Saturday, January 20, 2018

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – January 20th and 21st, 2018 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we reach the pinnacle, the peak of Epiphany, there on the mount of Transfiguration. We talk about Jesus revealing His Glory – it shines forth today. We speak of Christ being the Light of the World; He glows today. We are at a hinge in the Church Year – after this we will begin our travels towards Lent and then to Calvary, and so the Transfiguration works as a time to focus us, to set us, to fix our eyes upon Jesus so we know what it is that we will be seeing in the weeks to come. Let’s consider the text.

“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” First of all, we have the note that this is happening “after six days” – well, what happened six days earlier? In chapter 16 you have Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And after that Jesus that He is, and that He has come to be killed but raised on the third day. And of course, Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” And then Christ tells His disciples that whoever would follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross. So what we had just seen in the Gospel was an episode where it was shown that Christ has come to suffer and die for sinful man, sinful man who continually thinks he knows better than God. Peter says “Oh, you are God” and then turns around and starts telling Jesus not to do things. That is what happened six days before. We are going to be talking about God and His efforts, His struggles against sin.

However, there is more going on in this simple sentence – but to get it, we need to think in terms of the Old Testament. If I say “sixth day” to you, and you are thinking about the Old Testament, that’s the creation of man. The idea of the sixth day always focuses on man’s creation, man’s fall, and the promise of restoration. Moreover, we see them go up on a Mountain. For a moment, just think about how many Mountains from the Scriptures you know – Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Ararat. Even the word “Armageddon” is just a way of saying “Har Meggido” – or Mount Meddigo in Aramaic. God does things on mountains. God gives Moses the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. When God talks to a despondent Elijah, it is on a mountain. And because of this, the next verses really shouldn’t be any surprise.

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.” And there, Christ Jesus is transfigured – there you could say that He drops His guard a bit, and His innate, divine glory shines forth and through Him – He glows – the grime and dust from His clothes are overpowered with the radiance of His glory – it is an awesome thing. And not only that - Moses and Elijah are there – the two top preachers, the two top prophets of the Old Testament are there. It is hard to explain just how fine, how sharp a point this event is – everything in the Old Testament is funneling right to here and this moment, all coalescing and coming together. It is as if every bit of the Scriptures is there just ready to burst forth in fulfillment, and what happens? And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” There, at the culmination of everything - Peter starts talking. Peter offers to start working. Now, what he offers is very kind – it was probably around the festival of booths, the holiday when the Children of Israel would basically camp out for a few days to remember the sojourn in the wilderness. And there’s Peter saying, “I’ll go set up the tents for everyone, if they want to stay.” It’s a fine, nice thing – but think about the timing. There is Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah – and He’s brought you along, He’s invited you to listen in, and what do you do? You interrupt and offer to go off and do something else. The text had said, “Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” – and then there’s Peter, offering to do anything but beholding. It would be like one of you standing up right now and saying, “Um, Pastor, you like coffee, let me go make you a fresh pot of coffee” right in the middle of the sermon. Nice sentiment, but terrible timing.

This sort of provides an example of a problem that we ourselves face – the pressure to always be busy, be about doing something. What we forget is that God knows that we are busy, that we have plenty on our plates – and so in His wisdom He has called us to time of rest, times to hear His Word. Human beings have always been ready to run themselves back into the dust from whence God made us. He had to tell the children of Israel, “Take a day off and rest and hear My Word, it’s good for you.” Peter here shows the same thing – instead of being ready to hear and listen, he’s ready to be working. Same thing with Mary and Martha. And thus so often with us Christians. This is not to say that we aren’t to be about striving after good works and loving our neighbor – but what defines you, what makes you a Christian? Not your works, but receiving Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, hearing His Word. It’s Christ Jesus coming to you that gives and grows faith, that makes you who you are in Him. And lest you think I’m just pontificating, “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.” Even before Peter is done presenting his plan, the Father’s voice cuts him off and says, “Look at Jesus, listen to Him!” Peter, you were brought up on the mountain not to do, but to behold, to listen, to hear and to learn.

Likewise, dear friends, even as we go about doing many things, here in our congregation, in our homes, in our communities, at school, at our jobs – even as we go about all these things, we are summoned by God to His house, so that we might hear Christ Jesus. And in actuality, as the weeks roll by into Lent and towards Easter, what we will be going on here is nothing but what the Father has instructed – listening to Jesus. We will behold His actions, we will hear His teaching, we will see Him do what He came down from heaven to do – to take on Satan and sin and death and defeat them for us.

We need Jesus. We need His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection, His sacrifice. That truth is demonstrated in our Gospel as well – “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” When the Father speaks, the disciples hit the dirt. Again, this is something we can skip by, we can forget. We cannot stand on our own before God – we cannot saunter up to God and say, “Here I am, look at all the wonderful things I have done, I have served you so well – now give me stuff.” It doesn’t work that way – we are sinful, and sinners who stand by themselves on their own merits before God, sinners who try to invent their own brand of holiness, sinners who try to do religious stuff on their own terms – they die. And as for Peter – Peter at that moment probably thinks that he is going to die. He had just interrupted a Divine Service, and if you did that – you died. We, of ourselves are not holy and righteous, all our works amount to nothing, and if left to our own there would be nothing for us but to be terrified of God.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The only way to stand before the Father is to be bound, is to be tied to His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. See what happens in the text – James doesn’t poke up his head to see if the coast is clear, John doesn’t just pop and say, “Well, thank goodness that’s over with.” They are terrified, they know the impact, the consequence of their sin, and they are scared out of their mind. Before they do anything – Christ comes to them, He touches them, He lifts them up, and they see only Him. Those verses right there are a depiction of your life as a Christian. You were lost in sin, condemned to nothing but eternal damnation – and then Christ Jesus came to you and He touched you. And I don’t mean this in just some figurative “oh, how touching” sort of sense. Jesus walked up to those disciples, and True God become True Man physically touched them – a real incarnate Lord comes to the disciples. Likewise, that same Incarnate Lord has come to you and He has touched you. He has touched you by water and the Word – He touched you as the waters of Holy Baptism were poured upon your head, He said to you, “You are baptized, your sin is forgiven, and indeed, you are now bound to Me, now part of My Body, part of My Church.” He comes to you physically in the Supper – He places His own Body, His own Blood upon your tongue – and why? So that He can say to you, “Rise, and have no fear.” That’s a word of forgiveness – that’s “go now, depart in peace.” That’s let us go forth in the peace of the Lord. His Word continues to be spoken to you, heard by you, even now, even this day.

Everything in our lives, our existence as Christians, is centered in and flows from Christ – for He Himself comes to us, gives us His Holiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His life – and when we are in Him, when we receive Him, we are strengthened, we are renewed, we are prepared to endure all the trials and temptations of this world, for He has already fought them down, He has already crushed Satan under foot, and in Him, we have the victory. And it is important for us to always behold this, to always see Christ, to always hear what He has done for us – because Satan does desire our fall, the old serpent desires us to fall away. Let us fix our eyes upon Christ – let us give heed to what He has done for us, let our focus be upon Him, let us rest securely in Him – because that is when we are able to rise and go through those doors in peace, in trust, in confidence in Christ, knowing that He is the Righteous One, the Lamb of God come down to earth to win us salvation and redemption. We will hear His victory proclaimed anew in these months to come, and we will be strengthened by Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Epiphany 2 Sermon

Epiphany 2 – January 13th and 14th, 2017 – John 2:1-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
During His earthly ministry, Christ Jesus our Lord does many great and wonderful miracles. He heals the sick, He makes the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He casts out demons. He even, on occasion, raises the dead. And here we are in today’s Gospel – the Wedding at Cana, our Lord’s first miracle! What mighty wonder will He do – will it be something wild and wondrous – will Jesus start things off with a bang – a mighty healing maybe? And then we hear what He does. He changes water to wine. Is that it? Really? For the first miracle – just making wine? We can almost be dismissive of this miracle – it doesn’t seem as lofty or as noble as the other miracles to us today. In fact for some of my Baptist cousins this miracle is a down right embarrassment. “Jesus making more wine, how scandalous! It must have just been grape juice and not wine.” Dear friends, there are many good reasons why John records this first miracle for us – and that is what we are going to look at today – the importance of this miracle and what it reveals to us about Christ.

We know the story, but let’s review. Jesus and His disciples are at a wedding – and it’s probably the wedding of one of Jesus’ relative. We can say that because Mary seems to be in the know – she knows when the party has run out of wine very quickly – a fact that only people helping with the party would know. And Mary wants Jesus to act – and eventually Jesus does – but only in a quiet way. He tells the servants to fill some jars with water and then take them to the master of the feast – and lo and behold, the water has become wine. There’s not a lot of fan fair, Jesus doesn’t boast to the crowds about this – in fact, really only the servants and also His disciples, who would have been following Him around, know what He has done. And the master of the feast is confused – for this wine is good wine – tasty and strong – the stuff you start off the feast with. This is the miracle at the wedding in Cana.

So, why? Why this miracle, why this way? Let’s start at the end, because there John explains what this miracle is. This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. The key phrase for the moment is that Jesus manifested, made present and revealed, His glory. Whereas we might diminish this miracle, where as we today might not think much of it – John says that this one manifested Christ’s glory. John can say this because John knew the Old Testament much better than we do. Think on our Old Testament lesson – Amos 9. “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen” – one day in the future the Son of David shall come. For years Israel will be without her king – but the Messiah will come. And what will it be like when the Messiah comes? “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” This is actually a common way in the Old Testament of describing what things will be like when the Messiah comes. When the Messiah comes, things will be right again – and even the earth will overflow in its bounty. There will be so much wheat that we won’t have time to harvest it all before we have to plant again, there will be so many grapes that people won’t even have time to plant new vines. And there will be wine enough for everyone – because when the Messiah comes that will be a glorious time and the party and the celebration will not stop. We will not run out, we will not lack.

And so, the disciples see Jesus, this Teacher they’ve been following, the One they’ve heard is the Messiah. And what do they see? Here He is, at a party. And it’s an earthly party. Things are running out. The poor couple couldn’t provide enough for their guests – it would be just another reminder of poverty, of things in this world not working rightly. But, Jesus is there. And very quietly, what happens? Suddenly, there is no lack – and in this little town in the hill country of Galilee there is an overabundance of sweet wine, wine beyond comprehension. Whereas we today might shrug off this miracle – for the disciples nothing could be more wondrous. Prophets might heal, prophets might cast out demons – a prophet like Elijah might even raise the dead. But the Messiah is the One who brings about the over abundance of goodness. We acknowledge that it is God who makes the rain to fall and the crops to grow – and the disciples see that this Jesus is the One who does that – that He is the God who provides. And it is wondrous, it manifests, it reveals His glory completely clearly – it is a uniquely God-like thing that Christ does.

And this miracle also shows us quite a bit about how Jesus will operate, what kind of God He is, what kind of Savior He will be. First, this miracle shows us that Christ Jesus our Lord is full of Goodness. Sometimes we can have this image of Jesus as a stern, disapproving fellow – an angry judge just waiting to smack you down, scouring your life to find the slightest flaw and then lambaste you for it. Of all Christians, we as Lutherans should know that this is not how Jesus wants to operate. One of the things which spurred on the Reformation was Luther’s reaction to constantly being told that Jesus was an angry judge, a Divine Bogey-man who was going to come back and smite him. But look at the wedding in Cana. What is our Lord doing? Simply serving others – simply seeking to see that happiness and joy and laughter and celebration continue on. God does not want you miserable – He doesn’t want you to sin – but our God has created us with bodies that can enjoy many good things, and enjoy them rightly. Now, as sinners we end up abusing these delights - but part of what Christ does in conquering sin is restoring to us right use of these blessings. Jesus is full of goodness – and He wants your life, your existence to be good and full of joy and happiness where you delight in His blessings. He is the God who made all things good – and He will restore them and make them good again. The heavenly party, the eternal celebration will never lack any good thing, and we will enjoy it in all goodness with Christ.

Now, this is instructive for us. When we look at our lives, we should strive to enjoy the blessings that God has given us without abusing them and falling into sin. There is a balance, and falling off on either side is bad. We here know that falling into gross sin is bad. You don’t need me wagging a finger to know that you shouldn’t go out and have affairs or rob people or lie or gossip. That’s how we normally tend to think of sin – the big, naughty things. However, we ought to remember that the joys and blessings in our lives are gifts from God to us – specifically for us to rightly use and enjoy. When we become dour, when we refuse to let joy into our lives, when we refuse to acknowledge the blessings God gives us – that’s sin just as much. That’s going against what God desires. God does not bless you so you can be miserly and miserable. So, consider the blessings that Christ has given you in this life, both great and small, and then with thanks and rejoicing use them with a good conscience and a clean heart. God provides goodness for you.

A second thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus is content to act rather than self-promote. Jesus sees what needs to be done – more wine is needed. Simple fact, they need more wine – and Jesus quietly, without a lot of flash, without drawing attention to Himself – provides more wine. Simple. Jesus isn’t trying to garner praise and attention – rather He has a simple and straightforward desire to serve. Jesus doesn’t tell the bride and groom what He doing – He doesn’t even tell His mother Mary who had asked Him to do something – He simply goes and acts – He serves and then lets His service stand. Christ’s focus is not on seeking His own glory but upon showing love.

Likewise, O Christian, this ought to describe how you act in your own life. As Christians we are called upon to show love, to act, to serve others. Do that. When it is time for you to show love, show your love and don’t spare time worrying about how to gain honor and prestige for yourself. And don’t worry what people think of you. Now, this is easier said than done. All too often when we do something – that little voice inside our head starts wondering about what thanks we will get, or we can think about how nice it will be when people recognize how good we are. This is horribly dangerous to a Christian. Why? Showing love is something that looks outward, looks towards the neighbor. If you are worried about the neighbor’s response towards you, you have stopped caring about the neighbor and rather shifted the focus to yourself. You’ve stopped acting, you’ve stopped doing – and suddenly you are waiting for praise, like a dog with it’s tail wagging and tongue lolling out waiting to be petted. And what’s worse is when we don’t get the thanks we think we deserve – well, see if I help him again. We stop acting, we stop showing love. Avoid worrying what people think or what people will say, avoid worrying what you’ll get out of it. Your Lord calls you to show love – focus your time and effort on thinking of how you can best show that love.

So, why all this focus on service today, on an epiphany day, on a day we are focusing upon Jesus manifesting His glory? There was an interesting note in our text: The master of the feast didn't know where the wine came from, “though the servants who had drawn the water knew.” The servants got it. The servants understood and saw the service that Jesus provided for that feast. The master, the groom – they didn't see it. But the servants did. Likewise, my friends, when you start to see things, to think about things in terms of service, in terms of showing love – well, yes, you will see plenty of places where you could show love better. But more importantly, you will also start to see and notice the ways in which Christ Jesus, the greatest Servant of all, comes to serve you. You will notice the love that He gives you, the worldly blessings He hands to you so that you would be able to hand them to others. We are but stewards of His creation. Everything is His; we simply use it for the good of those He has given us to love. You'll also see and notice more just how rich and deep the forgiveness is that He has won for you upon the Cross – how ready and apt He is to forgive your sins. All very quietly, without much fuss – I forgive you all your sins, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a bit of water giving eternal life and an invitation to the eternal feast. Take and eat, take and drink, for I wish you to be with me for all eternity. Why? Because that's who Jesus is – the great and loving God who wishes joy and celebration to last throughout all eternity – and He provides for you now as you prepare for eternal life, and He forgives you so that you would enter there. He serves you and fills you with His abundance now, even until you are called into the heavenly feast of the Lamb that will have no end. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Name of Jesus Sermon


Dear friends in Christ, greetings to you this very cold first day of 2018. It's not just New Year's Day, but it's also in fact a Church Holiday, the Name of Jesus. This comes from the fact that it was on the 8th Day, one week after His birth, Jesus was circumcised and named. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson, short though it is. And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Today, let us spend some time meditating on the Name of Jesus as the year slowly ends.

There is one thing to notice here that nowadays we don’t think too much about. The 8th day, which is now, is of profound importance in the Old Testament for a child. The 8th day is when everything becomes official. He’s been around a week, but Jesus is only named at His Circumcision. This was the custom of the day in the Old Testament times. The child received his name on the day of his circumcision. As an example of this, when King David has his affair with Bathsheeba, the child dies on the 7th day. That’s why we never get his name. . . he hadn’t been officially named yet. So, therefore, even Jesus isn’t technically named Jesus until the 8th day.

It was the custom for a long, long time in the Christian Church not to name a child until they are Baptized. We see this in the Baptism service. When I baptize a child, I ask, “How is this child to be named?” That wasn’t just a way for absent minded pastors to remember what the kid’s name is supposed to be, but it was the official act of publicly naming the Child. In fact, this is how Martin Luther got his name. The little Luther boy was baptized the day after his birth, which happens to be St. Martin’s Day, so his name is Martin. The first time I said Victor and Ambrose's names to them outside of the womb was when I baptized them. There is an association of Baptism with naming. Evidence of this is that baptism is also called Christening. . . and rightfully so, Christ-in-ing, putting in Christ. In Baptism we are clothed with Christ. But now, when we think of Christening, we think of naming ships for navy, but that idea comes from the idea of giving a name at Baptism. However today, with legal birth certificates done by the state, we don’t wait to name the kid until Baptism. It’s something that has fallen away, no huge deal, though we will make a big deal of it today – the giving of the name is our focus and our cause to rejoice. Today we celebrate the Name Jesus, because it was today that He took that Name upon Himself.

So let us look at the Name Jesus. One of the other things that we have lost in America is the fact that names have meaning. When you named someone, the name signified something. Our names do as well, but, most of our names aren’t from English, so we don’t know what they mean. Eric, for example, is a derivation of powerful from Swedish. Now, I know that because I’ve looked it up, but I don’t hear my name and think powerful. Neither did my parents. . . I got named Eric because my dad really liked Eric Soderholm, who was the 3rd baseman for the Chicago White Sox in 1977. Even with names that have meanings in English, we don’t think of their meaning. We see some named Butch, and it’s just a name, not a description. We see a guy named Dale, and we don’t think of a valley. Chip, we don’t think of something little. Victor? Oh, what has he won? In America, because we pull names from so many languages, we don’t often think of them having meaning. In Jesus day, in the Old Testament, it was different. Names had meanings that said something, that proclaimed something. Names were meant to be little sermons, little confessions of what is true and real. Like Daniel. Daniel means, “God is my Judge.” Dan is Judge, “i” is my, and el is an abbreviation of Elohim, or God. Abram – exalted father – gets his named changed by God to Abraham – father of a multitude. Ab is father – ram is exalted, raham is of a multitude. The names have meaning.

The Name Jesus works the same way. In Hebrew it would be pronounced Yeshua – Ye being short for Jehovah, the LORD, and shua meaning “saves”. The name Jesus, and the name Joshua for that matter, means “The Lord saves.” Is this not wonderful? Everything about Jesus is Gospel, even His very Name itself. To simply say the Name “Jesus” is to confess that God is the Savior, that He is the One who saves. This is the significance of the Name of Jesus. It tells us exactly what is going on here. Why do we have this Jesus running around? Well, because Yeshua, because The LORD Saves.

And how does The LORD Save? We see this in the fact that Jesus was circumcised. So Jesus is circumcised, what’s the big deal? First, in being circumcised, we see Jesus fulfilling the law. In being circumcised, we see Jesus doing all the things that He needs to do to be completely righteous. If you look at all of the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus does everything that is required of Human beings. By being circumcised, Jesus is placed under the Law as all of us are, except with Jesus, there is one major difference. He can and does do the Law perfectly. No sin, no flaw in our Lord, simply perfection in Human flesh. We see Jesus fulfilling the law in our place.

But also, we see something else. I don’t know how many of you have seen a circumcision, but when you think about it, it’s a bloody thing. You are cutting flesh from a rather tender area, and it bleeds. Do you see what else we get in circumcision? Today we celebrate the first time in which our Lord shed His blood for us. It is at His circumcision that the very Blood which is poured out for us on the Cross is first poured out for us. And it is interesting to note that this blood shedding comes under the law. The Law says on the 8th day males are to be circumcised, and so Jesus is. It is because Jesus our Lord submits Himself to the law that He is wounded, that He bleeds. Is this not the same thing we see at the Crucifixion? Christ Jesus, the Lord of Creation, submitting Himself to the punishments of the law, our punishment, which we deserved, in our stead? Even from the beginning of His days on the earth, Christ Jesus takes His place with us and sheds His blood on your behalf, blood that is always given and shed for you for the remission of all of your sins.

Dear friends, the way we end the old and begin the new year in the Church is to look at Christ Jesus our Lord, the Lord Who Saves, and to give praise to Him for the fact that He is the God who becomes Man and suffers for our sake. In the year to come, may you remember richly the forgiveness that Jesus has won for you, may you hear it preached often, may you taste it often in His supper. Indeed, the Lord Saves, and let us give Him thanks and praise for that in all years to come, even until the end of time. Amen.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sermon for 1st Sunday after Christmas

1st Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:22-40 – December 30th and 31st, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Newborn King +

          Finally, the time for purification had come. For 40 days, since Jesus was born, Mary had to stay at home. That was the Law. For the first 40 days after childbirth, women didn’t go out in public – probably a good and safe practice for health, but think of it this way. Mary’s been cooped up. And now you finally get to get out, you bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to make the appropriate offering for Him, which is appropriate as Jesus has come to fulfill the Law. And then, old Simeon comes up, and he grabs little Jesus out of your arms and starts singing – singing a song that we ourselves sing after Communion to this very day. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Lord, I can die a happy man! Of course, think about what the past year has been like for Mary – Gabriel showing up both to you and to you husband – you had an angel tell your husband, “Yes, marry her.” How’s that for a confidence builder? And then there’s the birth, and even the Shepherds showing up and praising God. It’s been a non-stop whirlwind of praise and joy.

           And then this old codger Simeon hands you back your son, and then he blesses you, but then he says something quite strange. “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…” Think about the shock of hearing that. It’s been joy to the world, happy holidays, have a holly jolly Christma… what? Talk about throwing cold water on the parade. This Child is going to cause chaos because of who He is, Mary – and people are going to hate Him. The wicked of the world will rally and fight against Him. And it’s true. Think about Jesus’ crucifixion – you have Herod and Pilate and the Priests all conspiring together – that was something unheard of. The priests hated anyone who was gentile, and Herod and Pilate hated each other until the events of Good Friday – they only became friends afterwards. Christ Jesus ends up being one of if not the most hated person in all of history. Do you doubt me? His very name is a curse, a vulgarity. Even 2000 years later people get killed for following Him – ask the Christians in Muslim countries what it means to follow Christ. He is a sign that is opposed. Wow.

Again, we’re not used to thinking this way, especially not at Christmastime – and I’m guessing poor Mary wasn’t either. Which is why Simeon especially notes that this will impact her – “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also….” Yes, Mary – this hatred that your Son will bear, it will hit home for you as well. It’s going to stab you. How’s that for a change of pace – it’s been joy, joy, joy, oh how great it is that you are the Mother of Christ… then wham. A sword is going to pierce your soul too, Mary. The time is going to come when He won’t be the eager Messiah that you want Him to be. The time is going to come when you will just be embarrassed by Him, when you and His siblings will beg Him to come in from preaching and teaching because He’s embarrassing you – and He will shrug you off. My Mother and My brothers are calling for Me – Who are My Mother and my brothers? These here who hear my teaching are My mother and My brothers. Gut punch. But even that will be topped, Mary. One Friday it will come to a head as this little child, your Son, hangs on a cross. Woman, behold your Son. A sword will pierce through your own soul also.

Why all the pain, why all the angst? “So that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” Christ Jesus comes, and He comes Holy and righteous and perfect and good. And we, we are not. We are sinful, fallen men. When people saw Christ, this was something else that they remembered too. And the question was how do you respond to this – when you see God Himself in flesh showing love perfectly, how do you react? And we know what our sinful flesh wants to do. The sinful flesh wants to tear down and destroy anything good that anyone else has. The sinful flesh feels greed and jealousy and hatred and anger. You know that feeling in your gut when you see someone else who has something better than you? That feeling when the other guy gets the job or has the car and you want to beat him? When you see the other gal who has the looks, the whatever, and you want to get all catty? Nothing gets ratings on the news shows like a good celebrity scandal – we love the rich and famous being taken down a peg. Now imagine what your sinful flesh would want to do when it sees not merely something better than you, but One who is perfect. Anyone who looked at Christ while thinking well and highly of himself, as the old sinful flesh is wont to do, would hate Him, and that hate would boil up to the surface – it’s why He even gets killed. And we see this pattern throughout the Bible. Joseph’s brothers throw him in pit and sell him into slavery. King Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, who is his most loyal and faithful servant. The Pharisees, who prized their own holiness, stone Stephen to death. It’s that same old sinful song and dance with Christ, but even more so – because He isn’t merely better than us; Christ Jesus is perfect.

So why any singing, then, Simeon? So why is there any rejoicing? Here is the nuance, and it comes out from Anna, a very old widow lady. Had her husband 7 years, so probably until she was around 20 – and then widowed for over 6 decades. There’s a woman who knows suffering, knows that this world isn’t all its cracked up to be. And she lived in the temple, fasting and praying, and when Christ comes, she gives thanks to God. And note what she does. Anna speaks “of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.” And there’s the key. There’s the difference. For the folks who were waiting for redemption, for those who knew their own lack, who didn’t think that they were the best of the best, who knew that they were poor lowly sinners in a sinful world, for these folks this Christ Jesus brings joy and gladness, because He brings redemption. God had given Anna the gift of faith, and so she saw her need for a Savior, and then she saw Him, and it was good.

By faith, you have been made to see your own lack. Do you see your sin, do you know it, do you understand that you are a poor, miserable sinner? Then the coming of this Child will be a cause for you to sing, for He comes bringing your salvation. He comes to be righteous for you, He comes to bear your own sin, your own weakness, your own frailty. He comes to die, He comes to rise, all so that you would inherit Eternal Life, that you would spend eternity not in this fallen place, but in a New Heavens and a New Earth, that you would have Eden restored. Life in this world is cold and harsh – but by faith we don’t deny this, we don’t pretend it isn’t this way. Instead, we confess our sin, great as it is, and we look to Christ Jesus who is greater than our sin and triumphs over it. We do not love this world, but we look to Christ who has overcome this world – we look forward to the life of the world to come.

Listen again to Simeon’s song, the song we too will sing in just a few moments after we have held in our own hands the Body of Christ, given for us. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Lord, I can die, I can die in peace. Death – where is thy sting, O Death? Where is thy victory, O grave? This Christ Child has risen from the tomb, and so even if I die – I will live. Sod off, death! Bite me, grave – you couldn’t keep Christ swallowed down, nor shall you keep me. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people.” God’s salvation is here – and it’s not something hidden, it’s not a secret. I don’t have to spend 25 years teaching you how to operate the hidden divine decoder ring. No, right here, God become Man, who for us men and our salvation. Here He is, here is salvation. And you have made me to see it, God – you have given me the gift of faith, and thus these sinful, dead eyes have seen with joy their Savior, the Lord of Life. There is salvation, there is forgiveness, there is rescue – and there it is – in Christ Jesus, open, proclaimed to all people. Yes, all people, for He is “A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” Even the Gentiles, even stubborn headed Germans, even spoiled Americans millennia later will see this Child and know Him to be their God and Savior; the Holy Spirit will call folks from all nations. And yes, this is the Glory of Israel – not that we Jews were more holy, not that some how not eating pork makes one morally superior (ugh, how’s that for the false pride of the sinful flesh), but that rather look, there is God come as Man, born from the people whom He told He would come. And thus there is salvation for all, thus there is forgiveness and redemption and love. And by faith, dear friends, you see it.

By faith, God has called you here. By faith, you have been made to confess your sins, called to struggle against them and to strive to beat them down even daily by faith. By faith you have been brought here to this Temple, where Christ Jesus comes to you today, bringing You forgiveness and life. Yes, He comes to you this day – He comes proclaimed in His Word – Christ Jesus lives, and you are forgiven. He comes in His Supper – taste and know your forgiveness, drink and know your salvation. Yes, this world is scary, yes, being a Christian means seeing your own sin and that is a terrifying and rough thing, but behold Your Savior, Christ Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all your sins, and lives so that you might live with Him both now and forever. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon for Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve - 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
So many stories, so many songs, all driving together towards this one simple and beautiful truth; when mankind was at its worst and in trouble, God came down to help. God comes, and He comes to help, to rescue, to save. When we stupid humans get messed up with sin, when the world goes sideways, when everything is messed up – God Himself comes down to save us.

He didn't have to, or so we think. Adam and Eve hid in the bushes because they were sure, absolutely sure, that God was not coming for them in love, but rather that He was coming to smite, to punish, to destroy. That it would be easier to just scrap the whole thing and just start over – too bad for Adam and Eve, too bad for you and me. That's the way our sinful minds tend to work – add up the costs, subtract the current value – and sorry, total the car, cut your losses, it's just cheaper to tear this all down and build something different from scratch. But that's not the way God thinks, that's not who God is. He is the creator, the very Word by which Adam and Eve were made – and when the LORD comes down and sees Adam and Eve pathetically hiding in the bushes, He actually has pity upon them. And the LORD makes them a promise, even as they shiver in terror. He looks at the old serpent and says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” You don't get to keep them, Satan. The day is going come when I myself will be born, and I will crush you Satan – that is a promise.

And the LORD held to His promise. That's what the entire Old Testament is – God continuing to repeat His promise to His people, even as they run around like tom fools most of the time. God continuing to pour out love even on lousy sinners who just make things worse – but fear not! Your son will live, Abraham, because I myself will be the sacrifice! Fear not the darkness, for I am the light of the world, and I come to free you from sin! Fear not, for even though the kingdom of Israel has dried up, I myself will come to be the King of Kings, and you shall dwell in my house forever, and the old serpent will bother you no more! Through generation after generation – the promise still was proclaimed – and still it was ignored, disdained, brushed aside by so many. So few were grateful, so few were thankful. Most actively fought against it. And again, if the sinful world could have seen, they would have guessed that this indifference would have just caused God to call the whole thing off! Not going to thank me, well, no more presents for you next time! Harrumph! But that's not who the LORD is – God is love, persistent, full, strong, burning love – love that has to show real and true love, love that has to keep His promises because there is no way on earth that He would break His promise to you.

So finally, when the time was right, the LORD sent one of His messengers to a young woman named Mary. And Mary was told, much to her surprise and awe that she would be the mother of the Messiah. That even though no man had yet to touch her, God Himself would be born of her womb. It will be clear, Mary, that this is not just mankind fixing itself, but no, this is God Himself becoming man, the LORD coming down to be with us, to step into the breech against sin for us, to fight for us, to love for us, to obey for us, to die for us, and to rise for us. God with us – Immanuel. The LORD saves – Jesus. That is what this child – true God and true Man - would be.

And you know how the story plays out. We sing beautiful songs about it, pretty Christmas cards have it illustrated, generations of kids acting as Joseph and Mary and Shepherds and Angels. Joy to the world! Joy and Hope and Peace! Yet do we pause to ponder how astonishing that Joy is, that Hope is, that Peace is – or do we take it for granted? “...because there was no place for them in the inn.” Long, weary travels with no good place to rest – that's not typical of joy. “There were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Stuck at the bottom of the social rung, shuffled off to third shift and left there to stay – that's not typical of hope. And telling King Herod that another King has been born – that's not the most peaceful sort of thing either. Confusion and weariness and isolation and hardship – that's what's going on in all these texts – and yet, when we hear them, when we sing them – Joy and Hope and Peace.

Not just because it's a cute story. It's really not. Go ask a farmer how “cute” their barn is right now. Go ask a mom how “cute” child-birth is. Or dealing with a wicked king or oppressive taxes. No, everything that is swirling around in this old familiar story is really sort of lousy – and yet, we are right to look at this story and see joy and peace and hope. Because God has fulfilled His Word and come down to rescue us.

When the Lord sent that angel to Mary, He was thinking of you. He was. Because no matter how messed up or strange or frighting or dull and tiresome things would get here in this world because of sin and sinners, Jesus was determined to save you. To do everything required to win salvation for you, to give this salvation to you. And this will be what we hear the next several months – how this child grew for you. How He was baptized for you, so that your baptism would join you to Him. How He fought off disease and demons for you. How He instituted the Lord's Supper to give Himself to you over and over. How He died for you, how He rose for you. All of this for you, seeing and knowing you, you right here, sitting on a pew here in Herscher, Illinois. The first Christmas happened because Christ Jesus saw you – and yes, saw you even with all your flaws and warts, even the ones you hide from everyone else, even the ones that are hidden from you – the first Christmas happened because Christ Jesus looked upon you with love and was determined to do everything required to win you salvation, to win you eternal life, to see that you would be by His side forever.

And that is why we see this story as joy. It's joy that conquers over the strife and hardship of this world. That is why we see this story as Hope – it is a Hope that is solid and sure because God has said so, and He Himself gets things done. That is why we see this story as peace – a peace that surpasses all human understanding, that goes beyond anything that sinful man could expect. Christ Jesus your Lord comes down from heaven to win you salvation. And we see it again for the first time this Christmas Eve, God in man made manifest, the wonder of the ages that causes angelic armies to sheath their burning swords and instead sing hymns of praise. Behold, my brothers and sisters in Christ – you Lord comes to save you, as He had promised He would. A joyous and blessed Christmas to you all! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11 – December 16th and 17th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Not to spoil the story, but John is going to die there in prison. Our Gospel lesson begins with John the Baptist in prison, in a dungeon, and he's going to die there. Herod will lop of his head; John is not getting out of this one. When we see John this evening/morning, we don't hear the lessons where he is brashly and bluntly preaching repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We don't see him point to Jesus and exclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - although we will sing that today. We don't even get the cantankerous and blunt John telling off Pharisees – you brood of vipers! Who told you to flee the wrath that is to come? John's not out in the wilderness by the Jordan baptizing right now – no, he's down in a dungeon waiting to die. And any dreams he might have had about reforming all of Jerusalem, standing by the Messiah's side as He fixed things, well, those are dying as well.

When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another.” John's disciples, his students, hadn't abandoned him after his arrest, and they would come and visit, bring him updates about the world, and John heard what Christ was doing. But wait, what? Wasn't I supposed to be there? Wasn't I supposed to be part of the Jesus and John tag team? And so, there in that prison, the contrast is stark. And doubts and fears come rolling in. This isn't how it was supposed to be, this didn't go how I thought it would. Was I wrong? Was I wrong to believe, was I wrong to point people to You, is there another Messiah coming, because I'm going to die in here, and I need to know.

And so John's disciples go, and they talk to Jesus, and Jesus responds. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” So the disciples get to take a message to John, and Jesus gives a list of things. The blind see, the lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news preached to them. Now, first things first – this is the laundry list of what the Messiah would do. Giving sight to the blind, the deaf hearing – that is literally textbook Messianic activity. Later on in the year we will have Gospel lessons where Jesus will restore sight or fix some fellow's ears – and chances are the Old Testament lesson for that day will be a prophecy pointing out how the Messiah would do these sorts of things. Same thing with the lepers and the lame being cured – they'll get to enter into the temple and worship, it will be a wonderful thing. And then there are the big miracles – the dead being raised. All things that point to Jesus, that establish His bona fides as the Messiah. Go tell John that you have heard and seen all these things – they ought to identify who I am – oh, but there's one more on that list. The poor have good news preached to them, so blessed is the one who isn't offended by Me.

The poor have good news preached to them. Doesn't that seem a bit... odd for this list? A bit, humdrum? I mean, it's just preaching. Nothing special there – John himself had been a preacher. I mean, we proclaim the word – not just me; you yourselves have told the good news about Jesus to family, friends, your kids, what have you. Doesn't seem that big of a deal. I mean, how many of you are going to run out of here saying, “Wow, did you hear, there was a sermon, I can't believe it!” Now, if I had held my hand up like this and went <> and suddenly all of your hearing aids were to blast out of your ears and your glasses and contacts flew off because you didn't need them anymore, well, that would be something cool to hear and see, right?

Except where is John? He's a poor man stuck in prison, stuck away from out there where Jesus is running around. There's all those miracles and I'm stuck in this prison and there's no miracle coming for me and I am going to die, what about me Jesus, have you forgotten me, Jesus! My life isn't going the way I thought it would, and I was a prophet for crying out loud, I should have seen this coming but I didn't and what does this all mean? It means, John, that even the poor in prison have the good news preached to them. It means that dead are raised, even you John, even after the headsman's ax comes for you. Your eyes will see even after they have been closed in death because of Me. You'll walk again, you'll hear again, you will be clean again, in fact cleaner and purer than you've even been because I will raise you to new and holy and perfect life John. And the fact that you are in that prison cell, that things didn't go the way YOU expected, doesn't change a thing. I knew this was coming, and I came to be your Messiah, your Savior, and I will raise you and you will be at My side for all eternity. All of this is for you John, even as you are there stuck in prison just waiting to die. I came to be your Lord and Savior, and I still am even this day.

And as those disciples head on back to go preach to John in prison, Jesus turns to the crowd that is with Him, and He starts to talk about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” What were you expectations, O crowd – what were you expecting? “A reed shaken by the wind?” Something thin and wispy and weak that just went with the flow? No! “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” What did you go to see – someone rich dandy who was going to make your life all rich and dandy? No. “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.'” No, you went to see a prophet. Someone who would speak the Word of God bluntly and clearly, come what may – oh, and by the by, how do things end up for prophets? Well, they end up in exile, or stoned, or beaten, or dead in kings palaces. And John prepares the way for Me – He preaches ahead of Me, and He gets to die ahead of Me too – but still, all that He preached was true – I am the Messiah, and I will defeat sin and death.

Lots and lots of misguided expectations are addressed in today's text. John's slid off, which is easy enough to understand. And then Jesus plays off of some expectations that we often like to have. A reed shaken by the wind? Well, to be honest, we can sort of like that. We can like people who will just tell us what we want to hear, we can like them to sing our tune. In fact, if we have any clarinet or oboe players in here – how do clarinets and oboes and bassoons work? A reed shaken, vibrating by your breath. And there are times where we will go and listen to people who let us call the tune, who tell us what we want them to tell us. “Confirmation Bias” is the trendy term for that – where we are more apt to listen to the folks who simply tell us what we already think, who agree with how we want things to be. Or there's the fine clothes crowd – you know, rich, powerful, successful. I hate to harp on it again, but aren't prosperity preachers popular? They are for a reason. Wouldn't you like it if I could say, “you will get stuff out the wazoo all throughout 2018”? But here's the thing – Scripture doesn't promise that. And the Scriptures sometimes tell us things about ourselves that we don't like. And sometimes reality sets in, and there are times things in your life will stink on ice. I hope it's not, but maybe 2018 will be a terrible year, where your eyesight or hearing just gets worse. Maybe because of the family drama Christmas will seem like being stuck in prison this year. It happens. Every single one of us in here has hurts and pains, physical, mental, emotional, social – and there are times those pains will flare up – and while I wish I could go “zap” and fix them, I can't. I have been given a job, though, and that is to preach good news to the poor.

This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday. It is the Sunday of refreshment, of rejoicing, of comfort. So then why, do you think, do we have such a dour and dark Gospel lesson? Why do we have John in prison today? Can't we have something a bit more cheery, can't we at least fake it for a hour here? No, because Jesus doesn't give fake comfort to fake sinners – He comes to give real comfort to real sinners who really hurt and are even in really dark places. And I hope your holidays are good, I hope 2018 is fabulous for you, but what I want you to know and remember is whenever things turn south, however disappointing and however painful things might be – be it next year or even 40 years down the line – Jesus doesn't abandon you. He doesn't leave you alone in muck, in whatever prison this world throws you into. He is with you, for you are Baptized and joined to Him. He has not promised that you will never see sorrow or hardship in this life, but He has promised to forgive your sin and raise you to everlasting life – that's what your Baptism is. That's what the Supper is. That is precisely the good news that is preached to you over and over again whenever you see how poor you are. The way you know that God loves you has nothing to do with how rich or successful you are, or whether your dreams are coming true or your plans are working out. Those things, great as they are, all come and go – but what remains constant and steadfast for you? Oh give thanks unto the LORD for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever. You are and remain His baptized and redeemed child. He has forgiven you. And this remains true whether you see good times or bad – for better or worse, in sickeness and in health – He remains faithful to you. He has promised to be your Savior, and so He is. Your life may take strange and bizarre turns that none of us could guess, but not to spoil the story, you end up risen from the dead and living with Christ in joy and bliss forever. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – Luke 21:25-38 – December 9th and 10th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
If you are going to be a Christian, you simply have to accept the fact that you will be strange. You will be weird. You will be different. If one is a Christian, then one will have a fundamentally different way of approaching everything in life as compared to the rest of the world. And that is the background, the underlying truth that will let us understand what our Lord is talking about in our Gospel lesson. Today we hear our Lord in the Temple during Holy Week, warning of the end times. Warning the folks then, warning the world, warning us here today. However, my friends, I would have you remember that you hear this warning, this preaching of Jesus not as the world does, but you hear it as the Baptized. You hear it as those who are joined to Christ Jesus, as those who are forgiven. As such, since you are in Christ, what you hear today is different from what the world hears. Listen.

There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the seas and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Here Christ Jesus describes the world as the end approaches, and He describes a mess. Things will just go utterly sideways. There will be natural disasters and the nations will be freaked out. It will seem as though the earth itself is trying to destroy us. And the leaders, the powers that be, will be helpless and bumbling and threatening each other. Everything will be all caddywampus, nothing will be working right at all. Sounds scary, right? Actually, if we are honest, it sounds typical. We are approaching the end of the year 2017, and so of course there will be all sorts of “year in review” shows that come on. So, what do you think? In those year in review shows will we see stories recounting distress and chaos in the the world this past year, with roaring waves and all sorts of troubles and inept rulers and all that sort of stuff? Of course, just like we did in 2007 or 1997 or pick any year. Because this is the thing – Jesus is not describing anything too bizarre – He is describing situation normal for the fallen world. And while the world will wring its hands and come up with desperate plans or utterly foolhardy denials – you know this for what this is. It is simply sin messing with world.

As a Christian, you know this to be true. You know sin and its impacts for what they are. You know it, you see it in the world. You know it and you see it in yourself. Let us be honest about this, shall we? How often when we see sin and its impacts come crashing down upon our lives do we not let our sinful flesh run a bit wild and panicked? How often can we make stupid plans all full of bragadoccio and ignore reality, how often can we retreat to la-la land in denial, ignoring the decay, the shame, the guilt right in front of us. That is how the world and your sinful flesh think to handle sin and its consequences – to panic, to fear, to try to pretend it away.

But you are not just a sinner. You are not like those in the world left to their own devices, left to try to sort all this out on your own. You are different. You are baptized into Christ Jesus. So, you do know your sin for what it is, but even more wondrously you know Christ Jesus for who He is. And this is what He promises you – that even as the world rages in fear and panic, and even as they mock you, O Christian, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” You know something that the world doesn't. Jesus will return, and He will put an end to sin. And therefore, your reaction, O Christian, in view of Christ, your reaction as a baptized child of God is radically different than the rest of the world. “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Do you see? Do you see how wondrously different you life is because of Christ Jesus? When the world sees wretchedness and a cause to panic, you straighten up, shoulders out, broad and bold and ready to go, because you know what? It's just sin, and Christ Jesus your Lord came once into this world already to deal with sin and death. He dealt with it by going to the cross and crucifying it down. And He will come again and when He does redemption – your redemption, your being set free from sin and its impact – be it sin in this fallen world where nature is a disaster and countries are crazy and people are wicked... or be it your own sin, the stupid and vain and wicked desires of your flesh that keep popping up, the age and decay that are creeping up. When you see these things, straighten up O Baptized. Christ Jesus is coming to rescue you. That's what all this really means – it means that Christ your Lord and Savior is coming to rescue you.

Patriotic Americans should understand this straightening up, this attitude of defiance, more than anyone – it's part of our national anthem. Consider: Generally speaking, if I said, “hey, we're under attack and they are shooting at us,” we'd think that would be bad. But how does our national anthem go? “And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Bring it on Brits – as long as you keep shooting that's just proof that we're not done yet and are going to win. Bring it on, Satan – you and the world and my flesh keep hounding all you want – I am baptized in to Christ Jesus and He has won the victory already, so tthhhpppt. In Christ Jesus you live defiantly – defying Satan, defying the world, even defying your own flesh – because you belong to Christ Jesus your Redeemer, and you stand tall and safe in Him.

So Christian, you're different than the world. You see beyond just the surface, beyond just the here and now. And He told them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourself and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Oh look, it's spring! Well, actually, the summer's about here, it's coming. Not just the surface, but the implications – that's what we see. And so when we see tragedy and trial and hardship and sin, you know what that reminds us of? That the kingdom of God is... did you hear what Jesus did? He didn't say “coming” - he said near. When you look at the world, when you see all this stuff, it's not just that one day, someday down the road, Jesus will return and things will be good then, but until that point... maybe we ought to panic. Nope. Even as you look and see sin in the world, sin in your flesh – you know, O Christian, that the kingdom of God is near – near, right here, right now. That Christ Jesus is not distant, He is not absent from you until the Last Day, but that He is present. He is here in His Word. He is truly and bodily present for you in His Supper to forgive you your sins and to give you life and salvation even over and against sin and death and your flesh. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Everything around you can go to pot – doesn't change the fact that Christ Jesus has died and risen for you. Doesn't change the truth of His Word of forgiveness. Doesn't change the fact that He has claimed you as His own in Baptism. The world can do nothing to you at all. You, when you see all this junk – that's when you repent, confess your own sin, and receive Christ's love and mercy and forgiveness, that is when the Kingdom is near, again and again.

Note that – repent and confess and receive Christ's love again. There is a danger that we should be wary of – not the dangers of earthquakes or super-volcanoes or political strife and war or any of that. That's not fun, but that all ought to drive us to Jesus. Listen to Jesus' warning – But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkeness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. Remember, O Christian, your Baptism! Remember that you are in Christ and therefore different from the world. How does the world handle seeing sin and its impacts? Well – they can dissipate: spread themselves so thin trying to get their best life now that they are too busy for anything. OR they can get blottoed. Or they can spend all their time in fretting and worry. And these are the ways our flesh attacks us – how our flesh tells us to handle our sin – but that is not who you are in Christ. No – as for you – But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. No, as Christians we pray. We pray even as the world mocks prayer. We pray for strength to escape, we pray “deliver us from evil”. You realize that the strength by which you live, by which you will stand before Christ isn't your own strength, but rather it is a strength that is given to you, it is Christ's own strength that is spoken into you in His Forgiveness, that is poured upon you in Baptism. It is the strength that comes from His Supper as He Himself gives you Himself so that you may rise from this rail and go in peace about your life out in the world, not matter how weird or scary Tuesday will end up being. Because you are in Christ.

Do you see? As a child of God you prepare for the end by coming to where Christ Jesus comes near to prepare you, to come to where Jesus Himself has promised to come near to you with forgiveness and mercy and redemption. Jesus came to win you salvation, and He comes here to bring that salvation to you now, to strengthen you and keep you in it all of your days, so that in Him you will endure well beyond anything this world or your flesh throws at you. You're in Christ. And He comes to you today in His word, in His Supper so that you would never forget that He is your Lord and Savior, that you would never be distracted or scared away from this truth. So straighten up, raise up your heads, and rise for prayer – come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – December 2nd and 3rd, 2017 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior, is coming. And by this I do not simply mean that our Christmastime preparations this Advent are now in full swing; I do not simply mean that once a long, long time ago Jesus came. While that is true, the season of Advent is bigger than just that. Advent is the time when we meditate upon our Lord’s Coming – we see how our Lord prepared people for His Birth, for His death and resurrection – and from this we see how He prepares us for His Second coming. In the Old Testament they waited for the Messiah to be born, and even while we prepare to celebrate the Messiah’s birth, His first coming, we await His second coming. And it is true, Christ Jesus your Lord and Savior is coming.

Our text for this morning is the triumphal entry, is Palm Sunday. There, of course, is a wonderful example of our Lord coming – it is Christ Jesus coming into Jerusalem in order to win us salvation with His death and resurrection upon the Cross. However, there are two main things that I would like to draw out of the text this day, one that should be very familiar, and one that we don't always think about. So let’s begin. Before Jesus enters the city, He takes two disciples and says, Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” Why all this? “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’’” This is of course a very familiar passage – when we see our Lord enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He enters the city humbly. That’s the first thing, that’s what we should all know – Christ Jesus comes humbly. In fact, we are going to see humility modeled for us all throughout the next two months. When He is born – humbly, in a manger. And whom is His mother? Mary, a lowly, humble virgin. Who proclaims His coming? John, a humble man. Jesus will humbly go into the water to be Baptized. There is humility all over the place the next two months. So why, why does Jesus come so humbly?

Jesus comes humbly for one simple reason. If Jesus hadn’t come humbly, hadn’t come in humility, none of the disciples, none of the sinful people there could have withstood being in His presence. Consider the Old Testament – after the fall can any sinful man bear to look at God? Adam and Eve, they hide. Moses on the mountain – just a flash of God’s backside. Elijah, can’t bear it. Or if they do see God, they are like Isaiah, who only sees a vision of God and yet cries out woe is me, I am going to die. Even the disciples, Peter, James, and John, at the transfiguration, when the voice of the Father echoes from the cloud, they all hit the dirt. Sinful man cannot be in the unbridled presence of God – it’s too much for us. And so, Christ Jesus comes humbly – He comes humbly to be with man, to come down to our level, to live with us, to teach us, and ultimately, to enter Jerusalem humbly, to ride on unto his own death and resurrection for our sake. This is what your Lord does – out of His love for you, He came humbly, so that He could accomplish your Salvation by taking up your sin and destroying it with His death and resurrection. He is always focused upon your Salvation.

But there is something else, in addition to our Lord’s Humility, that I would like to point out. We often can skim over the fact that Jesus sends the disciples on to get the donkey and colt, that Jesus does this to fulfill scriptures. We kind of want to get to the scenes with the crowds and the palms – on Palm Sunday morning we’ll have our kids waving palm branches, that’s the part we like. We aren’t going to have them lead two donkeys around – and no, this is not me trying to give you ideas, we are not going to have them lead two donkeys around the Church. But think about this section – Jesus sends the disciples, get the animals you find there, here’s what you say to anyone who asks you what you are doing. And so, our Lord fulfills Scripture. This lesson teaches us a simple truth that we all know but can often forget or over look. Jesus knows what He is doing. It’s not as though Jesus just randomly says, “Boy, my feet are tired, go find me a donkey or something.” No – this is no accident, Jesus does what He does in order to fulfill the Scriptures, in order to make clear and plain that He comes to save us, to win us salvation. This really is a great, wonderful comfort for us. So often our lives are filled with doubt and insecurity – so often we don’t know what is going on. In fact, isn’t this really the source of much of our fear? When a loved one is having surgery, and the procedure is taking a bit longer than you expected, what’s the question in your mind? What’s going on? And not knowing what is happening can terrify us. The simple fact is that often we do not know what is going on, what is happening, and we simply have to make our best guesses, make decisions and hope for the best. Christ Jesus does know what is going on, and He always acts for your good, even if you do not see it or understand it. Jesus isn’t just groping in the dark blindly – He is the Lord God, and He knows what He is doing. His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey wasn’t an accident; it was intentional, to fulfill Scriptures, so you would recognize that He is the promised Savior.

Now, just as Christ Jesus came humbly and intentionally, knowing what He was doing then, so too, Christ Jesus your Lord comes to you humbly and intentionally today. So let’s consider these two ideas – first, that Jesus comes to us quite humbly. We confess, we know, we teach that God Himself is present here for us – that in the preaching of His Word, Jesus is with us and gives us life, that in His Supper Christ Jesus comes to be with us physically in a most wondrous and mind-boggling way. Do you ever just think about that for a bit? Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, all the folks of the Old Testament, they would have given their eye teeth to be in the presence of God like we are – they couldn’t before the Crucifixion – that was all behind the curtain stuff. Once a year one priest could enter the holy of holies – that was it. But for us, what does our Lord say? Wherever two or three of you are gathered in My name, wherever two or three of the Baptized worship together, there I will be. I will be in the Word that is preached and taught in your midst. I will be in the Supper whenever you celebrate it. He comes to us in such humble, simple, common ways. We aren’t required to go on pilgrimages to see God, we don’t have to jump through hoops, lay down lavish amounts of money. Nope, God comes to us through simple means – whenever His Word is proclaimed, wherever we can find simple bread and wine.

He set this up this intentionally, you know. This plan, this idea of gathering you, gathering His baptized brothers and sisters together around the preaching of the Word and around His Supper, this wasn’t an accident. This isn’t just something we here thought up; it is what He gave to us. And why? Because He knows you and loves you. Jesus knows your life, He knows what struggles you face, what sins tempt you, what sins you’ve given into. You never have to play pretend with Jesus, you never have to pretend that your life is perfect with Him – He knows it's not. And nevertheless, He loves you, so He gives you a place where He gathers you together with other people who are struggling and slugging it out in this world, and together you receive His forgiveness, His strength, His love. You hear it preached to you, have it poured into you, over and over and over again. Christ Jesus doesn’t want it to be hard for you to receive forgiveness, hard for you to hear His love for you shouted unto you again. And so, He Himself comes to His own house, and He calls you here to be with Him, and this He shall do until the Last Day.

And then, on the Last day, we will see our Lord come. Now, what will that day be? Well, when Jesus comes, it will be done intentionally. The Last Day isn’t going to be an accident, it’s not as though Jesus will be walking around in heaven, trip, start falling from the sky and say, “Oh, um, yeah, um, I meant to do that, behold, I come again.” No, when the time is right, when through His Word He has called all our brothers and sisters to faith, when the time is right, our Lord will come again. That is the plan, always has been and always will be until that day. That’s in God's hands – let us simply leave the when for that to Him. However, we should note a contrast. When Christ Jesus comes again, when Your Lord returns, it will not be “humbly”. It will not be on a donkey, but it will be accompanied with all the hosts of heaven. It will not be hidden away in a lowly manger, but it will be brilliant and obvious for all to see. So why, why will Christ Jesus be able to come in glory, why will He no longer need to come humbly? In the past and even now, Christ Jesus comes humbly to us who are humbled, who are laid low by our sin. On the Last Day, Christ Jesus comes in Glory to glorify you, to perfect you. On the Last Day, when Christ Jesus comes in Glory He will make you to be Glorious, He will give you your own resurrection, and you will be like Him, without sin and righteous and perfect. There won’t be any need for anything but glory and wonder on that day.

We aren’t there yet. God in His wisdom and in His love has held off that day for our sake, for the sake of all those whom He loves. So, in the meantime, until then, we are focused upon how our Lord once came and indeed how He even comes to us today. He comes humbly, He comes to be with us, to forgive us, to strengthen us so that we might share in, that we might participate in all the benefits of His death and resurrection now, even until the day we see them fully shine forth. This Advent, our eyes are focused once again on the goodness and love of our Lord God, who came for us, who comes unto us this day in His Word and Sacraments, and who will come again. Thus our prayer until that day is and will remain, Thy Kingdom Come. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen.