Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sexagesima Sunday

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15 – February 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today's Parable, what we normally call the Parable of the Sower, may very well be the first parable Jesus tells. Not only in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark as well, it starts a whole slew of parables, where Jesus starts speaking in figurative language, giving verbal object lessons. And people are routinely confused and have no idea what in the world Jesus is talking about. We even hear that in our text today – the disciples end up asking Jesus what the parable meant – they couldn't figure it out. So when we approach this parable, or in fact any parable, we ought to approach them humbly and make sure we are paying attention to what Jesus actually says, lest we springboard off of the parable into some wretched interpretation of our own devising – because I've heard some really horrible takes upon this parable. But, my friends, consider yourself fortunate, for the meaning of the parable is right in front of your face.

He said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So we get the image – a sower sows, the seed falls in four different types of soils with four different results. So then, what does this mean?

Jesus gives an answer – “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their heart so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in times of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Alright – so there's the parable and its meaning. Now what? Now what do we do with it? I have heard some wretched, terrible directions that folks have jumped off from this parable. I heard one preacher say, “Well, clearly this means that we need to focus our time spent on outreach in finding people who are good soil and make sure we focus our efforts there.” Well, there's a couple of problems with that, aren't there? First of all – in the parable, the seed goes everywhere. In fact, that's one of the things that is most wild about this parable on the start. The sower apparently doesn't know what he is doing. You wouldn't sow the thorn bed, or the rocky, un-tilled soil, and most certainly not the highway. Seed is too expensive for that. In fact, I'm always surprised that more farmers don't have a conniption-fit when they hear this parable thinking of the expense and waste that is going on. Second of all – how am I supposed to tell how someone is going to react to the Word of God? Am I God? Do I get to see into the hearts of man? If I were going to limit whom I spoke the Gospel to, well, I certainly wouldn't have spoken it to St. Paul. He was killing Christians – if anyone looked to be tied to the highway it would be Paul... and yet, Jesus in His wisdom comes to Paul on the highway to Damascus, asks why Paul is persecuting Him, and then soon Paul is an Apostle. Seems rather fruitful to me. We can't identify who is or isn't good soil.

So a lot of times, when dealing with this parable – we preachers will focus on how the Word of God should be spoken to all, proclaimed to all people, irregardless of whether or not we think they deserve to hear it. And this is an approach that is valid, that has merit. I've taken this approach before, and if someday I notice that y'all are being stingy with the Gospel, disdainful of your neighbor and hestitant to tell them of Christ Jesus and what He has done, I'll probably emphasize this idea a bit more in that sermon. But that's not the main point. The main point of this parable isn't how you need to get on out there and start telling people about Jesus. I mean, that's a good thing to do – but it's not the point. I mean, I know we call this the parable of the Sower, but did you notice something? Jesus, in His explanation, never talks about the sower, never says who the sower is. He never makes an emphasis on the act of sowing, either. In fact, just like last week, we mis-labelled the parable. The focus isn't the sower – listen to Jesus again. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. This is the parable of the Seed.

This isn't a parable about what you or I do. It is a parable about the Word of God and what the Word of God does. And here's where we can again miss the point slightly. So often when we hear “the Word of God” we jump to thinking about the Bible as a book, as an entity. And that's right, but there's a better, a fuller understanding of this idea – and it's one that is right in front of your face. It's one that has been sitting in front of you, and it sits in front of you almost half the year. Pastor Brown storytime – this week just wasn't a good week for writing for me. Last weekend was busy, so come Monday I was tired, I didn't have the same creative spring in my step. Didn't even get the sermon drafted until Wednesday (which normally makes me rather cranky). At any rate, Monday morning I'm in here prepping for pre-school chapel, thoughts about this sermon going around the back of my mind. And I looked at the pulpit. And I saw the parament, the cloth that hangs here. And you know what – it's the best explanation of this parable that I've ever seen. Right in the middle you've got a stylized Chi-Rho – which is an ancient symbol for Christ. It's the first two letters of Christ in Greek – yet this Chi-Rho is specifically shaped like the cross. And what is springing forth from Christ? Seed. And that seed hits the ground, and there's water and the Word, and then there's growing, fruitful grain.

When Jesus says “the Seed is the Word of God” you realize that Jesus is talking about Himself, right? That Jesus is the Word of God – the whole “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” thing from John? This parable is about Christ Jesus, the Word of God. And Christ comes into this world, and He spreads His love everywhere, for God so loved the world, all of it, even the folks who couldn't care less. That's what Christ does. And Christ Jesus says to you, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Does that remind you of a few weeks ago, up on the mount of Transfiguration, where the voice of the Father boomed from the cloud - “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” We're supposed to be listening to Jesus, paying attention to what He says, what He does – come let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, let us be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Pay attention to Jesus!

So what in your life would try to make you stop paying attention to Jesus? Well, the Devil is out there, and Satan likes to just silence the Word, to stop any talk of Christ. “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” That's one way – get treaded underfoot and battered and bruised in the world and just stop – I don't even want to hear it. Separated from the Word. Or there's what happens with the rocky soil. They hear the Word with joy, but “these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” No root, no water – and then there's times of testing, of just hardship, and folks can pack it up then. Jesus isn't my magical get out of jail free card, forget this. That was never the point, there was no root, no depth. Or there's the thorns - “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Too many things to do, so many blessings to use, so much money and wealth and all that – and there's no time for Church, there are other priorities – and they don't grow up, don't mature.

That's how Satan is going to attack you. Whether it's a bald faced attack, or trying to grind you down, or distract you. Over and over his playbook is to get you to ignore the Word, to ignore Jesus. So where does that leave you? As for that in the good soil, they are those who, HEARING the word, hold it fast – He who has ears to hear, let him hear. It is rough out there in the world. It is. It's a nasty, mean, spiteful place where we can get caught up and hung up in all sorts of things, especially when our impatient desires that want immediate satisfaction kick in and make us act the fools. Over and against that, we are given to hear Christ, to listen to Him, to hear again and again what He has done for us.

And here's the beautiful thing. Jesus never stops coming to you. Whatever your week was like – Christ Jesus who died for you still loves you, still has His forgiveness proclaimed in His House. The same love still get scattered all over the place, even if we've been a bit hard or rocky or thorny. Nope – over and over – Christ the Crucified is cast like seed from this pulpit, and we are watered in Baptism and fed in the Supper so that we might have strong roots and grow well and be prepared to stand in the face of this life – that from us would spring Christ and His love as well. Christ is always coming to you so that you would hear Him, receive His love, be comforted in the midst of your struggles with the world, and made to endure in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Septuagesima Sunday

Septuagesima – February 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 20

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In our Gospel text we are presented two ways of viewing our relationship to God. There are two ways of understanding how we relate to God, each with drastically different results. Do we relate to God on the basis of our works or on the basis of His grace, freely given? Now – some of you may be thinking that I may have run myself into a bit of a sticky wicket with this introduction – because we know as good Lutherans at we are saved by Grace through faith – sola gratia... and yet, the Gospel text was laborers in the vineyard. Laborers. Workers. Um... okay, how in the wide wide world of sports is a story about workers really going to be about grace? Let's dig in and see, shall we?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard.” I don't know, Pastor – sounds like things are all about works. See, the Kingdom is like workers working in the vineyard. Not so fast, my friend! First of all, the Kingdom is like the master – if you want to understand things the master is the focus – but keep that in your pocket for later. But also, let's consider these laborers. This isn't the story of an industrious and plucky kid who applied for job after job and finally got one, then worked his way up from the mail room. These workers are dejected. Unemployed. The day dawns and they've got nothing to do. No means of income. Moreover, they are just workers. Unskilled labor. They'd be in a word desperate, desperate for anything. And up walks the master, and he sees them. They're not farmers, they probably don't know the first thing about tending grapes, which actually is a rather technical and specific sort of farm work. So they'd have to be shown the basics and kept watch over, here's how you harvest the grapes off without killing the plant. And yet, the master gives them a job, a job they probably aren't qualified for. And then, he makes them a great offer. A whole denarius. That is a good wage for a skilled worker. These are folks who would be thrilled to get minimum wage, who'd probably work for less; the master gives them Union standard. It's a good deal – they agree – the word in Greek for agree here is “symphony” - these workers are singing like birds because it's a great deal for them.

Our text continues. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” Now note this – the master isn't necessarily looking for more workers – he doesn't need more labor. The vineyard is taken care of – so he's off to the market to do his shopping or what have you, and he comes across some poor stiffs standing around starving, and out of great compassion, go on, you guys go to the vineyard and I'll pay you what's right. And they go – no contract, no dedicated amount – just glad to get anything. And same at the sixth hour and the ninth, he keeps giving more people jobs, jobs he doesn't need to give out. And the climax of this is the 11th hour – “And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'” One hour left in the working day – and here's some more wretched folks. Hungry wretches. Eh, even you, even though you'll not even get a full hour in because it will take time to get to the vineyard, and then the foreman will have to find something for you to do – you guys head there too. He's giving everyone a job – this is no way to run a business! This is charity.

And the master's stupid, foolish business sense continues. “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call up the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius.” Do you see? This is utter gift. Alright – you've been here not even a full hour, here's a full day's pay. They don't deserve this; this is utter gift! Of course, that's the point. The Master is always about giving gifts, giving gifts freely, sight unseen. The Master sees folks in need, and he will use his vineyard not for his benefit and profit, but to take care of and provide for these people in need. What love! What generosity! What gift! Why, we all should sing hymns – symphonies should ring out at this love and generosity!

However – there's a change coming. Remember the laborers we first saw? As the Sun was rising, there they were, desperate, without any hope – and the master gives them hope and purpose and a job and a good wage – a cushy deal beyond their imaging. Well, as they come up to get their pay... “Now, when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'” They grumbled. You've made us the same as these folks who came last! Well, let me ask the question. Aren't you the same? Aren't you both folks who woke up this morning unemployed without any idea of how you were going to put bread on the table? Aren't you both unskilled workers who don't have any leverage to bargain with? Aren't you both folks who were called happily into the vineyard, who went rejoicing? You ARE equal – and the master has treated you all equally.

But they aren't thinking about the master anymore. They aren't thinking about what he has said, what he has offered, what he has promised them. Nope, they are thinking about their works, what they've done. And so the master jumps in. “But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” You've got no grounds to complain! I've been above board with you, and in fact I've been generous to you. I've given you a good wage – you thought it was great earlier. “But we've born the heat of the day!” Yeah, well, you're equal to the other workers still, because it was really hot in the market place too, and unlike them, you knew that you'd be able to eat tonight. Might want to cut them some slack and be happy for them and happy for yourself, because you've done really well, far better than you had expected this morning. Take what is given, and rejoice.

So – how are you going to look at your day, oh laborer? Are you going to rejoice in the generosity of the master, are you going to enjoy and receive the gifts with thanksgiving, or are you going to grouse? Are you going to view things through a lens of “works” and think about what you deserve and get all angry and upset, forgetting the fact that you didn't deserve a single thing this morning when you walked into that marketplace? How it's going to be – grace or works?

How's it going to be, O Christian? Are you going to view your relationship to God on the basis of His grace or on the basis of your works? Your sinful flesh will stupidly, foolishly try to tell you it ought to be about works. Your pride and ego will focus on all that you've done, how much you've done – especially how much more you've done than that person over there – and man, doesn't God owe it to you, doesn't He just owe you blessings and you should never have any troubles... and then, you'll just be miserable and angry and upset and you'll grumble at God. And its stupid grumbling – because you know what your wages are, what you deserve? The wages of sin is death, buddy. You want that wage to be paid – then instead of focusing on some false, pollyanna tale of how much you've done for God, you sinner, you should probably cut out all the talk about works out and instead simply pause and think about all the good things that He gives you freely because of who He is.

That's what Jesus teaches us here – that all that we have is really a gift from God. And more than that, we should learn to view all this in terms of gift, rather than being tempted by our flesh to think of it in terms of what we've earned. Consider the prayer that Jesus taught us. We don't pray, “pay us our daily bread” - it is, “give us our daily bread.” It's gift. Even if you work for it, it's still gift, because your body, your talents, your abilities are all gifts from God. And they are good gifts to have – ask anyone who's getting up there in age or who's become disabled what a great gift the ability to work is. So there's no room for boasting – all the physical blessings in our lives are gifts, and gifts we didn't earn, gifts freely given by God. Likewise, we continue in the Lord's prayer, “forGIVE us our trespasses, as we forGIVE those who trespass against us.” Did you hear the “give” there? Forgiveness is always a gift – you can't earn forgiveness, if you've “earned” it's not forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that is given, freely. That's just part and parcel of the word. And Christ would have us see and learn that everything in our life is to be centered around the blessings He gives, the blessings of body and soul. Your stuff is gift, your sins are forgiven and you are gifted Christ's own righteousness – and likewise you give these gifts to your neighbor.

Everything centers around God's gifts. Will the day often be hard and harsh – filled with scorching heat? Sure – but you face those days not in doubt, not in fear as to whether or not God likes you, or if He is punishing you, or whether you've done enough to earn His love – nor with looking at your neighbor and grumbling about how easy he has it. No – you face this heat knowing that you've been drenched in the cooling waters of baptism, knowing that you are joined to Christ – that you are bound to Him for life everlasting, no matter what hardships come your way. You know where you daily bread is coming from – indeed Christ gives you the Bread of Eternal Life itself in His Supper. It's all gift to you – and when we see things this way, when His Word silences our sinful flesh, we then see the wondrous love that He freely gives to us. The Master calls us into His kingdom, not because of what we do for Him, but simply because He delights in giving good things to us. It really is all about His grace, not our works. And that is a thing of joy. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – February 4th and 5th, 2017 -

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We can be so busy. It seems as though we always have something to do, somewhere to go, full calendars, schedules packed. In fact, it seems as though work dominates our life, our identity. When you meet someone, you generally get asked, “So, what do you do?” We define ourselves by our action. Now, this isn’t a completely bad thing – work is good, being productive is good. As Christians we are called to show love to our neighbor, and that means doing things for our neighbor. We have been given the various vocations in our life by God – so indeed, going and working is a good thing… but what we must remember is that it is not the only thing, or even the most important thing. Our life, our existence, when it boils down to it, isn’t defined by our work, by what we do. We are defined by Christ Jesus and what He does, by the fact that we have been Baptized into His Name and redeemed by His Blood shed upon the Cross. What truly shapes you and me is the fact that we are those who have received salvation from Christ through the gift of faith which He gave and worked in us through His Word.

We can forget this. And when I say “we”, I’m not talking about the crass person who basically stops believing or even just stops going to church . No, I am referring to us here today – we who would be diligent and sincere Christians, who would be faithful – we can let our desire for busyness overshadow the simple reception of God’s gifts that truly shapes and defines our lives and faith. We get an example of this trap in our Gospel lesson. “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” This is what we call the transfiguration – where the figure, the appearance of Christ Jesus is transformed – where the Light of the World begins to shine forth with His own light. What this is, dear friends, is a picture of the life of the world to come. What are things going to be like for eternity? Well, Christ Jesus, shining forth perfection from His own Body, and the people of God gathered around Him and His Word. We see a picture of salvation, of eternal life – this is Jesus revealing Himself as God almighty, perfect and holy – the Savior whom Moses and Elijah and all the patriarchs and prophets foretold, the God whom they worship. Really awesome and profound stuff.

And Peter understands that this is a wondrous thing – “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Great observation – it is good, it is a wondrous thing – to see the glory of the Lord be revealed – this is what every pious Jew in the world had been waiting to see. Peter’s words here even inspire hymns – Tis good Lord to be here – great hymn! But, there is a problem. Peter doesn’t just stop there, Peter isn’t content simply to be there, to behold Christ in His glory, to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah chatting back and forth. Nope, like so many of us, Peter starts worrying about getting to work. “If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter doesn’t want to just sit and listen, Peter wants to get to work. And what Peter suggests is very reasonable – they were around Sukkoth – the festival of booths where the Children of Israel would basically go camp out in order to remember their time in the wilderness – so Peter asks a very reasonable thing – shall I fix up a couple of tents so Moses and Elijah can observe this festival with us? There’s only one problem – by offering to work, by wanting to snap to it and get to work, what would Peter miss? Oh, yeah Jesus, You are shining forth in glory, and Moses and Elijah are there with you… um, how about I go over there and pitch a few tents. Jesus, Moses, Elijah… I could listen to their conversation… nah, I’ll go get some work done. When Christ Jesus is talking, when Moses and the Prophets are there speaking to and about Christ, that’s not the time to go get the chores done!

But the point here is not that Peter is lousy, but we are so much better. We’re just as bad. Here we are, gathered together in Trinity, gathered around the Word of God, we heard from Exodus, written by Moses, we heard the Spirit Inspired words of Peter recorded for us in His epistle, we heard the Gospel of Christ Jesus – yet I’m willing to bet that every one of us has had our thoughts drift off this morning onto worrying about getting something or other done. And this isn’t Pastor Brown picking on you either, I’ll catch myself at least a dozen times a service worrying about what comes next, do I have this or that set up; I’ll let you in on a secret – when I mess up what I’m supposed to say or read, it’s normally because I’m worried about something else to come in the service. We can get so focused on doing stuff that simply coming here, being here, simply hearing the Word of God can be so hard for us. Americans are a hyper-active people, we value hard work, that is what we train ourselves to do… and sadly, we don’t really train ourselves to be simple hearers of the Word, not as much.

Well, Peter doesn’t get to build his tents. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” The Father cuts Peter off. It’s not about putting up a tent, Peter. It’s not about what you are going to do for Jesus – it’s about Jesus and what He does for you. Jesus is the One who pleases the Father by living the perfect life, by going to the Cross, by wining salvation for all mankind. Likewise, dear friends, whenever we want the focus in Church to shift on to what we do, how wonderful we are – we need to pause and listen to Christ, listen to His Word, hear what He has to say to us.

Now, hearing the voice of the Father utterly freaks out the disciples. “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” And you would be too. Why? Because as much as we like to hide behind our works, as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are good people and focus on all the nice things we do… not all of our works are good. In fact, when it boils down to it, none of them are, not really. All are tainted with sin. We are sinners through and through, and everything, even the nicest, most wonderful thing you’ve ever done – tainted with sin. Not one of us is perfect, not one of us is righteous – Peter, James, and John know that. And there is the voice of the Father, there is the presence of God Almighty – and sinners in the presence of God die. Get blotted out. Bad things. And so they hit the deck – and you know what, if the voice of the Father suddenly thundered forth in here, we all would be hitting the deck too. Sinners do not stand brashly in the presence of God almighty.

We do not stand, but there is One who stands for us. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” Beautiful, absolutely beautiful and profound. Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the One whom pleases the Father comes to you, and He touches you, He joins Himself to you in the Waters of Baptism, gives Himself to You in His Holy Supper and says to you, “Rise, have no fear.” This is forgiveness talk. This is last day, the trumpet of God sounding forth and the Lord calling us forth from our graves saying, “Rise, have no fear” sort of talk. Of our own strength, we cannot stand before the Father… and so the Father says listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus say, what do we hear our Lord proclaim to us – the same thing we always hear from Him whenever we stop running around like chickens with our heads cut off, worrying about getting this or that done. We hear Christ say, “You are forgiven. I have done it all for you, I have even faced down death, and I have risen. Now, you too rise, you too live, you too have life everlasting that the world and death and sin cannot take away from you.”

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The Christian life isn’t defined by what you do, by what you give. Do you do things – well, sure, of course, Christ Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, we’re gonna end up bearing good fruit. When its time to work, let us strive to work well. But that’s not the heart, that’s not the center, that’s not what defines you as a Christian. Rather this – Christ Jesus comes to you through His Word, physically touches you in Baptism, in His Supper, calls you away from sin, away from vain delight in your own action, and fixes your eyes upon Himself, so that you might pause, that you might be still and know the Lord, Christ Jesus; that you might know and see that because of Him your sin is forgiven, that because of Him Hell and death are overthrown and have no more hold upon you, that because of Him and His righteousness you are rescued from Satan. This is what He does to you in your life through His Word, this is what He makes you to see and understand and remember once again whenever He pulls you away from the troubles and burdens and busyness of the world here in His Church. And here He always speaks to you, for you are His beloved for whom He died and rose again – Your sin is forgiven, rise and have no fear. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Epiphany 4 – January 28th and 29th, 2017 – Matthew 8:23-27

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
“What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?” That is the question that the disciples are left wondering at the end of our Gospel lesson today. They have seen Jesus up and calm a great and mighty storm – and not just anyone can do that. Next snowstorm, I don't get to walk outside and say, “Stop snowing” and have it stop snowing. None of us do. Yet there is Christ Jesus – He rebukes the winds and the seas, and then it's calm. Period. So, what sort of man is this? Now, the simplest and bluntest point to draw from this text is that this Man Jesus is in fact also God. This is the mystery of the Incarnation – that Jesus is both truly and completely man and truly and completely God. And as we look through this text in detail we will see that – both Jesus' humanity and His divinity. But there's more to the disciples' question than that – what sort of man is this, what is this Jesus like? This God-man, Jesus Christ, God incarnate – what is He like? Let's consider our text.

“And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.” Okay? What boat? What's going on? See, our Gospel lesson just sort of starts us off in the middle of the story – and it's actually a continuation from last week's Gospel lesson. If you will recall, last week we see Jesus come down from giving the sermon on the mount, and then He heals a leper, then He heals the servant of the Centurion. It's been a busy day – and Jesus wants to rest. But that doesn't happen. In verse 14 Jesus enters Peter's house... but then He heals Peter's mother-in-law – there's an act of love if ever there is one. But then in verse 16 we hear, “That evening they brought to Him many who were oppressed by demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” Alright, I'm home, time to rest – and then what happens – an evening full of casting out demons and even more healings... it just keeps going and going. So we hear this in verse 18 - “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.” That's it – too much, I need a break, we are going to the other side of the sea of Galilee – and even as He is headed to the boat, people keep hounding Jesus – a scribe asks Him questions, another disciple pesters Him until finally He jumps in the boat and they shove off and finally, finally Jesus can get some rest.

This explains what happens in the boat. “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.” Jesus had had a long day. He was worn out. Period. All tuckered out. So tired that He sleeps soundly through a storm. My friends, when we see Jesus in our Gospel lessons, remember that He really is a man, a human being, a person. A real one. He's not a superhero, He's not Captain Energy – When He became man, He became man just like us. Have you ever gotten tired and worn out – well, so did Jesus. Have you ever been hungry, thirsty, all those sorts of things? Ditto Jesus. When He becomes Man, Jesus takes on all the weaknesses and frailties that we deal with in this sinful world. And so Jesus is just worn out.

And a storm comes up. Now, remember, many of the disciples were fishermen. They were old hands at being on the sea – and here's the thing about sailing at night. You can't really watch the weather very well. Sailors watched the clouds – red sky at night, sailor's delight, red sky in the morning sailor take warning. The clouds give a clue to the weather – but they got into the boat when it was already evening... so the disciples are sailing blind, and a storm whips up – and it would have been one they hadn't seen coming. This was why you didn't cross the sea in the middle of the night normally, but there they are and they are out there in the middle of the Sea of Galillee, and then we hear: “And they went and woke Him saying, 'Save us, Lord; we are perishing.'”

This is a bad storm. You can tell it's bad because even the old sailors are panicking. This isn't “we might just get wet” - this is the captain running around shouting “We're going down.” And so they run to Jesus; tired Jesus, Jesus so worn out that He's sleeping through a killer storm and rain and wind and waves. And they rustle Him awake, and Jesus looks at them and asks, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. Now, this is really interesting. Jesus is a bit curt with folks here. The word there is not the typical word for fear – phobos or phobia. It's a different word that really sort of means cowardly. And “o you of little faith” is just one word in Greek – it's quick and to the point. And then He rebukes the winds – He chews out the weather. So basically, this is more like Jesus saying, “Oh, you cowardly little... shut it, wind!” And it stops. And I'd presume Jesus goes back to bed... because He's tired. And the disciples are left there wondering just what sort of man this Jesus is if He can turn a raging storm into a calm like that, with just a word.

We can view this text in terms of Jesus' power. Our God is a mighty God. He stills the seas with a word. All those Romans around who go on and on about the might of Neptune – yeah, with a Word Jesus puts the seas back into their place. If it's a contest of might, a battle of power – Jesus is true God – no one stands a chance against Him. And there's the sticky wicket, isn't it? Against Jesus. I mean, let's face it – if we ticked off Jesus, we wouldn't stand a chance against Him, would we? And there are the disciples pondering this great power – man we better not get on His bad side.

Yet, what sort of man is Jesus? Do we marvel at the power He exercises? Yes, but perhaps we should marvel at this as well – there is Christ Jesus, God Almighty, the Word of God by Whom all things were made... worn out. Worn out not from a day of parties and fun, not worn out from enjoying a life of luxury, but worn out from showing love to underserving people like you and I. Worn out from from preaching then healing then casting out demons and healing and teaching and on and on. Do you see – it's not just that Jesus is the Almighty that should make us marvel – it's that Jesus is the One who wears Himself out for our sake.

You realize that is the heart of the Christian faith. Not just that Jesus is God – but rather that God becomes man for our sake and wears Himself out in love and service to us – literally, He goes to the cross and He dies for us. If you die on a cross, you basically die of exhaustion – you are too tired and worn out to support yourself enough to breathe. You are ex-hausted – out of haust, out of air. The wonders of Christ Jesus aren't just His power, His glory, things that we like, things that we think we can twist to our advantage and ride out to our temporal benefit. The true wonder is that He gives and gives of Himself until everything is given, even giving up His life - “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit.” That's how Matthew describes our Lord's death. And this is all for you, for your good.

Jesus is determined to show love. In His earthly ministry He is often worn out and tired, often He has to flee to get rest because He pushes Himself beyond the point of human frailty. And He does so to make sure that you have forgiveness and life and salvation. And He gets it – Jesus understands what it is like to be worn out, to be weary – He knows what a bad day looks like, He knows what a crazy busy day looks like. He gets it. And He gets through them – and unlike us, who fall into sin, He does so sinlessly, perfectly. And He just keeps on showing love over and over and over. That's the type, that's the sort of God that you have. That is something worthy of marveling over.

But, all too often we don't leave it there – we try to turn moments like this into “Jesus did it and you can too” - which is silly. We try to use Jesus as motivation or lay a guilt trip. “Jesus gave until it hurt – so open up your wallets!” I mean – I could do that – at the last Voters' meeting we decided we are going to try to get a Vicar for this Fall, and that will cost more money so we could use some more... but that's not the point of the text. This isn't about trying to twist your arms or squeeze your wallets or whatever. Besides, you and I aren't Jesus – it's not about what we do. Rather, ponder this. When Jesus rebukes the storm, there is a great calm. So let's leave it at that calm – let's leave things not with a great rush to what we should or ought to do, and instead look at Jesus in the calm.

Did you see what happened? Jesus rises from His rough day, and He saves the folks of little faith, and then there is calm. That's the point, that's the lesson. That's who Jesus is – Jesus is the sort of man who will rise from the dead on the third day and show up to fearful disciples and proclaim peace. He's the sort who will say “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me” - but then not make demands upon us, not drive us to busy work – rather “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Not a burden – go on, baptize people. Wash away their sins. Go on, preach the Gospel, proclaim the kingdom of God, tell people they are forgiven – have the Lord's Supper – because I am with you always, even to the end of the age. There is nothing you need fear, there is no reason for any cowardliness – I'm with you still, and you are saved – you are forgiven, you are brought into My Kingdom – and you can rest securely, you can sleep like babies – well, the hypothetical babies that actually sleep and rest well. Why? Because Jesus, True God and True Man has everything well in hand, and He has it in hand for you. Be still and know that He is the Lord, and that He is your Savior. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World+

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Epiphany 3 Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 21st and 22nd, 2017 – Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
So, who do you fear, and who do you hate? Yes, yes, I know, we aren't suppose to fear or hate anyone, labeling people is bad, prejudice is bad, yaddy yaddy ya. So, who do you fear, and who do you hate? Who are the people that you can think about and get a bit worried, a bit nervous? Who are the people you look at and have nothing but disdain for them, don't want to end up like them at all? We all have them – and don't try blowing smoke up my alb about how you don't; I deal with sin for a living. We shouldn't, but we do. Well, if you were a Jew living in Jesus' day, there'd be a fairly standard list. Samaritans, Romans, Tax Collectors, other Roman sympathizers, and Lepers (oh, they'd give you the willies). Well, we get to check off two off of that list in today's Gospel lesson. As we go through this text, I want you to appreciate just the utter disdain and fear and the crowd following Jesus would have felt at this leper and this Centurion – have that in the back of your mind as we look at Christ Jesus and see what sort of God He reveals Himself to be.

“When He came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, 'Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.'” Now, this is immediately following the sermon on the Mount – this is a big crowd following Jesus... and then, someone elbows his way through. A Leper. Now, understand what the crowd would see. A Leper was to be banished, sent away from society, away from people, because leprosy was contagious. One leper could infect dozens, hundred, an entire town if he stayed in their midst. And what just happened – a leper came pushing through the crowd up to Jesus. Is he trying to kill us all? This is not a nice polite Leper – this one isn't like the ten lepers who cry out to Jesus from a distance. Do you get what the crowd would see? It would be like someone with Hepatitis with bleeding, open sores running around and flinging blood everywhere – it would be like the toddler coughing gunk right into you face (not that I know anything about that). There'd be horror and revulsion and fear.

That's not what Jesus sees though. Jesus hears this fellow, and this leper's words are great. He doesn't ask Jesus to heal him, he doesn't beg. The leper simply says, “If You will, You can make me clean.” If You want to Jesus, You are totally able to heal me. You don't have to, You don't owe it to me, I'm not even going to beg – I'm just going to put the ball in Your. If you want to heal me, Jesus, You'll heal me. If you want to send me away and use me as an object lesson, an object of disgust and disdain, a warning to others – so be it. But You are the Messiah, and if You will it, if You want to, You can heal me. Do you hear the great confession of faith there? And then Jesus does the unthinkable. And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” Jesus touches the guy! If you feared leprosy the way they did in the first century, your skin would be crawling up your back right now – but Jesus touches Him, and says, Yes, I do will this, I do want you to be clean. And Jesus speaks the word, and the guy is clean. How's that for a healing – Jesus just going boldly touching the worst, the most fearful, and then it's gone, then it's clean, then it's healed. It is astonishing.

Of course, then Jesus tells the guy not to go brag about what Jesus has done – Jesus likes to preach and teach about spiritual things, and if everyone and their brother wants healing He won't be able to do that. Just be quiet, go show yourself to the priests, offer up the lawful sacrifice and then get back to your life. I have willed that you be healed – not so that I get a new flattery crowd, but I have healed you for your benefit so that you can go back to your own life, to your own family and friends and enjoy them. God gave these gifts to you; you're healed now – go enjoy God's gifts again.

So – fair enough – preached the Sermon on the Mount, healed a leper, that's a full day's work for anybody, so Jesus heads on back to Capernaum where He was staying, and we hear this. “When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, appealing to Him, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.'” So, what would the crowd see? Ugh, a Centurion. A commander of a troop of 80 Roman soldiers. The major Roman thug and enforcer for Capernaum. This is Roman villain number 1 for the town. Moreover, his “servant” is ill. The word there is the word for a child slave. Probably bought off of the auction block – poor thing, it'd be better to be dead than to be a “servant” to a Roman dog. Fear, revulsion, oppression. These are all the things that would come swirling up in the crowd.

That's not what Jesus sees though. This Centurion has come up, and once again, there's no request – just a statement. Here's the situation, Jesus – I'm not going to tell You how You should handle it, I'll just put the ball in Your court. So Jesus says, “I will come and heal him.” What does Jesus see – someone who needs healing. So He's going to do some healing – but then the Centurion jumps back in. But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it.” Oh, this Centurion! There is a reason why Jesus marvels at him! First of all – there is humility there, he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his house. But more than that – there is concern for Jesus. Good, pious Jews don't enter a gentile's house – remember, on Good Friday Pilate has to come out to talk to the Chief Priests because they wouldn't defile themselves by entering Pilate's house. No, Jesus – don't come into my house, You'll just tick off all these folks in the crowd. And then the great part – besides, You don't need to come. I know how authority, I know how power works. I speak to my servants, and they hop to it. Well, You are the Lord – simply speak the Word, and there will be healing. The Centurion gets it! And Jesus gushes, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such a faith!” And then with joy, Jesus demonstrates His authority. You speak to your servants and they act, do they Centurion? Well, listen then to Me, and I will use My authority! And to the Centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” Oh, folks, this is beautiful. Jesus tells the Centurion to head back, and then he says, “let it be.” Now, can you think of other times when God says “Let it be” or as we often put it in English, “Let there be”? It's creation – in fact, the word “let it be done” in Greek is Genetheto – Genesis-ized. This is Christ Jesus, the Word of God by whom all things were made speaking a Word of creation, and there is healing. This is awesome.

So, what do we make of this text? It's frustrating for me as a Pastor, because so often people will simply turn this into a social justice text – see all the people you hate and oppress – you shouldn't hate and oppress them. Stop that. But then, all too often the preacher will give you a new villain that you really ought to fight. Liberals and Conservatives both do it, just with different new villains to focus on – defend the poor from the 1 percent, defend the workers from the illegal immigrants, defend the women from the patriarchy, defend your family from liberal social policy – blah blah blah. This text becomes a political bait and switch – don't hate this person – hate the people I want you to hate. Not the point.

Consider whom Jesus deals with here. A Leper and a Centurion. The feared and the hated. The disgusting and the reviled. The scum of the land and the oppressor of the nation. And yet, immediately, without hesitation, without worrying what people might think – Jesus shows love to them. Now, of course, this is to be instructional to us – yes, you are to show love to your neighbor, even if you don't like them. Even if you fear them. Even if they are nasty and mean and tools of oppression. Love your neighbor. But it's more than just what you should do. This text is an epiphany text, it reveals to us who Jesus Christ is. You want to know what sort of God this Jesus of Nazareth is? The people that you hate, that you despise, that you fear, even though you know you shouldn't – those very same people Jesus loves and cares for. Those are the people for whom Jesus dies and rises to win forgiveness and salvation. Those are the people to whom Christ would have His Gospel preached.

This is an awesome and wondrous thing – it is heavy, it is a lot to contemplate. But this isn't just a Gospel text about prejudice and how you need to fight against that. Yeah, you hate and fear other people – that happens. But my friends, there is a wonder in this text, because there are times, there will be days when the person that you hate is you yourself. There will be days when the person you fear is you yourself. There will be days when the guilt will come, and you will see yourself with disgust and disdain and you will be utterly sick of yourself. There will be days when you hate what has happened in your life, what you've become, what you've lost. And Satan will cackle was those walls come crashing in around you, and you will see yourself and you will see nothing but shame. But that's not what Jesus sees, though. What sort of God do you have? A God who knows that He can make you clean, and He wills it to be so, and He in fact, he has taken water and His Word and said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Even on your worst day, that Word of Christ says – I will, be clean, you are baptized. What sort of God do you have? He will come and heal you – when faced with sin and death, He will come to you with His own Body and Blood and say take, eat, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin. What sort of God do you have? One that will tell you “Go, for you will live. Even if you die, so what? I am risen, and so you too will rise, and all this dross that messes with you will be gone. Go – let it be.”

This is our God, Christ Jesus our Lord, Christ the Crucified who takes away the sins of the world, even the sins of the bad people... even our sins. And you belong to Him, and you are forgiven by Him, and even when the world looks at you with disdain – even when you yourself look at yourself with disdain – His steadfast love and mercy for you endures forever. His light will always shine upon you, even unto life everlasting. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +

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.