Sunday, January 31, 2010

Septuagesima Sunday

Septuagesima Sunday – Janaury 31st, 2010 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Let us consider our parable for this morning, the parable of the workers in the Vineyard. Imagine yourself, standing in the town square. You have no job, no wealth. You have the clothes on your back, a place to sleep, and that is it. The food you ate for breakfast was the last bit of bread you had. And you have no prospects, no future, no hope. And then, while you stand around, into the square comes a man of wealth, a man of property. And he looks at you, and he says to you, “Come, work in my field.” After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Do you hear what that mean? A denarius a day. A denarius is a good wage, a solid wage, more than livable. And he said a denarius a day – a day, that means tomorrow, and the day after that. You have been pulled up from squalor, from insecurity and now you have a solid job, a good job – and you head on out early this morning to work. There is nothing better that could have happened to you on that day.

In the midmorning the master goes out – and there are other people standing about. Their prospects are looking grim. 3 hours of daylight wasted, and no work for them. But their stomachs still need to be filled – they need to work. And then the master comes to them – “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they go, not knowing what they will receive, but they go in hope that maybe, just maybe it will be enough to skirt by on. Likewise, the master finds more and more people at noon, in the afternoon as well, and he gives them hope, a chance to be more than just a bum. Come, work in my fields. Even an hour before sunset, the master still calls. And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” Why have you not be doing anything? And their answer – “Because no one has hired us.” Why? Because we have nothing, and no one will give us a job, and so we stand here, and we wait to starve to death, for if a man does not work, he will not eat. He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”

Do you see the hope that the master of this house is giving? Do you see how he has improved everyone’s life? All these people are without hope, without prospects, are destitute. And the master comes, and they have work, and by the end of the day, there is hope for their lives. And we know what the master does – he pays everyone, whether there the full day or just a bare hour, he pays them a full day’s wage, a full denarius – go, eat your fill, bring back bread for your family that they might live too, be strong and ready for the morrow. It’s wondrous love, wondrous generosity. But – When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a Denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” While these workers are well aware of what they have been doing the past 12 hours, they forgot where they were a mere 13 hours ago. They complain about the wage that they were ecstatic about in the morning. And the master responds to them gently – Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a Denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge me my generosity? Do you hear what the master is saying? I have been generous to you – I have given you a job, I’ve given you hope and support – and all out of my generosity. Do you see how many other people I pulled in, how many other people want to work here gladly – I don’t NEED you – but I am generous, and I will gladly give you work – do you really want to begrudge my generosity when you yourself benefit from it?

With this parable, Christ not only describes what salvation and the Christian life is, but He also warns us of the ways in which Satan can come and lead us into senseless and pointless grumbling. Salvation is something that comes completely and solely from God – it isn’t something we can take up ourselves. Consider these workers. They all have nothing, and the only reason they have any hope, any support is that the master comes and gives it to them. Likewise, dear friends, consider yourself. What is there in you that would MAKE God love you? You yourself just confessed that you are a poor miserable sinner. And don’t go running to how you are better than the next guy – is there anything in you that God NEEDS, is there anything you can give to God that He doesn’t already have? Will you give Him stuff? He made it, He can make more. Does God need your praise? God’s in heaven, surrounded by angels who are better servants than you and sing and praise Him much better than you – there isn’t anything in you that God needs. And yet – what does God do? Because He loves you, He sends His Son to you, His Son Christ Jesus who takes up human flesh and suffers and dies so that you might have salvation – and this Christ says to you, Come, receive forgiveness and live your life in My kingdom – and this is all totally, completely free, from the grace of God.

For some of you, this call came before you can even remember, when God claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism as an infant. Some of you may have been called later – some of you can probably remember the first time you heard the sweet Gospel of Christ Jesus and knew that your sins were forgiven on His account. And may God grant that even more, young or old are called! But whenever God came to you and brought you into His kingdom by the power of His Word – He promised you life and salvation, the full denarius giving and providing for you everything for life everlasting that you could ever need. We know this, we delight in this, we rejoice in it and celebrate this week in and week out here in God’s house, as we focus once again on Christ Jesus and His love and His salvation.

And yet, there is a problem. Aren’t there times where this salvation, this forgiveness stuff seems less than satisfying? And don’t put up some false pious front because you know the answer should be that you are content. . . but seriously, haven’t there been times when you hear forgiveness preached, and you think – “It’s not fair. I try and be a good Christian – and look at that person over there. They get it too, when I work so much harder than them.” Or perhaps in comparing temporal blessings – the fact that someone else gets the long end of the stick when you are getting the short end? There’s not a one of us here who doesn’t know someone who does less but has more than us. Or even someone’s past – “I remember what they used to do. . . and here they just come sauntering in here.” There are times, dear friends, when we are not content, when the promise of life and salvation in Christ doesn’t seem right enough, when we want more. I’m a good person, why should I be struggling like this! Look at them, why do they have it so easy! You know what that is, right? That is Satan messing with you – it is Satan trying to pull your eyes off of Christ and kill your faith. Satan wants you to forget just how graciously and generously God has loved you, how rich and thoroughly blessed you are – sustained through this wild and dangerous life on this fallen planet and promised the joys of heaven. And so Satan starts whispering words of grumbling in your ear, so that you might turn away, grouse and complain, look for something better and more, and forget God.

When those thoughts come near, remember what our Lord says to you. Friend, I am doing you no wrong. . . Take what belongs to you. . . I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. It’s always, always about our Lord’s generosity. He has loved you generously – just as He shows generous love to your neighbor. And when you grumble, when you grouse, when you complain about them – you forget, you ignore what He has done for you. And by this, I don’t mean simply salvation, I don’t mean simply the promise of heaven, but I mean your life right now as a Christian, the fact that you know what is God pleasing and strive to do it. Sanctification, holy living, is a gift from God. Do you really wish to complain about the work of Christian living that God sets before you? You are a Christian, you know that God has a purpose for your life, that God accomplishes good through you, that your service actually helps other people and has meaning. Would you really rather have no point to your life? Do you really think that being selfish and self-centered and doing nothing but living for yourself and wasting everything is better, where your life is nothing but a futile attempt to satiate your greed, your lust, your passions? You’ve been called out of that to a life of meaning and service! You don’t stand idle in the world, but you get to work in God’s kingdom! Rejoice in the work and tasks that the Lord gives you! And yet, when Satan comes around and tells us that the grass is greener, so often we foolishly let him keep talking. Repent dear friends, and remember again the love that God has for you, the grace with which He loves you!

And know this, dear friends. God knows the temptations that Satan brings about – God knows the ways the old serpent will weasel in pride and contempt. God doesn’t abandon you, but rather He comes to you and speaks to you gently and lovingly. When those workers grumble in the text – the master doesn’t fire them. The master doesn’t kick them out – he calls them friend and consoles them so that they might be ready and prepared for the work of the next day. Likewise – look at what God does for you this day, this morning. He comes to you, literally, He gives His own Body and Blood to you, says “Let ME be with you, let ME give you forgiveness for your sins, even for that grumbling, and let ME give you strength so that you might go forth this week and show love, that you might relish and live out the new life that I give you.” Do you see the generosity of God? And it doesn’t matter how often you’ve spurned it in the past, how often you’ve treated this House and Christ’s Supper as though they were unimportant, not worth your time. He is Here for you now, and He offers forgiveness and life and strength so that you might grow in the Christian faith and learn more and more to live in Him. This is Christ’s gift to you, freely given out of His great generosity. Rejoice in His love and His life given to you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Today's Sermon for Transfiguration

Transfiguration Sunday – January 24th, 2010 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We have come to the apex of the Epiphany season, the day of Transfiguration – where Jesus goes up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and suddenly, there appears Moses and Elijah, and Christ is transfigured; He begins to shine with His own, radiant, glorious light – His holiness, His God-hood begins to be openly and brightly revealed. It is a wondrous text, a glorious text. Peter is most right when he says, “Lord, it is good that we are here!” But I think that sometimes we miss the main points, the things that are more wondrous than simply Christ's transfiguration. Let us look at this text, pay attention to it, and see what we learn.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. So now, we see Jesus with basically His three top disciples. Consider what this means. This would be a honor to them – to have your Teacher pull you aside for special teaching was an honor. You were going to gain more insight, you were going to gain more wisdom. Many of the best things which I learned at the Seminary weren't in the classroom, but outside of class when a prof was talking to just a couple of us. So the simple fact that Jesus is just there with Peter, James, and John means that we should be expecting Jesus to teach. And then, suddenly Jesus' glory begins to shine forth, and then, there is Moses, and then, there is Elijah. Now, let's consider who these two are. There really are no more important, no more powerful teachers in the Old Testament than these two. Moses is Moses, the author of the first five books of the bible, the giver of the Law from Sinai, the one who himself glowed with glory reflected from God. Elijah is the greatest prophet – the one who defeated the prophets of Ba'al, the one who doesn't die, but rather is taken up into heaven by the chariots of fire. These are the guys, these are the top of the top when it comes to teaching, to preaching. The Jews basically referred to the Scriptures as “Moses and the Prophets” and right there you have Moses and Elijah, the greatest prophet. This would be a mindboggling awesome thing to see.

And so Peter speaks up. "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." It was the time of the festival of booths, a Jewish holiday where the children of Israel would remember their sojourn in the desert. And Peter thinks this is just wonderful – let's have Moses and Elijah stay the whole holiday. The excitement here would be hard for us to imagine – it would be like the four presidents from Mount Rushmore suddenly showing up to your Fourth of July party, it would be the same giddiness that we'd have if suddenly our favorite musician knocked on our door this afternoon. Do you get how excited, how overjoyed, Peter, James, and John would be right here. It's a glimpse of heaven for them, it is the most wondrous and awesome thing that any Jew has seen probably in 1500 years – this is even better than what Joshua had with Moses or Elisha had with Elijah, because Peter, James, and John get not only Jesus, but also Moses, and also Elijah.

And then. . . all that joy stops on a dime. Comes to a crashing halt. He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. The voice of the Father thunders from heaven, and suddenly, the disciples drop like they've been shot. Down on the ground, faces in the dirt, we don't want to see anything any more. So, why? Why did the disciples suddenly become afraid? Because they remember something that we so often forget – a holy and righteous God cannot abide sin – a Just God has to punish sin. Sin has consequences. Sin has impact! Sin means that by rights they are good as smitten right then and there, because sinners don't do well in the presence of God. From the Fall in the garden, sinful man has known that his sin, his rebellion means that when the Father comes by, you probably ought to just go and hide – and that's what Peter, James, and John do – they stick their heads into the ground.

But then, the voice no longer speaks – and then, But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." Jesus walks up to them, taps them on the shoulder, pulls them up off the ground, and tell them to have no fear. Do you see comfort and care that Jesus shows them? Jesus knows why they are freaked out. Jesus understands – and so gently and lovingly Jesus lets them know that it is safe for them to look up. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And looking up, they only see Jesus.

That was the lesson. For all the wonders and delights that the disciples would see with Jesus, for all the miracles, even with this transfiguration and getting to see Moses and Elijah, even though they were the best disciples – when it boiled down to it, they were still sinners. Nothing more, nothing less. And when the Father starts speaking, there would be nothing for them to do but to hit the ground. But then something happens. Jesus comes to them, and He touches them – physical contact, flesh touching flesh, and Jesus says rise and have no fear. I am here, I have become Man, so you do not need to fear the consequence of your sin any more. Because I live, you will not die. And they look up, and they see Jesus – and it clicks. Because Jesus is here, because True God, glorious and wondrous, has become True Man, they will be saved, they will live. Indeed, there is no other name under heaven by which we are to be saved than Jesus – because He is the One who becomes man, and He is the One who strides to the Cross and takes up the punishment for sin in our place. Because of His love for us, He takes upon Himself the fullness of the punishment of sin – and His perfect love for us casts out our fear. This is the lesson of the transfiguration – that because of Christ, we have no more fear.

Now, dear friends, let us ask the difficult question. Have we learned this lesson ourselves in our own lives? There are two sorts of problems that us sinful folk run into when we live our lives. The first is that we can be burdened with fear. So let me ask you – how much did you fear this past week? How much did you worry? How many times came up where you just wished you could run and hide? Guilt over what you have done – did that come popping up? Anxiety over what was to come? Daunting difficulties looming ever closer and closer? All these involve being fearful. To you I say, have no fear, for Christ has come. Do you feel guilt and sorrow over what you have done? Christ Jesus has taken your guilt away from you and carried it to the cross. The sin of your past is done away with. Do you worry about what is to come? Christ who has died has risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father. If Christ is victorious, how will you, who have been touched by Him, who are united to Him by virtue of your baptism, not be victorious? Whatever trials and struggles you face, they will pass, they will fade, they will be endured. Do you wonder if you will have the strength to go on? Christ Jesus is your strength, and He will carry you through all the days of your life. This is what Christ has done – He has won your forgiveness and salvation and life.

There is another sort of problem that we as Christians run into – and that's when we forget fear, but not because of Christ. Rather, when we are bold and confident in ourselves and become callous and unloving. Did you ignore the need of your neighbor this past week, spurning the Words of Christ commanding you to love Him? Did you loudly lament the speck in your neighbor's eye, forgetting the log in your own? Did you ignore the voice from heaven telling you to listen to Christ, and instead keep Christ and His Word out of sight, out of mind? To you, I say repent. These things are not the things of Christian living, are not the things of Christian peace, but rather they are pride, and arrogance, and hatred. Turn away from these things, and rather turn to Christ, be focused on Him alone, and trust in Him alone for your forgiveness, for He has won it and gives it gladly to those who crave it.

Whether the problem is our guilt and shame and fear, or the fact that we live indecently without guilt or shame or fear (and to be honest – it’s a bit of both for all of us) – Christ Jesus is the solution, the cure, the way in which we are made perfect. These things, these temptations we face are nothing new – the people of God have swung back and forth between crippling fear and idiotic foolishness since the fall. And the solution is the very one that Peter, James, and John learned in the Gospel today – it is only when we are focused upon Christ Jesus, the God who became Man for our sake, that we are safe. It is only when Christ comes to us, touches us, and tells us to have no fear that we can truly live now, truly live eternally. And this is what Christ Jesus did for you at your Baptism – He came and put His Name upon you and claimed you as His own, put His hand upon you. And this is what Christ Jesus does for you here in His house, week in, week out. When Satan burdens you with sin and guilt, here in His Word Christ forgives you, pulls that guilt off of you. When Satan has led you to wandering and forgetting Christ, the Word preached here draws you back to Christ, that you might remain in Him. And our Lord even physically touches you – puts His Body upon Your lips, His Blood upon your tongue in His Most Holy Supper, so that you might not only delight in forgiveness but have strength to live your life without fear, to live your life in service to God and in fervent love towards the neighbor – so that Christ might make you to grow ever more and more in this life, until He calls you to heaven.

This is the joy and wonder that has been revealed to us – that Christ has come, that Moses and the Prophets have been fulfilled, that our Lord has suffered and died that we might live both now and eternally in Him. All thanks be to Christ Jesus for this. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the light of the world. +

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Epiphany 2 sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany – January 17th, 2010 – John 2:1-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
John records for us in His Gospel, the first miracle that Jesus performs, or as John phrases it, the first sign that Jesus did. This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. John uses this language of signs throughout His Gospel – so this morning, let us consider what a sign is. A sign lets you know what something is – it identifies a thing. And John records multiple signs – counts to three and then just keeps going. This is because in Jewish law you needed three people to identify someone – once you had three witnesses, the truthfulness of something was confirmed. So, John is going to show in his Gospel the signs, the proofs that show that Jesus is the Messiah, True God. These are going to be things that manifest His Glory.

Well, how in the world does the Wedding at Cana manifest Christ’s Glory? It’s not very spectacular to our way of thinking – I mean, the miracle is nice – but only the servants see it. The master of the feast, he doesn’t see the miracle. The Bridegroom, he doesn’t know where the wine came from. Only the servants – the hired help, they are the only ones who see. It’s not as though Jesus strides into the middle of the room and says, “Behold, where there was no wine, now – Let there be wine” and massive jugs of wine appear. Just very quietly, very simply, without drawing attention to Himself, Jesus tells the servants to fill jars with water, and then take to the master of the feast. There’s not even any hand wave – no mud rubbed on the jars. Just quiet and simple. And Jesus even seemed quiet about doing this. When His mother came to Him and told Him that they were out of wine, Jesus said, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Now, just as a note – this isn’t harsh sounding in the Greek. If I walk up to someone today and say, “Woman,” – I’m probably fixing to say something rude, and quite possibly get myself slapped. It doesn’t come off that way in Greek – it would be more like, “Dear Woman”, or even just saying, “Mother” in English. Dear woman, I know you want Me to get this preaching and healing stuff on the road, but it really isn’t time for that. Be patient. And yet, Jesus is never One to turn down those in need. So very quietly, water is changed into wine.

And not only wine, but good wine, full wine, strong wine. The master of the feast is confused – Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. This makes sense – you serve the good, strong wine when people are first there – when they can appreciate the taste – and then, when they are well pleased and enjoying themselves – you go to the lower quality stuff, the watered down stuff – because it’s harder to get things moving than to keep them moving. But Jesus doesn’t make anything poor, and if He makes wine, by gum He is going to make wine, good wine. And in the midst of the confusion, only the servants know, and His disciples see, and they believe.

So why do the Disciples “believe”. It says believe, it’s not just a simple matter of being amazed, or marveling, but they believe. Why is a simple, quiet, miracle, where no one but the servants and the disciples, who would have been following Jesus around, suddenly bring forth belief, why is it a manifestation of Christ’s Glory as True God? Because it’s wine. Let’s face it, today in Oklahoma, wine doesn’t have all that good of a reputation. Most of you here probably don’t even like wine all that much – in fact, during the lesson when it said that Jesus made good wine some of you probably thought, “Is any wine really good.” Moreover, what do we call a bum who’s drunk? We call him a wino. Wine isn’t well respected in our culture today. But in Jesus’ day, wine was important, wine was life. You would mix a little wine into the water you got from the well, and any of the nasty little bugs in the water would be killed off, so you could drink the water and live. And more over, wine was a vital part of celebration, of rejoicing – wine to gladden the heart of man – that’s Psalm 104. Wine was something worthy of sacrifice to God, it was the drink offering with a pleasing aroma. It was one of the three major blessings of agriculture – Israel was promised that God would bless their grain and their wine and their olive oil. And more than just that, wine was a sign of the coming Messiah, of what things would be like when the Messiah comes. We ourselves heard in Amos 9 The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. That’s what’s going to happen when the Messiah comes! Good wine is a good thing! And then, there the disciples see Jesus, and there they are, up in Cana, in hill country of Galilee, and what do you know – sweet, good wine everywhere. Jesus is the Messiah! The disciples see this sign, they see this and it identifies Jesus as the Messiah. And they believe in Him.

But it’s not just significant that there is wine; it’s also of note that this miracle happens at a wedding. If Jesus had wanted simply to have wine, that could have happened whenever. But they are at a wedding. We think of weddings as wondrous, beautiful times – and they are, but they are more than just the sentimental ideas we normally think of. Weddings hearken back to the Garden of Eden. There was a wedding, there was marriage before there was any sin. Before the Fall God took Adam and Eve and joined them together. Marriage points back to the Garden of Eden, to perfection – which is why there is to be a party and celebration and rejoicing. And then. . . the wine is gone. That’s a reminder of the fall, of sin. Adam gets told he’s going to have to wrest food from the soil – and the Bridegroom’s wrestings weren’t enough to provide wine for all. Lack, sorrow, sin and it’s damage all showing up. And into this party about ready to be ruined by the impact of sin strides Christ Jesus – and very quietly, the celebration is restored before anyone really knew it was in danger. Do you see how this is a God-thing, a restoring of what gets lost at the Fall? That is something the Messiah does!

But more than just pointing to paradise – as we heard in Ephesians, marriage is a picture of the holy and perfect love that Christ has for the Church, His Bride. Christ cleanses His Church by the washing of water with the Word, with Baptism, and why – so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or blemish or wrinkle or any such thing. The image, the picture of God’s love is the Bridegroom making sure that everything is perfect for His Bride – that’s how Christ loves us. At Cana, this earthly bridegroom, he couldn’t – his wine had run out. So Christ steps in, and He makes all things good – good like they were in the Garden of Eden. And it was good. This is precisely what Christ does to His Church. We in the Church, we are sinful folk, filled with more spots and blemishes and scars and disfigurements than we care to think about. But into our lives comes Christ Jesus, and He looks upon us with utter, perfect love, and He strides to the Cross and suffers and dies so that we might be forgiven, He rises so that He might claim us as His own to live with Him forever, and He washes us in His own Holy Baptism, so that we are clean and forgiven and spotless and without blemish in His sight. Jesus makes all things perfect, not just at a wedding in small town Galilee, but in you, by virtue of your Baptism, you have been washed clean, restored to God, claimed as God’s own. This is what the Messiah does – He rescues, He saves, He redeems His Bride the Church so that He might have her for all eternity. It is the picture of heaven, of our eternity with God, where He has come and saved us and made us to be with Him for all eternity – the bliss of Eden restored and surpassed in the glories and wonders of heaven.

And indeed, there is one more bit of significance that we see in this text, that comes out even for us today. It was no accident that our Lord turned water into wine there in Cana, and it was no accident that on the night when He was betrayed our Lord took the wine in the cup and said, Drink of it all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. Here in the Supper, we are joined to Christ, we share in, we are made partakers of His Body and Blood, we are joined to Him in a way beyond anything that we experience in this life – we join in the mystery of the ages – This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. Here, in the Church’s great feast – we get a taste, a glimpse, a participation in Heaven, for we are joined now to Christ, and indeed, in heaven we will ever be at the feast of the Christ Jesus – the eternal celebration of glory and wonder that heaven shall be. Christ our Lord forgives you your sin, joins Himself to you, gives you His own Body as a pledge and token, indeed, a sign that you yourself shall rise even as He has risen, gives you His blood as proof, as a sign that it was shed for you, so you know that you are forgiven and redeemed. This is the wonder of this gift.

This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. Christ Jesus restores all things – we see this begun in John’s Gospel as that little wedding in Cana gets a taste of Eden restored. We see Christ Jesus accomplish this for the world by His death and resurrection. And indeed, our Lord continually shows that He is God, makes us to share in His Glory in that most precious sign and gift – His Holy Supper. And we, beholding His love for us, communing with Him and with all the Church and the hosts of heaven, we like His disciples believe in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Thursday, January 14, 2010

But is it the LAST question?

I am often asked questions that begin with the word "could". Could one do. . . ? This is an important question - it is vitally important to ask because we need to know if something is within the realm of possibility. But "could" ought not be the last question asked -- it should be always followed up by "should". It isn't just a matter of whether we can do something (if something is in the pall of Christian freedom), but rather whether or not it is good and beneficial, not just for us, but for our neighboring congregations, our Synod, and the Church.

Could I on my own start having first communion at 6-8 years of age? Sure. Should I. . . well, that's a much, much sticker wicket. What of the 9 year old who can commune here and approaches the altar at St. John in the cornfield?

There are also the "why not" and "why couldn't we" questions. Those need to be followed up with a "why should" question, and unless that one get answered properly, it's a bad idea. Why couldn't we move church to 5:45 AM? Nothing forbids it. . . but why should we? Whom would this serve, how would this show love?

Permission or possibility is never to be the last question. The last question must be, "Is this the best thing to do; does this best show love?"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptism of Jesus 2010 sermon

Baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17 – January 10th, 2009

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We have now entered into the season of Epiphany – and Epiphany is a season of wonder and revelation. Epiphany literally means “to shine upon” - to have a revealing light shine forth into the night so that we can truly see – and our Gospel lessons for the next few weeks will deal with Christ Jesus revealing the most wondrous truth – that He is true God. Christmastime focused on the fact that Jesus is true Man, but in Epiphany we see that He is true God as well. This is a revelation that we all need to see, a wonder that brings joy whenever we ponder it. And so, this day, in our Gospel text, we see Jesus head to the river Jordan to be baptized by John.

Now, I almost feel bad for John here, and probably more so because I am a preacher. I'm sure this will come as no surprise, but generally preachers like to know stuff. They like to know what is going on and why. To be a preacher is to be a teacher, and if you are teaching it certainly helps if you know what you are teaching, if you have your preparation all done and complete. Same reason why teachers have plan periods and the like – preparation and knowing your material is key. And as for surprises, those are right out – don't want those. You don’t want too much unexpected happening. And so John prepared – and He studied and trained, and then He shows up in the desert – and he preaches. He preaches a baptism of repentance, preaches as powerfully as anyone in centuries. And all his ducks are in a row – he can answer every question – even the Scribes and the Pharisees can't knock him off his game – John can even dress them down them when they approach – You brood of vipers, who told you to flee the wrath that is to come. Great stuff – makes my pastor-heart go all pitter patter. Fantastic. And then, Jesus comes down to the Jordan to be baptized, and John is thrown for a complete loop. We hear, John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” John is completely thrown off, completely caught off guard.

Do you understand John's confusion? He has been preaching a baptism of “repentance”. Repentance. Turning away from your sin and focusing yourself upon God and His mercy, upon forgiveness. And up comes Jesus – and John knows who Jesus is, John leaped in the womb when Jesus approach him still unborn. John knows his Cousin is the Messiah, knows that He is sinless and has no need of repentance. John doesn't see how what he is preaching does anything for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need repentance! It would be like a college professor showing up on the first day of 2nd grade with notebooks and folders and asking where he should sit – it would be utterly confusing. In fact, John says, “Wait – you don't need me, Jesus – I need You. I need to be baptized by You – I'm one of those sinners who needs your forgiveness.” John sees his own lack, his own sinfulness, and he doesn't understand the whole picture yet.

So Jesus shows him. But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” These are some beautiful words that our Lord speaks here. You see, John is thinking just in terms of sinfulness and repentance – repent, turn away from your sinfulness, and start focusing on God. John is wanting people to face the right way – which is good. Indeed, that is what we ourselves are to do, we are to be about the business of repenting daily, daily struggling against our sin, daily confessing our sin. Repentance is that struggle against sin which we all face. Jesus, though, is thinking in terms of fulfilling righteousness, which is, unsurprisingly, a more full approach. Let's discuss what it means to fulfill all righteousness. Celia and I went to Tulsa after Christmas to visit her family, and with the storms there, huge potholes had opened up all over the place – and some roads were just horrible. There's a section of 244 that I don't know how anyone drives upon. And so we swerved around the potholes, and we learned to avoid certain streets. That's what repentance is like – it's that struggle to avoid the potholes – and try as hard as I might, I still hit some, but then I drove off, determined to do better. No matter how well I drive, how well I plan out routes, no matter how hard I try to avoid them – those potholes are still there. The road needs to be fixed – those holes need to be filled in – and that's something that I'm not going to do, the highway crews are going to have to do it. John was teaching about people's need to repent, to avoid the moral potholes of life. Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness, which means He has to fix the problem. Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness.

You see, sin, our sin, rips holes in creation. Tears vile gashes. Pain, suffering, anger, death, toil. All these things – these are the gashes upon creation, upon us, that sin has left in its wake. These all need to be fixed. The holes left in our heart by sin need to be healed, need to be filled. There needs to be perfection on earth again – but the problem is none of us here can do it. We've already dropped the ball, so even if we lived perfectly from now on, which we can't – still wouldn't mend the sin of our past. And so God Himself comes down to live perfectly, to be completely and totally righteous, so that He Himself can fulfill all righteousness, that He can fill up the holes in creation, the holes in us that sin tore open.
This is what Jesus does throughout His ministry – in the love He shows, in the miracles and wonders He does – and most especially when He fills that largest of sin's holes – the gaping hole of death. When our Lord Jesus is nailed to the Cross, what He is in reality doing is filling up death with Himself, with His own righteous death, so that there is no more room for death at all. This is how He fulfills, He makes things righteous, makes us righteous, so that we are new creations in Him, forgiven and clean. And the particular wonder of this text, this Gospel lesson today, is that our Lord is baptized.

How does Jesus being baptized fulfill all righteousness? In His life, we see that our Lord's righteousness is completely full, that it is filled to the brim, it is overflowing, that one could not be more righteous than Him. But how does that do us any good – it does us good because Jesus is baptized. Consider John's baptism – repentant sinner after repentant sinner had stepped down into that water, confessing their lack of righteousness – and into that same water steps Christ Jesus, who is overflowing with righteousness. Jesus' baptism ties Himself and His righteousness to us sinners – and so that all that He has done, all that goodness and righteousness overflows from Him and onto us, washing away our blemishes, filling up the pockmarks and holes in our life with His own love. When you were baptized, you were united to Christ and His righteousness because Jesus strides to the Jordan, because Jesus tells John that they are going to do this to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill your righteousness. This is why Jesus is baptized – John was partially right – Jesus didn't need to be baptized for Himself – but we needed Jesus to be baptized. And so He is.

There is a final bit to this text, a wondrous part of revelation that we hear in this text. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I Am well pleased.” When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him, and the Father speaks from heaven saying that He is well pleased with His beloved Son. This is a revelation of the Trinity. The points where we get to see, to hear the Three Persons of the Trinity at the same time are rare – but here we see it – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is a wonderful sign of assurance that Jesus truly is God, full God – total and complete God – indeed the Triune God rejoices at His Baptism and His work to save mankind. The Father is well pleased, the Spirit is present – everything is in the right order – and we receive this wondrous glimpse of God. This is the reason why our Lord instructs us to baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Because in your baptism, it is not just that you are forgiven, it's not just that your sins are washed away or that the holes in your life are filled – you are united to God – you are united to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And why? Because baptism unites you to Christ. Christ is the Son of the Father – so now the Father sees you and says, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter” - because when He sees you He sees all of Christ's righteousness. Your baptism united you with the Holy Spirit. And why? Because wherever Christ is the Holy Spirit is as well, the Holy Spirit rests upon Him, the two go hand and hand, and because you have been united to Christ, you know that the Holy Spirit has made you His dwelling place, His temple as well. This is but a glimpse of the fullness, the wonders of baptism that we receive all because Christ Jesus was Baptized.

And so my dear friends, indeed, more than that, my fellow baptized, my brothers and sisters in Christ – rejoice this day at the wonders God has performed in your life through His gift of Baptism, because Christ Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, He has filled your righteousness, and indeed, now your cup overfloweth because of Him. He is your light and your salvation, and He has shown upon you and revealed His love unto you. Rejoice. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A few thoughts this morning

1. "United" and "Untied" have radically different meanings for words where only two letters get transcribed - which often happens when I type quickly. This is why one proofreads a sermon, because to say that we are "untied" from Christ in Baptism would be vile heresy, vile, keyboard induced heresy.

2. While this may be blasphemous to some (not literally, religiously blasphemous, but culturally blasphmeous), I find Epiphany to be a more joyous season than Christmas. Christmas season is the time where we ponder the wondrous mystery that God becomes Man, that He takes up all the things that us Men take up, that He would take the march to the Cross for our sake. Wonderful - but it is tinged with the sorrows that He would have to face - the indignity of His lowly birth is but a foretaste of the indiginities which He will suffer for our sake - so there is a bittersweet nature to Christmas - God is with *us* -- in our messy life.

But then you get Epiphany. You get all nations celebrating. You get His Baptism, where you see "Ah, He IS God." You get the wedding at Cana, and "Ah, He REALLY, REALLY is God." You get the Transfiguration - and "Oh yes, He is True God, oh yes!"

Epiphany is the season where Christ reveals over and over that He is God -- the focus shifts from His Humanity to His Divinity - and there is nothing bittersweet about this. Epiphany is to Christmas and Advent as Easter is to Lent -- the trials and mess is conquered and finished, and the glory and wonder is revealed.

I like Epiphany much better than Advent and Christmas.

Of course, this may be partially because Epiphany means I don't have to try and do up bulletins and sermons for 5 bazillion services. It is nice to have one a week (although, to be honest, a midweek Divine service where the sermon was upon the Old Testament for the week would be quite awesome as well).

3. It is much nicer to be at work when the work computer has been purged of viruses.

Alright, there are the random thoughts for this morning. Now, to prep for the day of teaching - Latin and then the Psalms and then confirmation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A culture of excuses

We live in a culture of excuses. If something goes wrong, it isn't our fault, the other guy did it, the universe was conspiring against me, I was just unlucky. We are very use to making excuses in our culture.

Yet Christians live a life of confession - when we confess our sin, no excuses are give, no explanations or exceptions to the rule are stammered forth. Simply, I have sinned. I have fallen short. Mea cupla, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Of course, this isn't a popular approach. Admitting I messed up might hurt my self-esteem. I might have to confront the idea that I'm not as wonderful and perfect as I think I am. I might have to admit that I have let things get out of control - that I haven't done what I ought.

And here is the irony. It is in the worship service where we learn to confess, where we confess, and where we receive forgiveness for that which we have confessed. It is in the worship where we see just how highly God values us, far and above any esteem we could place upon ourselves. He sends His Son - that's more worth than I could ever give myself. It is in the service where hearing the Word and bolstered by the Supper we receive the strength to face down the challenges of the week to come.

And yet, when do pastors hear the most excuses? On why someone didn't come to church.

That is irony - a sad irony, but still irony.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas 2 2010

2nd Sunday after Christmas – Matthew 2:13-23

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
So, there is Joseph. He has been a fantastic, understanding husband, a loving, wonderful father. Not only did he not divorce Mary quietly when she turned up pregnant, but he stayed with her, took care of her. And then, when the child Jesus was born, even in a stable, he stuck with them both. Through hardship and toil, Joseph stays there. And then, things finally start to look up. Wise men from the East arrive – gentiles – and they bring with them wondrous gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are wondrous gifts – gold is gold. Frankincense and myrrh are highly valuable spices, high dollar items. Being responsible for raising the Messiah looks like it might an okay job after all. And then Joseph falls asleep – and then, once again an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, and the angel says, “Rise, take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.” How terrifying would this be? Coming off of the high of the visit of the Wise men, then suddenly get up, take your family, and run for your life.

Joseph and his family go – they flee to Egypt. And this is something that the Christians in Egypt remember with pride – there is a church built over a grotto where they claimed the Holy Family lived while in Egypt – really pretty, very old Church. When I was there and people found out I was a pastor, and I'd hear, “Oh, well, you know Joseph brought Jesus and Mary to Egypt. You would see artwork of the Holy Family – Mary on a donkey holding Jesus, Joseph leading, normally by a river, maybe with the pyramids in the background. And I suppose this is something I would delight in if I were Egyptian, for Jesus and His family are kept safe in Egypt – live there for several years.

But, back home – there is no safety. King Herod had been plotting against Jesus from the moment he heard of his coming from the wise men. At first, he was hoping for a surgical strike. He told the wise men to come back and tell him where the Christ Child was so that he too might “go and worship”. Herod at least was planning on a surgical strike, an assassination to rid himself and his family of this potential rival. But then, the wise men are warned by God to avoid Herod. And so, when that plan falls through – Herod decides to abandon precision and just go for mass damage. He sends the troops in – and he's not sure how old Jesus would be – so all the infants and toddlers, two years and younger – just wipe them all out. It's an utterly horrifying scene – soldiers marching in, snatching children and killing them.

Between the flight to Egypt, which would have been terrifying, and then the slaughter of the innocents, we have two of the most terrifying, horrifying events in Scripture back to back. And it seems especially odd because we hear this right after the joy of Christmas. You have this wonderful high followed by an incredible low. But, when you think about it, this is really how this world goes. There are days, there are times of great joy, that are often followed up by times of terror and tragedy. This serves to remind us of the reality of the things which we speak, the things which we hear. Christ Jesus came into our world, the world we know, and He came to share in our lives – He saw the same ups and downs that we do. He was made Man – He experienced all the things in this life that we experience – He is real, He is really a human being.

Christ Jesus knows and understands the fears, the terrors, the disappointments that you have – the things you wouldn't think of, wouldn't dream of telling to another person – Christ our Lord knows and understands. He has shared in your life. This is one of the great comforts that we have at Christmas time, for here we see and focus on the fact that God becomes Man. There are many times when we look at Christ, and we see His strength, His might – and we see that He is above us. We see Him heal – none of us does that routinely. We hear His preaching, see His unfailing love – and in comparison, we see our lack. We see that He is above us – and as God He most certainly is. But then we hear texts like these – and we see and realize that this God who by rights is above us, who by rights is so far above us that we could never reach Him – this same God has come down, and He has chosen to share in the things of our life, our troubles, our sorrows, our pains. Jesus knows them, Jesus has chosen to share in them. He was made man.

This is precisely what the Messiah, what the Christ was called to do – to be among us. To share in the events and life of human beings. This shows up in verse 15 – This was to fulfill what the LORD had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My son.” Think like a Jew for a moment. As we heard in our Old Testament lesson, when things in the Holy Land were dangerous, God sends Jacob and his family to Egypt, there to be provided for, there to be kept safe, but with the promise that after they had grown they would be brought back to the promised land. And is God true? Well, as a Jew your highest celebration of the year is Passover – and what do you celebrate at Passover? That God called the people of Israel back out of Egypt where they had been in bondage, and brought them to the holy land. To be Jewish was to worship the God who brought you and your people up out of the land of Egypt. So, what does all this mean? It means that Jesus is the Messiah, He is the One who was promised – the One who suffers all that His people suffer in order to win them from that suffering.

Herod eventually dies, and Joseph and Mary and Jesus get to return homeward – although as Herod's son is ruling, they end up in Nazareth, in the north, well out of the way – but again, this is good, for the Scriptures had said of Jesus, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” And it is there in Nazareth that Jesus would grow to manhood, it is from Nazareth that Jesus would travel to the Jordan river to be baptized by John. And we see that throughout the trial and terrors of life, Christ Jesus is preserved.

So, is this merely a matter of God playing favorites? God liking His own Son more than He liked those children left in Bethlehem? No, not at all. God doesn't play favorites the way we sometimes think He does, the way we sometimes wish He would. We don't get to butter God up so He'll make sure we have an extra sweet 2010. Rather this – God's focus is upon salvation. It was not simply that Jesus escaped Herod's soldiers as a child and that's it, that's the end of the story. No, Jesus' time to be taken by soldiers and paraded in front of another Herod would come – but before that would happen, He would have to preach and heal, He would have to cast out demons and teach people about God, He would have to show and demonstrate to all that He was indeed the promised Messiah – and then and only then would the soldiers find Him, there in the garden of Gethsemane, and He would not flee then, He would not run away, He would not let His disciples cut Him a path to freedom. No, when the soldiers come that night in Gethsemane, Christ is there, and He is led off, He is examined by Herod and Pilate, and then He is put to death upon a cross as the soldiers look on.

Why? Matthew quotes the prophet Jeremiah concerning the slaughter of the innocents - “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” It would have been terrible to be amongst the mothers there that day, and indeed, they would have been inconsolable. The only reason Jesus was not among the children slaughtered on that day, was so that He might be led like a Lamb to His own slaughter on Good Friday, and because Jesus lived to go to the cross, something most wondrous has happened. Those mothers, who wept inconsolably that day, have now been reunited with their children, the first martyrs of the Christian Church – because Christ Jesus has won life and salvation for His people. Those mothers that mourned the death of their children now stand next to those children in heaven, singing the praises of Christ Jesus who went to the cross for them.

It was not a case of favoritism that led Christ out of Bethlehem and into Egypt – it was because God would have us be saved. Everything that God does revolves around salvation – and the Messiah would be preserved until He could win us His salvation by His own death. So then, what does this mean for us? Peter writes: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. Christ Jesus, God's own Son, suffered for our sake. As Christians, we too are now God's own children by virtue of our Baptism, and we too may be called upon to suffer in this life – but when that happens, when we experience hardship and fiery trial, we understand it is a chance to bear witness to Christ and His salvation. Whatever we face, we face in hope, and when people see our hope in the midst of suffering and trial, they will see our Lord and His salvation. This is true in our lives – for everywhere you go, you go as a Christian, you do all bearing the name of Christ, and your actions point to Him and His love for all. In America, our trials tend to be light – in other places – well, the Nigerian fellow who tried to blow up our plane – in Nigerian Muslims attack Christians all the time. In other places in the world the trials our brothers and sisters in Christ face are much more fiery than ours – but whether here at home or far away – we rejoice in all things and always point to Christ, and give thanks to God that He allows us to point others to Christ.

Because the ultimate truth is that Christ Jesus has come and has shared in our life, He has won us victory over sin and death and the grave, so nothing we see during the course of our days has any true power over us – we are Christ's, and so we have victory. And now, we pray that God would give us faith to not only hold fast to this truth ourselves, but that we might have the strength to show forth this hope in the week and year to come. This He has promised to do by His own Holy Supper, so let us then prepare for His most wondrous feast. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +