Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Sermon

Eve of the Name of Jesus – December 31st, 2015 – Luke 2:21

In the Name of Christ the Newborn King +

While tonight the world celebrates the last day of 2015 (and an OU victory in the College football playoff- hopefully) and prepares to look forward to 2016 – indeed, while we ourselves in a few moments will be doing the same, our worship service is focused on something far more monumental and profound than any turning of a calendar, than any change of date. Tonight, we address something so utterly profound and wondrous, that our Gospel need only be a single verse – that is how deep this simple verse is. All the insight or wonder of a long parable, all the profoundness of a much longer passage contained in one simple verse – and even tonight, dear friends, we won’t come close to fully delving its depths. That verse again is as follows: 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.

There are many traditions that come up around names. I’m sure some of you have names that are traditional in your family, ones that get handed on and on throughout the generations – being named after a grandfather or an aunt. If I had been a girl, I would have been named Bertha since mom's Aunt Bertha had the same birthday as I do. Being named after a relative was a tradition they did have in Jesus’ day, and one they followed more vigorously – remember, everyone looks at Elizabeth strangely when she says that her boy will be named John because None of your relatives is called by this name. But there are two traditions dealing with names back in the days of Christ that we really don’t have any more, and tonight we will use these as our insight into this wondrous text. For the first tradition, did you note, dear friends, when Jesus is given His name? And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus. Even though Mary knew that she was going to name her child Jesus, even before He was conceived, Jesus did not receive this name until He was circumcised.

There was a reason for this. For a young boy, it was the 8th day when you were circumcised, where you officially joined the family of God, when you officially were. And only then do you get your name. This even used to be the practice up until 100 years ago or so with Baptism – until a child was Baptized they would simply be known as the so-and-so baby – they would be given their name at their baptism. Another word for Baptism is Christening – literally “Christ –in-ing” or “putting into Christ” – but we still use the term Christening for giving something a name, like a ship or a building. Your first name was known as your “Christian Name” Another example – Martin Luther was born November 10th, and his father took him to church on the 11th to be baptized. The 11th was St. Martin’s day – in honor of St. Martin of Tours – so the Luther baby was named Martin.

Your name is your identity, it is who you are – and for a Jewish baby in Jesus’ day, you only had an identity in light of God’s covenant – you were one of the males of Israel, and of your number one day God would produce the Messiah. That was who you are – and when and only when you were circumcised, when you were physically marked as being of Israel, did you receive your name, your identity. And so it was with Jesus. And on the 8th day, He was circumcised. But for Jesus, He was not just one of the race that could be the Messiah, He was the Messiah Himself. And on that day, there was a bit of foreshadowing. The Baby Jesus shed His blood. The Law demanded Blood, and Jesus gives it. This event is the first time that the Son of God sheds His Blood – God Almighty, Maker of the Universe becomes Man – we have been celebrating that all this Christmas – but here we see what that literally means. He is born under the law – and being born under the Law – He bears its consequences. His Blood is shed. Just a little right now – but you dear friends know where this Child will be when He grows, you know where He willingly goes – to the Cross to win you salvation. The blood that is but a trickle on the 8th day pours down His whipped and beaten back on Good Friday – it spills from His pierced side – all for our salvation. Indeed, it is poured from every Chalice in Christendom whenever and wherever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, that we might receive salvation, that the Blood which was shed for us might be applied to us, given to us.

And to make it most clear that it was indeed this Child, shedding His Blood, who would indeed more fully shed His Blood to save the world – when He was circumcised He was given the name Jesus. Nowadays we don’t think too much about what our names mean. In America we pull from so many heritages and languages that we forget that names have meaning. For example – my name is Eric. It’s Swedish for powerful – but you look at me and don’t think “powerful”. My dad’s name is Gregory – that’s a Greek Word – when you get the instruction to be watchful – to keep awake – that’s be Gregore-o. My mom’s name is June – and we even know that’s a month – but her name doesn’t really have anything to do with the month because she was born in April. Nowadays we pick out names because they are pretty, we like how they sound. I didn’t name Victor Victor because he won anything, and Ambrose doesn’t smell like Ambrosia – but back in Jesus’ day, more importance was given to what a name means. Think about it – Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter – Rock, Petros, after he makes a solid confession. Daniel, great name – Dan-I-el – God is my Judge. El at the end of a name refers to God. Abram, exalted father, is changed to Abraham – father of a multitude. Micah – Mi-ca-yah – Who is like The LORD, who is like Yahweh? The names all have meaning, have importance.

And then we get the name Jesus. In the Hebrew, the name is Yeshua. We say Jesus, because Yeshua in Greek is Iesous, which got put into Latin as Jesu – into English as Jesus. There is another way of doing this name in English – the name Joshua is the exact same name, it’s just Yeshua going straight from Hebrew to Latin and then English – same name. But what does this name mean, Pastor, since you said names are so important? Ye is a form, a short form of Yahweh, or Jehovah – the Divine Name – the LORD. Shua is a verb meaning to save. So literally the name Jesus, the name Joshua, the name Yeshua – they all mean one thing. The Lord Saves.

His name tells you what you are seeing. The child is cut, He bleeds, He is placed under the law. Though He is not sinful He takes up His place with sinful man – and why? Because Yeshua, because Jesus, because the LORD saves. This is how the Lord brings about Salvation – by becoming Man, and by taking up in our stead the punishment for sin, and by giving us His own Life, so that we are made whole and spotless and without blemish by His divine power. Behold the Lord’s Salvation – behold what God does to give you life.

In all things, God points us to His Son, so that we might remember that we have life in His Name – that Christ Jesus came into the World to be our Champion, to be our savior from sin. And even from His youngest days, this is what He does. This is His identity, it is who He is known as – He is Jesus, the one who becomes Man and sheds His Blood for us. Let us ever give thanks to God the Father that He does not abandon us poor sinners unto everlasting death, but freely sends His Son to be our Savior. In the Name of Christ the Newborn King + Amen.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

St. John

St. John's Day, 2015 – John 21

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the New Born King +
I make no bones about it – St. John the Evangelist is my favorite of the Apostles. There is a joy, a humor to him that I appreciate. John was the young pup of the disciples, the young, brash Apostle. John gives Peter a hard time in his Gospel – even points out in the resurrection account that he was younger and faster than Peter – see Peter, I beat you to the tomb. And there are other stories, legends of the Church about John that I love. My favorite is this – John later in life is in Ephesus, and he and some of his students are going to go to the public baths to wash, and as they approach, they see a fellow by the name of Cerinthius, a false teacher, one of the guys John rails against in 1 John, they see this heretic come walking out of the public bath – and John stops, looks at his students and says, “Let’s go back home, I think those waters would just make me dirtier now.”

But John, the young, brash apostle, grows old, and he becomes old John, the last living apostle, the one who sees His friends martyred, who sees Peter crucified, who sees Paul beheaded – who is exiled and left to simply rot on the isle of Patmos. And He knows that the time is coming when his body will fail, when he will die, when even the last of the Apostles will have died, just like the prophets before them, and just like Moses before them. And so, moved by the Holy Spirit – John writes His Gospel. And it is for this reason that we remember St. John this day, for this reason that rejoice and give thanks to God.

Our Gospel text occurs after our Lord’s resurrection, and as so much of John’s Gospel does, it shows us a conversation – this time between Peter and Jesus. This is following the discussion between Jesus and Peter where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him, and three times Jesus tells Peter to “Feed My Sheep.” And then our Lord adds on one little thing – He tells Peter “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This He said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God. Jesus tells Peter – they are going to stretch out your hands on a cross of your own – someday you too are going to be wrapped in linens and carried to your own tomb – but follow Me. And then we have the beginning of our text for this morning. Peter turns, points to John, and Peter says, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” Again, I do love this verse just because it shows that relationship that Peter and John had, where they would tease and josh with each other. Peter says, “Well, if I’m going to get crucified, what about John here? How’s he gonna get it?” And our Lord lovingly admonishes Peter – who cares what happens to John, we’re talking about you now, Peter, and as for you, you are to follow Me. Now, this is a wonderful teaching reminder to us. As Christians, we have been called to follow Christ, and there are times when following Christ is hard and difficult – when being a Christian will carry us to places we’d rather not go, when we will be called upon to show love that we find difficult to show. The task laid out for us remains the same – follow Christ.

This can be difficult for us. None of us like difficulty, none of us like hardship – but that is what happens when one follows Christ. Our Lord doesn’t shy away from hardship. The very fact that we sing Christmas Carols this day proves this – we go tell it that Jesus is Born, we marvel that He leaves bliss, and why? Because God becomes Man, because God takes up human flesh. When He is made Man, when He comes to live in the midst of this fallen world – He shows love in the midst of His own suffering. He cares for people even as He is abused. He calls out for forgiveness for the very people who are crucifying Him. Follow Him. That is what it means to follow Christ – it means that in this life, as a Christian you too will take up your own cross and follow Him. And this can make us nervous – we wonder what will happen. This can make us jealous – we look at other people and can think, “Why do they have it so easy when I have it so hard.” (As an aside, when we think thoughts like that, it only shows that we don’t know the pains they are carrying, for we all have them. Whatever.) It doesn’t matter – over and against all of this, Christ calls us to follow Him – and so we strive to do.

And we long for Him to come again, to return, to let us rest from our labors and toils and simply to enjoy the wonders of the life of the world to come with Him face to face. In fact, when John writes this, he can see the burdens that his students, the generations to follow him will have to bear. He’s an old man in exile, and he sees the worry on people’s faces, the fears of persecution, the fatigue of waiting for Christ to return. And they start making things up. John notes, So the saying spread among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John had told folks this story – but instead of saying, “Ah, yes, we ought be like Peter and follow Christ wherever it leads,” they twisted things. Oh, John isn’t going to die – and look at him – he’s old – surely Jesus will be back any moment now and we’ll be on easy street. But John has to correct them gently – our Lord didn’t say that He was coming back before I died. That isn’t what He said, don’t twist the Word. And here John teaches us another important lesson. We are to handle this gift of the Word of God with care – making sure we pay attention precisely to what it says. People will try to twist Scripture to make it say what they want to hear – and quite often to make it say things that mean money in my pocket or constant joy and success in the here and now. John points to an example here – people started thinking earthly hopes. But that wasn’t the point. John’s Epistles are all about antichrist coming and twisting the Word, in Revelation we get the same thing. And even in his Gospel, John warns us that we must pay attention to what the Word of God says with care and with diligence. And why? John tells us.

The purpose of the Word of God is not just to be a history, a factoid sheet of events in Jesus’ life. John even says, “Now, there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Again – that humor. Yes, Jesus did other things, I have more stories that I could tell – but I’m not going to tell anymore. And why? Because the job is done. As we hear in John 20, as we just sang – “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” This is why Scripture is written. Because we need to see what Christ Jesus has done for us, because we need to hear His salvation. None of us lives the lives that we ought, none of us follows Christ as perfectly as we ought. We are all sinners, we all fall down. And yet, what has John recorded for us? Behold your Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord, the very Word of God incarnate, God become Man who lived perfectly, who through His signs and wonders showed and proved that He is the promised Messiah, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World. Behold the Lamb of God, who goes to the Cross, who suffers and dies. Behold from His side flow water and blood. Behold the Man Risen from dead – and see that He really is a man – behold His hands, His side – see Him eat on the beach, He truly lives! And because of this – you have salvation. The Word is written, and it is preached and proclaimed, we even hear it here this day. The same water which poured from Our Lord’s blessed side has been attached to His most holy Word and poured upon you at your Baptism. The very Blood which poured from His side has been poured into chalices throughout Christendom for the celebration of our Lord’s own Supper. Everything which we need, all that we need to know for our salvation, it has been given to us.

And so we rejoice this day, we give thanks to God for His servant John, whom God used to write 5 books of the bible, who laid out for us so beautifully what our Lord’s incarnation means, what benefits Christ wins for us. We believe because God has made us to hear these Words that John recorded for us, and because we have been brought to faith, we have life in the Name of Christ Jesus. This is our hope, this is what we cling to as we follow Christ in the midst of the struggles of this life – for our Lord and Savior will come again, and on that day we will rejoice with John and with all the Apostles and Prophets, all the hosts of heaven which John saw in his revelation – and we will rejoice together throughout all eternity. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sermon for St. Stephen's

The past few weeks, just in conversation, I’ve been asking people if they know the old Carol, “Old Good King Wenceslas”. It’s one of those songs that people know the rough tune to, that they have heard before, but have no clue what the words are. I’m the same way; I really only know the first two lines. Good King Wenceslas looked out/ on the feast of Stephen.” On the feast of Stephen, today, December 26th. It at first seems strange to suddenly go from Christmas to such a sad story as Stephen’s, the first Christian Martyr. However, it makes sense. We have just celebrated the feast of the Nativity, the birth of Christ. But this birth doesn’t happen in a vacuum; Christmas has an impact and an effect on our lives. From Stephen, we can see what that is.

First, on account of Christ, we are all called to service. Let me read from just before our epistle text. Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit This is how we meet this Stephen, this is the first time he shows up. And what is he? Oh, a man full of faith, a man who has the Holy Spirit. What clearer sign is there that the events of Christmas have impacted Stephen than this? Christ Jesus comes down and takes on human flesh, and what do we see? Stephen now filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. This is the result of Christmas and Christ’s life, that Stephen knows who God is, that Stephen believes in the Salvation won for Him by Christ Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit now dwells in him.

On account of this, Stephen is called into service. Stephen is asked, “for the good of your fellow believers in Christ, please do this. See that everyone is cared for fairly and kindly.” The faith that Stephen has is put into action. Faith isn’t just some dead possession, it’s not something that we keep on a bookshelf and dust off every now and then. It is true life, it is love - and life and love with God always involves action. Think of it this way. I’m sure many of the kids here this morning got new toys yesterday, and well, probably quite a few of us adults got new toys as well. So, are these toys just kept in the box, oh, look, I have a toy, how nice? No, they are played with, they are used. That’s the way it is with faith and love. We aren’t supposed to just keep them wrapped up, but rather we are to exercise our faith and love in the service of others. Which is easier said than done, isn’t it? We humans are the masters of the excuse, of dodging and shifting responsibility. When it comes to service of others, all too often our gut instinct is to avoid, to grumble, to wonder why someone else isn’t doing this, isn’t helping out, why am I the one stuck with this. There are times when our faith is an inconvenience to our schedule, and we’d rather just stick it in the closet with that gift our aunt gave us 7 years ago rather than actually use it. This is the temptation we are to avoid and beat down. As Christians we must remember that we are always going to be called into service, called to show love to our neighbor, to reflect back the love that we have received from Christ onto our neighbor. This is something that Stephen does, and it is something which we ought to emulate.

Stephen also demonstrates another aspect of the Christian life. On account of Christ Jesus, we are called to Confess. In our text today we see Stephen getting in trouble because he speaks plainly and clearly the Word of God. Stephen has been preaching and performing miracles, but the powers that be are upset, and so he is taken before the Jewish rulers and called to account. And what does Stephen do? Does he start playing the great game of cover my backside? Oh, this is all a misunderstanding, there’s no big deal, just let me go. Things are getting a little tense, a little hot in here, I had better stop what I’m doing, drop it, and just roll away? No, that’s not what Stephen does. We skip most of what Luke records for us in Acts 7, but we get the end of it. Stephen preaches, Stephen rips back and calls a spade and spade, giving them a good double barrel blast of the law. And they kill him for it. They drag Stephen out, they pick up rocks, and beat him to death.

So, was Stephen foolish? Was he unwise? No. Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. As Christians, as those who know who God is, who have tasted His Salvation, we are called to proclaim, to speak out the truth of God. Now, by this I’m not telling you all to get your sandwich boards and stand out on on Court Street in Kankakee and start screaming at passer-bys in cars. But when you are questioned, when you are asked, “Who is this Jesus”, when one comes and denies your Lord, your duty is to confess Christ, whatever the consequences.

If that isn’t a tough row to hoe I don’t know what is. Few things are more scary, more terrifying than speaking. Think in your own life apart from religion specifically. How many of you have things that you would like to tell someone but are afraid to? Someone is doing something wrong that hurts them, but. . . you just can’t say it, because you might upset them. Someone could use some advice, you have a recommendation. . .but what if they take it the wrong way. All too often we don’t speak when we ought to. Instead of showing love and care and service, instead of helping out, we say nothing. Or worse than saying nothing, we talk and complain about how things are and gossip to anyone and everyone except the person we ought to talk to. We have that fear of someone becoming upset with us, and that fear runs and rules our lives, not the love that we have from Christ.

Fear of speaking comes in even with good things. Who here hasn’t felt their knees turn to jelly when you want to say something sweet and romantic to someone? I’d wager that there are some guys here who have been married quite a while who still ho and hum before they work up the courage to tell their wives that they love them. Why then, should we be surprised when we have to confront fear when speaking the most wonderful words ever, speaking of Christ Jesus our Lord? Being bold in your faith can be hard, it can be frightening. There can and will be negative consequences in this life. If you doubt that, look at the prophets, look at the Apostles, look at Stephen, look at the cross itself. Nonetheless we are called to Confess, to speak boldly about Christ and Him Crucified when the opportunity presents itself.

So how? So far this morning we have talked about many demands, much law. I, a poor miserable sinner, am called to service which I grumble about and do not do, I am called to confess Christ, and man, there are times where I just back down and run away. What now? Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! What now is this. We remember that the Christian faith is not primarily about what we do, but rather it revolves around what Christ Jesus has done for you. Dear friends, the Christ child does not remain idle, Jesus doesn’t just keep a low profile. Rather, He grows and suffers and dies and rises again. Why? So that He might call you to His side, that He might send His Holy Spirit to call you by the Gospel and Enlighten you by His gifts. At any and all times, we are to look to this, to remember this fact. That God Himself calls us to be with Him. This is what Stephen sees as he lie dying, as the life is pounded out of him. Christ Jesus His Lord calling to Him, giving more and more forgiveness, bringing more and more Salvation. Which is why Stephen thinks to cry out “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Of course, because He sees Jesus, Jesus who is all about forgiveness. When Stephen sees Him, Jesus isn't up in heaven playing canasta with the prophets, He there ruling at the Right Hand of God, dispensing forgiveness, calling His servant Home.

God constantly calls us as well. We are called by His Word to hear again and receive again the forgiveness of our sin. He calls us to the Altar, to His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the strengthening of our faith. When we are burdened, when we see our lack, which is great indeed, we are called to look at Christ and see His love and Salvation, which is beyond anything else in the world. By His Word God constantly strengthens us and refreshes us when the world batters us down. Here in His house He gives us the gifts we need so that we can go out into the world and live the lives of service, the lives of confession that He calls us to. Here Christ Jesus fills us again with faith by forgiveness, by preaching, by His supper, so that we are kept strong and firm, so that we are picked up whenever we stumble. Here in His House, we are gathered by Christ, just like a mother hen gathers her chicks, and under His protective wings we receive all that we need to grow in faith towards Him and in fervent love towards one another. Here in His house the Christ Child is at work for us, forgiving us and leading us.

And so, dear friends, on this December night, we see who God is, who this Babe of Bethlehem is. He is the God who calls us to service, the God who calls us to confess him, but more than that, Jesus is the God who constantly calls us to be with Him, to come to Him, and to receive His blessings. God grant that in this coming year, we receive His blessings and forgiveness often and richly, so that we would be stirred up to works of love on earth, even until Christ Jesus our Lord in mercy and love calls us unto life everlasting. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King. + Amen

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Day Sermon

December 25th, 2015

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Today’s Gospel, the first few verses of John, are perhaps the most beautiful depiction of Christmas that we have in scripture. And yes, this is a depiction of Christmas, even though you don’t hear anything about Joseph and Mary, even though there’s no mention of shepherds or angel choirs, no Star and no wise men – none of the people or things we so often associate with Christmas. John knows we know the story, and so He sets out to tell us what all this really means. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. When John begins his gospel which we hear this most joyous day, He lets us know flat out who this Jesus is. When we are talking about Jesus, when we are talking about the Word, we are talking about God. Plain and simple. Jesus is God, Jesus is Lord. This Child, lying in the manger – that is God. Full, true God – All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. This Child is the Word of God – and before His birth, before He became Man, He was there at creation – He was the Word of God Who created all things. And not just things, In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. This is the Word of God who gives life – the reason we have existence, the reason any of us draw breath, now lies in a manager, breathing Himself. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The most wondrous Light of Christmas wasn’t the star – It was the One who created that star. The most glorious Light of Christmas didn’t shine from the angels – for their light was merely the reflected glory of this Child. And we are directed to this Light – John the Baptist points to Him, instructs us to behold Him. John calls out to us to repent, to believe. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. This is the Baptist’s cry which echoed on the banks of the Jordan, this is the cry which rings forth from every pulpit in Christendom that is rightly called a pulpit – that God Himself, Light of Light, Very God of Very God – has come into the World to enlighten us, to redeem us, to make us not merely glorious like the angels, but to makes us even more glorious and higher than the angels, reflecting His light. And yet – He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. No, when the world thinks of “God” – it doesn’t think of what we see at Christmas. The world thinks of “God” as draped in wealth and splendor – it doesn’t think of a child in a manger in a backwater town in a backwater province. The world thinks of God throwing lighting bolts like Zeus or hammering his foes like Thor – it doesn’t think of a Child weak, waiting for His mother to feed Him, to change His diapers. When the world thinks of God, it things of a being who slays all his enemies – not of a Man who goes to the cross and dies for the very sake of those who hate Him, in the hopes that they might see and hear and believe and be forgiven.

And it wasn’t just the world – the gentiles – the crazy Germans and the money happy Romans who didn’t know Him – He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. Even coming to the Jews, to the people to whom John the Baptist preached – the people who knew what Isaiah had foretold, who knew David and the promise of His Son who would reign, who knew Moses, who knew the Tabernacle and Temple, who thought they knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they didn’t receive Him. What good is a prince of peace when we want war and bloodshed and freedom from Rome? What good is salvation when we want a better life now?

But you know who this Child is – you know that He is God. And what does that mean for you? But to all who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Do you see what this means, what the manger means, what Mary holding her Child means? Because God became Man, because God became the child of Mary, we have been called to be children of God once again. This Jesus came to fix the fall, to end our rebellion. The Word of God who saw Adam and Eve wreck His Creation is the same Word of God which told them that one day He would come, be born of one of Eve’s daughters, and that He Himself would crush the cursed serpent and restore Adam and Eve, restore God’s wayward children – make us God’s children again.

And again, note how beautifully this happens. Why are you a child of God? It is not of blood – this gift wasn’t limited to one race, one lineage. All races are brought together in Christ; all the languages that were scattered at Babel are reunited in Christ. Nor does this happen because of the will of the flesh – it doesn’t happen because of any act of our body – it does not rely on our own strength to do mighty works to claim our status as sons and daughters – it isn’t based upon our merit. Nor does this happen because of the will of man – it’s not a decision we have to make, a puzzle we have to solve. No – you were made a child of God, you were brought to faith, called to believe in Christ Jesus and given the gift of faith by God. The Word of God, indeed the very Child in the manger came to you – the Father sent His Word to you, poured out His Holy Spirit upon you, called you His own child in by the Word in the Waters of Holy Baptism – and so you are.
This happens, this is possible, only because this Word of God, the One by whom all things were made, beholding sinful man, for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. Or as John puts it here in the Gospel – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God becomes Man – right now, God is a Man, He has a Body, He is our brother. We do not have to try to find some mystical way to Him – He came to us, came to be with us, to share in our life so that He might restore us to everlasting life. That is the glory and wonder of this day – that God comes to us.

The Word becomes flesh – and He dwells among us. That word dwell is a loaded term – it’s saying that Jesus tabernacled with us – that the presence of the Lord that Moses saw at the tabernacle was made more wondrous and awesome when God came to dwell with us, not in a tent, not in a temple made with human hands, but in His own Body. What hope this gives. This body that you have, with it’s aches and suffering – Christ Jesus has come to you bodily – in His own Body. Do you see what that means? It guarantees that on the last day – when our Lord calls you forth from the grave, you will have your body, but it will no longer be full of aches and pains and things that don’t work right, but it will be perfected, like His Body – because He has come to dwell with you, to be with you, to live eternally with you – to make you like Him, to make you shine to reflect His Glory in a Body like His glorious Body.

That’s why we call this day, this celebration of our Lord’s incarnation, our Lord’s taking up a Body, Christmas – Christ Mass. Because it is there, in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the Lord’s Supper, where you receive your Lord’s Body and Blood to be a promise, a pledge and token that all the things you hear in the Scriptures, all the things which Christ Jesus does, His birth, His fasting, His death, His resurrection – that these all were done for you – that He has chosen to dwell, to tabernacle here with you – to come to you until the day when He calls you to Him for all eternity.

My dear friends in Christ, there is nothing more joyous or wondrous that I could say than the fact that God has become Man, that Jesus has come and by taking His Body born of Mary to the Cross and dying and rising, He has won you salvation, and He gives this Salvation to you richly. He is the Emmanuel, God with us, the source of all life and where we have our completion, the love of God given to us for our everlasting salvation. Rejoice and celebrate this Christmas – I will not wish you a merry one, for it is no mere wish, but it is a reality – because Christ Jesus is born, and you have live and salvation in His Name. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Homily

December 24th, 2015

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King!
Even from the garden, as the shame and sorrow of the fall was hanging in the air, Christ Jesus' coming was promised. Looking at Satan, who had just tempted Adam and Eve, the Lord God promised that He Himself would come and crush Satan under His heel. Years passed, the the promise was renewed. It was renewed to Abraham – no Abraham, your son, your Isaac will not die – I myself will be the true Lamb of God that will take away the sin of the world. Years passed, and prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. In the midst of darkness, a light would come, the true Light, the Light of Light – for unto to us a Child is born. Even as the Kingdom of Israel was failing, the promise was that from the stump of Jesse a true and better King would rise – a Savior who would reign for all eternity.

Yet again, years passed, and in the fullness of time God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, and by the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived Christ Jesus, her Lord. And she gave birth to Him in a manger, in humble circumstances. The high and proud rulers trembled with fear for what this would do to their kingdoms – the poor and lowly heard angel choirs rejoicing. The foolish fought and plotted - the wise bowed down before their infant Savior, bringing gifts befitting a royal priest who would die to save His people.

Yet again, years have passed. Over two thousand of them. And here we are, gathered in joy, in celebration, in thanksgiving for the birth of Christ Jesus, our Savior. The words of the Old Testament have proven true. Our Savior has come, and with His death and resurrection the powers of Satan, of sin, and yes, even the powers of death have been shattered and broken. And even today, in the midst of the darkness of this night, we proclaim the light of Christ Jesus our Savior. For we are not alone. God Himself has become Man, become one of us, has won us salvation. Now, this moment, your Brother Christ Jesus sits upon the heavenly throne, surrounded by the angels, surrounded by the saints of the ages, and He rules the world with truth and grace. This, my dear friends, is why this night I can wish you a hearty and merry Christmas, for Christ Jesus came down from heaven to win you your salvation, and He shall come again to see that you have it in full, all thanks and praise be to God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Funeral For Alice Kruse

Funeral for Alice Kruse

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
Janet, Ruth, Ron, Ken, Jerry, Wayne, Karl, Randy, and Lori, grandkids and greatgrandkids, friends and family of our sister in Christ Alice, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. It is easy to tell that Alice, in her heyday, must have been a strong, wise, and powerful woman. To raise nine kids, especially some as feisty and precocious as these folks, I can't imagine the strength and willpower that she must have had. But we've spent the last few years, the last few months seeing that strength ebb away. Thus is the way of things in this fallen world. But we are not gathered here today in the ways of the world, we are gathered here today in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord, who Himself declared that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And we are rightly gathered together in the Name of Christ Jesus, because Alice is a baptized child of God, forgiven and redeemed, and now is with her Lord. Coming so lately into Alice's life, I may not have seen her at her 9-kid wrangling best... but I saw her, even in the midst of her frailty look to her Lord and Savior for mercy, for love, for care, for support. Of course she did – that shouldn't surprise us – especially those of you who received decades of love and care from her. That love that she showed to you was the same love that she had received from Christ Jesus, reflected from Alice on to you. Because in reality, it never was about Alice's strength or power, but about Christ's power for Alice and in Alice.

I'm guessing it was Pastor Sauer who picked out Alice's confirmation verse, and he picked a good one for her, one that fit her well. We just heard it a few moments ago – For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. This is what we saw played out in Alice's life, where even when she showed such love fantastic, she didn't put her trust in her own strength or works. Alice looked not to her own strength, not to her own power, but looked to Christ Jesus to be her Savior, to bring her salvation. She laid her sins on Jesus, for in spite of all that she accomplished, the love that she showed, Alice was well aware of her own sinfulness, and thus she knew her need for Christ Jesus. She relied upon Christ Jesus and His power, and indeed, Christ her Lord was powerful for her. Her crucified and risen Savior richly and daily forgave her all her sins. He guided her, He supported her, and indeed, He showed powerful love to you through her. And that is a wondrous thing.

But as we are gathered here today, we must not think of Alice and the love of Christ for her as merely a thing of the past. While she may have died, she is not gone. And I do not mean this in a “she lives on in our hearts” sort of way. No, that's not where she lives right now. Hear again the words of our Lord. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” Christ's power, the power of the Gospel, is no mere temporary thing. It is eternal, and with this almighty and eternal love that Christ Jesus has for Alice, He has called her to His own side in heaven, where there she dwells with Him, this instant, with the Lord. Where He is, there Alice is – because that's what the Gospel, the power of God for salvation accomplishes, and specifically what it has brought about for Alice. And there with her Lord, she awaits the Last Day, the resurrection of the body. And when Christ comes again, Alice will come with Him. She will rise again, because the power of God for salvation is by no means a weak or slight thing. Death has nothing on Christ, and as such death has nothing on Alice. And all because of the goodness, the greatness of Christ Jesus and His love for Alice, indeed, His love for you.

And so my dear friends in Christ, while this is a sad day, even if we all knew it was coming, we remember that Christ Jesus still remains the Way, the Truth, and the Life, even today. He remains the way in which Alice received forgiveness, the way by which she was taken to the Lord's side in heaven. Thus, even in the midst of our sorrows, we took to that day when she and all of us will rise again to life, true life in Christ, life with death done away with and gone. For in truth, Christ Jesus has won Alice salvation; He has won you salvation, and as assurdedly as He once came in humility, born in a stable in Bethlehem, He shall come again in great power to see that we are reunited with Alice. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

You Complain About Your Own Sins

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26 with the purified you show yourself pure;
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
27 For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.
- Psalm 18:25-27

I want to let people in on an obvious little secret, something that we should know, especially pastors, but really everyone.  When you complain about the sins of other folks, you really are complaining about your own sin, the things that bother you about yourself, the things that frighten you about yourself.

Seriously, it's true.  How often has it happened where the famous preacher who goes on and on about the evil of homosexuality is the one who gets caught in that part of that park propositioning the undercover cop?  Or how often is it a matter of the person who complains about gossip is in fact one of the worst gossips, or the fellow who complains how unwelcoming the congregation is ends up being one of the rudest folks around?

This is how God's law works.  It pricks us... and when we are pricked, there are only two options.  We can confess our sin, or we can deflect and blame others to assert in our minds our superiority.  We can be humble and receive mercy,or we can be haughty and demonstrative, all the while our eyes are brought lower and lower by our own shame, that shame we think we've hidden but really is sort of obvious to anyone.

This leads to the question I'd pose for consideration this morning.

What are you complaining about in your neighbor?  What accusations do you level towards them?

And do you realize those are the things that you are really fighting against yourself?

Do you say that they are greedy or stingy?  You realize that's because you yourself think in terms of money, and wish you could control how they use theirs.

Do you complain about their sexual behaviors?  That's your own coming out at you, because you're viewing them as sexual animals.

Do you complain about their pride, their ego, their desire for fame?  That's your own pride coming out, because you view everything in terms of how you yourself are viewed and what people think of you.

Do you complain about how they are disdainful of order, they don't respect authority?  That's your own desire for control, a desire to make others obey you even when God has not placed you in authority over others.

Alright, let's get the complaint out of the way.  "Now wait a minute Brown, we have to address sin!"

Yes.  We do.  But why?  What is the goal in addressing sin?  Is it not to prepare the way for the Gospel?  So if you are complaining about "those folks"... are you ever getting to the Gospel with them?  I mean, it's one thing if you go to Bob and say, "Bob, you need to work on this" - and it's another thing if you sit around and say, "I can't believe what a jerk Bob is."  Even if it is true that Bob is the biggest jerk in the world... theologically what good does it do to complain.

Because, at our core, at the center of our being as Christians, we are to be proclaimers of forgiveness.  We are to be the peacemakers, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins.  Because *that* is the point, the center of all things.  That is knowing Christ and Him Crucified - not that you ignore the Law, but that you always drive to the Gospel.

And you know, folks?  That thing you've been complaining about concerning your neighbor.  Christ Jesus has died for that sin that is messing with you, and you are forgiven.  Really.  That's the reality.

God grant that I remember His mercy more than the sins I fear that I see in my neighbor!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent 4 – December 19th/20th, 2015 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Just who are you? Who do you think you are John, that you would be out here in the desert, causing all this ruckus and commotion? That’s the real question that gets asked of John today in our Gospel lesson. Who are you, and why should we bother listening to you? John’s authority is attacked – he’s basically told to quiet down. Yet John doesn’t. Why? How? Where does he get this boldness from – how does he stand in the face of these attacks? John has this strength not because he knew who he was, but because John knew who Christ was. That was the key, that was the source of His strength, and it is also the source of our strength as we face life in this world.

The Apostle John uses interesting words speaking of John the Baptist here. These words set us up, prepare us for the rest of the text. Listen to the first two verses again. “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”” Two very important words there that should catch our attention. First, testimony. Witness. Martyr in the Greek. That’s the word that is used here. John is giving testimony. Now, in certain parts of American Christianity today, a testimony or a testimonial is a weighted word – it refers to some person up at the front of the Church going on and on and on about how he used to be such a sinner but now he’s great and right with Jesus. That’s not what John is doing, and that’s not what testimony or witnessing is about. Not at all. Testimony isn’t about you, testimony is all about the truth. If you are called to be a witness in court, if you are called to give testimony, you’re not there to talk about yourself but about what you have seen. You are called to the stand and then you are sworn in. If you haven’t been in court, I’m sure you’ve seen the TV shows – Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? What John says here is the truth, he is speaking truly, he is giving the account of what really is. He’s not tooting his own horn, he’s not feeding people what they want to hear. In fact, he's not at all interested in himself; he has come to bear witness.

The second word is confess. The Gospel uses the word “confessed” twice to describe what John is doing. To confess is to speak together, and here John is speaking along with God God's own truth. He’s not going to make his part look bigger, he’s not going to try to shift the focus or placate folks – when they come from the priests and the Levites, John will say what he must say – the truth – even though it will end up with him in prison. John’s confession here is his death warrant, it means his head on a silver platter for a spoiled young girl.
So what is this testimony, this confession that John gives? It starts with, “I’m not the Christ.” The focus isn't about me, you should be looking towards the One who is coming – repent for His Kingdom is at hand! Well, then, who are you? Are you someone important? Can we give you an important title? John says no. Just stonewalls them. And so these folks from Jerusalem get a bit frustrated:Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” [John] said “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ as the prophet Isaiah foretold.” What humility. What simple humility. Here John could have taken credit for himself. He could have claimed that he is a mighty preacher. He could have claimed that he is a prophet like Moses, turning the hearts of the fathers to their sons. He could even have called himself the promised Elijah – that’s what Jesus will call him. But John’s not interested in himself. Who are you, John? Eh, I’m just a voice – a voice foretold by the prophet Isaiah – I’m just a man pointing to one who greater. How wonderful is that? John minimizes himself – he doesn’t puff himself up. I mean, this is John the Baptist– John the Forerunner – John the Baptizer -- he’s so important that we’ve given him multiple titles – but he doesn’t claim one for himself. Why not?

Hear what John says. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John looks at these proud, power hungry underlings from the bigwigs in Jerusalem and confesses that he is nothing – at least not compared to Christ. This is the heart of what John is all about – it’s not about me, it’s not about who I am and what I can do – this isn’t about my glory, my fame. There is One who is coming, and He is coming quickly, and we all best get ready. He is the One you should be looking for, He is the One you should be preparing for, for He is the Christ, He is the Messiah, He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire, He will win Salvation for His people. For John, it always all comes down to Christ. We hear folks saying that Jesus is my all in all – well that’s what you actually see when you look at John in the desert – it’s all about Jesus for John.

In this John teaches us. To be a Christian is to turn away from your own glory, your own praise, your own desires. To be a Christian is to repent. And I’m not saying this because I’m mean or because I’m cranky. Rather, Christ Jesus and His forgiveness frees you from the burden of trying to prove yourself right, of trying to justify yourself. It’s hard work coming up with excuses. It’s hard work doing the song and dance, it’s hard work trying to convince your neighbors that you are wonderful all the time. It’s hard work, because we are sinners. Each of us has dropped the ball on something this past week, we’ve hurt people by what we’ve done, by what we’ve left undone, and our initial response is to try and convince everyone that we really are good people. John shows us that we don’t have to. We don't have to build up our reputation; our task in life isn’t to try and impress our neighbor – we are to love them. And those times when we don’t love our neighbor – we apologize to them, and we confess our sin to God. And then like John, we look to Christ. The Cross is where we see our sin covered, the cross is where our forgiveness is won. . . we look to Christ our Crucified Lord, the Holy, Righteous One who has died in our stead to win for us forgiveness. There's a reason that's a giant cross and not a giant mirror. The Cross is where we take our hope from, that’s where we constantly look to, that’s where we get life. We come to the altar humbly confessing our sin, trusting in His Words take and eat, given for you, shed for you, delighting in His forgiveness.

John is also the example for our witnessing, our proclamation of the Gospel. It can be hard to talk to others about the faith, can’t it? I have a hard time doing it myself often enough. . . the nervous feeling in your stomach, the hesitation, should I say something, what if I upset them, is this the right time, what will they think of me, what do I say? Or your mind races nervously while you stand there and don’t say anything. John teaches us. Simply point to Christ. Witnessing, proclaiming the Gospel is simply that. . . proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News, telling people what Jesus has done for them. And you know what Jesus has done for them, because Jesus has done it for you too. When you see someone in pain, someone suffering, someone feeling bad over something they’ve done – you’ve felt all those things too. Just as Christ comforts and forgives you, so too He forgives and comforts that person, and sometimes even through you. Simply point to Christ. Don’t worry about trying to convince the person how wonderful you are or how your life has gotten better because you’re a Christian, don't try to tell them that it's not that bad or what they did wasn't that bad – that’s not what they need – they don’t need your awesomeness, they don’t need promises of a dream life. They need Jesus and His forgiveness and the life He brings – show them, point them to Christ. Proclaiming the Gospel isn’t about you. Our Lord has told us that it is the Holy Spirit working in us, speaking through us – let Him do His work.

And know this – John does not merely teach us as individual Christians. He teaches this Congregation what we are to be as a congregation. Just like John, we are to point to Christ in everything we do. And that is such a comfort – because we know that Christ Jesus is the point of this place – and that Christ Jesus Himself will tend it. I’ve been around plenty of congregations, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that there is a temptation to always try to paint a pretty picture, to pretend that there are no warts, to pretend that we are always just perfect and loving to each other. Ain’t the case. A congregation is a family, and there’s always warts and rumblings and grumblings in any family. And the temptation we face is to try to focus so much on putting on a well made-up face for the community, for our neighbors that we forget our purpose. This building wasn’t built in order to prove to our neighbors how wonderful we are, it wasn’t built to make us look wonderful – it was built to be a place of God. This is a place where God’s Word is read, where it is preached, where it is sung in our hymns and liturgy. This is a place where God comes to us in His Own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. It is God’s house – the place where God deigns to come and give Himself to us. On this, let us be ever more and more eager to focus upon Christ – to admit our own unworthiness, and invite our equally unworthy friends here to behold Christ and His gifts to us. And as long as He wishes to come to people in this place, He will provide. When we remember this, we remain humble and let God be God, and it’s a great thing, for God always comes to save His people. That's what He delights in. It's why Christ Jesus comes in the first place. The trouble really only comes in when we no longer look to Him and rather try to focus upon ourselves.

That was the problem in Jerusalem. People wanted to see their own rank and glory and power, so John told the people of his day that one stands among them whom they did not know. But thanks be to God, you do know Him – Christ Jesus the Lord has brought you here to His house. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He has washed you richly in His forgiveness, lavished His love upon you. He brings you every blessing of life and salvation, he frees you from your guilt, frees you from the burdens you place on yourself. And so, in response, we gather together and we praise Him, we point to Christ and Christ alone, waiting for Him to come and give us His blessings, both now and eternally. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Come quickly. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Sermon for Tim Marcotte

Funeral for Timothy Marcotte, December 19th, 2015

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King, Amen
Kris, Sarah and Jacob, Andrew and Sara, Matthew, friends and family of our brother in Christ Jesus Tim, Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Well, this isn't a day any of us were expecting. At least not yet. Maybe this day would have come 30, 40 years down the road. At least that's the way we think it is supposed to work. As a culture we've told ourselves that death is just a natural part of life – but today feels wrong. And it should, not because Tim was too young, but because the truth of it is that death, all death, is wrong. Even if today were decades down the road, it would still be wrong then. We were not created by God to die – And God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. God's own breath, a living creature. That's what we were created to be. And then the fall, then sin enters the world, then death, and then we are stuck with lousy mornings like today that are just flat out wrong, that just aren't the way things should be.

God knows this. God, the Creator of the world, indeed, Tim's Creator knows far better than we do just how wrong today is. Which is why He has done something about it. Which is why the Father sent Christ Jesus into this world, had Him be born of a virgin. Which is why there's a Christmas. We don't have Christmas to boost the economy or have a reason to go Target – we have Christmas because Jesus saw this day, even from eternity, and He would not let this day stand, not let this day be the end. And so Jesus became Man, was born of a virgin mother, and lived perfectly, lived without sin – and yet, Jesus Himself faced down death. And He did so for His Tim. Hear again what our Lord says of Tim in John 10 - “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Tim heard the voice of His shepherd, loved to hear it, heard the Word preached all the time, and Christ Jesus most certainly knows His Tim... and Tim follows Jesus. Christ Jesus our Lord came down into this world, came into a life like ours precisely so that Tim, so that we here, would follow Him. And Jesus Christ, for Tim's sake, went to the Cross and died Himself, and then He rose. And while this day is wrong, Christ is setting it right. Tim's death is now Tim following Christ into death, and Tim has followed Christ to heaven, and Tim shall follow Christ to everlasting life, to the resurrection of the body, to the life of the world to come. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” Do you hear how defiant Christ Jesus is, how He looks at the wrongness of this day, all days like this, and He shouts death down. No, death, you don't get to keep Tim, you don't get to keep any of My sheep, you don't get the final world. I give Tim eternal life, and Tim will not perish, rather he will live.

This day is hard – it would be foolish to try to pretend otherwise. But over and against this day stands the even greater truth that Christ Jesus is Tim's Lord and Savior, who claimed Tim in the waters of Holy Baptism, who daily and richly forgave all Tim's sin, who gave Tim His own Body and Blood for the remission of all of Tim's sins – and as such, Tim is with His Lord, the sheep has followed the Shepherd, even having walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and he did it without fear, for Christ Tim's Good Shepherd was with him, and even now Tim dwells with Christ Jesus, and when Jesus comes again, Tim will be coming with Jesus. That's the truth. Doesn't mean we don't have sorrow, that we don't see the wrongness of this day – but it means that we also see beyond it.

Which is why St. Paul writes to us, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say rejoice.” Because even on days like this, the Lord reigns. Because even as we face our own sorrows, we know that Tim beholds the joys of heaven and waits the resurrection. This is the very peace of God that surpasses all human understanding – it is too big and wondrous for us to wrap our minds around, though we confess it, we sing it. Therefore with angels and archangels, with Tim and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, ever more praising, that is rejoicing in the Lord always... and the peace of the Lord be with you always. The wonders of Christ's love for Tim, for us – we know it – but Tim knows it now, knows it better than us. We see in the mirror dimly, Tim sees face to face.

And so my friends in Christ – we are free to mourn this day – today is not how we'd want it to be. But Christ Jesus will and does make things right – and Tim is well taken care off, far better off right now than any of us. But you too belong to Christ, and you, like Tim, have been forgiven, and when Christ and Tim come back, we will all be raised together, and that's going to be something. As we so often say in Advent, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Midweek 3

Advent Midweek 3

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Tonight, we move to the end of the Te Deum, the great hymn of the Church. So far in the hymn we have praised our Creator who is involved with us, who is not a distant god but is in fact The Lord, the God who dwells with man. We have proclaimed the plan of salvation that the Triune God has, namely sending Christ Jesus down to become man, true man. Indeed, Jesus' incarnation, His taking up human flesh, is the chief thing we celebrate this Christmas. And Jesus, being true man, goes to the cross, confronts sin, suffers and dies and then rises so that we are forgiven and given life everlasting.

So now what? The last part of the Te Deum shifts from the story of salvation to the here and now. Right now, in our lives – so what? What does all this stuff about the Father and Jesus and the Spirit – what does it have to do with me, living here in Herscher in the middle of December? Or, if I might ask the question in the traditional Lutheran fashion – what does this mean? Hear now the answer that the Te Deum gives. We therefore pray You to help Your servants whom You have redeemed with Your precious blood. This is what it means. We have all this stuff in the Bible, 66 books of things that happened thousands of years ago – Revelation is the closest to us in time, and it's over 1900 years old. But here is the impact it has now. You are God's servant, and when God views you, when the Lord God who has a relationship with you looks at you, He always sees you through the lens of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. You are washed in the blood of the Lamb, you are clothed with Christ's righteousness. When God the Father sees you, He sees all the joy and love and obedience and holiness of Christ Jesus. Because you are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. So God will help you. You realize, God isn't sitting up in heaven debating whether or not to smite you because you let a frivolous “Oh God” slip out this afternoon. As Paul in Romans says, There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Of course not – He used all His condemnation up upon the cross! Because of Christ, the relationship between you and God is fixed, is healthy. Now, we're still sinners in a sinful world – at least until He returns, and so we do need help. Our own sinful stupidity can get us into a lot of trouble, but God will aid us, help us.

Now when I say that – I don't mean, “Pastor said God helps me, so I'm going to drive 120 mph on icy roads.” No, this is what we really mean by help. Make them to be numbered with Your saints, in glory everlasting. Help us get through this mess of a world, dear Lord, and preserve our faith in You. Help us get through the temptations that Satan and the World and even our own sinful flesh toss at us that would make us forget you, make us forget that we are indeed Your servants who have been redeemed by Your precious blood. Make us remember who we are in You, remember who You have made us to be.

This gets spelled out in verses 8 and 9. You might have noticed that they are in italics – they aren't in the earliest version – that means they've only been sung for 1000 years and not 1500, oh well. They are still fantastic. O Lord, save Your people and bless Your heritage. You are God's heritage, His legacy, His enduring joy. He's not going to treat you like junk. No, He will save you, preserve you. Indeed, He will govern them and lift them up forever. God doesn't leave you to face the temptations of this world alone. He is your king, your ruler; He governs you. His Word instructs, guides, chides, and reshapes you. And indeed, His Word lifts you up when you have fallen. You are forgiven on account of Christ – now let's go have the Supper and receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins – lift up your hearts... and this He does forever.

Thus, our response is this: Day by day we magnify You and we worship Your name forever and ever. I like that word “magnify”. It's so old fashioned – but it's part of Mary's Magnificant. To magnify means to make something big and great, to make it magnificent. And this is what we do as Christians – day by day we worship God – that is we consider what He has done for us and we look at seen just how great and wondrous it is, and we proclaim it. And seeing how wondrous our God is, we pray. Grant, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin. God, keep us from messing up. It's the Alan Shephard prayer from the first space mission. Protect us from ourselves, O God. And yet, the Te Deum is realistic – even if outwardly our day seems virtuous and full of good works, we remain sinful, and so we cry out O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us. O Lord, let Your mercy be upon us as our trust is in You. Three times we call out for mercy – give us great and full and complete mercy, O God, for we need it. Indeed, we do not trust ourselves, for if left to our own devices and on our own, we would surely ruin it all. Instead, we cling to You. O Lord, in You have I trusted; let me never be confounded. You have give me the gift of faith, O Lord, so I trust in You. Never let me lose that faith and trust.

And there is. A great confession of faith, a great hymn, declaring, dare I say magnifying once again all that God has done for us in creating us, in redeeming us, in giving us faith and keeping us in the faith. It's the same pattern as we confess in the Creed, it's the same lessons taught in the explanations to the creed in Luther's Small Catechism. And thus, we do praise God, for all His benefits that He richly and freely showers upon us, with no merit of our own, but solely on account of the love He has for us and has shown us in Christ Jesus. All thanks be to Christ Jesus our King. In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Advent King +

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sarah and Jacob's Wedding

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
Sarah, Jacob, friends and families, greeting in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. This is a good, good day. A joyous day. It's about as near as we get to the life of the world to come this side of that life of the world to come. And I mean that completely literally – as we just heard, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” That's the image we get for the new heavens and the new earth, the image we get for the life of the world to come. Jacob, the closest you get to heaven before you get there was watching Sarah walking down the aisle. That is a wondrously neat thing.

And now I'm going to be a bit of a downer. While it's the closest thing we get to heaven on earth – alas, we aren't there yet. This isn't the life of the world to come yet – and you two are here, joined together by God, to sustain and support each other in this life, in this world, where things get messed up. John tells us of that time that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This marriage is God's gift to you preparing you to handle all the former things you are yet to see. The things that do cause tears, and mourning, and pain.

One of the wonderful things about our God is that He is an utter realist. God never lives in denial, His Word is Truth, not pie in the sky. And God knows what life in the fallen world is like, and so God has joined the two of you together to face down this world. You are His own two beloved children, tied together by Him. Sarah, God has given this man here, Jacob, to you, to support you, to protect you, to comfort you, and to settle you, to help you remain on a nice even keel. And that's good for you. And Jacob, God has given this woman, Sarah, to you, to support you, to encourage you, to motivate you and spur you on to accomplish things you wouldn't have done on your own. In the two of you, God has assembled a good team, a good partnership; one that is able to confront challenges, confront difficulties, and overcome them. It's a great thing.

And yet, because we are honest, because we are lovers of the truth, you do realize that sometimes the challenges that you will face will be each other. That's just reality; the two of you are both sinful human beings. I mean, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know – but ponder this. While God has put you together to act as a check on each others sin – Sarah, you know there will be times when Jacob will keep you from doing stupid stuff, and likewise, Jacob, Sarah's going to pull your bacon out of the frying pan often enough – but even more importantly, you are placed into each others lives to remind, to declare, to proclaim the forgiveness that Christ has won for you. Sarah, when you do mess up, Jacob is your husband, and he will point you to Christ. Jacob, when you mess up, Sarah is your wife, and she will point you to Christ. That's part of why you are placed together, so that you don't sit and face your sins alone, but that God has given you someone to speak His love, His love and mercy and forgiveness to you.

Be in His Word together, as you have been since I've known you. Be in Church, hear preaching, receive the Supper, be strengthened in Christ, not only for yourselves, but for each other. Because that is why God has brought you here today, that you may each love and serve the other, according to God's holy will. And that's a great thing... so let's get to it. The Lord bless you both through all your years together, in the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Advent 3

Advent 3 – December 12/13, 2015 – Matthew 10:2-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
We are on to my favorite week of Advent – the third week, the pink week. It's the time in Advent where things lighten up a bit, where we sort of prime the pump and get ready for the last push towards our celebrations of our Lord's incarnation on Christmas Day. Now wait just a second, pastor, did you say that things lighten up? The Gospel text is John the Baptist stuck in prison feeling miserable! How in tarnation is that supposed to be a “lightening up” sort of text? Well, let's find out.

Now, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” It might surprise you, but this is one of the most debated passages in the New Testament. Some people will look at this text and say, “Oh, surely John wouldn't be doubting, John wouldn't be struggling – he's not really asking, he's just trying to send his disciples off to Jesus!” It's a very nice, pious way of looking at things... except, back in the day, if you wanted to send your disciples to another teacher, you'd just say, “I can't teach you any more, you're going to go follow so and so.” Moreover... Jesus sends the disciples back to John - “Go and tell John...” So no, here is what is going on. There is John. And he has given his life to serving the Lord. His whole life, even from before birth – dedicated to God. He eschewed the comforts and joys of civilization and society, he ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, he preached and preached, angering the powers that be in society, and now finally, there he is in jail. And we know what happens. His head on a silver platter because some gal does a sultry dance for Herod. That's how John goes out – not even in a blaze of preaching glory – not like St. Stephen who gets stoned to death while preaching (we'll hear about this on December 26th). No, John, the great preacher, stuck by himself in a prison, waiting to be killed.

And that cell was cold, and dark, and dank. And John is left there with his own thoughts, with his own doubts. It's easy to be strong when you are preaching to others, it's much harder when you are alone with your fears. And so there is John, and he has his disciples run to Jesus and ask Him, “Are you the One?” Are you the one Jesus, was I right when I said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”... or did I mess up? Because right now, seeing the four walls of this prison cell, it's really easy to think I messed up.

So what's our Lord's response? Does He start ranting against John – John you should have known better! You get what you deserve, I hope you rot and die you doubter! No. There is not a single ounce, not a drop of disdain or condescension towards John from our Lord. Instead, there is utter care. “And Jesus answered them, '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.” Do you see what Jesus does? John had been looking at his own doubts, his own fears. The lousiness of his own life was creeping in on him and driving him to doubt and despair. And so Jesus takes John's disciples and tells John – no, quit looking at the walls of those cells, quit looking at your doubts and fears, quit looking at your quaking heart. Here's what you should be looking at – here's how you will be refreshed. Here's what you need to behold (eh, eh, see the third candle on the banner).

The list Jesus gives to John is the classic list of what the Messiah would do, what would happen when the Messiah comes. The blind see. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. And the Dead are raised. It's a good list, a great list – all things that Christ has done. But the final one – and the poor have good news preached to them – that's the kicker. Alright John – you feeling poor and miserable right now? Well, I'm sending your disciples back to you to preach a bit of Good news. Yes, I am the Messiah – and you know what that means? You ain't see anything but the walls of your cell? You will see eternal life. Stuck in that cage, chained and bound? You will walk freely in the courts of the New Jerusalem in the glory of the Lord. Is that dungeon grimy and dirty? You will be spotless, washed in the blood of the Lamb, for I am indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Have you been hearing nothing but the sounds of your own doubts? Hear the word of the Lord. Even though you die, even though Herod will take your head and I will not see you again in this life, I am the Lord your God who suffers and dies for you, who rises for you, so you will be raised. There's your good news John. And you are not offended by Me, you are blessed. While what Jesus tells John at first sounds strange to our ears, to John there would have been nothing more beautiful to hear, nothing more refreshing, nothing more restoring. As beautiful as “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” ringing out, even in the midst of a funeral service. Good news.

And then as John's disciples go Jesus addresses the crowd. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” Why did you go to listen to John people – did you think he was a reed shaken by the wind? Did you think he was something weak rooted and insubstantial that was just spouting the latest and greatest craze and fad? He wasn't merely that. “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” Were you wanting some money advice, someone who would help you become rich and wealthy and powerful? Those sorts live in palaces – not the palace dungeon. What 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 out to John because he was preaching repentance, repentance because the Lord was coming. And I am here, and the time of salvation being won, your salvation, is at hand.

So then my dear friends in Christ, what do we see and learn from this text?
Well, first things first – never let anyone tell you that a real Christian never struggles with doubts or fears. Never. Jesus says of John, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” - and yet, what do we see in John? Are we going to say John wasn't a real Christian? Poppycock! But there is this idea, especially running around in American Christianity, where we feel compelled to pretend, to put on this always happy mask, to act as though we are never hurt, never scared, never fearful, never worried, and especially at Christmas time, which isn't always a happy time for all of us. “Oh well, just fake it.” Here's why that's dangerous. It isolates us. John was stuck in a cell, and he was isolated... and doubts and fears grew. And we've been trained by culture and stupid false piety to think that when we are hurt we should just be quiet, don't let anyone know, tough it out... and we throw ourselves into a prison of our own devising, and the hurt and the doubt and the fear grows... all the while we struggle to keep up appearances. Have you not heard, dear friends, that Faith comes by... hearing. Your faith is buttressed, is strengthened not by your ability to tough it out, not by your ability to keep a stiff upper lip – but faith comes by hearing. That's what Jesus teaches in this text – look, John is struggling... so Christ says, “Go tell John” - go speak to him, for faith, even for John, comes by hearing.

And hearing what? Not platitudes. Not sappy advice. Not the sentimentality of the season. Go tell John what Christ Jesus is doing, because you know what John, that is what Jesus is doing for you. And likewise, my dear friends, when you are hurt, when you are suffering, when your sin looms large, when guilt attacks, when there's fear, when your body breaks, when you see failure – you too need to hear what Christ Jesus has done for you. You see, all this stuff comes with shame, and we close up, we get fearful. You do realize none of this surprises Christ Jesus? He is all knowing, you're never going to shock Him. Indeed, He knows your troubles better than you do – and so Christ Jesus says to you, “Behold, I am Your Lord, I am your Savior, I know your troubles... I knew them even before you were born... and in fact because of your troubles, Behold, I Myself came down from heaven and was born, I Myself came and took My place in this fallen world, I Myself came and faced all these sorts of fears and trials and troubles, I even faced down death. For you. So that I would rise and have the authority to say, all your sins are forgiven and even though you should die, yet you shall live.”

It's actually pretty neat. Satan and your flesh will want to rub your nose in your sin and fears and doubts – there's a reason Satan is called the accuser. Instead, Jesus says, “there's something else I want you to look at – something else for you to behold. Me and My love for you which never fails.” And seeing Christ, and hearing His Word of life, hearing forgiveness, remembering our baptism, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good in His Supper – we are refreshed. Not by our strength, but by His. Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +