Saturday, February 8, 2020

Septuagesima 2020

Septuagesima Sunday – Matthew 20:1-16 – February 8th and 9th, 2020

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
I am an unabashed fan of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special – and not just for the fact that it's about the one time a year Scripture actually gets read on TV. No, I actually like how dark and cutting some of the humor is. And my favorite part is where Sally has Charlie write out her Christmas Letter and asks Santa to send her tens and twenties – fifties and hundreds today. And when Charlie Brown gives his “good grief” Sally says, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” That is fantastic social commentary, and it should remind us today that the more things change, the more they stay the same – all I want is what is coming to me, all I want is my “fair” share.

One could easily imagine the workers in the vineyard, the ones who had come early in the morning and had worked all day saying the same thing. There they were, and they saw the Vineyard owner toss out money to these Johnny come latelies – these lazy bums who had only worked half a day, or barely an hour. Surely, surely when we who have worked the hardest get paid, we will get a just reward! And on receiving [a denarius] they grumbled at the master of the house saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” Where's the money? Pony up the cash? Deniarii in at least 2 and 3s! All we want is what we have coming to us! All we want is our fair share. The story of the workers in the Vineyard is such an interesting story because on the face of it, it does seem quite unfair. We like people to get what they work for. We don't like people to be simply given something when we have to work for it – whether the narrative is how you hate the lazy rich who are just given everything by their parents and never have to work or whether the narrative is grousing at the lazy poor who just get government handouts – even to this day someone getting something for free when we have worked for it always irritates us.

So listen careful when I say this. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.

Consider again the story. At first glance we can understand why the laborers who worked all day might be angry and annoyed – why they are so upset at the end of the day. But that happens only when they and we don't understand, don't remember where they were at the beginning of the day.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. We hear that and we can just skim on by it, but this is important. Where are the laborers when we start? What's the situation of the laborers before we come across them? They are unemployed. In a day and age when there are no social agencies, when there is no unemployment insurance, when the Law is “If a man does not work, then he shall not eat.” And these laborers, whom the master finds, are people who have no job. Ponder that – they are there, standing, and they literally do not know where their next meal will come from. That's their situation. They wake up and don't know if they will be able to buy bread for their family. And frankly, there's every reason to think that they might not be able to – but then the master comes. Here, come to my vineyard, and I'll give you a good salary – a Denarius – a living wage! He doesn't undercut their pay, he doesn't lowball them – he doesn't minimum wage them, or give them a bit of cash all off the books like migrant workers. This is solid, like a union job falling into their laps. And they were happy – as they ought to have been – this is Kingdom of Heaven stuff, this is how things ought to be.

At that point they knew how generous the master was – because he dealt with them generously in hiring them. No shenanigans, no funny business – just dealing with them generously straight from go. And unsurprisingly, the master continues to be generous. He hires more and more workers throughout the day – finds more and more people who are becoming ever increasingly desperate and despondent, who see more and more doom and gloom and hunger and poverty enveloping them, and over and over the master calls them – here, come, I'll give you what is right. And he does – he takes care of all of them. Everyone gets treated well – a Denarius – a full wage, enough for life and the joys and comforts there of.

But by the end of the day, some of the workers aren't seeing the masters' generosity towards them anymore. Instead, they only see how others took short cuts, got off easy. I had to sweat it out – how come they get the same as me? Greed and envy cloud everything, and their joy and peace is turned to anger and discontent. But what had changed? The master hadn't changed – he was still his same old generous self. Their situation hadn't changed – they got exactly as they were promised – the good that they were promised. No, the only thing that had changed was their idea of what was “fair” - of what they should have coming to them. They forgot that when they woke up that morning it would have been fair for them to go hungry, that poverty and death was what they had coming to them, all except for the fact that this master went out and found them and called them to the vineyard. They forgot, and so they were miserable.

The Kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – that is, it is a kingdom of God's free forgiveness and favor, given not because of what we do or will do but simply because it is God's good and gracious will to redeem sinful man. And that's what we are – sinful men and women – and we must remember that by rights, our “fair share” is death and hell. But to see that we do not get death and hell as our only share, Christ Jesus comes, God Himself becomes man, and He Himself goes to the Cross – He bears the true burden of the day, the true scorching heat in our place so that we do not have to – and He rises, and in His grace and mercy, by the Gospel He gives us life eternal and salvation. He gives it to us – to some of us who have been faithful since childhood, to some of us who have often wandered off but have been called back, to some of us who lived idle lives not knowing Christ until lately – but to all of us the same, incredible gift of life and salvation.

This is wondrous and profound and beautiful. Here we have a congregation – people from various walks of life with different stories, all of whom God has called into His kingdom, and here we receive the same forgiveness and life in Christ. I speak the same absolution to you all, the same Scriptures are read to you, the same sermon is proclaimed to you – the same Holy Supper for you – the same blessing upon you. And we are brought to stand before God forgiven and righteous in Christ and prepared for life everlasting. But know that you will be tempted to despise this. That Satan wants you to hate this. That your sinful flesh wants to fight against this. Oh, it's nice that I get forgiveness – but how can so-and-so just get forgiveness. Why, I'm surprised that lightning doesn't strike them. There's a reason there's a big giant Cross on that wall and not a big giant lightning bolt. We all live under the Cross, all equally forgiven.

But in somethings we are not equal. Not all have the same life, the same story of how God called us here. We don't all have the same talents or gifts or opportunities. We don't all have the same burdens and temptations. We don't all have the same failures, and frankly we don't all have the same opportunity to fail. And so how do we see those differences? Do we see them in light of God's generosity – see how gracious God is in how He has richly blessed my neighbor – see how generous God is in how He has kept me from that harm, that danger – see how generous God is in that He has rescued that person from that trial. Or do we see these differences sinfully with a wicked and jealous eye – why don't I have what they have, why are they here when they've failed so and I haven't, why can't everything just be my way? One way of looking and seeing is by faith, and there is joy and wonder, and always more of it. The other way is of sin and death, and then there is no end to your discontent and sourness. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.

Yet once again, this day, the Master calls us unworthy sinners into His Kingdom, and He gives us precisely what He has promised us. He Himself will come and be our God, be with us. He will treat us as His children and the heirs that He has declared us to be in Holy Baptism, and He will give us His rich feast – now, this day as well as eternally in the life of the world to come. And this is for you. This is His generous goodness for you. God grant us His Spirit to strengthen our faith so that we receive it as such. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Presentation of Our Lord

Presentation of our Lord – February 1st and 2nd, 2020 – Luke 2:22-33
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And I bet you didn't know that Groundhog's Day was a Church holiday. It is – the Presentation of our LORD – 40 days after Christmas, when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice for a first born son – two turtledoves. The Groundhog stuff isn't in the bible – that's just crazy German folklore, but this date remembers the first time Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the temple to be our Savior.

But when He gets to the temple, before the sacrifice, something happens – a beautiful, wonderful event – so wonderful and beautiful that we will sing it again today in just a few moments. There was an old man named Simeon, an old fellow who lived in Jerusalem. And somehow the Holy Spirit had revealed to this pious old man that he would not die, he would not see death until he saw the promised Messiah – the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel. Can you think what it would be like? Oh, there is old, faithful Simeon, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the Messiah. Would that we believed the Word as he did and show such diligence as he did! But at any rate, as Jesus and Mary and Joseph are at the temple, Simeon comes up, and he sees Jesus, he sees this Child – and he takes Him up in his old aged arms, takes Him out of Mary’s hands into his own and starts giving thanks to God, blesses God, extols God and sings His praises – uses words which are familiar to us all – Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. We know these words – they are the Nunc Dimittis – Latin for “Now Let Depart” the first phrase of this in Latin. We sing them, even to this day after communion.

Let’s ponder them today, for they teach us much, and we learn much from them. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. Such an interesting reaction. I can die now. That’s what he’s saying – when he uses the phrase “depart in peace” he’s not hoping for short lines at the airport for his trip to Florida – Simeon is saying, “Alright Lord, I can die now – You can take me.” Is that not a marvelous faith, a wonder to think on and behold? To be that confident, to be that sure – I can die now. That is a wonderful gift – Simeon has no more fear. Now, the world likes to keep us full of doubt, full of fear – oh no, what will the future hold. The world thrives on fear, fear sells. Fear keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fear keeps you in bondage. Sadly, politics this election year will probably just end up being competing ways of spinning fear. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. For Simeon, there is no fear – and why? According to Your Word. Simeon has heard the Word, and Simeon believes. Because Simeon believes the Word, trusts that God will be true and will provide Salvation, indeed, Simeon now holds salvation in his hands – what is there for Simeon to fear? Eh, I can die now, the grave holds no more fear for me – I hold the One who will call me forth from the grave. This is the peace that Christ gives, this is the peace and release from fear that is ours – that we know we have and receive every time we receive our Lord’s Supper. Think on this – you have communed – Christ Jesus has given you His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness – what else is there to fear? What tops that, what is bigger or more powerful than Christ Himself given for you? Like Simeon, you too see and hold and indeed even taste your salvation, and are bold like him. You are right to sing his words, make them your own as well – because you have what he had – you likewise trust in the Word. This is the peace of the Lord that is with you always, because in Him you have an eternal peace, and peace that nothing in this world can take away.

Simeon’s song continues – For my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples. We know the old adage – seeing is believing. We can hear things, even from good, reliable sources – and we can even know that something is true – but until we see it for ourselves it doesn’t quite hit home. Our eyes are a useful tool – a wonderful gift given to us by God, even if now a days our eyes can all too often be wandering eyes, looking where they ought not, casting covetous glances all around. Old Simeon knew that the Lord’s Word was true – that when the Lord spoke it was as good as done, you can take it to the bank. And Simeon believed – and yet, when this old man sees the Christ Child, he breaks forth into joyous song. He has seen it – He has held the Christ Child in his own hands – he knows it to be true.

Simeon’s response doesn’t surprise God – because God knows how Simeon, how we, how our minds work. We like having tangible things to hold on to – and God deals with us in this way. Think on the Old Testament. God would give the children of Abraham, the children of Israel signs of His covenant. There was the sign of Circumcision – think on how tangible a sign that was – proof that you were part of God’s salvation. You had Passover – you had the glory of the Lord in the pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. God gave the people of the Old Testament things to hold onto, things to grasp.

And now, even today, He prepares salvation in the face of all people in a way that we can grasp. Consider your baptism. We know what it is – it is not plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word – the old comforting words of the Catechism. Have you ever though how kind and loving God is just in how Baptism works? God takes His Word and attaches it, combines it with something that we can see and touch – water. And since those waters of Holy Baptism have been applied to us, we know that God’s Word has been forever well and truly applied to us. Let doubt be done away with, and as for Satan with his accusations that God wouldn’t love one as you, he can take a long walk off of a short pier, for you are baptized, and you have the physical proof that God loves you. It is a historical fact, you are baptized. Period.

Same wonder with the Supper. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink. Just as Simeon held in his hands the Body of his Savior, the Body of his God made flesh – so shall you in the gift of Holy Communion. What David prophesied in the 34th Psalm you will receive today – Taste and see that the Lord is Good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Christ Jesus Himself will give you salvation, the highest refuge, in His Supper. Again, something tangible, something that we can wrap not just our minds but our hands around – something that we can taste, can smell, can see – God overwhelms us with His love and forgiveness through all our senses – so that we see and taste and smell and believe.

Simeon’s song concludes A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. And with Christ, the old testament came to a close. Israel’s job was done, they had produced the Messiah. No longer would they need to be separated off from the other peoples of the world – God tells Peter he can eat pig now, Paul shows that the ceremonies of the law aren’t required. The whole reason for all these things – the dietary laws, the sacrifices, was so that the people of Israel would be separate and distinct from the rest of the world – they would be God’s reminder to all people that He would send a Messiah, a Savior. The people of Nineveh knew this – they repented of their sin and looked to God. The wise men from the East knew that God was sending a king – but they didn’t quite know how or who. God fearing Gentiles from all over knew that God was going to act in and through the people of Israel – and now that is fully revealed. Behold Christ, the Savior of the Nations. Behold Jesus, the Lord is Salvation for all. And Israel is glorified in Him. Luther in the 1520s writes a book entitled “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew” – and in this he points out that God did not choose to be born of 'pigheaded, crude, drunken Germans' – but He deigned to be born of a Jewish mother – indeed, a glory for that line and heritage and race that no other can claim. Behold, this little Jewish Boy is the God and Creator of all things – the God and Creator who restores His Creation and brings the gifts of heaven to earth.

This is the Child the Simeon holds in his arms, this is the child who grows and goes to the Cross and suffers and dies and rises again to win us salvation. This is the very Body that our Lord gives to us this day for forgiveness. With this in mind, seeing this, we rejoice with Simeon, and with all the saints of every age who are with the Lord now, this day. This is the salvation Christ Jesus has won, and He brings it here to you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Epiphany 3 Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 25th adn 26th, 2020 – Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
So, here we are, in the midst of the season of Epiphany, and we have seen that Jesus is the promised King of the Jews, True God come to earth. This True God is also True Man, who takes His place with sinful man in baptism, who joins in with us in our lives and blesses us and restores us. We have seen that this Jesus is True God, that He is the Messiah who is come to bring restoration and salvation... but to whom? Who does this Christ Jesus come to save? This is a big question. You realize that even with the wise men, we see Jesus there with His family. Last week, at the wedding of Cana - that was probably the wedding of a sibling or a cousin. Has He only come just for His blood kin, His close family, and the rest of the world gets held at arms length, at best only second class servants bringing Him gifts? Not quite, as we see in our Gospel today.

So today we have two healings. First, we see a leper who kneels before Him saying, "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean ." And Jesus touches him and says, "I will; be clean." The second healing happens when a Centurion comes forward and says, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly." And when Jesus offers to come, this Centurion says, "Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed." And, of course, the servant is healed. So here we see two people who make requests of Christ - a leper and a Centurion. Dear friends, you could not find two more different, more hated people living in Judea. Consider the first - a leper, the lowest of the low. To be a leper was to be an outcast, to be outside of society, where even the criminals and the robbers would have scorned and despised you. And then you have the Centurion - a gentile, a foreigner, a stranger. And not only that - one with power. A Centurion was an officer over 100 men, probably the highest ranking Roman official there - a man of wealth who has servants. Opposite ends of the spectrum, aren't they? The local but outcast, the foreign and powerful but despised. And yet, when they ask, they receive – indeed, Christ Jesus gladly intervenes personally in their lives.

If you were a good Jewish person of the day, you wouldn't have expected the Messiah to consort with either of these men. If a leper came up to a Pharisee in those days, the Pharisee would have recoiled in horror. Instead, Jesus reaches out and touches the man, healing him. You would never touch a leper - it defiled you - yet Jesus does. If a Centurion came up to a Pharisee, the Pharisee would be curt but polite at best, do whatever business had to be done and then move on. And yet, Christ offers to enter this Centurion's home. You didn't enter their house, who knows what defilements that house would hold, there might be pig's blood or something even worse. And yet Christ hears the pleas of this Centurion, and He even offers to enter the man's house! So, what does this mean, what does this teach us, what does this reveal to us about Christ? Christ Jesus has come to save the world, to save all sorts and kinds of people, and not just the people that we might expect.

We say the words often - we say, "For God so loved the world", we'll talk about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World (we say that one several times in the service). We know Galatians, for their is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female - all are one in Christ. Yet, let us be honest. How often do we fall back into the worldly practice of judging, of categorizing, of thinking where someone "belongs"? There are people who if they walked into this Church seeking Christ's forgiveness and mercy, well, our first reaction would be to draw back with a raised eyebrow. One of the things that we know, but is so hard to put into practice, is the truth that God desires all people, that He came for everyone. We know this - but too often we listen to our flesh. There are individuals that we just don't like, or there are stereotypes or attributes that we fear, and this can tempt us to cut these people off, to cease showing them love. We must fight against this, my friends, we must fight against focusing our eyes upon our differences or upon the things we don't like - instead, we must focus our eyes upon Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the entire world.

Why? Why should we look to Christ? Why should our eyes be focused upon Him instead of having our eyes focused on and by the world, by those divisive all around tribal ways of thinking? Why should we repent of our judgmental thinking or thoughts that are shaped by earthly power? Because the sinful thoughts and dreams of man never really pan out, never satisfy. Because the world is broken, is fallen, and as such it tries to drag us down along with it, to twist our thoughts and bring us ruin and despair. Consider the text. A man had leprosy, and according to the world there was nothing to be done but to banish him and let him die. Another man was paralyzed, and to the thinking of the world - that's it, that's all she wrote. The world often thinks this way, fatalistically with doom and gloom, but you have been given ears to hear, you have been given the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit you know that Christ Jesus, your Lord has come into this fallen world to defeat sin and death with His death upon the Cross. And so eager is Christ to restore this Creation that as He goes to the Cross, He fixes things along the way. The leper cries out, and Christ heals. The Centurion prays, and Christ answers. Christ comes and gives small, temporary restorations to His creation, even as we all await the true restoration of the last day, when we will rise as He has risen, live never more to die, never more to even worry about death. The world says, "You have to do precisely as I say otherwise we are all going to live horrible lives and lose everything!” (enjoy the election campaigns, people) - whereas faith says, "Behold Christ, and know that because of Him that even though you die, yet you shall live."

And my dear friends, do not fall prey to the false teachers who want to take this promise of Christ and then just twist it back to vain, worldly goods. Don't give heed to the faith healers or the prosperity preachers, for all they do is peddle the same rotten wares of the world, just with a veneer of artificial Jesus flavoring slathered upon them. Place your trust in Christ, pray "Thy will be done" - and if He gives you in this life better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, so be it... you know what His will for you for all eternity is. He has paid the penalty for your sin and that because of Him you are forgiven. Because of Him you will receive the full restoration in the life of the world to come. It matters not what you face in this life, it matters not what people think of you, or how even how they categorize you and judge you, for Christ Jesus has suffered and died and risen again for you. This is where our focus is, and remembering Christ, hearing His promises, we are given strength to endure whatever we face in this life.

I would have us note one more thing. With both these healings, Christ accomplishes restoration by His Word. Consider the leper. Christ looks at him and says, "I will, be clean." When He heals the servant of the Centurion, He does so saying, "Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." The Word does it - and it really should stand out by how Christ speaks - "be clean, let it be done." Does that sound familiar? "Let there be light"? The Word of God is creative, it is restorative, it makes things come into being and restores them to the way they should have been and would have been had it not been for the fall. The Word of God, Christ Jesus Himself, fixes things by proclaiming the Word. And we see this same thing happen in the Church in our Sacraments. Christ Jesus takes water and the Word and washes us in Holy Baptism and says, "Be clean, all your sins are forgiven." Christ Jesus calls us to His altar, where we believe that He comes to us to give us not a mere symbol but His own true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and He says to us, "let it be done for you as you have believed." Christ Jesus comes, He brings His own creative Word to us, and because He has spoken to us, because the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel and enlightened and sanctified us, we know that we have forgiveness and life in Him. And the wonderful thing is that this Word cannot be taken from you, it can not be stolen from you – Christ Jesus has given Himself to you, made you His temple, and thus His salvation is yours. His victory for you is complete.
So, what do we see and learn today? That Christ has come for all people - that not just His blood relatives are to be saved, but that "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven". Moreover, we know that He means us, for like so many from around the world we have been brought into His true family, for He is our brother and we have received the adpotion as sons in Holy Baptism. We kneel at table with Him, we share in His Supper. And as He lives, so shall we live too. God is with us, with us to forgive and restore us, to lighten the darkness of the this fallen world with His love. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Epiphany 2 Sermon

Epiphany 2 – John 2 (and Genesis 2) – January 18th and 19th, 2020

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
The Wedding at Cana, and Jesus's sign performed there, reminds us of a simple yet rather profound truth – if you want to understand who God is, you need to understand weddings. I mean, really – the Scriptures are replete with wedding imagery – think of the parables where the Kingdom of God is compared to a wedding – the Bible ends with eternal life being compared to a wedding – the Church in both Old and New Testaments is depicted as God's bride. I'll even argue that creation in Genesis is really the story of a wedding, the first wedding. Genesis 1 tells the story of God setting up the wedding, Genesis 2 tells the story of the wedding from Adam's perspective, waiting for his wife. Weddings all over the place.

And today we do not understand weddings. We don't. I hesitate to do this, but I need to address some of the myriad ways that society doesn't understand weddings today. And I'm not going to talk mainly about same sex marriages – we know that God created marriage to be one man, one woman. But our society's misunderstanding of weddings started long before just a decade ago. Consider – if I were to ask folks why two people should get married, what answers might I get? “Because they love each other.” Blech. Marriage isn't supposed to be about an emotion, no matter how wondrous or lovely that emotion is. I hope all of you who are married enjoy and are attracted to your spouse – but that's not what marriage is. Simple emotions, especially ones based upon physical attraction don't last. And frankly, in a marriage, there are going to be plenty of other emotions involved. When I leave dirty dishes out and my wife finds them, I don't expect “love” to be the emotion to best describe her feelings at that point. And yet, we speak of marriage being primarily about love in society – and that leads to so many marriages falling apart. Other emotions steal love's thunder, or eyes wander a bit. We can lament “the thrill is gone” - but if you think marriage is supposed to be based upon the thrill of young love, well, what did you expect?

And of course, there are times we are tempted to think of weddings primarily as a big fancy shindig, full of dress-up and expensive costumes. Don't get me wrong, I love a good party – and as it should be clear from our Gospel lesson, Jesus loves a good party too, and when it's a Jesus party, the party don't stop. And we'll talk about the honeymoon trips, which again are a fantastic thing – I can talk your head off about Ireland as Celia and I honeymooned there – but the party and the dresses and the trips – those aren't what make a marriage – they aren't the typical reality. Our wedding parties and trips today tend to be utterly unrealistic – they tend to be fairy tales – expensive fairy tales, sort of disconnected from real life. This wedding at Cana – it was at one of family member's house – and the family ran the food – that's why Jesus and His mom are running around in back by the kitchen – they're running the kitchen for a cousin's wedding. It was realistic – not the pretend extravaganzas that society says that we should have today. Because the point of a wedding isn't to pretend she's a princess and he's prince charming and spend like it either.

So what's the point of a wedding? Genesis 2:18 is one of the most important verses of the bible, if you want to understand how things work. Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” In all of God's wondrous creation, even before the fall, God sees Adam by himself and says, “This isn't good. Adam needs someone else he needs a helper.” And note there, that word “Helper” isn't dismissive – it is from the word that means strength, protection, support. It's a great creation that God has made, but it's too much for one alone, I will make for Adam a support, a companion, one fit for him and then these two will have all of creation to enjoy and work in together. And so God throws a wedding. Adam sleeps, God pulls out a rib, fashions Eve – Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh - “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Congratulations – man and wife – what God has joined together let not man put asunder.

And it's good, and God decides to take a walk away from the reception for a bit, and when He comes back, everything is messed up. Imagine you were at a wedding reception today, and everything is going wonderfully, and you step out for a moment, visit the rest room, and when you come back there's screaming and shouting and crying and the two families have gotten into fist fights. That's Genesis 3. That's Jesus before He is born of Mary walking back on in and seeing all hell breaking loose in His creation. Adam, Eve – what's going on – you were fine just a bit ago. And Jesus knows – sin has broken out. And these two people that He had created and put together are at each other's throat.

And let's face it – since that first wedding in the garden – that's a good description of how marriages go. People who are supposed to support each other often annoying the tar out of each other, or working against each other, hurting each other. A pastor friend of mine likes to describe marriage as “mutual hostility towards each other interrupted by moments of tenderness.” Thus the reality of sin in the world. And thus also part of why the younger folk aren't getting married as much any more. They see the fighting, the hostility of the generations before them – the divorce, the bitterness – and they say that's not for them. Or this – they think, “I can't get married yet, because I don't have this set up, or I haven't done that yet. Let me buy a house first, get more established in my job...” Or in other words, let me make sure I can do just fine completely on my own before I partner up – that way I know I'll be fine if I have to kick some lousy partner to the curb. And it's sad and depressing and utterly unromantic – but it is honest about the terrible impact of sin in people's lives. And frankly, too often we in the Church haven't been honest about sin, about our own sin and how it affects us, and we hide it, we pretend it isn't there, and stress and anger and resentment grow and grow while we pretend everything is pious and holy and keep up the smiling face, all while things break apart. Because that's what sin does – it drives people apart.

And this is what God sees. Sin driving people apart – even the couples He specifically put together, to be a family, to build, to be His instruments of creation. And I don't have to tell you, there's not a family here that isn't touched by divorce and things breaking, and it's horrible and wretched and tragic. And that is why Jesus becomes man. There's only going to be one way to fix things, to stop this, to put things right – and that is by forgiveness. That is by Christ Jesus being the Lamb of God and taking up the sin of the world and taking it to the cross and destroying sin and death there. And one day, after He had come in the flesh, Jesus was there at a wedding – cousin of His most likely – and there Jesus is, true God and true Man – and think of what a fully mixed bag Jesus would see as He looks at that wedding. The joy, the blessing that it is, but also the faults, the failures, the hardships so unnecessary these two would unleash upon each other. And while He's looking His mother walks up to Him and says, “They have no wine.” Sin brought about lack and hardship – never would have run out of anything in the Garden, but after Genesis 3 there is often lack and hardship.

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary saw a lack of wine, a party cut sadly short. Jesus saw something bigger – He saw sin messing with His creation, with His people – and no Mom, it's not time yet for Me to destroy sin upon the Cross – that hour has not yet come. But Mary knows her boy – you don't have to fix all sin yet – servants just do what He says.

And then, the water becomes wine. Without any show, without any fuss. Jesus decides to let the party go on. Even in the midst of sorrow and sin and our own guilt and shame, Jesus determines to increase our rejoicing and celebration and pour out every blessing. Give us our daily bread, our daily wine. And the wine is strong – uncut – so strong that the master of the feast is surprised. And there, Jesus' disciples, watching this – they get a glimpse, they get a sign of who Jesus is. The Party goes on – and the two shall be together and they will enjoy being together – especially this afternoon.

Jesus' goal is to put people together – not just as spouses, but think of all the other various relationships He gives us – parents, children, neighbors, coworkers, friends, a congregation. And He created all of this to be nothing but blessing for you. But sin pulls these relationships apart. Sin and the fear of consequences and death pull us away from the very God who would give us these blessings. And so, to fix this, to see that you get your joy and celebration and relationships that will not end – Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, He dies, He rises to fix things. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. In Baptism, He restores you to the family of God – you are once again a child of God and things are good. He feeds you His Supper so that you are strengthened, so that being forgiven you forgive those who trespass against you. Because that's how sin is fought here and now, in our relationships – we live in Christ's forgiveness, and with that forgiveness we are reconciled to each other, even after we have sinned against each other. And Jesus gives you His love, His forgiveness over and over so that you will endure even until the Last Day when you are raised – and then you'll see it. Revelation 21 -
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. 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.” Forgiveness and Reconciliation and Joy. Because of Christ Jesus, who has called you to be His own – this is what you will see. Understand who God truly is – understand His gift, His true wedding for you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Epiphany Observed

Epiphany Observed – January 4th and 5th, 2020 – Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
The season of Epiphany technically begins on January 6th, but we will we observe it today. The Epiphany Season is the season where we focus on the revelation of Christ to the world. Yet, Epiphany itself is a neglected, undervalued day among us. We mark the start of Advent, the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, yet January 6th often passes unnoted. Historically speaking, this is sort of odd. For Centuries, especially among gentiles, among those not of Jewish line or descent, Epiphany was the chief, the highest celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, higher even than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Why? Because on the day of Epiphany we observe and celebrate not just the birth of our Lord, not just that the angels told some Jewish shepherds about this – but that even the Wise men, men from the East, Gentiles, non-Jews – that they too are shown Christ Jesus, this infant in Bethlehem was to be the Savior not just of the Jewish race, but of the whole world, that He would be a Light to lighten the Gentiles. We are those who have seen His light, and so we are right to rejoice in this revelation today.

Our text provides us an interesting contrast to ponder. In it we hear this: “Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” Here we see the Magi, scholars, teachers, wise men from the East, from the Gentile nations, and they arrive in Jerusalem. At the time, the world viewed Jerusalem as of being of little importance. It is not like today, where so much violence hangs over who controls Jerusalem, where so much of Muslim tensions with the West revolve around Jerusalem. No, in Herod’s day the coming of these wise men would have been quite a spectacle, quite unexpected. Yet they arrive – and what do these wise men arrive to do? Do they come so that they can spout off wisdom? Do they come so that they can impress the people of Jerusalem? No. They have seen a star, and somehow through sign this they understood that a new King of the Jews was born. And more than that, they come to worship Him.

This is what is astonishing. These magi from the East, these wise men who don’t even know where the Christ Child is born, something any of our little Children could tell us, they at least know that they ought to come and worship Christ Jesus – that this One who is born is worthy of worship and praise. How they knew this – that is beyond me, but I would simply note that in Genesis, at the creation, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons.” Somehow, by the Grace of God, these wise men read this sign – and I give thanks to God that we do not need to look to a star to learn of Christ, but rather that He is revealed to us in His Word and in His Supper. That is much easier and better. But, at any rate, the wise men know that Jesus is born, and right away they know and desire to worship Him. That, ultimately is why they have come – they come to worship, to get down on their knees before Christ, to praise and give Him thanks for His goodness.

And yet, what do we hear of the people there in Jerusalem, the very people who should have most carefully been looking for the coming of the Messiah? “When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Whereas the coming of the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the promised Son of David is a cause of wonder and rejoicing to these Gentile Magi – this news is met in Jerusalem with fear and trepidation. Whereas the Wise Men hear and wish to worship, there is no thought of worship on the part of the people of Jerusalem. Consider: Herod assembles the chief priests and scribes and he asks them where the child is to be born. They say in Bethlehem, that is what the prophet Micah proclaims. So what do they do? Do the people of Jerusalem form a long, large train and march out to Bethlehem, determined to find this one who is prophesied? Do they too say, “Ah, the promise Messiah. Oh come, let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him”? No. There is no worshipful procession from Jerusalem. Not one of the chief priests or scribes goes to seek out this wonder. They are too caught up in whatever it is that they are doing, perhaps too fearful of offending Herod, who is a violent man. Their excuses are made, and they forsake going to the house where Christ Jesus is present in the world.

This should serve as a warning to us in the Church. We are the ones who know what the Scriptures say. We are the ones who know where Christ Jesus was born, we are the ones who know where He is present. We know that He comes to be with us here in His house, that He reveals His salvation to us in His Word and Preaching, that He is placed upon our tongues in His most Holy Supper. And the temptation can be to ignore this, to disdain it. How often we can and we will be tempted to act like the boorish people of Jerusalem! Can we not often think that there are “better” things to do than to come to Church? Think about that – God is here with forgiveness, oh, no thanks, I have better things to do. We can be fearful, worried about what our friends and peers think, fearful about money and finances and how things will work out. These excuses can try to keep us away. And we can’t pretend that these temptations don’t come upon us. How many people who we know, who have been trained and taught as we have been trained and taught are just skipping this weekend? While some fall away in defiance, how many more fall away through simple indifference? This should serve as a warning to us.

So, how is this to be avoided? Consider again the Wise Men. What do they do, what is their focus? Their focus is upon seeing Jesus. That is what they want, what they desire. If you look at the Wise Men, you see precisely what the book of Hebrews is getting at when it instructs us, “Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” The wise men disdain the hardship of travel, they worry not what Jerusalem thinks of them, they are simply focused on following the star to where Christ is – “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until to came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They are looking towards Christ. And I would note here – what sort of Christ are they looking for – what sort of Jesus do they desire? Do they wish for an entertaining Jesus, one who will give them an hour of entertainment? Babies are cute and entertaining, but they aren’t that cute. Are they looking for a Jesus who will make them wealthy and give them every earthly bauble that their heart can imagine? Hardly. If you want to know what sort of Christ the Wise Men are seeking, look to what they do when they see Him.

“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” They worship Christ – but why do they worship Him? Because He is the Messiah, and their gifts show that He is the Messiah. Gold is tribute – Gold is what you give to your king, your liege, your Lord. They acknowledge that Christ is King. But what sort of King? Not a king like Herod, for Herod received no tribute from them, but rather a king above just the problems of earthly rule. He is a Holy King, a King that they bring frankincense. Where is incense used? In the temple, in the Holy Places. Incense is the tool of the priests of the Old Testament – whenever the priests would enter the tabernacle, the temple, they would burn incense – that’s just what you did. So what does it mean that they give Jesus incense? It means they know that He is the Holy King, our Great High Priest – that He is the true temple and you never go to the temple without incense. And what would this Holy King, this Great High Priest do? They bring Him myrrh. Myrrh is what you use to anoint a dead body with. When it says that they take Christ’s Body from off the cross and wrap it in spices to bury it, the chief spice used in Myrrh. They know that Christ will do what He is supposed to do. A King is supposed to protect His people, a Priest to offer sacrifices for them. And Jesus, our King and High Priest would do both by going to the Cross, offering in Himself the appropriate sacrifice for our sin, protecting and defending us from sin and death everlasting with His own death. This is what the wise men see, this is their focus, this is what this Child Christ will do, and so they come and worship Him.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus – our Lord, in His great love and mercy has won you your salvation, and by His Gospel He has enlightened you to this saving truth, He has washed you clean in Baptism, He has invited you to His House, brought you to the meal of Heaven in His Supper, and prepared you for life everlasting. No other gift you have received, no gift you could ever give, can top this. You have salvation in Christ, and He has revealed this salvation unto you. Therefore, in the midst of a world full of toil and struggles, keep your eyes focused on this gift, and come, join us through all this Epiphany Season, as we hear texts that show us, that reveal to us that Jesus Christ is indeed our God and Savior. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christmas 1

Christmas 1 – December 28th and 29th, 2019 – Luke 2:33-40

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Sometimes we are too used to Scripture, we just take it at face value and nod our heads at the stories and think, “Oh, isn't that nice?” Because that's what we think the stories in the Scripture are – nice little stories. Stories that make for really pretty cards and decorations and such. And here we have Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth and old Simeon and Anna are there – and isn't this just a sweet story, pastor? I suppose – in part it is a beautiful story – the setting is this. There's an old guy at the temple named Simeon, and he's been told by God that he will live until the Messiah arrives, so he shows up at the temple every day – and Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice that is required for a first born male – and Simeon recognizes Jesus and sings the words of the Nunc Dimittis that we sing to this very day. You can focus on beauty here really easily – and perhaps on the weekend of February 2nd – the Presentation of our LORD, we'll look at that beauty. But for now, think about this.

So, you're a mother, with your child – your wondrous miracle child – and as you walk into the church, some random old guy run up and grabs him and starts singing. Most of the moms I know get nervous about people touching their kid – and some stranger grabs him? And starts praising God. That is why we hear, “And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him.” This is not heart warming sighing or a hallmark moment – this is their jaws hitting the floor what in tarnation is going on do you know who this guy singing is. It was utterly befuddling.

But it gets worse. Old Simeon stops singing, and then He comes up to Joseph and Mary and starts blessing them, fawning over them – which would have been weird and awkward. At worst, the guy is crazy – and at best he's being moved by the Holy Spirit but still moved to some strange things. And then the old guy says, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” And we can hear this today in the midst of our post-Christmas bleery-eyed cheer and smile and nod and say, “That's nice Pastor” all the while not really getting what's going on.

The old man who has taken your child up and is singing and prophesying then turns to you and eyeballs you – this Kid, He has been sent by God (because that's what it means in the Scriptures when you hear that word “appointed” - it is God has established this and ordained it) – this Kid has been sent by God to cause utter chaos in the Israel. That's what the fall and rising of many in Israel would look like – utter chaos. Trouble. Strife. The mighty will fall because of this Kid. And moreover – people will hate Him with a passion – that's what it means that He is a sign that is opposed. He will perform miracles – signs that He has in fact by sent by God – and that will just anger people and make them hate Him all the more. Do you see how what Simeon says, once you get past the fancy-dancy old fashioned bible language, is actually kind of terrifying? Congratulations – your son will cause chaos and people will absolutely hate Him.

And it gets worse. A sword is going to pierce your own soul too Mary – you're going to get caught up in this. In fact, Mary – there will be times that you hate Him. This is one of the things we don't think about or talk about often – but in the middle of His ministry, Jesus' own family gets mad at Him. This is Luke 8 – Then His mother and His brothers came to Him, but they could not reach Him because of the crowd. And He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside desiring to see you.” That word there for “see” there isn't just the simple idea of “we've missed you and want to catch up” - it's the kid who got into trouble coming home and being told, “Mom wants to see you in the kitchen” or your boss saying, “I'd like to see you in my office.” Jesus' family is embarrassed by His preaching – that's why none of His brothers were around when He's crucified. And Mary is terrified of the response that Jesus is getting – she knows that if her Baby keeps running His jibs like He is that they are going to kill and why can't He just be quiet. Think on it mothers – how nervous do you get when your kid does something that makes other folks unhappy? Now imagine your Child so angers people that they plot to kill Him. And Mary wants Him to tone it down – and He won't. And He doesn't. And that will make Mary feel fear and terror and guilt and shame and a heart rending, a heart piercing mixture of emotions. That's what Simeon tells Mary is going to happen.

So... Merry Christmas! Do you get how seemingly incongruous this Gospel lesson is, how it just doesn't seem to line up with the (sentimental feeling inside) that we are promised by Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree? And yet, I would submit, my dear friends, that actually this text fits perfectly for Christmas and is filled with joy – and we hear this wonderful joy and truth when we come across Anna. Who is Anna – well, she's an 84 year old widow who had only been married seven years, and you normally got married around 13, so she's been a widow roughly 64 years. That's rough. And she's a ward of the Temple – she lives there, helps out, they feed her. Everyone knows old Anna. And the Holy Spirit falls upon her when Jesus enters the temple, and she begins to prophesy, to praise God and give Him thanks. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the Redemption of Jerusalem.

Oh yes, Jesus will cause people to fall, and they will see that all their so called strength and power comes to naught. Oh yes, Jesus will break people's hearts – especially the hearts of people who are more worried about their pipe dreams and their niceties and folks who want things to be just so. They get mad enough to abandon Him and even kill Him. But you know what Jesus really does, what He came to do? To redeem. To win salvation. To take on sin head on, to punch sin square on its jaw – including the sin that our sinful hearts like to cling to and hold on to. Jesus will deck it, and if that hurts – well, it has to. Because He is going to rescue you from it. And He will rescue you from it by taking on Death itself and dying. And why? Because He came for the rising of many – He came for your rising, so that you will rise from the dead unto everlasting life. And that is a wild, wondrous, joyous thing – but also something that our old sinful flesh finds terrorizing and wants to treat with nothing but utter contempt.

And over the next few months, as we wend our way towards Easter – we are going to see Jesus in action – and we'll hear preaching that shatters sinful hearts, and we'll see the mighty brought low and we'll see the pathetic healed and raised and all of this even unto His own death and resurrection. And it is my prayer that we hear this Gospel with ears renewed by the Holy Spirit. For too long the Church has just smiled and nodded at the Scriptures, at the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And all the while the contempt for Christ Jesus and His Word has grown all around us... but our Lord has promised to use all things for our good, and perhaps hearing, being a bit surprised by the disdain the world has for God and His Word, we might hear that Word a bit more attentively, and perhaps even notice the places where we causally disdain it and skirt on by it. Perhaps in the disdain of the world, we will see a reflection of the ways in which we ourselves are guilty of the same disdain, the same thanklessness.

And there are times that might be painful. There may be sermons to come that pierce through your heart – my own heart included in that. But this is again for your Good, that you would see again and know again that while you desperately need a Savior, you have One in Christ Jesus. You have One who is closer to you than you can comprehend, who has given you all good things in the water of Holy Baptism, who forgives you and will raise you. And this is a profound thing, not something to be hurried past, or treated with hushed embarrassment when around the folks out there who no longer like it. It is a wondrous thing, a jaw dropping thing. A Jesus puts His Body and Blood in our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins sort of thing. Something that lets us live this life in peace and then depart it in peace, all according to God's Word. This is the true joy and wonder of Christmas. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Day

Christmas Day – 2019 – John 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Let’s start where John starts His Gospel, the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s a good place to start, the beginning. . . but the Word is there before that – for the Word was God. Yes, the Word was of the Father’s Love Begotten, ere the worlds began to be. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life.” Pretty impressive – it is as we confess in the Nicene Creed – the Word is the Maker of all things, by whom all things were made – God Almighty, God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity – this is the Word that John Speaks of this Christmas morning.

And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” And here our jaw should drop – our surprise should be greater at this than at anything we saw under our tree this morning. The Word, God Almighty Himself, became Flesh, became Man, and dwelt among us, lived among us. Think on that. God became Man – God looks down from heaven and sees us sinful folks mucking it up, making a mess of our lives. He sees us earning nothing but His wrath and Damnation. . . and what does He do? Does He blot us from existence? Does He run away and leave us alone, deciding to just let us rot in our own mess that we have made? No. He becomes Man. God sees us in our sinful state and says, “You know what, I will fix that. . . I’ll become one of them, I will live the perfect life, and win for them salvation by my own death.” God sees our sin, and how does He respond? By becoming Man, by being born, by being a helpless infant. God, in order to win our salvation, hungers until His mother decides to suckle Him, lies in dirty diapers until His mother changes Him, stays where He is put until He can learn to crawl, then to walk. We often get this sweet, neat picture of Christmas – but that sort of misses the point. Christmas is messy, babies are messy. Christmas means God becomes Man and dwells among us – He comes down to us because we can’t go up to Him. God chooses to participate in our lives, share in what we have. And He comes to share in all of it – not just the highs, but also the lows, the hardship, the weakness, the frailty. We see God tasting in all that we taste in our days. We see God for our salvation lying in a food trough.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Indeed, God came down to earth, down to the world to be among men, and by in large men reject Him. Wicked King Herod sought to kill Him, sent our Lord’s Adoptive father Joseph and His Virgin mother scurrying into flight into Egypt in order to protect their infant Child. Yes, a few wise men from afar would come and bow down, but those who were accounted wise among His own people – the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests – they mocked Him. They said He was possessed, they called him a Drunkard. They plotted His death. The crowds on Good Friday finished the job that Herod started as they shouted for His death. But we shouldn’t think it was only people way back then who reject Christ. Look at the very Holy-day of Christmas even in our own land. By in large, we’re more apt to be thinking about Santa than Jesus for most of December. If you tell people that Christmas is coming, they tend to be more worried about getting their shopping done than they are about giving thanks to Christ Jesus for His deigning to come to us. Or maybe we should say Happy Holidays instead. Of course, we’ve even taken the holy out of the holy days. Christmas day has become simply a day for eagerly opening presents and feasting – many Churches don't even have service today, so people can be at home with their families, instead of worshiping together with their real family, the Body of Christ, instead of gathering together for the great and true Christmas Feast – the Lord’s Supper.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. The presence of the Lord, God’s presence, is a scary thing when you are a sinner. It terrified the people of the Old Testament – Adam and Eve hid in the garden, the children of Israel demanded God keep His distance, Isaiah thought He was going to die when He saw God in the temple. Sinful man is reminded of the wages of his sin when He beholds God’s holiness. It’s no surprise that the people of Christ’s day or the world today reject Christ. God with us reminds us that we need God to be with us, that we are not self-sufficient, that we of ourselves are condemned need rescuing from our sin. Instead we often crave better ways to delight in sin. And often enough, even we who know better cave and give into sin, we are tempted to want nothing to do with Christ. When we sin, we shout at the Christ child “Be away from me, I want no part of you. Let me live my life how I want to.” But God does come to us, in His great and wondrous mercy our Lord comes to us again and again – but He doesn’t come as we would expect. He doesn’t come yet as an angry judge to damn us for our sin – that’s what we feared. He doesn’t come yet as a mighty King to defeat and destroy. In His mercy, God has held off that judgment of the last day, and instead He devised a different coming, a coming that would give us hope to be able to stand on that last day. He comes to us simply as one of us.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Boy born in the stable at Bethlehem would grow, He would run and play, He would learn His letters and how to work a saw, a hammer. He would learn from Joseph and Mary to go the temple and pray. They taught Him His prayers which He said at night before He went to bed. God dwelt among us – He lived a life with all the things that we see. Jesus got picked on growing up by the neighborhood bully and caught the colds the kids passed around. He grew into a young Man and had to work – He had friends who disappointed Him and abandoned Him when He needed them. He went hungry and suffered. He wept and mourned. He laughed and rejoiced and celebrated. He heard people complain about Him. Everything you can think of in your life, all the range of experiences, He too shared in them – all except sin, for this Christ Jesus is the spotless lamb, the One without Blemish. He lived how Adam would have lived had he not sinned, Christ lived how we would live if we didn’t sin. This is way in which Christ comes to us, dear friends. Jesus comes to us to share in our lives. Know that Christ Jesus knows our struggles in life well, personally. He too has shared them. Your ups and downs, He knows them. Your joys and sorrows, our Lord knows them. Even your temptations, our Lord knows them, why they would appeal, although He did not give in. Christ has dwelt among us, He has shared fully in your lives. He understands the trials you face, and as such in Compassion He is determined to win you salvation from them. That is the miracle of Christmas Day – that God would lower Himself to our level, simply to be with us, all in order that by His life and death and resurrection He might raise us up to the life everlasting.

Christ Jesus our Lord continues to come to us this day. Jesus still dwells with us, He is still here for our Salvation. Jesus still has the Body that was born in that manger, it is His. Satan tried to wrest it from Him, put Him to death upon the Cross, but on Good Friday Satan overstepped His bounds, and so the Father restored Jesus; the Father was pleased, saw all that His Son had done, and returned Him to life – and now Christ Jesus has risen and lives to die no more. Right now the Man Jesus, born of Mary, Jesus our Brother who shares in all that we are, rules all of Creation from heaven. And Right now, Christ our Brother comes to us, comes to dwell with us here in His Supper. This is Christmas. . . Christ Mass. . . the service of Holy Communion where we celebrate the fact that God became Man for us, that He gives Himself to us, even His own Body and Blood in His supper. It is the feast of His incarnation. As the manger held the infant Christ on the first Christmas morn, this Christmas morn we hold in our hands the Resurrected, life-giving Body of our Lord. Behold your King comes to you humble and lowly, His Body and Blood under Bread and Wine, and brings with Him your life and Salvation. God Almighty comes down from His throne, Christ Victorious over sin and death comes and gives us His own life! This is why we celebrate Christmas – we in fact celebrate it every time we have the Lord’s Supper. God has come and been our Savior – He has won for us full redemption by His death on the Cross, and He gives us His own life to share.

Dear friends in Christ, a most happy, joyous, and blessed Christmas to each of you. This day we remember and rejoice in a great and mighty wonder. Christmas comes again, as Christ shows us His own Body in His Supper and gives us His life. God has come to be with you, to give you life and salvation, to give you Peace with God and each other. God grant that we might ever more know and realize this, even until the day when we see Him face to face. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Advent 4 - Out of Order - Oops

Advent 4 – December 21st and 22nd, 2019 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
As I was getting ready to write this sermon, I came across an interesting article from one of my Pastor friends. It was a religious survey from the website Five-Thirty-Eight, which does fantastic political and social polling – and it was a survey looking at the Church attendence of Millenlials. And what they noted is that the tidal pattern of Church attendance seems to be disappearing. The old pattern was you went to church as a kid, you didn't so much in the early twenties, but as you became an established adult, had kids, you went back. And basically, with the folks aged 23-38, they found that more people left than the generations before, and that less were coming back. And there were a variety of reasons put forth – delayed onset of adulthood, marrying later, more marriages where both spouses aren't religious. But the one that really got me thinking was this. Even the parents with kids were less likely to head back – and the biggest reason given was that the Church was viewed as no longer necessary for moral instruction.

Now, at first glance you might expect me to rail against this and perhaps even make you all stand and recite the Ten Commandments – as we have done throughout our Advent Midweek services – or even recite a meaning or two, as I am sometimes want to do in a sermon. But no – because frankly, they are right. You can learn to be a nice little boy or girl from places other than the Church. The golden rule permeates society – and there are plenty of writers who are fantastic on civic virtue. Even Barney and Curious George can teach you basic morality. No – the sad part about the idea that the Church is no longer necessary for moral instruction is the premise itself – that the primary job, the main function of the Church is supposedly moral instruction. No! These people should have listened to John from our Gospel lesson today!

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” So, John had been baptizing for repentance out by the Jordan river, causing a stir amongst all the people, so the big wigs from Jerusalem send folks to check him out. And they want to know who he is, what his credentials are. Hey bub, who do you think you are? And listen to this answer, and listen to how it is introduced. He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” It doesn't just say, “John said” - but you have this really strong and forceful introduction. Just saying “He confessed” would make it forceful enough, but we hear he confessed and did not deny, but confessed – do you get how strong, how important it is to hear and pay attention to what John says here? And what does he say? I am not the Christ. Do you see what John is doing here? You priests and Levites – you asked the wrong question. You didn't ask the real question, the important one. Who am I – not important. The important question is this – are you the Christ, the Messiah. That's the One we're supposed to be looking for. Am I Jesus, am I the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world – that's the important question – and the answer to that one is... no. I am not the Christ.

But that's not good enough for the priests and the Levites. They keep asking John who he is – are you Elijah – who was said to come before the Messiah. John says no (although Jesus points out later that he actually was... John just doesn't really care who he himself is, John is focused on the Messiah). Well, are you the prophet? No. I will admit – part of me, as a pastor, just loves how ornery and difficult John is here, especially as this time of year I get a bit more ornery or bah humbugy myself. But finally, these poor priests and levites beg John to give them something. Listen, we're not trying to bug you, but if we don't get some answer for our bosses back home, they are going to be all over our case. Can you just throw us a bone – what do you say about yourself? John finally says, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the LORD,' as the prophet Isaiah said.

Do you see, do you hear John's focus upon Jesus, upon the Christ, upon the Messiah? As much as they want to shift John to talking about John himself and who he is – John refuses. Even when John answers them, its Isaiah that is talking about him – and John still points it back to Jesus. No big head for John – I mean, imagine the pride you might have if you could point to prophecy in Scripture and say, “yeah, folks – that one there's talking about me.” Nope. Not the point – look at Jesus!

For a long time, the Church was the institution of society, the most important place. It was the social, moral hub. Not so much any more. School is taking up more and more of that space, so much so that I can't even count on kids having their Wednesday nights free for Confirmation. Other clubs or social groups are rising up – and often they do things on Sunday mornings or on other holidays. And while it might be sad that this is changing, that the church as a social place is declining – that's not the real tragedy. The tragedy is this. When as a society people look at the Church, ask the Church, “Who are you” as it were – the answer isn't “Jesus” - it isn't “This is the place where Christ the Crucified is proclaimed for the forgiveness of sins.” It's something else... and while those something elses are often fine and good – moral training is good, and so is social aid, and so is silly club fun and so are Star Wars movie nights set up by nerds (December 30th, 10 am) – but they aren't what makes the Church the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ – where the Holy Spirit gives the forgiveness won by Christ to His people. Now I will quote the catechism – In this Christian Church He [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers in Christ. That's the important thing – that's who we are. And so many don't even think to ask the question of where can I find salvation.

But back to our Gospel lesson. They asked [John], “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of Whose sandal I am unworthy to untie.” So then what's your point John – if you aren't the big deal, what's the point of all this ruckus? Well, glad you asked. The point is Jesus, the point is the Messiah – the point is the guy who is better than me and who will redeem me. It's not about how great I am – it's about how Great He is in winning us salvation. That's the point people. And while our text stops here, verse 29 says, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John stays on point, and His point is Jesus.

So then, Trinity, if you aren't the main social hub of town anymore, and if you don't have the market cornered on moral teaching or social fun, why do you even exist? What's your point? That font. That lectern, this pulpit. This communion rail. These are the places that God Himself has established – not us, not our grandparents, but God Himself has set up this place to be the place where the Holy Spirit gives us Jesus. It's not about us – we're not worthy to untie Jesus' sandals – we aren't worthy enough to be the lowest scullery maid in the kingdom of God. But Jesus, God Himself, became Man and suffered and died to serve you, to cleanse you of your sin, to redeem you. And He has built this place to see that you hear this Gospel, this Good News – to see that you are brought to baptism, that you receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Because you aren't going to get that anywhere but the Church. You aren't going to get the Gospel in the world. The World will take the things of God and twist them and strip them of Jesus. Oh, the true meaning of Christmas is giving and family... wait, you are defining CHRIST-mas without mentioning... Jesus Christ? The meaning of Christmas is God becomes man so that in Christ Jesus we are forgiven and by Baptism we are made once again part of the family of God. Oh, but Christmas time is the beautiful time of lights and Santa and reindeer (or flamingos). Well, close – but those lights – they are there because Jesus is the light of the world. You'll hear that Gospel lesson on Christmas day here in the Church, but you aren't going to hear it out in the world. And “Santa” is just the Dutch word for “Saint” - and you are made saints, made God's holy children here in the Church – not out there in the world. Oh, and we'll confess the creed that Saint Nicholas helped to write on Christmas day when we confess the Nicene Creed. But that's an in here, in the Church thing. That's a focus on Jesus, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made sort of thing.
John the Baptist was adamant that the focus must be upon Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And likewise, this is where our focus is to be and to remain – otherwise the unbelievers are right and there's no point to this place – we become just another place clamoring for your time and money. We become nothing but a clanging gong (or ringing bell) if we do not proclaim the love of Christ Jesus for us and for our salvation. The most important thing is that Jesus comes to be your Savior – and just as He came a bit over 2000 years ago, He comes to you in His Word, in His Supper, to forgive you again today, richly and wondrously. God grant us ever more to see Jesus for us. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve – 2019 – Luke 2

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
It was the most normal and typical thing in the world. “The time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths.” To all appearances, this would have been the most typical thing in the world. A mother giving birth. Happens all the time. They put pictures of new babies up on the board at Riverside all the time. And the fact that you are here means that one day a while ago someone gave birth to you. And plenty of kids were born today. In fact, we just sent a bunch of beautiful blankets up to the birthing centers at Riverside and St. Mary because still today you have a kid who is born and they get all swaddled and bundled up in comfy blankets to keep them warm.

We know that Jesus being born was special – but just pause for a moment and consider just how typical and normal this birth looked to be. Now, remember, typical and normal doesn't mean “easy” or “ nice” - far be it from any man to call any childbirth “easy”. But there you have a Boy born in the normal, typical fashion, just like billions of people before and after Him. If you had been in that manger watching the birth – and you wouldn't have been, because they were in the manager so Mary could have some privacy. (The “Inn” wasn't a Hampton inn with a bunch of private rooms – it would have been a crowded mess – so head on out to the barn and have some privacy, and if anyone comes snooping around I'll give them the back of my hand.) But if you had been watching that birth, it would have seemed like any other one you might have gotten to see – and then a mother and her child, the bonding, the care. Utterly typical.

And of course, the Shepherds were having an utterly typical, boring night, out there in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Oh, what a boring job – hours, days of tedium only interrupted if wolves or bears attack. Night shift shepherd was a lousy job – and there the shepherds were, the low guys on the totem pole at work, slogging along, when something utterly untypical happens. And an angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were filled with fear. We don't understand how fearful this would have been – we love angels – we have angels all over the place, on our tree tops. The Angels were the mighty warriors of God – and normally if they showed up, if you saw them, it meant you were dead meat. Even today if the mobster says that he'll “send you to the angels” that means you're dead. But more than that – there's the glory of the LORD – the awesome presence of God that people couldn't abide in the Old Testament – the glory that departed Israel over 600 years early – even Moses was fearful in that glory cloud – and these are just humdrum shepherd... of course, Moses had been just a humdrum shepherd when God appeared to him at the burning bush. An awesome, fearful thing – would have terrified any of us.

And yet, this most terrifying, fearful thing ever - “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Don't be afraid – it's good news I bring. It's gospel – it's life and salvation and joy and wonder for all people. Why? Because on this seemingly utterly typical night, the most wondrous event in all creation heretofore has taken place. All the promises of the Old Testament – the promise of God to be with His people, to come to be their Savior – well - “For unto you” - to you, for your good shepherds – is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the LORD. God Himself has been born. That typical baby boy is also in fact God Almighty – God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. And how will you know Him? Not because He's glowing, not because there are Angels singing to Him – we'll sing here in a moment, because this really is cool and we angels have been waiting to see this play out – but this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manager. Yeah, it's that normal looking Kid – the one in the barn. You'll see Him. But before you go, there's a choir piece. And the angelic armies – that's what a heavenly host is, an army – this angelic army sheathes their flaming swords and breaks out into a song of joy and peace and salvation. Utterly astonishing – most wondrous than we normally take it for.

And the shepherds go and see, and they tell Joseph and Mary about the angels, and Mary is left there to treasure this all up in her heart – because this had to be a ton to take in. And the shepherds glorified God and praised Him – and then life went on. And that boy, Jesus, grew in wisdom and stature, and lived perfectly for us, and fulfilled the Law of God for us, and in order to be our Savior, He went to the Cross and died and rose, and what the Angels had proclaimed to the shepherds was fulfilled and true. The Savior had come, and Salvation was won.

There is, in reality, nothing more mind blowingly awesome than how our God wins us salvation. He becomes man, and He suffers, and He dies. This is heady stuff, this is the sort of thing that befuddles the brightest and most brilliant of people, that still causes our heads to spin if with think about it too much. God Himself wins forgiveness! Jesus wins everlasting life. The powers of hell and death and Satan are undone by this little Child born in Bethlehem.

And yet this, the wonder of the ages, a mystery so profound that angels break out into song over it – it comes to each of us here, my dear friends, in such simple, typical, normal ways. This salvation that Jesus won – you don't have to go on some long dangerous trip for it (although if you've traveled back home for Christmas, we're glad you're here). This salvation is not some costly thing for us where we must slave and save our lives away to earn it – oh it cost Jesus but for us, it is free. And it is given out to us and to our brothers and sisters in faith all around the globe in hundreds of thousands of Churches in the most simple ways. The Good News the angels sang is still proclaimed – Christ Jesus has come and won you salvation. The gift of Baptism, where you are joined to this Christ Child and given all that He has – and you don't need a golden font or frankincense to pull this off – just simple water and Jesus' Word. The Lord's Supper, where this same Jesus who was born on Christmas comes to you and gives you His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins – and all that is needed is again simple bread and wine and Jesus' own Word.

And why all this? Because the mystery of the ages is this – that God Himself came down from heaven, and now salvation is freely open and given to all, in the most simple, commonplace ways. Wherever there are people – there will be water, there will be bread and wine, there will be someone to speak the Word. Because this Jesus is for all, even for us here today. Therefore, in the Name of the Christ child, born for you, a most hearty and profound and yet typical and normal Merry Christmas! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our New Born King +