Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sermon upon the Conversion of Paul

Conversion of Paul – Acts 9 – January 25th, 2015

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Today we are observing the Conversion of St. Paul.  Whereas last week we heard of Peter, the great disciple and apostle, today we hear of the Paul, the last Apostle, the convert.  The enemy turned friend and preacher.  And it is good for us to consider the life of St. Paul, to consider how he came to faith, for it again shows us where our focus is to be.  So we will move through our lesson in Acts considering what we are taught and shown by our Lord this day.

          “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the LORD, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”  And here we begin.  First, I want to quash something wrong that you’ve been taught – Paul did not change his name when he converts – even at the end of our reading he still goes by Saul.  Here is the thing, Paul is a dual citizen – Jewish mom, Roman dad – he is both a Jew, a highly respected one – can get in with the High Priest and get him to cut orders; but also a Roman Citizen.  If you are a Roman Citizen, you have a Roman name, and Saul is a Jewish name – the name “Saul” just doesn’t work in Latin.  So he is called Paul outside of Jewish speaking areas.  A silly but similar example – when I was taking Japanese, they didn’t call me “Mr. Brown” because the Japanese can’t say the “br” in Brown – I was Buroun-san.  I didn’t change my name – that’s just how it sounds in Japanese.  Saul and Paul – same name, just Hebrew and a Latin variation.  With that little pet peeve of your pastor’s out of the way, let’s consider what Paul is, where he is.  Paul is one of the best of the Pharisees, one of the most zealous and respected folks in Jerusalem, and he has as his mission to stamp out these folks who are upsetting things theologically.  Paul is the one who orchestrates the stoning of Stephen, the first Martyr.  And he did a reign of terror in Jerusalem, and people scatter, and so now he wants to go to Damascus to go grab anyone who got away up there.  Paul is the villain – he is the bogeyman.  He is the bad guy.

          Here is the neat thing – the Christians at this time didn’t have the label “Christians”.  That name hadn’t developed yet – they went by “The Way” – remember what Jesus says in John – I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Christ Jesus is the Way, the path of salvation – that’s who we are.  And then we hear this in verse 3: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.”  Paul wasn’t on the way – he was on *his* own way.  There’s a play on words here, and a warning for us.  If you had asked good old Paul while he is riding on up to Damascus, he would have been absolutely sure that he was just a good little boy, that he was doing everything right – in fact, he would have figured you should be a zealous as him.  But here is the problem.  What instruction, what guidance had Paul received?  Where in the Scriptures, where in the Old Testament would he have been instructed to persecute Christians?  No where – yet instead of searching the Scriptures, instead of listening to the Word of God, Paul is hell-bent on doing what *he* thinks is good, right, and pleasing to God.  He’s making it up as it goes, and according to his own standards he is spot on target and great.

          Now, this is sadly still a threat to us today.  Where do you find the truth?  Where do you find what is right or wrong about the Christian faith?  One of the most distressing things to me as a Pastor is how much “stuff” that passes as Christian out there has absolutely no basis in the Scriptures whatsoever – is basically made up.  This might be something silly like we become “angels” when we die, or “God helps those who help themselves” – neither of which is anywhere in the Bible.  It’s just made up feel goody-goody junk.  But the problem is this – we are tempted to think about religion not on the basis of what the scriptures say and teach, but rather what culture around us says and thinks.  Jewish culture highly approved of Paul and his zeal – the only problem was it wasn’t taught by God in His Word – and so it was off and vile.  How off and vile?

          “And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’”  Paul, in his self-made attempts to serve God, was in truth striving against God.  In attacking the Church, in messing with the people of God, Paul was in fact messing with, persecuting God.  This teaches us something.  When the Scriptures refer to the Church as the Body of Christ, they aren’t just whistling Dixie.  This is the reality of who you are in your Baptism.  You are tied to Christ, and what happens you to happens to Him.  Why are you persecuting Me – because that is what happens when you persecute Stephen, when you go up to Damascus and persecute people.  But not only that – what has happened to Christ Jesus has happened to you, for you are tied to Him.  This is the heart of the Gospel – as Christ has died and risen, so too, even though you die, yet shall you live.  The righteousness that He has done is applied to you – you don’t have to try to create ways to impress God or prove how good you are – you don’t have to follow misguided zeal to work your way up to God like Paul tried to do.  No, Jesus comes to you and gives you all His righteousness and Holiness and forgiveness.

          And Paul’s reaction to this revelation is interesting.  “And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’”  Who are You, Lord.  I get that You are LORD, that You are Jehovah, Yahweh, God Almighty – but who are You?  Who are You, because apparently I didn’t know You.  I thought I had, but I was wrong, I didn’t get it – because if God had come to me I’d figured He’d be patting me on the back about how great I was, not coming with blinding light and casting me to the ground.  These words of Paul are a confession of his sin, his ignorance, his lack of righteousness – his declaration that he in fact knows nothing about God.  A humbling admission.

          Then we hear this.  “And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’”  Who am I Paul, I’m the very God of very God Whom you are attacking, the One Whom your self-made “righteousness” is fighting against.  Now – just pause there.  What is the expectation if you are persecuting God Himself?  What is the expectation going to be if Jesus says to you, “Not only did you crucify Me, but you keep messing with Me even after that?”  The expectation is to be smashed.  The expectation is thunder and lightning and fire and brimstone.  Not what Jesus does.  “But”… you are persecuting Me, but rise.  I’m not going to kill you, Paul.  I’m going to raise you – and now you just go on into the city and don’t come up with something for yourself to do, don’t create your own persecution – when you create, when you come up with stuff on your own Paul, you mess it up.  Rise – go into town, and you will be told.

          And so then Paul gets up, he’s blind, no one else has heard a thing.  And he heads to town, and he fasts, he repents.  And what does Jesus do?  Well, he calls upon Ananias and tells him to hunt down Paul and heal him.  And Ananias is skeptical – “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your Name.”  You mean the guy who is persecuting us, who came here to throw me into the clink, and you want me to go find him?  Jesus, the dude is EVIL, flat out EVIL.  And do you see the problem with Ananias’ response?  He had be told by Jesus what to do, and he knew that Jesus brings forgiveness, that Jesus makes people holy, makes them saints – but You mean that jerk, that SOB!  That’s his gut reaction – forgiveness is good and all for me… but for that evil guy who hurts me, You’re joking, right?!  “But the LORD said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My Name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My Name.”  Ananias, I have chosen him, just as I have chosen you – and My choice, My election is good.  

          This is something we also are to remember, something the conversion of Paul shows us.  There is no one who is too evil, too wicked to receive mercy from God.  That person who annoys you, who harms you, who is your enemy, Christ Jesus has died for them too.  Upon the Cross, He took up their sins, in fact their sins against you.  And the hope that we ought to have is that they know and receive and rejoice in this forgiveness – but so often our old flesh doesn’t want that.  Be wary of your own flesh, that you would make you want to ignore Christ’s proclamation of forgiveness as it applies to others – rather repent and listen to Christ.

          “So Ananias departed and entered the house.  And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.  Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.”  And Paul comes to Church.  First, there is preaching – Ananias declares the Word of the Lord, and the scales fall from Paul’s eyes.  But more than that – Ananias is going to heal, but then also give the gift of the Holy Spirit – and when does that happens?  Paul is healed… and then he is baptized.  Just like you, Paul received the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism – was given new life and redemption right there.  And what comes next?  What is the normal thing for those who are baptized to do, how do we receive Christ and His Spirit again – Paul took food and was strengthened.  That’s pointing to the Supper – that’s given and shed for you for the remission of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith.  For the joining together, taking those who by the world’s standards should be enemies and gathering them together around the table and joining them together in Christ – the Communion of Saints.  And from there, Paul goes on.  He proclaims Christ in the synagogues, but not only that – note the last verse: “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.”  He grows in strength – he hears the Gospel proclaimed, He receives the Supper… and then he is “proving” that Jesus was the Christ.  That “proving” refers to opening the Scriptures and showing from the Old Testament who the Messiah is and what He would do.  Now instead of making things up on his own like he was at the beginning of the chapter, Paul the baptized lives in the Supper and in the Word of God – and no where else.

          Dear friends in Christ – the world is going to tell you a lot of stupid junk about God.  Your own flesh is going to want to tell you a bunch of stupid junk about God.  And that only leads to pain and sorrow and shame and vice.  But Christ Jesus has chosen you, He has baptized you, joined you unto Himself.  He reveals who He is to you in His Word, His Gospel showing you the forgiveness He has won for you.  He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you in His Supper, where you are joined to Him and receive His forgiveness.  God grant that He keep your eyes ever more upon Him through His Holy Spirit, given to you in His Word and Sacraments.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Office, Qualifications, and Life

We are coming up on the time of year where we see the saints days for Timothy and Titus.  We get Peter and Paul on Sundays this year -- Timothy and Titus flank Paul.  It's sort of one of those times where pastors get the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus brought up... and there is a reason this tends to annoy me.  Why?  Well, let's look at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 for the list:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

 These are high standards that no one obtains to perfectly.  At least if we believe Jesus in Matthew 5 -- but they are the standards, the goals towards which all pastors should strive.

And yet, when discussions about the qualifications for pastors come up, or reasons for pastors being removed, everyone seems to stop at item number 1 - "husband of one wife."  Adultery.  Sexual scandals.  The salacious and juicy horrible stories that explain why a fellow gets the boot.  And yes - you diddle - you should be gone.  And then, of course, there are the debates about what happens if a man was divorced before he became a pastor... or even worse, what if his wife up  and leaves him - shock, horror!  Wringing of hands.

That is around 95% of the discussion on the "qualifications" for pastors.  95% might be a low estimate.  Yet there's a much longer list to follow -- and actually, most of those are the things that are more often to hurt and harm a congregation.

Yes - if your pastor is sleeping around in the congregation - that is bad.  But what happens if a preacher isn't self-controlled... runs his mouth?  How much damage can that do -- and to how many?  What if he's inhospitable... and more dangerously what if he hides his jerkish approaches under the guise of "being right"?  How much damage does that do to a congregation, to the preaching of the Gospel?  What of the warnings of conceit, of not being able to teach?

Adultery is bad - but unless the pastor is sleeping with EVERYONE - other than embarassment that's sort of contained to one or two families.  But disrespect spreads everywhere.  If he can't teach, that hits everyone.  Greed harms everyone.

Of course - part of it is that the non-adultery items are harder to pin on a guy.  A pastor can say, "I'm not quarrelsome, not really... but Bob just got me angry because he was wrong."  You can't say, "Well, I don't normally sleep around, but she looked good in that dress" and have anyone buy it.

"Husband of one wife" becomes the thing on the list that we can hang our hats on (if we ignore Matthew 5, but still)...  *I* have never had an affair, *I* am not divorced... so there's nothing to see or think about here... move along, move along.

God be merciful to us pastors, for the temptations surround us, as do plenty of paths to self-righteousness and the puffing up that Satan desires!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sermon upon the Confession of St. Peter

Confession of St. Peter, 2015 – Mark 8

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Today we hear the Confession of St. Peter – next week we will hear the Conversion of St. Paul.  So in the next two weeks we will see Christ Jesus interact with possibly the two most important Apostles, especially relating to whom they teach and proclaim Christ Jesus to be.  And today, we heard the famous Gospel lesson – Peter proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, and then dropping the ball, and Jesus rebuking him – Get thee behind Me, Satan.  And we hear this in its tersest, briefest form, the Gospel of Mark.  A quick note on that – when Peter is preaching in Rome, Mark is Peter’s assistant, and so basically when Mark records this Gospel, he’s recording things the way that Peter had preached them – and Peter apparently didn’t like to mince words, Peter apparently liked to get to the point.  So then, let us stop mincing words and dive into our Gospel text.

          And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  And on the way He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  So Jesus is wandering around, as is His custom, and wandering between towns, in one of those rare moments where there crowd isn’t crowding in on Him, Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about Him.  Jesus is too busy whenever the crowds are there – He’s healing, He’s preaching.  The disciples, though, would get to drift around, mingle.  So, what’s the word on the street?  What are people picking up?  “And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”  And the response is so-so, but not quite hitting the mark.  There is the idea that Jesus is a spiritual Fellow, that He’s wise, that He’s a good teacher – even sent by God and even able to do miracles.  But… that’s as far as it goes.

          That’s as far as it goes.  There are fewer more dangerous and false ways of dealing with, of looking at Christ, than “that’s as far as it goes.”  Very few people, only the rankest and snidest of militant atheists, denigrate Jesus.  People will praise Jesus, they’ll say He was a kind and wise teacher, a mighty fellow – but that’s as far as it goes.  Even Mahatma Ghandi can say that he liked Jesus, thought He was a good teacher, but that’s as far as it goes.  And it keeps Jesus at a distance – He’s just a teacher – and if I’m not in His classroom, oh well.  Or in Jesus’ day, “Sure, He’s a prophet – but if He ain’t in my town – then, someone else can deal with Him.”  There is that grudging, arms length respect that can be paid Jesus – but after the healings, keep Him distant and far and away from me.

          And [Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Alright, disciples, who do you say that I am?  You aren’t at a distance, you are here with Me now, who am I?  Am I merely your teacher, your friend?  That would have been true, but it only would have gone so far.  And then we get the Confession of Peter.  “Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’”  In Matthew and Luke we hear “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.  Oh, it’s a great confession.  Who is this Jesus?  Not just some teacher or prophet, not just our friend, but He is the Christ – and as such He has an impact upon every man, woman, and child on this planet.  You can’t keep Jesus at arm’s length, you can’t ignore Him, you can’t write Him off as a back water prophet – your life will be shaped by Christ Jesus.  This is what Peter is pointing to – You are the most important person ever to walk the face of the earth, Jesus – You are the Christ.

          And then we hear this: And He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.  I always love hearing these times when Jesus tells the disciples not to talk, when He tells people not to yammer about miracles or who He is.  It’s one of those things that seems to throw folks into consternation – why wouldn’t Jesus want people to tell everyone who He is?  Well, the answer is given with what comes next.  “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And He said this plainly.”  They got the right answer – they knew that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Son of God… but they didn’t know what that meant.  And when Jesus tells this to the disciples plainly, Peter is offended.  “And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  But turning and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

          Peter didn’t know what being the Christ meant, and when Jesus tells him, Peter doesn’t like it.  You see, Peter figures that the being the Christ ought to mean power and might and earthly blessings, respect from all corners, the defeat and thrashing of your enemies.  It should be a feather in Peter’s cap that he’s buds with the Christ.  And instead you have Jesus talking about… dying.  And not just dying, but dying rejected by every pillar of society.  Dying in disgrace and shame.  And Peter will have none of it, and he rebukes Jesus – think on that – rebukes Jesus.  Peter walks up to Jesus and says, “Alright Jesus, we need to have a little come to Jesus meeting” – and Peter is dead wrong.  Peter is thinking of earthly power and might – not thinking of forgiveness and life and salvation.  He is speaking like Satan, and Jesus calls him on it.  Peter didn’t get what being the Christ means.

          And even today, people still don’t get what that means.  Interestingly enough, Muslims will say that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah – but they deny that died on the Cross – God surely wouldn’t have let that happen to the Messiah, they say. Rather, someone else was killed instead of Jesus while Jesus looked on and laughed.  Or even in the Christian Church – you don’t have to look very hard to find “preachers” who will talk about Jesus being the buddy who will give you all sorts of earthly blessings, all sorts of the “things of man” – but they skip over and ignore His death or resurrection.  But not just them, even us.  How often does it happen that we ourselves see misfortune and think, “Come on, I’ve been a good little Christian, this shouldn’t be happening to me!”  How often are we ourselves tempted with the thoughts that our faith in Christ should mean that we get things better, that we who show up here should have better luck in business, better luck in love and family, than those other folks out here?  Where’s the tangible benefits, Jesus!  And those are the whispers of Satan, those are the attacks of our old sinful flesh against us.

          Jesus did not come to give us all a gold star on our lives because we are just so gosh darn good.  Not the point.  Jesus sees the bigger picture, Jesus keeps His eyes upon the goal.  Jesus sees Satan prowling around, sees your sinful flesh tearing at you and killing you – and so He is determined to go to the Cross, to suffer and die so that your sins would be forgiven.  That is what it means to be the Christ – not that He makes your life now better, but that He wins you eternal and everlasting life. 

          And lest you think I’m selling short the Christian earthly gravy train we are entitled to, Jesus continues.  And He called to Him the crowd with His disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let Him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”  Deny yourself – look at all that you have done, look at all your stuff, look at all your things and say, “it’s worthless, and apart from Christ it’s just going to go to the grave and the junk heap and rot and rust and decay.”  Deny yourself and take up your cross – to be a Christian is to live a life where you suffer.  Crosses aren’t fun.  But we suffer, we suffer and we serve and we fight against sin and we stumble and it hurts… and it does until we die.  That’s the way life is whether or not you follow Christ, but we are honest.  There isn’t going to be a day of our lives where we aren’t struggling, where we aren’t called to serve others (even our enemies), where we aren’t dealing with our own pains and frailty, where we aren’t beating down temptation.  That’s the reality – and a Christian is called to face that reality – and not only that, but to see that it is a bigger challenge than we can endure.  We fight, but it’s not a fight we win.  Not a one of us in this room is going to be sitting around 100 years from now saying, “I can’t believe how wonderful my knees and hips feel”.  Jesus came to deal with sin in a fallen world, and we are stuck smack dab in that fallen world.

          But what we learn from Christ is that we don’t cling to this life now – we are strangers here – we cling instead to Him.  Why?  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”  Do you hear how blunt our Lord is here?  You’re going to lose your life, you’re going to die – that’s a given.  And no matter how you cling to riches or wealth or power – that won’t save you.  But when you lose your life for Christ’s sake, that is when your life and death is shaped and conformed to Christ, when you view who you are through Christ and the Gospel – then you see Your salvation.  And why?  Because He is the Christ, and He has come to earth not to have awesome power and might, but to join you in your death.  To take up your sin and your death upon Himself, to come and say “You are with Me and I am with you.”  You are baptized, you are tied to Christ and Christ to you, and so you will follow Him, even through death, through the cross, unto the resurrection and eternal life.  This is the same thing we confess and receive in the Lord’s Supper – we will die, but as Christ has died, so be it.  This is My Body, given for you – that is, given over to death upon the Cross.  This is My Blood, shed for you for the remission of sins, spilled upon the Cross.  See, Christ has died for us, and we are forgiven – fantastic, now let us die in peace, according to God’s Word.  Let us take up our cross and serve as long as God would have us serve, let us lose our life for Christ’s sake, tied to Christ, in Christ, with Christ – for in Christ we have forgiveness and life everlasting.

          And so yes, Jesus is the Christ, but it is important that we confess this rightly, not as the world would, not as our flesh would, not as treating Jesus as some guy far away who might just give us awesome stuff now – but as the God who becomes Man to suffer and die with us sinful men so that we would have life in His name, life for His sake.  This is where we are, this is where put our hopes – not upon ourselves, but only upon Christ.  God grant us by the power of His Word and Spirit that this ever more be our confession.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Epiphany Observed Sermon

Epiphany Observed – January 4th, 2015 – Matthew 2

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Techinically, today is the 2nd Sunday in Christmas, the 11th day of Christmas as it were, but we are going to pretend it’s Tuesday, January 6th – we are going to observe Epiphany today.  Epiphany is the new season of the Church year – one where we focus on the revelation of Christ Jesus to the world – where we will see that this Child who was born in Bethlehem is in fact True God, come for the entire world.  So in the next few weeks leading up to Lent, we are going to see Christ’s Kingdom opened to all, we are going to see Christ’s Divinity shine forth.  And to start, we get Matthew 2 – the coming of the Wise Men.  Now, this is one of those incredibly familiar stories.  Even non-Christians are familiar with the idea of three wise men, we three kings of orient are.  And I think we miss a bit of just how shocking this story is, how it would cut across the grain of so many Jewish held ideas and assumptions.  So let’s reexamine Matthew 2, and see just what is going on, and then think about just what is going on in our own lives, in our own congregation.

          “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.”  Wise men.  Now, we today, when we think of the wise men think precisely of that – these are wise men.  Why, they are Kings from the orient.  The word in Greek is “Magi”.  The word from which we get magic, get “magician”.  Now think for a bit, what this would be like for Jewish folks – because they’ve run into magi before.  The magi were the “wise men” of Babylon, the sages of the east – you know, the very people that keep trying to kill off Daniel in the book of Daniel.  The ones who get him thrown into the lions den.  Magicians were bad – witchcraft was bad.  You never come across a good magician in the Old Testament – the ones in Egypt were evil and wicked, the local ones in Caanan were terrible and get King Saul into trouble, the ones in Babylon were corrupt and charletans.  Because we know how the story turns out, there’s an air of respectability that we give to the wise men, but for a Jew hearing the story the first time – not at all.  There would be disdain, mockery, and fear.  You know what the reaction would have been like – if into this church walked a gypsy, Madame Cleo from the TV, and Long Island medium with the bad hair.  Hearing this, you are expecting at best incompetence, and at worst villains.

          “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.’  When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  The star comes in – and we love the star – star of wonder, star of might.  But that’s again, because we know how the story plays out.  What would be your reaction if I walked on in here one Sunday morning and started preaching off of the Sunday morning horoscope from the Enid paper?  Or if I said, “Well, I didn’t know what to preach so last night I called Miss Cleo and she did a tarot card reading and this is what it said”?  You’d have my head.  But yet – what does Herod do?  What does all Jerusalem do?  They instantly believe – and not even a hopeful belief, but they are fearful, terrified.  Think on that – the Messiah is come, and they aren’t happy, they are scared.  Why be scared of that?  That’s good!  And even if it were bad, if some crackpot on the TV starts ranting about how the end of the world or something, our reaction should be, “Well, I think you’re wrong, but if you happen to be the blind squirrel that found an acorn, well, come quickly Lord Jesus.”  Herod and Jerusalem have the exact opposite reaction to what they should have.

          “and assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”  And they tell him of Bethlehem – but again, this is something sort of sad.  I mean, this is the king – you think he’d have paid some attention to this theological training – you’d think the coming of the Messiah would be a BIG thing that you would know about.  Nope. And so then Herod concocts his little plan – “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Jerusalem saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.”  Of course, we do find out at the end of the text that Herod doesn’t want to worship – he wants to go and slaughter the child – in fact, when the Magi don’t return, he wipes out all the boys in the town, just to be on the safe side.

          And then you have the Magi, the hucksters and frauds – what do they do?  “After listening to the king, they went on their way.  And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts – gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”  Herod and Jerusalem had done everything wrong – and then here you have the Magi.  And they nail it.  They at first are obedient to the king – they go quietly.  They see this star and know it’s not like the huckster stuff they had been pulling.  They behold Christ and they worship, they bring gifts, they open up their treasures to give their offering, not just toss something into the plate without thinking about it.  No, the gifts are well thought out – gold for a king, Frankincense fit for worship (because in the ancient world you always had incense in God’s Temple), and then myrrh, the funeral spices.  The magi had remember Daniel and the promises of the Messiah he and his people had proclaimed – the King who would come and die to redeem not only the Jewish people but all the world.  And they worship.  And finally, when God sends an angel to warn them in their dreams, just as he warns Joseph, they listen, and they head home avoiding Herod.

          Do you get just how shocking this story would be?  Not just Herod, but all of Jerusalem drops the ball.  And who comes off smelling like roses?  The “magi”.  The very people who should be the villains of the piece end up being the heroes.  The rotten gentiles get it, but the “good, faithful Jewish folk” mess up completely.  And so, as we ponder this text, let us consider ourselves this new year.  Your old, sinful flesh wants to act like Herod and Jerusalem.  Think on this – which does our flesh tend to prefer more – diligently studying the Scriptures… or waiting on the latest and greatest rumor to come flashing down the pike?  When those wise men came and talked about a new King – that was juicy – what juicy stories are we waiting for this year?  Or do we study the Scriptures, the great story of our salvation?  Which does our flesh tend to prefer – enjoying our houses and palaces and feasts, or opening our treasures before God and giving them away?  Which was the more special part of Christmas – the gifts under the tree that we get, or the ways in which we give ourselves away to others in our offering and in our service?  We all know which way our sinful flesh would answer that.  Our Gospel text is indeed a warning against complacency – against just going through the motions and assuming you’re a good little Christian.  The folks in Jerusalem would have simply assumed as a matter of course that they are better than those scummy magi – but they had fallen into cold indifference. 

          However, there is also fantastic hope.  Consider what God does for the Magi.  Yeah, they were scum, they were lost and condemned.  And yet, God in His great mercy and wisdom reveals the Christ to them, calls them to come before Christ, brings them to worship.  And this is what God does for you here this day.  You see, one of the biggest dangers our faith faces is pride, is the assumption that we are just fine and dandy – that’s why we begin every service confessing that we are poor, miserable sinners – the service opens with a reality check – we aren’t all hunky dory in and of ourselves, we are in need of Christ, we are in need of the forgiveness He has won for us upon the Cross with His death and resurrection.  And then in the rest of the service, we act like the wise men.  We enter in, we then hear the Word of God, search the Scriptures, hear them explained – all of that goes on right in the pews – and then we have the Communion service.  We come before the altar, we open up our treasures, and then we worship Christ, we praise Him and receive Him in His most holy Supper – indeed, if we had a communion rail and kneelers those of us with youngish knees would literally fall down before Him (again, with incense if we were super fancy).  And then, we receive the Supper – as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim His death until He comes – as one of the old dismissals goes.  In all things we are brought before and pointed to Christ our Savior.

          Dear friends, in the weeks of Epiphany to come, and indeed in this whole year, we will be pointed and brought to Christ again and again.  Your sinful flesh will tempt you, but Christ is always here to redeem and forgive you, for behold, He who is your King has come.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +   

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Sermon

New Year’s Eve, 2015 – Isaiah 40 and Romans 8

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
          As one year draws to a close, and a new one approaches – how in the world is it already 2015 – we are gathered here together in God’s house to worship, to hear His Word, to confess our sins of the past, and receive His Supper for strength for the year to come.  And in our Gospel lesson we hear the injunction that we are to watch, to be ready – for we are still assuming a 2015 – we don’t know when Christ will return – He might beat the ball drop tonight.  Or He might not.  Either way, we are to watch, we are to wait, we are to be prepared.  But how?  What does watching and waiting look like?  What does the being awake pointed to in our Gospel text actually mean?  To get the answer for that question, we are going to pay special attention to our Old Testament lesson and our Epistle this night, and hear them in light of our Lord’s call for us to be awake.

          Why?  Well, the Gospel sounds scary at first blush – “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  Like a thief in the night.  However, this is not in reality a call from God for us to be scared or worried or panicked or anything like that.  Just to be aware, to have our eyes open to what is really going on, to understanding who is really in charge.  And this is pointed out in our Old Testament lesson – “For thus says the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”  It’s not a call to panic, it’s not a call to terror – rather be calm, relax, remember in all times and in all places that God is in control and in charge, and that whether we live or whether we die, we live and die to the Lord.  In Him it is all good.  This is truth.  Yet, what so often is the reaction of our flesh?  “But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No!  We will flee upon horses’; therefore you shall flee away, and ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’; therefore your pursuers shall be swift.  A thousand shall flee at the sight of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flag staff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.”  All too often, throughout the Old Testament, when Jerusalem and Israel were besieged and surrounded by foes, rather than remaining calm and trusting in God, they panicked, they freaked out.  They fled at the drop of a pin.  If you’ve got the enemy outnumbered 1000 to one, you’ve got no reason to run.  But Israel looked to their own weaknesses, saw the strength of others – when all along they should have been considering God and His strength.

          So then, what will you see this year?  Now, I have no idea about the specifics – and I’m sure some of it will be good and joyous, but some of it will probably be bad and sad and horrific.  That’s just how life goes in this fallen world.  I love the last of the 20 Questions that Luther wrote up for those preparing to go to the Supper – “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? To such a person no better advice should be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood.  Then he should believe what the Scripture say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.  Second, he should still look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and 1 John 2 and 5.  Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16, 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”  Well, there’s Martin’s Luther description of what we’ll see in any and every year until our Lord comes.  But what is our reaction to be, how do we respond to all this?  Not with panic, not with fear, but by resting in Christ, trusting in Him, fleeing to His Word and to the Sacrament of the Altar, remembering that we are baptized and belong to Him, because it is in His strength that we have security and hope, it is in Him that we are prepared for anything.

          This is the point that Paul makes in our Epistle lesson tonight from Romans 8.  “What then shall we say to these things?”  That is what shall we say to any of the crazy or terrible or horrible things we see, the events, the guilt and shame of our own sin?  What shall we say to them, what shall our response be?  “If God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yes, these things, they are big and strong – but God is greater and stronger than anything we face, and He has said that He is for us, and so we have confidence and hope in Him.  But what if Satan slinks up, what if that sly serpent should come and accuse you, tell you that God is not for you?  “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  The Father sent Christ Jesus to the Cross to die for you, to save you – He’s not going to change His mind.  He’s not going to back out now.  In fact, Christ Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, risen again, constantly proclaiming your forgiveness – God is the One who justifies you, who declares you forgiven and nothing can trump that.

          Indeed, you get Paul at his rhetorical best – he calls out Satan.  Says, as Luther would put it, that Satan may still scowl fierce as he will, but he can harm us none.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  Even if 2015 goes to utter pot – if the crops fail and the stock market crashes and the banks close, and the cops and communities both riot and Putin has Russia invade and the ravaging hordes of ISIS swarm over our borders and slaughter us left and right… so what?  Christ Jesus has still died for you and risen for you, and so in all these things we are more than conquerors.  We will still be gathered into His House to hear His Word, to receive His forgiveness, to proclaim His death and resurrection in His most Holy Supper.  “For I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Nothing changes the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, that He has baptized you and claimed you as His own.  You are forgiven by Him, this is reality, this is truth.

          Do you see what this means?  “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast.”  You belong to Christ, He is your master.  You are dressed, your robes white, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb – the lamps, the candles of His church still burn, and He shall return for you.  This is who you are.  Rest securely in Christ, for He has won you the victory, and He shall be your Lord and Master in the upcoming year, even until the Last Day.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Funeral Sermon for Gary Swiggett

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
          Carolyn, Robert and Kim, Dale and Vernon, friends and family of our brother in Christ Gary, grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I want to begin today paying attention to our Gospel reading, which we just heard, so that we approach this day centered upon Christ Jesus, upon His Word, because it is in Christ that we find peace.

So there, in our Gospel text, is Martha, a dear, close personal friend of Jesus.  And her brother Lazarus, also Jesus’ friend, has just died.  And then in walks Jesus, not while Lazarus was sick, not when He could have healed him up, but in walks Jesus after Lazarus has died, and Martha eyeballs Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  You could have stopped this Jesus, you could have made things work out differently.  This was Your friend, Your buddy Lazarus – and if You had been here, he wouldn’t have died.  It’s a pretty bold and blunt thing Martha says to Jesus there, isn’t it?  But what is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t defend Himself, He doesn’t explain things away.  I mean, if you read John’s Gospel, there are reasons given – Jesus knows He’s going to raise Lazarus, that’s part of it.  And part of it too is Mary and Martha and Lazarus live in Bethany, live right next to Jerusalem – and right after Jesus raises Lazarus it’s on to Palm Sunday and His own crucifixion.  If someone wanted to make excuses or explain things, tell someone why, it would have been Jesus to Martha right then and there.  But when Martha confronts Him, Jesus doesn’t explain why.  At that moment, the why isn’t important, and all the whys in the world wouldn’t have changed anything.  So instead Jesus says what is truly important.  “Your brother will rise again.”  Your thoughts, your fears, your questions, your anger, your sorrow – that’s all there Martha, and I’m not even going to try to explain them away – but instead hear this:  Your brother will rise, and He will rise because of Me, because I go to the Cross and I myself die to destroy death and sin, and I myself rise to ensure that he will rise.

And here we are today.  And here lies Gary.  Someone we loved, someone who was a blessing in our lives.  But not only that – Gary wasn’t just a part of our life – Gary was tied to Christ.  Gary is baptized child of God.  Christ Jesus’ brother, not just a friend, but baptized into God’s family.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of questions we’d want to ask, plenty of emotions and feelings running through us.  I’m sure there would be plenty of “why’s” that could pour out from each of us, plenty of what ifs.  And the simple truth is I can’t tell you why, I can’t answer those what ifs.  I’m a preacher – I’m stuck with what the Word of God says, and Jesus doesn’t answer Martha’s why’s… and if He didn’t back then, I certainly can’t today.  I don’t know the whys, but I do know what Christ Jesus has done. Christ Jesus Himself died and rose for Gary, Christ Jesus claimed Gary as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and Gary will rise again.  That’s going to happen, that is the promise, that’s what we confess in the Creed in Church every Sunday – I look forward to the resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come. 

And here is something else to ponder.  We are in the Christmas season – today is the 5th day of Christmas, 5 gold rings.  And the world tells us that Christmas is a time when we’re just supposed to be holly and jolly no matter what and pretend there’s nothing wrong at all, and just carry on.  But we here know that’s not always the case.  As much as the world might try to tell us that everything is wonderful, we see, we know life in the world.  How hard it often is, how scary it often is, how often things are out of our control.  And the world would have us live in denial, pretend these things didn’t exist, but they do.  And the world also loves to lie to us, the world also loves to keep Christ out of Christmas – the world tells us “comfort and joy” comes from new junk under the tree – and while presents are nice, they don’t fix things in the world.  But Christ Jesus knows.  He knows what life is like, He knows what you face today.  When He first came, Jesus didn’t come to some pretend fairy land where everything was perfect.  Hardly – He was born in a barn because no person at an inn would give up their room to a pregnant woman, and after that His parents had to run for their lives before Herod could kill Him.    No, Jesus came into this world, a world where there is often darkness and sorrow and hardship – Jesus came into this world where there is sin and suffering – and He came not so that we could pretend these troubles don’t exist, or pretend that they don’t hurt – He came to win us forgiven and salvation and life in His Name.  You don’t have to hide your grief from Jesus, you don’t have to wrap yourself up in a pretty bow and pretend.  He knows – and that is why He came.  Jesus came into this world because He knew precisely how hard and painful it can be – and He Himself shared your pain, shared Gary’s pain.  He is Immanuel, God with us – with us even here and now, especially here and now.  And He will comfort you.  And this comfort doesn’t mean suddenly everything is better, it doesn’t mean the pain suddenly is gone.  No, we makes sense to be sorrowful today – this was a big tragedy.  There’s no need to pretend it isn’t.  Even Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death, even knowing He was going to raise him.  But in the face of our sorrow, this truth remains. Christ Jesus is still God Almighty, come into the flesh, come to win salvation for us sinners, and His love and His forgiveness still are true.  Gary’s death doesn’t undo Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection – in fact, because Christ Jesus died and rose, the day is going to come when Gary is going to step right on our of this casket.  Christ Jesus comes and He brings peace, peace so that we know that we are forgiven in Him, peace so that we can endure even in the face of sorrow.

  Jesus said to her “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”  This is the truth, for Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  God keep us focused upon Christ Jesus, especially in the midst of trials and troubles we cannot understand, that we receive His peace and His strength.  Now, may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus.  Amen+

A Parable

And he told a parable to those who were on Facebook and the Blogs making sure everyone else did things exactly the way they wanted:

"The Kingdom of Missouri will be like a valley filled with flocks and shepherds, each wandering in their own space.  Then one of the shepherds, upon seeing a wolf entering the valley and approach a flock, cries out 'wolf' to alert the nearby shepherds.  A second shepherd across the valley says, 'That is not enough!' and pulls out his M-60 and starts laying down covering fire.  A third shepherd across the valley cries, 'It's coming right at us,' and starts firing rocket propelled grenades.  And yet another shepherd leads his flock into a crag, saying, 'This valley is full of wolves - stay here sheep - I may have to nuke it.'

"When the owner of all the flocks returns, the shepherds will say, 'We were not zealous in defending your sheep?'  And standing amidst the little bits of sheep chunks blown to kingdom (or a stew pot) come, the owner will say, 'Good night - have you heard of a sling shot, people?  Or a Shepherd's crook?  Shoot, even a rifle with a scope would have worked!'  Then he himself will pull out his sling and slay the wolf, who apparently is very good at dodging."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas 1 Sermon

Christmas 1 – Luke 2 – December 28th, 2014
In the Name of Christ Jesus our New Born King +

          Another Sunday, another song.  On the last Sunday of Advent, leading up to Christmas, in our Gospel lesson we heard the Maginificat – Mary’s great song of hope and expectation, the song of trust in what the Lord was going to do.  And now, Christmas has come – we have focused in great detail on the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God – the wonder that for us men and for our salvation, God Himself comes down from heaven and is born of the Virgin Mary, and is made Man.  The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.  And now, on the first Sunday after Christmas, we come across another song, this one more familiar to us, one which we sing whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – the Nunc Dimittis.  The Song of Simeon.  And in this song we will see, focus, zero in upon the impact of the Incarnation – what the Incarnation actually means for us.

          But before we get to the song, let’s start with the background.  And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.  Yes, Joseph and Mary, being good parents, being faithful folk, on the 40th day after His birth bring Christ up to Jerusalem and offer the Sacrifices mandated in the Law of Moses for young boys to get.  Do you see what this means?  Even as a Child, even before He could walk or speak, our Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to the Law of God.  What does Paul tell us in Galatians?  That God sent His Son, born of Woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who were trapped by the Law.  When Christ Jesus comes to earth, He doesn’t come like a tourist who just wants to see the highlights and then leave; He doesn’t come as some dignitary who is far above us.  God becomes Man, becomes one of us, gets into the same boat as we are in.  And why?  to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  We are burdened with sin, with seeing and knowing all those things that we do that we aren’t suppose to do, with seeing and knowing all those times we fail and fall short and don’t do what we ought.  We are under the Law.  The Law is there, constantly reminding us of our sin, showing us the ways our thoughts, words and deeds go astray.  And that’s what this law did – it was a reminder to all those new parents who were gaga and loopy over their kid that sin was real, that it required sacrifice and atonement.  But here is Jesus, the perfect and innocent One, the spotless Lamb who has no sin, who needs no sacrifice.  Yet, He is placed under the Law, takes His place next to us - He is truly Immauel, God with us, here with us under the Law, God with us – and God here to save us.  He will be where we are, even unto death.

          And as Mary and Joseph bring the boy Jesus in, they come across old Simeon.  God had somehow let old Simeon know that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.  So old Simeon came to the temple every day, and old Simeon waited, waited patiently in the temple.  And then Simeon sees Jesus.  He runs up and takes the babe in His arms, and in the Holy Spirit he says the words we know as the Nunc Dimitiss. . . the words we sing whenever we commune – Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace/ according to Thy Word/ for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation/ which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people/ a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of Thy people Israel.  The song of wonder and glory and joy that we sing, these are the words of Simeon.  And why does Simeon say them?  Because he holds in his hands, old, wrinkled hands that aren’t as strong as they used to be, Jesus, the promised Messiah.  Simeon is dying, yet he holds in his hands the Christ who will be his salvation, who will call forth Simeon again from the grave on the last day.  Dying Simeon holds the One who gives him Life Everlasting in his hands.  And so, Simeon says, “Okay – I can die.”  Lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace isn’t just world weariness, or indifference, or anything like that.  This isn’t the aches and pains and sorrows of an old man talking.  No, it is something much bolder, much more brash, much more defiant against Satan.  Simeon is proclaiming, “Let death come – it will not be a terror for me, for I will die in peace.”  Why in peace?  Because he has seen it – he has seen Salvation, he has held in his own hands the very Body of God, the fact, the proof that all the promises God had made His people, the promises that God would be among us and live among us and rescue us from sin – Simeon holds the fulfillment, the proof of all that in his shaky hands.  What more is there for him?  What more does Simeon need to see?  God’s salvation is here.

          Dear friends in Christ – what do you see when you think of Christ?  When your mind comes across Jesus, when you think of Him, what do you think of?  What we ought to think of Him, what we ought to see is the same thing that Simeon saw.  Salvation.  Life.  Forgiveness.  When you hear in Scripture of our Lord doing anything in the Gospels, doing whatever it is that He does – that is your salvation.  That is God at work for you.  That is Jesus becoming a human being like you so that you can be a child of the Father like He is.  That is Christ breaking down the hackles Satan had chained you with, it is Christ taking the noose off your neck.  That is Christ stretching out His own hand and grabbing yours and raising you up, lifting up your hearts with Him.  This is what Simeon sees – and by faith this is what we see as well.  By the teaching of His Word and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit this is what we will see more and more, this is what our focus will be upon.  Christ Jesus our salvation.

          We do get another elderly person popping up in this text.  We see Anna.  Anna’s 84.  Anna, like Simeon, has been in the temple a long time.  And she sees Jesus, she recognizes who He is.  And what does she do?  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.  What does she do, what is Anna’s response?  She gives thanks.  She gives thanks to God – and how is this done?  By speaking, by speaking of Him.  The way in which we give thanks to God is by speaking, by talking about Him, by saying, “Look at what God has done for me.”  We spell it out.  And what does Anna do?  She sees folks who need what she needs – she sees folks who need a Savior as much as she does.  And so, she spends her time saying, “He’s here – the Messiah has come.”  This is thanks.

          Dear friends, the words of Simeon and Anna, the words of these two pious servants of the Lord shape our worship, craft and shape how we worship even to this day.  Our Communion Service is Luke 2 being played out again, here and now.  After the sermon, after the prayers, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Do you recognize what that is?  Do you know and understand what it is that God gives to us in the Supper?  We enter God’s House, come into His temple, and what do we see?  “Take and eat, this is My Body, which is given for you.  Take and drink, this is My Blood, which is shed for the remission of all of your sin.”  What Simeon waited his whole life for is what we get in the Supper.  Simeon held the Body of Christ in his hands, we have Christ’s own Body placed in our hands, upon our tongues.  Our Lord comes to us as surely as He came to Simeon – and we see what He brings.  Whereas Simeon’s eyes merely saw salvation and held it in his hands, we not only see and touch, but we smell it, we taste it, we taste God’s Salvation.  This is how thoroughly God comes to us – He would be our God and have us be His people so He calls us to His House and feeds us on His own Body, the medicine of Immortality, gives us Eternal Life, gives us His life.

          And then, we echo Simeon.  Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.  We aren’t saying, “Okay, that’s enough pastor, let us out so we can beat the Baptists to the Western Sizzlin’.”  We are saying – We can face death now, Lord.  Death will never conquer us, because Christ Jesus has died for us and risen for us.  What ever this upcoming year holds, we leave this place in peace – we are at peace with You, God, and You are at peace with us.  You have forgiven us and given us all that we need for this life, You have called us to everlasting life.  When You are ready, so are we – for You have joined us to Your Son Christ Jesus – You have brought us into Your family, indeed You have Baptized us, made us part of Your Son’s own Body - - indeed, You have fed us with that Same Body to keep us steadfast in the faith.  We are ready for whatever comes, for we know Your salvation and we have it right now.  That is why we sing the song of Simeon when we commune.

          And after that, just before we get to the Benediction and head out in the world, we pray a prayer that is known as the Thanksgiving.  Having echoed Simeon, we echo Anna.  “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.”  We give thanks to God by saying what He has done.  And then, “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.”  Lord, we are going out into the world – help us, be with us, make us to love others, not just love them a little bit, but love them fervently.  We echo Anna, who gives thanks to God and then shows the highest love, by speaking of Christ. 

Our worship, dear friends, isn’t shaped by what we want or what we like – it is shaped by Scripture, and we follow its patterns, what it has laid down for us.  And this is good, because it evermore focuses us upon Christ Jesus and how He comes to be with us today, comes to be with His Baptized children in His most Holy Word and in His Most Holy Supper.  And today, we have seen that pattern, seen the guides which mold how we praise God and give Him thanks.  So, having seen the shape of our worship, let us with gladness receive the Salvation our Lord gives us.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – December 21st, 2014 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          One of the adages one of my fellow pastors likes to say is “follow the verbs.”  It’s a great little guide for keeping on track when reading the Bible.  Follow, pay attention to the verbs – keep your focus on who is doing what, and when you read the Scriptures, the wonderful thing you will see is that God is the One who is active, who is *doing* things for you.  December is such a time of busy-ness for us, where we run around with lists and decorations and plans and all that – but in the Church, Advent is a season where we wait and look and see what God is doing for us.  And this fourth week of Advent there is nothing better to ponder, nothing with better verbs to follow, than our Gospel text, where Mary will sing forth her song, the Magnificat.

          Let’s remember the set up.  Mary is pregnant – not married, young, probably 13 or so, Joseph was planning on divorcing her, calling off the marriage – God has to send him an angel to get him to relax.  You want to talk about your weird, stressful situations?  You want to talk about times where we’d get thoughts of “what am I going to do?”  Here’s one for you.  And Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth just starts gushing.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  We’ve got Elizabeth gushing, we’ve got baby John jumping in the womb, it’s all wild and caddy wampus!

          And then Mary speaks.  She speaks the words of the Magificat – words the Church has sung for probably over 1900 years.  And listen to this, pay attention to the verbs, pay attention to Who is doing What.  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Here we have Mary doing something – she is rejoicing, she is praising God.  That’s what “magnify” here means – if you have a magnifying glass, it makes whatever you are looking at bigger – Mary’s praise is showing the bigness, the greatness of God.  And from Mary – that’s it.  That’s the last time Mary talks about anything *she* does.  All that is on her plate to do is to praise and rejoice – there’s nothing left for her to do, because God is going to do it all.  “For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” – who is Mary?  She’s just a humble nobody.  A simple servant.  Yet, what happens?  God acts on her behalf – God does all the work require to make her the mother of God, and what happens?  “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me.”  Mary was just sitting there, and God acts, and wham, she is going to be called blessed.  Even Elizabeth is praising her – and not because she has done anything, but solely because God has done something great for her.

          Now pause here for a moment.  There’s a reason why the Church sings this as well.  Let me ask you a question.  Are you blessed?  And I don’t mean this in a Joel Osteen how big and ritzy are the presents under your tree going to be sort of way, but I mean this?  Are you blessed – that is, has God looked upon you in your lowly state, and has He done mighty things for you, so that from now on, until the end of time, you will be called blessed?  Yes.  It is not just that Jesus came down and now Mary gets to say, “I’m the mother of God, see how blessed I am” – Mary may be His mother, but Christ Jesus is your Brother.  Think on that – you are, in Christ, the brothers and sisters of God Himself.  And not because of anything *you* do – rather He comes and declares this to be true.  This is why He came, to win you salvation with His death and resurrection, these are the great things He has done for you, and come the last day when you are raised from the dead by Christ, you will reign with Him.  From now on even the angels in heaven will declare you blessed, for you are one redeemed by Christ Jesus.  And again – all about what Christ has done.

          “and Holy is His Name.  And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  Again, we get more focus on God, who God is, what He does.  God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy.  Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name.  She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God.  And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

          Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized.  You have been joined into God’s own Name, His own holiness has been applied to you.  The proof, open and public, that you actually are Christ’s brother, Christ’s sister, it’s right there at the font – for you have been Baptized, you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father, you now have Christ for your brother, you are His family – and as such, you receive His Mercy.  This reality, this truth of who you are in Christ all flows not from your strength or what you do – it flows from His mercy.  You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God.  God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him.  God is rightly praised for this.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.  Mary shows us more God at work – and with something we don’t focus on as often in the Church today.  We do not need to look very hard to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us.  But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see the wickedness and oppression in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end.  The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and so often do not come to fruition.  The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it.  And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later, and that He will deliver us. 

          Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this.  No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured.  The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of heaven, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.

          He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.  God’s great actions for you continue.  The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ.  Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down.  The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away.  And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness.  And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point all gathered in to the Lord’s Supper.  If you are so foolish as to think that you in and of yourself are spiritually “rich”, that you are fine on your own, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were.  But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you.  He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

          And then Mary stops. She’s pretty well covered everything, hasn’t she?  These are all the things God has done for her, done for you.  And all of them, all of them depend upon God, upon His strength, His mercy, His righteousness.  My dear friends in Christ – rejoice in Him, for He has done all things for you already, and now we simply await His return when we will see all things in full.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +