for you – no matter what the world thinks of you. And yet, this salvation does not mean everything will be perfect and wonderful now – there will still be fears and dangers and hardships – yet all these difficulties do not define you. You are baptized, you belong to Christ, you are forgiven and bound for eternal life no matter what deserts your earthly life leads you through. And why? Because Christ Jesus has come, and He is your Lord and Master, and He has joined you unto Himself, and He Himself will take a hard road, a road through pain and suffering and toil and even death. There is no trial that can separate you from Christ, for He has already gone through worse. Instead, He will be Emmanuel, God with us – indeed, God with you to give you forgiveness and life and salvation, even until you see Him face to face and live with Him forever in the life of the world to come, when all the present darkness that we struggle against will be banished forever by His coming. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Name of Jesus 16/17

Circumcision and Name of Jesus – December 31st, 2016 and January 1st, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Newborn King +

While we are moving into a new year in our calendar, while we have a whole new set of records to record for our taxes, in the reckoning of the Church, January 1st, the 8th day of Christmas, has a different importance. Today [and yes, in the Church, today is already tomorrow because the sun has set] is the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus, one of the high holy days of the year. Today our world celebrates that a new year has come, but today the Church throughout the world celebrates that the world has forever been changed by Jesus’ circumcision.

To understand this, we must start off in the Old Testament. Abram’s faith was flagging. God had promised him that he would be the father of a great nation, of many peoples. And here he is, 99 years old, older than any of you here in this room, and he isn't the father of many nations yet. He has only one child - Ishmael - his ill-gotten son born off of one of his serving girls. Abram knows that this isn’t how it is supposed to be, that his wife, Sarai should be the one who is the mother of his heir, that his heir should be legitimate. Abram's faith was flagging - it was getting awfully late in the day for the Lord to act. If he was going to act, He had better act soon.

When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.' Note what happens. How is Abram's faith bolstered, how is he made strong again? God comes to him, God speaks to him. This is how God always strengthens the failing faith - by His Word. Remember, faith is that which clings to the promises of God, the things that God has told us and we know to be true. But doubt seeps in, and we fear, we become weak, and our faith needs strengthening. God always works through His Word - He speaks and we are restored.

And note what God says. Walk before me blameless that I may make my covenant before you. In a covenant, who is acting, primarily? It’s God. That I may make my covenant. I’ve got plans for you Abram, I have my intentions and designs – I’m acting – don’t act against me. Turn away from your sin, which gums up the plans I have made for you. Remember this - we don’t receive blessings from God because we're good - God isn't some abusive parent in heaven making us jump through hoops to earn His love. But our sin sometimes gets in the way. Let's say you are a teenager, just turned 16 and got your license, and your parents decide to buy you a car. . . yes, very good parents. . . and just before they head out the door to the dealership, they get a phone call from the police. You've been arrested for drunk driving, and are going to loose your license. Are they going to buy the car? Of course not - you wouldn't be able to use it, what good would it be? It will just have to wait. This is the way our sin works in our lives. Our mistakes and sins mess things up. So God comes to Abram and says, 'Don't mess things up, Abram. I'm going to make you the father of nations My way - leave your serving girls alone.'

And God wants Abram to remember that He has a specific plan for him. So God forms a covenant. A covenant was where God pledged Himself to a person or a people, and gave them a sign, a proof, a reminder, an identity which would always point back to the promise. God says to Abram, “you will be the father of many nations, and from your descendants will come the Messiah, the Savior. And here’s how you are going to remember this. You will be circumcised - the foreskin of your penis will be removed, and all your male descendants will have this done on the 8th day until that promise is fulfilled, until the Messiah comes.” And that’s the sign, and a good sign it was - a good constant reminder to Abraham (for God also changes his name later on in the chapter). Whenever Abraham was tempted by Satan to go about getting heirs his own way, to go see another serving girl, God’s sign was there reminding him to trust in the Lord. And that’s what Abraham does. And eventually he has his son Issac with his wife Sarah. Now after Sarah’s death, he remarries and has many more children but God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Issac, and so Abraham and his children are pointed forward to the day when the true child of Abraham, the promised messiah would come.

And at the end of 8 days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the Name given by the Angel before He was conceived in the womb. And the promise is fulfilled. Christ Jesus is born, born a great-great-great-many-greats-grandchild of Abraham. And He is born just like any other Jewish child, and on the 8th day, this day, He is brought forth and circumcised to remember God’s covenant. And for the first time, the blood of God is shed for the sake of His people. Jesus, the Messiah, He needed no reminder of who He was. And yet, He is born as one of us, born under the Law. Circumcision had become a Law, it was recorded by Moses, a requirement for the people of Israel to do. And so, Jesus is born in Israel, and He must be circumcised, His blood must be shed. And it is.

This is what Jesus is all about. God doesn't need to do this for Himself - God could have simply avoided it all. Never took on flesh, never suffered. But God wishes to save us, so there the newborn Jesus sits, crying in pain as His flesh is cut. This is what the incarnation means - that God becomes man, that He shares in all our suffering and burdens. That God willingly takes up pain and hunger - that God willingly lets His blood be shed, lets the life pour out of Him, so that we might have life. And we hear this, we are taught this, by His very Name. The name Jesus, Yeshua, has a very specific meaning. God saves. That’s what Jesus means, literally. God saves. God brings about salvation for His people. And this is how He does it - by becoming Man, and by living under the law, taking all the punishment that is required for our sin in our place. The tiny bit of blood shed as He is circumcised points us forward to the day of His crucifixion, where His blood is shed for us completely, where it pours from his side, not from a precisely placed knife in an operation, but a spear thrust cruelly there.

This God has done for you. But God knows that you are frail, that you struggle with sin daily, that daily your doubts and fears rise up. So He comes to you, just as He came to Abraham. And just as God stilled Abraham’s doubts and fears through His Word, through a sign, so too, God stills your fears through His Word, through a sign. He has given the gift of Baptism. Think on Baptism for a moment. It’s not an active event - most of us were brought forward, brought to the font as infants. And that’s appropriate - just as Abraham didn’t earn God’s promise, so too we don’t earn the gift of Baptism. And what does God do at Baptism - He takes His Word, His Almighty and powerful Word, and attaches it to Water, something visible, something we all can see and touch - and then you are Baptized - that Water comprehended with God’s Word at God’s Command is applied to you. I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. God’s own Name is placed upon you, the Holy Spirit takes residence within you. In a concrete and public way - God claimed you, showed the world that you are indeed His child. This is why we are to remember our Baptism daily - because daily Satan will come, daily Satan will stir up doubt and fears - does God really love you? You have the answer, you have the proof - Yes, God loves me - I know, He has Baptized me, He has claimed me as His own at the font and you can’t do anything to change that fact Devil, so begone with you. This is why Luther instructs us that it’s a good habit to wake up in the morning, make the sign of the cross and say the Creed and the Lord’s prayer. Start your day off remembering that you are Baptized, that God’s name has been applied to you, that you have been marked by God for salvation. Don’t forget who you are.

Jesus is indeed the God who saves, who redeems us apart from our own Works. Rather, Jesus takes His life, the Righteousness which He shows by His life and Death and gives it to us by His Word. We simply receive His salvation - we received it at our Baptisms where God poured it upon us freely and richly, and we receive it today in His Supper. He is the One at work for us. He is the One who freely sheds His blood for us. We see today, at His naming and circumcision, not just a new year, but a whole new world, for God is among us, winning us the Salvation which we could not earn. May God the Father who has begotten you of water and the world keep you in your Baptismal faith until life everlasting. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Day Sermon

Christmas Day - 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Christmas morning is here, and from the manger shines forth Christ Jesus, whose birth we have been anticipating for weeks now. And it’s here – the day has dawned, the presents have been opened, and now, we are gathered at Church, and we pause, and we behold this Christ – so let us now ask the Lutheran question – what does this mean? Peel back all the hoopla, the lights, the torn and tossed away wrapping paper and behold Christ Jesus, lying in a manger. What does this mean?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. Behold the Word of God, now in flesh appearing. The joy and wonder of Christmas day isn’t just the joy of a new life being brought into this world – it isn’t just the joy parents have when they first hold their child in their arms. No, this child is God. This child is the Word, the Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity, God Himself. When you behold Christ Jesus lying in the manger – you see your Creator. You see the Word of God which called all of this, that spoke this entire world into being. That Child is the Creator of all things – as we just confessed in the Nicene Creed “by whom all things were made.” And of all the things this God could choose to do, of all the ways that an Almighty God might appear – there He is. Not as some 10 foot tall powerful giant. Not as the strongest of the strong. A child, an infant. God, unable to speak. Do you see that – the Word of God, unable to speak. God Himself, whom gives us all our daily bread, unable to feed or clothe Himself. God coming not just as a Man, but as a Man at His weakest, at His lowliest.

What do we see when we behold the manger? We see God taking up Human flesh and becoming one of us. But this becoming man, it’s not just a matter of our God becoming some sort of idealized figure, strong and buff where everyone sees Him and their eyes get big and they say, “Boy howdy, that’s the sort of god that a fella could worship – why, he’s even tougher than Zeus or Mithras!” No – when He comes as one of us, He comes as one of us. Born, just like all of us were born. Weak, where even opening His eyes is tiresome and difficult. This is an experience you and God have in common now, because that is how He chose to come. God comes down to your level, to be with you. And why?

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John drives right to the heart of the matter with these words. Christ has life. We didn’t. Not since Adam, not since Eve. We didn't have life - Death was what we sinful men had. Our days on earth were just a brief flickering, a spark that flared up and then was snuffed out – grass that withers and fades away. We didn't have life – we grew old and died. The life that was mankind’s we lost by sin, and we were thus stuck in death, in darkness. And that’s where all us sinners would have stayed, except for one thing.

The Light of Light Eternal comes into the world of darkness, the world full of sin, He comes into our world of death in order to bring with Himself life. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. When you see that Child in the manger, you are seeing that even though you should die, you will live again. When you see Christ Jesus held in His mother’s arms, you see and know that God the Father has not forgotten you, and that He will do whatever is necessary to hold you again as His own, do whatever is necessary to pull you out of the darkness which you have stumbled into, do whatever is necessary to have you restored to Him, and not just for a day, but forever, for all eternity.

And so, the Son comes down from heaven, Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. He comes bringing life with Him. When you see Christ Jesus, you see one who is truly Man, who is like us in every way except one – He is without sin. He has no darkness of His own, He has no death in Him. When He comes, He comes bringing life, His life to contend against our death. He comes to be mankind’s champion against the tyranny of death – this is the combat He wages throughout His ministry, this is the combat He fights most fiercely upon the cross – this is the combat He wins resoundingly on Easter day when He strides forth from the tomb alive, for in Him is life.

This Child that you see shall grow in wisdom and stature, and He shall go to the Cross, because until He goes there – Satan had a string tied to you. Until this newborn King goes to the Cross, He was not yet your King. He had not yet won you for His own. But see, He comes, and even when He cannot yet walk, He is striding towards Golgotha, ready to fight for your life, ready to win you salvation. This One lain in the manger in the One who will lay down His life so that He will share His life with you for all eternity. God will save you – that is what this Child means. He will fight even sin and death and Satan for you.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. But this Child who comes to save you, to give you life, He is not distant. He is not standoffish, He will not brow beat you with how wonderful He is and how poor you are. No, He comes as lowly as you are, not so that He can save you and then dump you off on the side of the road, as though He’s just a nice fellow picking up a hitchhiker for a few miles – no, He comes to dwell with you and to have you dwell with Him.

When you see the Christ Child, know that your life is different, different from what it would have been. Your life is now a life shared with God. That is the present reality of your life even now. When we speak of our life with God, it is true, we are speaking of life everlasting, life where we will be raised to Bodies like His incorruptible body, and bask in His presence and Glory – but we aren’t simply speaking of a being with God at some point down the road. No – there is more than just that – it is a present reality.

Christ is with us now, and what we need to remember is that this is more than just some sentimental feel good statement – it is reality and truth. The Word who became flesh is present with us in His Word. Christ has said that He is present in our midst whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His Name for worship. Christ is present in us, for He has claimed us as His own in Baptism, and we are now His temple. Christ is even present for us in a way more mind boggling than these. There is a reason the day is called Christmas – Christ Mass – because it is in the Supper that we behold the very same thing which Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds beheld that first Christmas – God present for us, God in flesh appearing. What is this Supper – it is the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord, given for you. What is the special focus of Christmas – that Christ Jesus took on Body and Blood to win you life and salvation. This is what we receive, what we participate in whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is the reality that we participate in. The truth and wonder of Christmas is not a once a year occurrence –not something we only drag out in December, but it shines forth from this altar every time our Lord gathers us together around His Body and Blood.

Christ Jesus, True God, has come as a True Man to be with us sinful men, to win us life and salvation, and to be present with us, be it now in time or forever in eternity. This is the wonder and joy of Christmas, this is the reason our voices are joined together this day, this is what this celebration means. Our God has come to us to be with us – and thus our lives are changed. We have life and salvation – because Jesus brings with Him life and salvation. His victory is our victory, and so we remember Christmas – when Christ begins His march towards winning our Victory. Thus we come and adore Him, thus we welcome Him, thus we sing and rejoice. God is our Savior, and He is here with us. Merry Christmas to all! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Christmas Eve Homily

Christmas Eve 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
How do you handle rejection? If this seems an odd way to start a Christmas sermon, remember our first reading. There in the Garden the LORD God comes upon His Adam, His Eve – and there they are, hiding in the bushes, trying to be as far from Him as possible. He is the Creator, their God, their Friend, who was used to coming and chatting them in this Garden that He had made for them. And they rejected Him. Spurned Him. Wanted His power because they thought they could do a better job than Him. So, how do you handle rejection? Anger? Sorrow? Depression? Sweep it under the rug and never speak of it? That's because we're all sinners, stuck in the same rut we've been in since the Garden – but that is not how the LORD God handles rejection. His response to rejection, dear friends, is Christmas.

Adam and Eve have rejected Him, yet He promises right then that He will rescue them from the hole they've dug themselves, that He Himself will come and crush Satan's head to rescue them. And He comes at Christmas, is born a human being. Adam and Eve thought that they could be a better God than God – instead God becomes Man, and for their sake He lives as Adam and Eve should have.

But the Garden wasn't the end of the rejection. There was Abraham. God had promised him a son, born of his wife Sarah. Yet he had rejected God as well, tried his own thing – took the serving girl Hagar and then Ishmael was born. But no, that's not how God will work. Finally, God gives Abraham Isaac, and then there upon the mountain, when Isaac's life was demanded of him, a demand that would be God's right – God's just judgment upon sinful man – the LORD shows Abraham something else. Go – Isaac will live. My ways are not your ways = I'll handle this rejection not by killing your son Isaac as justice demands, but I myself, I the LORD will become man and I will suffer in Isaac's place. Your rejection will not cost you, it will cost Me.

Yet the rejection continued. All those lovely prophecies Isaiah makes – they were made to wicked kings of Israel, who rejected and disobeyed God. And yet, even in the midst of their rebellion and rejection, God still is faithful. Your rejection won't stop my plan of salvation. I will give you a Son, I will come and be the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace in spite of your wickedness – and I will do this for you. The Lion will lay down and graze with the sheep because I Myself will be born and laid in manager... and I will put an end to all this sin and violence.

And so He comes – comes into a world just like what we see today. A world with fearful people, governments squeezing out more and more taxes, shepherds stuck out with the lousy night shift, wicked kings and the like. But the world is changed, my friends. It is changed because God does not meet our rejection of Him, our sin, with a rejection of His own. No, He is determined to be Emmanuel, God with us. And so, He is born – there in that manger lies True God now also True Man – and He does all that Adam and Eve, all that you and I did not. He lives perfectly, righteously – and He gives that righteous to us. God no longer sees our rejection – when He sees us, He sees only Christ. This child is born, and He goes to the cross, and all the punishment, all the wages of sin is swallowed up in His death – and He rises to show and promise to us that life is ours – His life is ours, life eternal.

How does God deal with rejection? He forgives it. He reconciles it. He gives us forgiveness and life and salvation, for God becomes Man to be our Savior from all our sin. Dear friends in Christ, a most blessed and wondrous Christmas to you all! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – John 1:19-28 – December 17th and 18th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
So why? Why is there such a focus on who John is? In our Gospel lesson you have folks come from Jerusalem to basically sort out John, who has been out there at the Jordan preaching and baptizing, and the first question they ask is “Who are you?” Not what are you preaching, not why do we need to repent, not why do you think the Kingdom of God is at hand – but who are you? Oh, and by the way, do you remember your bible history? Who is John? Well, his dad was Zachariah, a priest. An important one. Mom was aged Elizabeth, giving birth when she was really, really old. All these hoity-toity priests and Levites from Jerusalem asking John this – they saw him grow up. He was one of them. And yet – who are you?

[John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” John doesn't answer the question. John doesn't answer it because they asked the wrong question. You blooming idiots, you know who I am. I played with you when we were kids – and your bosses were friends with my dad. But here's the problem, you folks are so self-important, so focused on your own positions and prestige that you can't even think straight anymore. Who I am isn't the important question – the important question is this: Is the Christ here yet? Is the Christ here yet, since I am out here preaching about the Kingdom of God being at hand. And that is the question I will answer – and the answer is not yet. The Kingdom is coming, but it's not here yet – I am not the Christ. Do you see what John is saying – I'm not important, the Christ is. That's who you should be looking for!
But, they don't get it. They aren't worried about Messiahs who aren't here yet – they just want to know who this fellow who is causing a ruckus thinks he is. And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Do you hear the consternation in John's voice? You've missed the point, people. The point isn't me – the Messiah is coming. If the Messiah is coming, then why would we be wasting time looking at me? But they still go on. So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” Listen, John, now you are causing us problems. If you don't tell us something and we head back, we'll get in all sorts of trouble. So just tell us, what do you say about yourself? About yourself. Did you catch it – surely you talk about yourself at some point, you brag about who you are, you throw your authority around and make people kowtow to you, right? Because that's what our sinful flesh likes to do – we like to establish a pecking order, we like to assert our place in their heirarchy – you're the alpha here, John – how do you assert your dominance?

But still, John will have none of it. He doesn't answer their question. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said.” I don't say anything about myself. That's not my point, not my task. Now, Isaiah said something about me – if you want a title – there you go. I'm just a voice out in the wilderness. I've got no authority of my own, no rule of my own. I'm not going to try to take over Jerusalem or shake up temple politics. Your bosses are all safe in their cushy little jobs – but they too, and you, ought to be getting ready because the Messiah is coming, and we all ought to be focused upon Him.

Let us pause here for a moment. John teaches us a very important, yet unpopular lesson. It's not about me. And it's not about you. It's not about us. The Church – it doesn't revolve around us. It's not about our wants or whims or likes. It's not about who we are – what we get to say about ourselves. And before you just nod and say, “Yes, pastor, we know that” - let's consider this. How often do we get upset because something at the Church doesn't get done precisely the way we want? Or the thing I wanted done gets put on the back burner? Or I don't like how this was done? Nine times out of 10, when something goes sideways in Church and a nasty fight breaks out, it happens because “I” didn't get My way, and I'm going to cause a stink till I get it, or I'm going to take my ball and go where I'm appreciated. This is the temptation that we face, that we've seen and lived before, and that Satan will smack us with again. Be on guard against it. Church isn't about you. And in fact, any one of us in this room could get our knickers in a bunch and leave in a huff – and the Church would go on just fine without us – me included in that. The person we'd really hurt is ourselves. Nor is the Church the place we talk about who we are and what we do – see how great and good I am? It's not a place where we get to brag about how great we are – what wonderful snowflakes we are and let's get all patted on the back. Now, don't get mad at me, you're all wonderful, beautiful snowflakes (or maybe pelts of sleet), but again, that's not the point. It's not about us.
Because, you see, and this is what John is driving at – this church, religion, Jesus, Messiah thing – it's not about you. It's about Christ Jesus who comes for you. This is the place where we are focused upon not the desires of our hearts, but God's gracious desire to bring us salvation. This is the place where we are focused not upon what we do, but upon what God has done to win us salvation. Next Sunday, Christmas day – the sermon's not going to be about all the great gifts you give – but what Christ is doing. In fact, every service here, Saturday, Sunday, midweek, whatever – is a time where what Christ is doing for us is declared. And Christ's action, Christ's birth and death and resurrection – they don't rely upon us at all. Not about us. Whether you had a good week or bad – whether you showed great patience this past week or whether you went off on rants at the drop of a hat – doesn't change what Christ has done. And He's done it for you, for your good, so that you are redeemed and forgiven.

Back to the text. These messengers from Jerusalem just can't get it, can't wrap their heads around things being about the Messiah, not about me as an individual. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.” Where do you get off doing this, John? Surely it has to be about you, there has to be some merit or quality in you that lets you be the fellow doing all this preaching and baptizing, right? Do you hear the ego at play in the question – the assumption that if you are given a task by God, it really is speaking to how great and good you are. My friends, our sinful flesh can be so prideful. Even as John is pointing them again and again to Christ, they want it to be about an ego trip. So John answers again. John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” It's not about how great I am – even what I'm doing is as nothing. I'm worthy of not a single thing – but the Christ is coming – He's here, He's ready to reveal Himself – and He's the One we should be focused upon. He's the One who is going to do it all.

Oh that we would learn this. Oh that we would learn to see that it really is Christ at work, that it really is all about Jesus – that Paul was right when he said “It is not I who live but Christ who lives within me.” That like John later on, we would say that we must decrease that Christ would increase. You see, to view the world through the eyes of faith is more and more to see that Christ Jesus is the One at work, doing good for you and through you. And so often we don't see this – so often we get so wrapped up in ourselves and our own sin that the thoughts, the approach we take is so self-focused and self-important. What does this mean to me, how will this effect me, here's my thoughts about what's going on. Me, me, me, me, me – it sounds like we're warming up for a really selfish choir. And especially as we are busy and stressed more and more we turn in, curve in on ourselves. But behold, even in the midst of this selfish darkness, Christ Jesus comes. It really is about Him – the Light of Light, very God of very God, who comes down from heaven for us – not about us, but for us and for our salvation. Christ Jesus comes – behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He comes even to us today, comes and pulls our eyes off of our own ego, off of all our sinful hang-ups – and He says to us, Peace be with you, always. 
As we move into our final week of Christmas preparations – remember who Christ Jesus actually is. He is God almighty who becomes man and does everything required for your salvation. He is the God who joined Himself to you in Holy Baptism and is with you always – working in you and through you for the good of the people He has placed in your life, even with or without you being aware of it. He has poured His Holy Spirit upon you, so that you are daily and richly forgiven, daily and repeatedly pulled away from your selfishness and made to see, made to understand a bit, a glimpse of what He has done and is doing for you. Now, we see dimly, as in a mirror. Soon, we will see face to face, and marvel at who Christ Jesus for all eternity. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11 – December 10th and 11th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. This is what Isaiah is told to proclaim, to prophesy. The war is over, sin is pardoned, the Messiah will come. Great words. And then, there is the verse pointing forward to John – “A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.” Everything is great – the prophecy is in place. And then, what do we hear. Just a few verses later – Cry? What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades. Even knowing the Messiah is coming – what does Isaiah see? As the old hymn puts it, death and decay in all around I see. It can raise fear and doubts and worries – even in Isaiah, even in a prophet. What to do? There is only one thing – The word of our God will stand forever. Look to the Word, trust in that.

This is played out in our Gospel lesson today with John. When we see John, he is in prison. And he isn’t in prison singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” He is in prison in a bad way, a cold dark cell, and when next he sees the light of day it’s because they are pulling him out simply to chop off his head. It’s a dark place, a harsh and terrible place. And we hear this – “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” Well, doesn’t John know? This is John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness! He was there in the Jordan river when the heavens were torn asunder and the Father boomed forth, “This is my beloved Son!” This is John the Baptist who pointed to Christ with words that we sing to this day, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” No man in History, not even Peter or Paul has more fervently proclaimed Christ Jesus to be the Messiah than John. Sure, he knows - and yet – there John is. In a cell. Cold and dark. About to be killed. Right then and there, John sees another truth – that this world is not how it should be, that things in this life are about to go poorly for him. The grass withers, the flower fades. And so He calls out to Christ and asks - Are you to the One who is to come – is this long advent, this long time of waiting done, or do we need to wait for, to look for, to trust in another? This prison is horrible, Jesus – am I still, even now, to put my trust in You?

Do not be surprised, my dear friends, when doubts and fears assail you, when Satan has you look at your life and whispers to you, “Is this how it really is supposed to be – If God loves you so much, why is your life like this?” This is what the serpent was doing to John in the prison. It’s the same thing Satan will try to do to you. But John doesn’t simply listen to fears and doubt, he doesn’t just focus on the walls of his cell – he does one thing that is beautiful. He seeks the Word of Christ – go ask Jesus – please, let Him speak to Me, let Him tell me what I need to hear. The Word of our God will stand forever. And so John’s disciples go to Jesus, and they tell Jesus what John asks, what John wants to know.

So, what is Jesus’ response? Does He say, “What, John is in prison? Come on boys, we’re breaking him out!” No. Does He lambaste John, “You go tell John that he should know better and that he just needs to suck it up and tough it out.” No. Does He say, “Ah, one who pays any attention to such fears and doubts is not worthy of me – be gone with him!” No. Jesus does what is wonderful – He proclaims the Gospel. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

Go tell John what you hear and see – Go tell John what Christ Jesus has been doing. The blind – they see now, because Jesus speaks a Word of healing. Ditto the lame, the lepers, the deaf – all healed at Christ’s Word. Even the dead are raised – and the poor have Good News, have the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins preached to them. All this stuff, all these things that Christ does is the answer to John’s question. Are you the Christ, Jesus – well, look at all these things – these are the things that the Messiah has been promised to do – these are the signs Isaiah tells you to look for. Yes, John, I AM. I am the Messiah.

But this is more than just Jesus saying to John, “yes, yes, I am the Messiah.” What happens with all these things that Jesus would have John be pointed to? The blind see. A horrible wrong in this world, a horrible problem – Christ comes and fixes it. The lame, those with legs that don’t work – Christ comes, and they are restored. Lepers, those who are made outcasts by their disease – they are cleansed and restored to their communities. The deaf, those who are cut off from people even being right among them – they are restored by the Word of Christ. And even the dead, they are raised. What does all this mean? It means that the Messiah has come, and that the effects of sin, the ways in which it messes with life here in this world, that is all being undone by Christ. And the highest example, the greatest way in which wickedness is undone – Good News is preached to the poor. Not just the effects of sin like blindness or lameness, not even just the wages of sin, but sin itself is done away with and destroyed by the preaching of the Gospel. To those who have nothing, who have been utterly battered and bruised by life in this sinful, fallen world – your sin is forgiven, and you shall have life everlasting.

And through this Jesus says to John – “John, this too is proclaimed to you. I have not forgotten you in that prison, I have not abandoned you. You know why you are there – you are there because wickedness and evil and sin reign in this world, and things are not as they should be. I come to put them aright, once and for all upon the Cross – believe in Me, trust in Me, be not offended by Me – but rather see and know that I put all things right – that even when Herod takes your head, you will rise, forgiven and justified to live forever.”

And through Matthew, through Matthew recording this Gospel – this is what Christ Jesus says to you here today. Do you look on the world and see things that are just horrible? Do you see your own situation, your own sin, and are nothing but ashamed and shocked and disheartened? This makes sense, for sin and wickedness is very real, and often it is very present in our lives. But listen to what Christ has done. In His days on earth, He undid evil, undid that which was wrong. But the chief thing He does is this. The Christ whom our fathers waited for, the Christ whose birth we prepare to celebrate, this same Christ, seeing you, seeing your struggles, your burdens, your hardships, goes willingly to the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection He would fully defeat Satan and the world and death, and by His resurrection win and assure you life everlasting. These trials of this life – they do not last forever. How long will the trials you face last for you – beats the tar out of me. Tomorrow might be better, or it might not. Some burdens might disappear, and some burdens might accompany you all your days. Over and against these, one thing holds true – that Christ Jesus has died, and thus your sins are forgiven; and He has risen, thus you too shall rise, and these troubles will be gone.

This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday, is “Gaudete – Rejoice”. Why then such a dour text? Because, oh Christian, your rejoicing is not rejoicing because things are great, not because right now life is high and everything is coming up roses. There may be times that is true, great for you. But that is not the center of your rejoicing. No, rejoice in this – though you are poor, though you are a poor miserable sinner (and there are times when it is quite apparent and overly apparent that you are), yet to you, Good News, the Good News of Christ’s love and redemption is proclaimed, and thus you have forgiveness and life in His Name – and this can never be robbed from you. This Word of life which Christ has given to you is yours – whether today is the happiest day of your life or the worst. Every day, wherever you are, wherever the twists and turns of this life, this world leads you, Christ Jesus is your Lord and Savior who has died and risen for you. 
And whatever happens in your life, whether it be joy or sorrow, better or worse – be directed to the Word of God – come and hear what the Scriptures record for you – be told again what the Apostles have seen and heard – your Messiah has come – He has died and risen for you – He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that you are never alone but that He is with you in the face of every trial and shall see you through them unto life everlasting, He comes to you on this very altar and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in His Supper, so that you can face anything in this world until the day you see Him face to face on the Last Day. Because of this, you may rest secure in Christ, for He has proclaimed the Good News of His salvation unto you, redeemed you, forgiven you, made you His own. This is joy that stands always, even for John in prison, even for you no matter what comes up. Christ has come to win you this redemption, and now we simply rejoice and wait until He comes to bring all goodness unto us. Thus we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 3rd and 4th, 2016 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
While s lot of folks love going to a good home sporting event, hearing the roar of the crowd as they cheer along with you, I'd say the best moment for a fan is when you're at an away game, surrounded by fans of the other team – and then suddenly that groan ripples through the stadium. When you hear that, you know that your team has pulled it off, won the upset. Now, you do realize, my dear Christian friends, that as a Christian, in this world you are fans of the away team, right? You're but a stranger, a visitor here – your home is with Christ in Heaven, right? This is what Christ is pointing out in our Gospel lesson - “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Whenever you look around, look at the world, listen to the news, you're going to see worry and fear and troubles and pain. But here's the thing, O Christian, you know what is going on.

You see, the world has deluded itself into thinking that it's a pretty swell place with everything in order. Maybe there's a little brush up work to be done, but with the right leader, the right law, the right program, everything will be fixed. We'll have a steady stream of improvement and growth and we'll keep evolving as a culture and we'll finally make everything right and good. Progress and advancement! And it never quite turns out that way – and hopes get dashed and plans fall apart. And while all around you folks lose their minds over things, you know what this is. We're sinners in a sinful world, and even with the best plans and policies and hopes, we're going to remain sinners in a sinful world. It's always going to be a long, hard struggle in this life, and we're always going to have fix things again and again, things that never should have been broken in the first place. And we know that we are called by God to keep showing love, to keep striving after doing what is good and right, even when things don't work out. When we see this, we are called away from despair by God, for we know what is happening.

“And they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Your redemption. The thing that separates a Christian from a non-believer isn't necessarily morality – there are plenty of very nice pagans out there, and there are plenty of Christians who end up being jerks way more often then they should be. What separates Christians from non-believers isn't earthly success or ease of life – both can have it easy or hard. No, what separates us is this – you, O Christian, know that you need to be redeemed. You know your own sin, you know that this world is messed up and that you need something better, something better you can't make for yourself. You know that Christ Jesus has come, that He has suffered and died and risen, so that you are forgiven and that you will have perfection and joy and never-ending contentedness in the life of the world to come. You know your redemption. You know Christ. And as such, you see the world differently. Whenever there is hardship or shock or fear – it is not merely defeat, it is not merely tragedy. It is also a reminder of your redemption. Troubles and hardship do not mean that God hates you, rather they remind you that Christ Jesus Himself came and endured troubles like these for you. And so, even until the day we look up and see Christ in the clouds returning to bring an end to all these strange things, whenever they happen – straighten up, lift up your heads, because they remind you of Christ, they remind you that He will come again. The world sees defeat; but you know victory in Christ.

Okay, alright Pastor, you say that nice and comfortable up in that pulpit, but what about all the junk that is going on in my life, with my parents, with my kids, with my co-workers, with school? Why in the world should I be all happy for the future given the junk that I see? Well, for that, let's look at our Lord's short little parable, shall we? “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” The imagery is simple. You don't need the weather channel to know what when the trees start to leaf out, it's going to get warmer. The change, the movement, it's nothing to worry about, because you know what will happen – and even if it looks like winter may be rough, you know that spring will come and then the summer, and you even know how to look for it. In Christ Jesus, you know what is going on, you know what this world means.

But Pastor, how do we know that He will come? After all, Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place,” and I'm pretty sure that everyone in that generation is long dead and gone. Well, you're partially right – everyone to whom Jesus first spoke these words has died. But again, listen to Jesus, “look at the fig tree, and all the trees.” That generation saw a tree, a very special tree. And on that tree was a very special fruit – the fruit of a Virgin's womb, the fruit of life itself. That generation saw everything take place there upon the tree of the Cross as Christ was crucified. Because everything Christ spoke to happened at the Crucifixion. Signs in the Sun and Moon? A few chapters later Luke records, “It was about the sixth hour [that is, high noon], and there darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed.” Eh? Or roaring or shaking? “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Fainting with fear? “When the Centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'” They saw the Son of Man lifted up and glorified – they saw His power of redemption play out.

You see, once Christ is crucified, it is the end of time. The Last Days aren't something distant, we're smack dab in the middle of them. As Hebrews says, “In these last days, [God] has spoken to us by His Son.” And what does the Son say? Jesus declared on the Cross “It is finished,” and it is. The game is won, Christ has the victory – and now it's just letting the clock of this world run down to its final zeros. Because we are children of the New Testament, because we are born and raised in the last days, we don't understand just how unique this is. We know what Abraham and David and Isaiah only had fleeting glimpses of. We know what “Behold a Virgin shall conceive” looks like and how it plays out. We know the righteous branch of David, we know the Seed of Abraham in whom all nations are blessed, even Christ Jesus our Lord. And while the world still spins along in chaos, we know Christ's Victory.

And so we watch. Advent is the season of watching. We think back to the watching of those in the past, of our faithful brothers and sisters who lived in the former times, in the Old Testament days. We rejoice in what Christ has done. We prepare for His final return, when we get to storm the field, run out kicking like calves from the stall, and finally tear down the goal posts of this world. But until that day, we too are charged to watch. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Dissipation. That is, tending after the hum-drum things of life, and ignoring the things of God. Don't have your head buried in your iPhone checking the news feed and miss the final out! Or drunkenness. Don't pass out in the stands and miss out when the celebration's going to be on the field. Or the cares of this life. Don't be too cool for school and worried about this or that – cheer, you nervous Nelly – Christ our Lord took out Satan and there's a party to be had. The end is a good thing, provided you're ready for it. So pray, pray for strength. Of course, you realize what praying for strength implies, what it teaches us and reminds us of? This strength to stand before the Son of Man – it's not our strength. It's not on the basis of how good or bad we are – nope, we're poor miserable sinners, just like the rest. But you know Christ, and Christ Jesus is your strength, and He bids you to stand, He bids you to rise forgiven and perfect and holy in Him. His Victory is for you, and He intends to celebrate it with you for all eternity. Indeed, when we storm that court with Christ, we'll be storming it with all the saints of all the ages, for even the Dead will be given Christ's strength to live and celebrate again. And it will be good.

So know what's going on. Yeah, the world is a messed up, strange place. And it will remain so, even until Christ comes again. But you, you are ready for all that. Hear the Word and anticipate, watch, see what is happening. Take and eat, take and drink, so you've got plenty of strength for the party to come. Because it is coming – a great and joyous celebration – and if the unbelievers around you are freaking out in terror and fear – well, tell them of Christ and His victory and His redemption – how He has done it for them too. Everyone's welcome on the bandwagon. There's always room for more to celebrate Christ's victory – because that is what we are preparing to see. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 26th and 27th, 2016 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This is the way we start the Church year, the way we begin this season of Advent – with the story of Palm Sunday. It’s a familiar story, a popular story, a happy one. Who among us doesn’t like the waving of palm branches, the joyous excitement and expectation that is part and parcel of that day? And we start the Church year with this reading because Advent is all about joyous expectation in the face of hardship, excitement that Christmas is almost here. Advent is the season where we get to look forward – we take our place with those of the Old Testament looking forward to the first coming of the Christ Jesus, which we will celebrate come Christmas Eve. However, this text is not simply here to set the mood, to set the ambiance of our Christmas Shopping Season, it’s not merely meant to whet our appetites for the holidays. Rather, this text teaches us who Christ Jesus is, who this Child whose birth we will celebrate on Christmas is, who it is that does all these miracles, who it is that goes to the Cross. This text doesn’t just set us up for Advent, but it sets us up for the entirety of the Church Year, it sets us up for every reading we will hear, every sermon that will be preached, every service in this place. Why do I say this? Because everything in the Church can be summed up in the words of prophet Zechariah, “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

So, let us ponder this for a bit. The very first thing we have to get down pat is that Christ Jesus is our King. Well, duh, Pastor, we know that! Yes, we know that, we all say it, we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” – but I wonder if we, especially we as Americans, really get what the fact that Jesus is our King… means. We're used to having a president. We're used to polls and voting and they had better campaign and tell me what I want to hear, otherwise I'll vote for the other person! You've got 4 years to impress, or You're Fired! We love our democracy – the rule of the people – we the people! We're in charge! That’s not how it works with a King. We don’t choose or elect Christ – rather, He is the King, and He has said, “I am Your King, and you will be My people.” We aren’t the ones in charge – He is. And more to the point, while we might have every right as Americans and in fact a civic duty to think critically about our leaders and evaluate them and even protest them if we want… that’s not our relationship with Jesus. Christ Jesus isn’t going to worry about opinion polls or even angry crowds – even the one of Good Friday morning. He is the King, and what He says goes.

And as sinful human beings, according to our sinful flesh, we hate the fact that Jesus is King. That’s what sin is – sin is nothing other than rebelling against Christ Jesus and trying to make ourselves king in His place. Our King says, “Don’t eat of this tree” – the serpent says, “Eat of this tree, then you’ll get to be like God, you’ll get to be the King!” And thus sin and our rebellion begins. And every sin, every temptation to sin is nothing more than us telling Jesus, “No, we don’t want you to be our King.” Well, that sort of puts a point on it – yet it's true. Sin is rejecting God. But here is the wonder of the ages – even though by our sin we reject, we turn our backs upon Christ Jesus, He does not abandon us. He could have simply washed His hands of us – said, “You don’t want to be in My Kingdom of life and joy – fine – forget you. Enjoy your wretchedness.” But He doesn’t. Instead, He tells His servants to say, “Say to the daughter of Zion- Behold, your King is coming to you.” Christ Jesus is not content to let you remain trapped in sin, trapped in rebellion, and so He is determined to come to you. If you now dwell in a fallen sinful world, He will come into that sinful fallen world, be born of a Virgin, to rescue you. If you now dwell in Satan’s clutches, He will come, be tempted and hounded by Satan, all to restore you and make you once again part of His own kingdom. If you are hounded by death, Christ Jesus will even be scourged and crucified, all to give you life that does not end or fade. Your King is determined to be your King, a King for you, and what we see here in His Church is nothing but His coming to you and for you.

“Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Christ Jesus is King, and He will do things His way, for indeed, He is wise and gracious, and He knows what is best. And He comes humbly. In our text we see Him entering Jerusalem upon a donkey. And that is a humble thing – even with the crowds lauding Him – it’s humble. A conquering king, one would think, should enter a city on a mighty steed, with vast armies behind him. In fact, that’s sort of what the crowd there was hoping for – a mighty warrior king who would pull down the Romans and kick the gentiles out. That was what they were expecting – but that is not what Christ comes to do. No, His enemies are much bigger than the small fish of Roman rule – no, His targets are Satan and Sin and Death – and so He comes humbly. It is in His humility and gentleness that He defeats our foes – Christ Jesus doesn’t wrap His hands around Satan, but rather defeats Satan by being handed over to death. His humility is what brings Him victory. But the crowd did not want a humble king. They wanted one who was brash and bold and would drop down the smite on the Romans… and so Christ Jesus is rejected.

We today need remember that Christ Jesus, our King, is humble. Granted, as He is risen, He is exulted, and every knee shall bow at His name, but He is still humble, and He still teaches us to be humble. In every teaching of Christ, you will see this Humility come forth. Let’s think of some examples – turn the other cheek. What is that but humility – what is that but being determined to still love and care for your neighbor regardless of what he or she does to you? That’s humility. Or how about “let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify”… not you, but glorify your Father in heaven. Again – humility, learning to shape our lives so that others are shown God, so that others are pointed to Christ Jesus who is their king as well. That’s humility. One could very easily say that the Christian life, that growing as a Christian is nothing but learning more and more humility. It is nothing but learning to beat down those sinful, egotistical desires, and rather striving to be a humble servant, content to show love to the neighbor no matter what the cost – even as Christ Jesus our King is humble and is content to show us love, no matter what the cost.

And again, we can rebel against this so. I know people who will say, “I just don’t see how those crowds on Palm Sunday could be the same ones shouting out for Jesus to be Crucified on Good Friday.” I know how – my own flesh cries out against Christ when I am called on to be humble. If someone annoys me, my sinful flesh doesn’t want to be humble, it wants to strike out and lash out, and back then it too would have yelled, “Crucify Him, away with this humility, I want nothing of it!” But Christ Jesus knows this struggle that I face, that you face – and thus He continues to come to us, He comes to us humbly. He comes with mercy and compassion and forgiveness that breaks down and destroys our pride, our arrogance, our sinfulness that upon reflection brings nothing but shame. Christ does not spurn you in your sin, but instead He deigns to come once again to you to forgive and renew you.

And how does Christ Jesus come to you? “Behold, your King is coming to you, Humble.” Christ Jesus comes to you this day to forgive you your sin, to give you His own humble strength, and how? In very simple, humble means. There are no flashes of lighting or peals of thunders – that will wait for the last day. There are no brash demonstrations of power and might. No. He comes to you humbly. He knows that you struggle against sin, and so He comes to you humbly through His Word of forgiveness and life spoken to you. And even that spoken Word of forgiveness is given humbly – He doesn’t send James Earl Jones and his booming voice or Brad Pitt or some other stunningly handsome celebrity – no, He sends a short, overweight guy with a lisp. Eh, so be it – you are forgiven on account of Christ Jesus, your Humble King. Your Humble King comes to you via holy baptism, which again, is really a humble thing. A bit of water combined with the Word of God – not much to see, in fact, much of the world disdains baptism, thinks the best it might be a symbol, a quaint ceremony. No – it is your King coming to you, it is your King declaring that you are now His royal co-heir of the new heavens and the new earth, that life everlasting is yours. Your Humble King comes to you in His Holy Supper – and again, that is Humble. To have His most holy meal, nothing complicated or grandiose is needed, no caviar or single malt scotch – He takes bread and He takes wine and by the power of His Word He Himself comes to us, restores us, renews us. And all of this, all of it for our own good. Even before we would think to seek Him out, He has called us into His kingdom and promised to be with us – because He is our Holy and Righteous and Good King, who in His humble love for us comes to bring us salvation.

This is what we will spend the season of Advent looking forward to with expectant hearts – to see the mystery of Jesus' holy and humble nativity for our salvation. This is what we will see the rest of this Church year, indeed, every time we are gathered together in worship – we see our humble King coming to us for our own good. Behold, Oh daughter of Zion, your King is coming to you, and He will come to you humbly in this place, in His worship even until the day when He comes again and takes you to share in His eternal reign world with out end. Come quickly Lord Jesus – In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +