Sunday, January 26, 2014

Epiphany 3 Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 26th, 2014 – Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Last week in our Gospel lesson, we had one miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana.  This week, we get two, two miracles in our Gospel lesson.  Now, we could spend all our time focusing on the healing of the man with leprosy, or we could look at the faith of the Centurion, but instead, let’s just look at both, because they dovetail together, like a nicely joined piece of furniture, and looking at both of these together, we shall see clearly who Jesus our Lord is.  Let us dive in then.

A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.  Audicity!  What audacity!  Here we have a Leper approaching Jesus and asking for healing, kneeling before Jesus even, and we can miss the audacity of this.  You guys remember the 10 Lepers, right, all healed, only one comes back to thank Jesus.  Do you remember how those Lepers approach Jesus?  They shout from a long distance.  Why?  A Leper wasn’t supposed to approach anyone who was healthy, rather, he was to shout “Unclean, unclean” at the top of his lungs to make sure everyone stayed away.  And yet, here we have this Leper, coming before Jesus, kneeling before Him.  And there are great crowds around, you didn’t come around people if you were a leper.  If we were in that crowd, we most likely would be expecting Jesus to give him a stern rebuke.  Get back, you mangy dog, and take your illness with you!

          Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” He said.  “Be clean!”  Immediately, he was cured of his leprosy.  No squeamish Jesus here.  No, our Lord doesn’t back away, He doesn’t shy away, but rather Jesus gets down and physical here.  He touches the man.  Did you note that?  Does Jesus need to touch the man to heal him?  I highly doubt it.  And yet, Jesus touches the man, Jesus gives that physical contact to this man who has been cut off from human contact for so long.  That Leper, who had been cast out of his community, cut off from family and friends, is touched, and not by just a man, but by Jesus the Christ, True God and True Man, Lord of all creation.  And holding this Leper, Jesus speaks, Jesus says, “Be clean,” and the man is clean.  He’s clean, the spots and sores are gone, immediately.  The man is restored to health. Jesus touches the Leper, speaks a Word, and the Leper is Leper no more.  So why touch the man?  Was it simply an act of compassion?  If that’s all it was, it would be a mighty act of compassion.  It would show us that Jesus indeed understands us humans, what it means to have a body, what it is to need physical contact.  This in and of itself is a great comfort.  There is no burden, no pain that we bear that is beyond Jesus ability to understand, for He bore our sickness and infirmities, as Isaiah puts it.  But Jesus touches the Leper, and speaks.  This reminds us of something else. 

          The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  With the rest of creation, we have God simply saying, “Let the earth bring forth” whatever God is making.  But with man, we see this, we see God taking the dust itself, and fashioning by hand, Adam.  Paul was most truly right when he said that we are God’s workmanship, for in the creation of man, we see God crafting His greatest creation.  And Jesus touches the Leper.  We see in this miracle creation restored, we see God once again taking dust, taking the dead flesh, the dead ash and dust of this Leper into His hands, and making him anew.  Who is this Jesus who heals this Leper?  He is no simple man, no mere healer or conjuror of tricks, but this is God Almighty Himself, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, come into His creation to restore it.  If you had any doubts that God holds human life to be sacred, that all people are to be cared for and protected, the old, the infirm, the young, the unborn, behold God preserving His creation, even a Leper whom the world had scorned.

          And of course, seeing God heal the physical, seeing Jesus restore this man’s broken skin, we are of course pointed to the greater healing that God gives, the healing of our sin stained souls.  Where God’s Word is, where it is spoken and proclaimed, there is healing.  Now, by our sin we are nasty, filthy beings, a fact we will often try to overlook or skirt on by. We can complain about our neighbor and how messed up they are, but we often fail to comprehend just how deeply corrupted we are.  But what happens when that sin is brought to light, when we see it, when we feel it, when its burden weighs heavy on us and we know that we are unclean?  Because that’s what God’s Law does – it lays us open, it shows us our sin.  So what do we do then?  Like this Leper, we fall before God and ask for healing, ask for His forgiveness.

          Why?  How can we be so bold?  Have you thought about it that way?  Every Sunday we start this service by asking God for forgiveness, declaring that we are poor, miserable sinners. Is that not bold?  But in this we are right to be bold, we are right to come before our Lord and ask for forgiveness, for by faith we know that He is always willing to forgive, to cleanse us.  He calls out “Be Clean!”  That’s a forgiveness word, that points us to how Jesus handles sin, He washes it away. . . does that remind anyone of Baptism?  We are bold because our boldness is not based on who we are, of our worthiness to be forgiven.  Far from it!  We are bold in confessing our sins because we by the gift of the Spirit working through the Gospel we know who Christ Jesus is.  In Him we trust, in Him we have confidence, and that is confidence indeed.  Or, as Paul puts it, if we are to boast, let us boast in the Lord.  Indeed, we boast and celebrate His forgiveness every week here in this place as Jesus speaks to us again His cleansing Word of forgiveness.  

          And then we have the Centurion.  We have this Gentile, this foreigner, one of those hated Romans who holds the people of Israel in vile oppression, a leader of their’s who commands 80 soldiers, and he comes to Jesus, and he asks healing for his servant.  And Jesus offers to go.  Now, this in and of itself would be shocking!  Why should Jesus heal this Centurion’s servant?  Why heal the miserable lapdog of this Roman dog?  The thought of healing a gentile would have been disgusting to people in Jesus’ day – but before we get too proud that we are so much better than them, and know that Jesus loves all people, let’s ask the question.  What of the people you don’t like?  The people who anger you, who disgust you?  The people you gossip about and slander, the people you glare at?  The ones who if they walked through those doors would make you in your sinfulness grit your teeth.  This isn’t an abstract “Jesus loves everyone” we see in this text – this is up and in your face, see, Jesus loves even that person you hate and vilify. Christ Jesus does not think with a sinful heart, He seeks to bring comfort and healing even to the people we hate.  Thanks be to God that our Lord is willing to go, for He is willing to come even to such miserable sinners as us.

          The Centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  Isn’t this just fascinating?  Even Jesus is astonished at this. . . but in a good way.  A few weeks ago we had John the Baptist trying to hinder the will of Jesus, trying to tell Jesus what to do. . . but do you see the difference between what John did and what the Centurion does here?  The Centurion says, “Lord, thank you for offering to heal my servant, but you don’t need to spend the time to come to my house.  Simply speak, and it will be done.  You have this authority and command, and what you say will happen.”  I mean, this is just great stuff.  There is a reason why Jesus says, I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”  So what makes the Centurion’s faith. . . great?  What makes it greater than, that of the Leper, who we just saw, who was certainly bold in His faith?

          The strength of the Centurion’s faith isn’t that He believes more. . . it isn’t that while other people believe he really, really, really believes.  That’s how we tend to view the strength of faith, like some sort of anything you can do I can do better contest.  But that’s not it.  What shows the Centurion’s faith to be strong is his understanding.  The Centurion sees the consequences of things.  This Man is God, all He has to do is say the Word.  This is His authority, this is what He possesses because of who He is.  The Centurion knows, and he sees the ramifications. 

There are many things that could have distracted the Centurion.  He could have noticed all the disdain that the Jewish folks there listening to Jesus had for him – I’m sure there were plenty of dirty looks.  He could have been thinking about how far away his home was, or how dire and close to death his servant is.  There could have been so many other thoughts and concerns rattling around.  But that’s not where He looks.  He looks, he sees Christ.  Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, the Alpha and Omega of our faith, the beginning and end of our faith, the end-all be-all of our faith.  He sees Christ, not any the problems, not the distractions.  Because this is what Satan loves to do.  He loves to show you troubles and hardships and all sorts of direness.  Satan is called the Accuser for good reason – Satan has no problem with you seeing the Law, but then he wants things to stop right there.  But God with His Word, but the Holy Spirit does something beyond that.  Are you a sinner – yes… but Christ Jesus comes for sinners to forgive and restore them.  Are you going to die – yes… but in Baptism you have already been joined to Christ Jesus in His death and are you most certainly united to Christ Jesus in His resurrection.  Do you see the world around you falling apart?  Sure, but Christ Jesus will come again, and He will bring with Him new heavens and a new earth, where you will reign with Him.  Jesus wins.  Jesus trumps all.  Even though our thoughts, or deeds, our flesh, our hatreds, our lusts, our angers, the world around us and even Satan himself strive to distract us – the truth remains.  Christ Jesus has said, “All authority on Heaven and Earth has been given to me – go.  Baptize.  Teach.  Forgive.  And I will come again.”  It’s all about Christ – and Christ Jesus has died and risen all so that He can say you are cleansed of all your sins, you will be raised from your death bed to everlasting life, you are forgiven.  Oh depths and the riches of the wisdom of God!

          Dear friends, we are God’s cleansed and healed people, washed clean in the Blood of Christ shed upon the Cross.  We are His people who receive His forgiveness over and over again, who continue to marvel and wonder at His goodness to us.  We behold His Glory, and see ever more that it is greater and deeper and wider than we had imagined before. Thanks be to God for His great mercy to us who deserve it not.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

But is he Lutheran!?

But is he Lutheran?  There's a question for you.

Oh, you like the Tullian fellow?  But is he Lutheran?

Oh, you like that Ken Ham fellow?  But is he Lutheran?

I do find it interesting that we Lutherans, who are adamant on there being Christians in other denominations, who learn from a young age to put the best construction on things, will then look, and when a theologian is praised for topic X, will then say, "Oh, but are they Lutheran"?

... well, no.  But that doesn't mean that he doesn't have a good grasp on this topic or that topic.  If you want to criticize someone (hmm, why so quick to criticize anyway - even the seven churches get a bit of praise first, even the letters of Paul begin with praise), find the point to criticize them on... and be direct.  Especially if you lament all the time that plenty of people who call themselves "Lutheran" aren't really "Lutheran".

Let's do more with Scripture and theology and less than labels.

This lack of confidence is... unbecoming.  Let us rather rejoice when anyone gets even a bit of decent theology.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Today's Sermon - Epiphany 2

Epiphany 2 – John 2:1-12 – January 19th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          It's not how I would have done it.  That's what I thought as I sat and looked at our Gospel text.  There is Jesus, and this wedding at Cana is His first miracle - as John puts it, "This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory."  The miracle in today's text is a sign - it is mean to reveal who Jesus is.  It shows forth, it manifests His glory.  That is what it does.  And yet, as I was sitting there, tired and cranky and up entirely too early, the thought that struck me is that if *I*, Eric Brown, wanted to give a sign of *my* glory, this isn't how I would have done it.  And all that goes to show is that too often today we don't think about "glory" like God does, we can use a fallen, skewed view of glory.  Let's look at this text and examine it in light of "glory" - knowing that the text itself defines this as truly and properly revealing glory.

          "On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples."  Here's the very first thing to note.  This isn't the place where we would expect there to be a show of glory.  Cana - okay, it's a town, but it's a backwater town off in the mountains.  It's not Rome, it's not Jerusalem - it's not the big leagues, it's minor league.  It's not the National Championship Game,   It's not even the Beef O'Brady bowl... it's just some piddling wedding off in the boonies.  And even then, Jesus is just a guest, a cousin of the groom, probably.  Jesus isn't the center of attention - how is this going to be glorious?  And there's the first problem.  We all too often associate "glory" with fame.  We associate glory with being the center of attention.  And this is what all too often we sinful folks want - we want attention, we want a bigger and bigger stage where everyone will see me and laud me.  When I was little and playing wiffle ball in the front yard, I didn't day dream about hitting a weak bloop basehit at Single A Peoria, I was going to hit a towering grand slam in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to win the Cubs the World Series.  That's what we think of when we think of Glory.  In fact, we will even call people who draw attention to themselves "glory hounds".  But this is not what the Scriptures speak of when they speak of Glory.

          In fact, Jesus does the opposite.  "When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine.'  And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.'  His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever He tells you.'"  Before we look at the idea of glory here - a note about "Woman".  This isn't like some guy today saying, "Woman, go make me some pie".  In the ancient world, that was a term of respect - more like "Ma'am" or if you were old fashioned nobility, "Lady".  So Jesus isn't being rude to His mom here - in fact, He's being very polite.  But note the situation.  There's Mary.  And she knows who her Son is.  She's been waiting thirty years for this whole Messiah thing to take the stage - and she wants it now.  Let's get this show on the road Jesus - they are out of wine.  And Jesus' response - what does this, this lack of wine, have to do with Me?  My hour, my time has not yet come.  Note this about Christ's glory - He's not seeking it - rather it will come when it is time.  Christ is not about seeking fame and fortune and personal glory.  That's not His focus, this isn't a selfish thing.  I'm not here at this wedding to get famous, Mom.  My life isn't about everyone saying, "Wow, look at how cool Jesus is, He's so awesome."  That's not the glory I seek.  Moreover - Christ will be glorified when the time comes.  It will come when the Father glorifies the Son.  John 17 begins with Jesus, just before He begins His passion, praying, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you."  When Christ Jesus talks about glory, it isn't about fame.  It is about Him suffering and dying.  You want to see Christ's glory, you want to see the Son lifted up - it's not going to be on the shoulders of the team after he leads the game winning drive - it's going to be on the Cross.  There's the glory - the Cross.  That Jesus will forever be known as Christ the Crucified.  That He will be forever the Lamb who was slain.

          When we think of glory, we think of it as being self-serving.  Of drawing attention to ourselves.  Of making our life better.  That's sin, that's the impact of sinfulness and selfishness upon us. Jesus turns that on its head.  His glory comes in serving, in seeking and saving the lost.  It comes when He draws attention not to Himself, but to the Father - for God so loved the world that He gave His Son.  See Christ on the Cross - that's meant to redeem you, that's meant to show you the love that the Father has for you, that is to give you eternal life.  Do you want the evidence, the proof that Christ Jesus is true God and true Man?  Here it is - He's not seeking after His own fame, His own glory - He simply wants to restore you to life and salvation so that God the Father might be praised eternally.  Now, will Christ receive praise for this - sure - but that's not the point.  The point is always the Father and you.  Of course it is - Jesus is perfect, He fulfills the Law.  What is the Law?  Love God, love your neighbor.  When you see Jesus on the Cross, what is He doing?  Loving God, loving you, His neighbor - winning you forgiveness and restoring you to God.
          But Jesus is full of love for His neighbor, and running out of wine at your reception would be a lousy thing, so He does decide to act.  But again, note how He acts.  He doesn't stride into the middle of the reception hall and say, "Hey guys, I heard you were out of wine - well, BLAMMO!"  No, just very quietly we hear this: "Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.[a] 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it."  See how quiet this is.  Nothing spectacular.  Just simple water to wine, in the back, where only the servants see.  And did you note the vessels?  Jesus doesn't walk up to the empty wine barrels and with a loud voice say, "BE FILLED!"  Nope.  Purification vessels.  I'm not here really to make wine - I'm here to fully and completely purify you guys.  No, go be about your business, and let the master of the feast taste the wine, so he can be about his business.  There's no seeking of fame, just showing love and care and being done with it.

          And the master tastes it, and the water has become wine, and he's confused, because: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”   This again is backwards.  The master of the feast had one main job - to keep everyone having a good time without letting them get sloppy drunk.  So what did you do - the first glass of wine would be "good" - that is high quality and also strong - so that everyone starts to feel good... and then you bring out cheaper, watered down wine, and keep things under control that way.  And this is good wine.  Strong, tasty, high quality, uncut.  The kind of stuff you wouldn’t normally serve at the end of the party because that could lead to things getting a bit out of hand.  We aren’t used to good wine this late in the game - why didn't you bring this one out first!

          The wine, the food, everything was good at first.  At Creation we have the Father saying, "It was good."  If Adam got around to making some wine before the fall - guess what, it would have been good too.  And then the fall.  And then things get worse.  And we had to have a master of the feast to keep things from falling to a drunken brawl, because after the fall we could find ways to mess everything up.  Even parties.  We'd start fights there, at a celebration, at a happy time - shoot, fighting is almost a Christmas tradition in parts of my family. And parties with no master to keep things in line - they'd get sloppy, things would just get messy.  And now Christ has come, and He makes wine... and what is it?  GOOD wine.  Why?  Because He is God, and He has come to make all things good again, to restore creation,, but more than that!  He comes to take sin away from mankind to where we can have all things good again and not abuse them.  When we get to the feasts of eternal life, the wine there will be Good, and it won't be a problem because we won't be abusing God's good gifts to us ever.  And there is Christ Jesus, in the back, quietly doing what He does, being who He is, True God and True Man who restores creation and loves His neighbor - and this little foretaste of the life of the world to come is in this master's cup, and he doesn't know how to handle it.  He hasn't seen anything yet.

          So then, this is how Christ manifests His glory.  At Cana, we see a glimpse of who He is, we see a glimpse of true glory, rather than the false, fleeting things we hope for.  We are sinful men, we fall short of the glory of God - but there is Christ Jesus, the image of the invisible Father - and He goes quietly about His business.  He will restore creation, He will win forgiveness for you with His death upon the Cross, He will rise from the dead to destroy death.  And He will do this for you.  He will take water, not from a purification rite vessel, but from a font, and with that Water and His Word He will wash away your sins, tying you to Himself.  He will bring you to His feast, His Supper, to give you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.  He will give you life and salvation and forgiveness so that you might be with Him forever. This is the glory He craves, to restore you to whom God had created you to be - His companion, His friend, the people who would dwell with Him in His presence for all eternity.  And this is what Christ Jesus will do, and nothing will stop Him, for He is determined to show you perfect and complete love and forgive you all of your sins and raise you again on the last day.  This is how He manifests His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World+ Amen.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Two Very Different Questions

I tend not to read many Biblical Commentaries.  I often try, maybe once every two years, but then I just give up.  Why?

Modern Commentaries tend to ask a very different question than what I want.  Commentaries seem to look at the text and ask, "What is this?"  What is this particular verb, what is the nuance of this.

That's nice, that's useful (I suppose), but that's not the question I want answered.  I want answers to the question of "What Does This Mean?"

It's nice that you address what sort of verb shows up in that verse, and it's nice that you show that some other exegete gets it wrong... but the text, what does it mean?  If I read this, how do I preach it, how do I proclaim it?  What is the point... not what is the meaning of the pointing.

This is part of the reason I love reading Luther.  I remember being confused at the Sem when the Exegetes didn't want me to cite Luther's lectures.  I guess he doesn't operate like a scholarly, modern exegete.  But... I'm a preacher.  I am one who proclaims, "thus sayeth the Lord!"

Its in commentary and explanations that I get what I can use. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism of Jesus Sermon

Baptism of our Lord – January 12th, 2013 – Matthew 3:13-17
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

          There in the river Jordan stands John the Baptist, a preacher of repentance, a preacher who is bold and brash, and let’s face it, if we heard him preach, even we would be taken aback by the bluntness of his preaching.  You brood of vipers,” he preaches just a few verses before our text, Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.”  These are his words to the self-righteous, holier-than-thou folks of his day – one can only wonder how he would preach stern law to us today.  But this is what you see, John in the water, preaching to the people on the banks, with all his force and vigor.  Then – Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” John, the bold preacher, is taken aback, you can almost hear him stammering these words in wonder and confusion.  I need to be baptized by You, and yet here you are coming to me?

          John’s confusion can mirror our own.  Why would Jesus need to be Baptized?  We can understand our need to be Baptized, our need to have our sin washed away – but Jesus has no sin.  But if you wish to understand the Baptism of Jesus, you need only listen to what our Lord says.  But Jesus answered him, “Let us do so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.  This is about righteousness.  You and I, we have no righteousness.  There is not one of us who is righteous, no, not one.  Since the fall of Adam all of his descendents have been tainted and bound and wrapped up in sin – sinful the lot of us.  We are all in need of forgiveness, of the purging of our sin.  And then to the Jordan river walks Christ Jesus our Lord.  He is no mere schlub off the street, but He is True God and True Man.  He did not get Adam’s heritage of sin, for He was conceived of the Holy Ghost.  He is righteous, He is Holy, He is perfect.  And yet, what does He do?  He strides down to that water in which sinners were washed, and He says, “I will take my place here.”  Do you see, do you understand what Christ is doing when He goes to be Baptized?  He takes up your struggle.  He takes up your sin.  Whereas you are not righteous – God takes on Human Flesh and says, “I will be righteous for you.”  Jesus seeks to be righteous – He steps into harm’s way as it were, so that He can be your savior from sin.  Luther, in his baptismal prayer says that “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You [that is, God] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”  That is what Jesus is doing.  I want my people to be righteous and holy – so I will be among them, I will take up their sin and give them instead my righteousness.  And He is baptized by John.

          And we know what happens next.  The Holy Spirit in form of a dove descends, the voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  This morning, for a few minutes now, let us ponder these words of God from heaven.  It is quite rare where God speaks forth from heaven, where the skies echo with the sound of His voice, so we ought to take note of it.  First, hear what He says – This is My beloved Son.  The reason we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord in the Epiphany season is that Epiphany is the season where we look at the ways in which Christ reveals that He is true God.  It doesn’t quite get more blunt than this, now does it?  When God speaks and says, “Look, this is My Son” – that’s a pretty sure and solid revelation.  And note when God does say this.  He doesn’t boom forth like a proud papa the day of Christ’s birth – He lets the angels sing that one, He lets the star point out that one.  When Jesus as a Child confounds the scholars in the temple, God doesn’t let forth from heaven a thunderous “Attaboy, Son.”  No – it is when Christ steps into the Waters of the Jordan, when Jesus begins His public Ministry, when He starts His work of redemption in earnest, that is when the Father says, behold My Son.  We know who Jesus is by what He does.  If you want to see and understand God – you look to Christ.  Jesus is the revelation of God – when Jesus comes and preaches and heals, we can understand God and His love for us by looking at Jesus.  Indeed, that is part of the reason why we hear the Gospels, why we have sermons, so we can understand God’s love for us through what Christ does.  God spells that out for us here.

          There is a second part to what the Father says here – with Whom I am well pleased.  Jesus does what is right.  It had been a while since God had been well pleased when He saw things on the earth.  During creation – He looked and it was good.  Fantastic.  Then, the fall – then Adam, what in the world are you doing?  And after that, all throughout the Old Testament – He sees even the heroes of the faith doing the stupid and sinful, sees boneheaded folly.  Everyone sins.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, the prophets, they all drop the ball.  And then comes Christ Jesus – with Him the Father is well pleased.  Christ is perfect – He is the perfect Lamb of God without spot or blemish – and suddenly, Man, the Man Jesus, does all that God desires.  There is a perfect Man, a Man who is righteous – and God is pleased with Man again.  God says, “It is good”; God says, “Well Done.”

          Now dear friends – let us ponder how this applies to you, how this event ties into your life – for this is not just some dull story of ages past, but what Christ did in the Jordan impacts your life and describes who you are right now.  Consider your own Baptism for a moment.  Water and God’s Word applied to you – washed in the Name of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  That’s your identity.  That’s how you approach God – not just as some person, but as one who is Baptized.  How do we start our service – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +.  We approach God here in His house as the Baptized.  That’s why the hymnal has that little red cross there – go ahead and make the sign of the cross if you wish – for it was the sign given to you at your Baptism and is nothing to be ashamed of – receive the sign of the holy cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  This is how we approach God or rather are brought to God, are called by Him to His House– not just as the sinners we are by nature – but as those Redeemed by Him, bearing His Name.

          In fact, dear friends, ponder this.  Do you wish to know the effect of your Baptism?  What it gives to you?  When Christ is Baptized – the Father says This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  This applies to you.  This is my beloved Son – hear Paul from Galatians – For in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  You are now a child of God.  Whereas in the garden Adam and Eve ran away from God – said, “We’d rather be part of Satan’s family” – in Baptism you were restored to God.  You are right to call God your Father for He has adopted you in the waters of Baptism, you are His child now.  That is the effect of your Baptism.  When the Father looks at you – He now says, “I am well pleased” – on the last day He shall say unto you, “Well done, good and faithful servant – not because you are perfect now – you know better than that, you don’t have to think hard to find places where you have sinned recently – but because in Baptism you are united to Christ – you have put on Christ.  When God looks at you – He no longer sees your sin, He sees Christ Jesus and His righteousness, for you were are baptized, you have put on Christ in Baptism.

          Think of it this way.  I do not have a washboard stomach.  Rather flabby, in fact. Not the ideal or perfect stomach.  Yet when you look at me, you aren’t seeing my gut – for I am wearing clothing.  In fact, we can even say to each other – “You look nice today”.  What are we referring to – often our clothing.  We are covered, our imperfections hidden, and we look nice.  The worst body in the world can look nice when properly attired.  The worst sinner in the World is holy and righteous in God’s sight, is pleasing in God’s sight, when he is clothed with Christ’s righteousness, when he wears the robes of salvation that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  This is why Paul once again in today’s Epistle lesson reiterates Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.  Your salvation, not about what you do.  Eternal life, not about all the good that you’ve done –cause you can’t earn it.  Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  And yet, what does God give to you in your Baptism, where He indeed called you by the Gospel?  You may not have been wise, but now you are washed in the Wisdom of God and know Him.  You may not have been powerful, indeed, you may be quite frail, but now you have the Power of God dwelling within you.  You may not have belonged to any noble human family – but now you are a child of God – and there is nothing more noble than that.

          This is the gift of your baptism – this is what you receive from it – this is who you are.  And when we behold Christ Jesus step into the waters of the river Jordan, when we see Him enter those waters to fulfill all righteousness – know dear friends that it is for you that He does this.  You see and understand that Jesus is indeed True God, because you see Him working for you and for your benefit – you see Him doing what is needed to win you forgiveness and give you His righteousness – to see that you are made His brother, His fellow heir of all that is God’s.  Christ steps into the waters of Baptism to take His place at your side, so that He may take you with Him through the days of your life and on into eternity, having life in His Name – the very Name He gives you as your own in Baptism.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Being a New Creation

Modern man is stuck in a crisis of self-awareness and autonomy.  Who am I?  What do I do?  How do I act?  We value independence, we cherish (especially in the US) our ability to choose, make decisions, to make a difference.  No longer are we content to merely let a star be born, but must call into the TV show and vote on the next star.

Me, me, me - my choice, my decision.

Consider - rhetorically "choice" is the modern equal of "life" -- for what is life if you do not have choice, do not have self-determination.  Thus the modern mind.

This is the same thing we saw in the garden.  This is the first and oldest sin - I will choose, I will act, and I will be like God.  That's the sinful though and thrust.

And this desire creeps in even into the Church.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, Gospel is nice -- but now tell me what *I* must do, how *I* should act, what choices *I* need to make so that I can be like Jesus.

We so desperately want to be in charge -- we are no longer content to simply be creatures.  We are no longer content to be God's creation.

But that's the thing.  Think about how often Paul talks about being a new creation -- that is a statement over and against my desire to self-determine myself.  Who am I?  I am what God has created me to be.  I am passive and receptive. 

I am a husband, not because I CHOOSE to be one, but because I have been joined to my wife by God.(passive)
I am a father, not because I CHOOSE to be one, but because I have been given children by God (passive)
I'm a pastor, not because I CHOOSE to be one, but because I have been called and ordained (passive)
I am a Christian, not because I CHOOSE to be one, but because God has called me out of darkness into His marvelous light (passive).

I am baptized into Christ.  Everything flows from there.  All my action comes from what Christ has done for me and to me.

It is as David says, "O LORD, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise."  Again - it's not me doing, it's not me starting.  I'm not the decisive factor.  I am what God makes me to be.  And it is truly much better that way.

The art of the Christian faith is being taught over and over that God is in control, not you.
It is being taught that God's Will shall be done, not mine.
It is receiving Christ's forgiveness and love and life -- which the flow out through me.

I am a new creation.  God grant that by daily contrition (from God) and repentance (from God) that my old Adam that wants to be in charge may be drowned and die (hey, that's passive) and that daily a new might arise (again, passive).  I receive forgiveness in the Supper, the Body and Blood of Christ that was shed for me - and with it I am given life (which I live) and salvation.

I am a new creation in Christ.  I am not what I determine myself to be - I am what He makes me to be.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Epiphany Observed Sermon

Epiphany Observed – January 5th, 2014 – Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Epiphany.  To shine upon, to be revealed, to come to understanding.  Or to have the light bulb go off in your head.  That is what an Epiphany means in modern English.  And as we move into the season of Epiphany, what we are going to have is a bunch of light bulb moments about Jesus, a bunch of moments where the dots get connected when we think about Him, when we see the true wonder of what it means that God becomes Man.  And the season of Epiphany starts off with the too familiar story of the Wise Men.  I say that it is too familiar, because oh, sure, sure, we all know it.  Three wise men, oooOOOOooo, star of wonder, start of light.  Yeah, we get it.  And we stick it in with Christmas, we have our three wise men at our manager in our Christmas nativities, and this lesson today is so December, so 2013.  It’s 2014, Pastor, get with the new!  And we get so many things wrong, we don’t get what is going on.  So, let us attend to our text this morning and learn again rightly the coming of the Wise Men.

          “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews. For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”  Simple enough, right?  Wise men, star, got it.  But note the next line – “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  Herod is troubled, he is scared.  Indeed, all Jerusalem is scared when they hear this news.  There’s no rejoicing, there’s no celebration.  There’s worry and fear.  Why?  Well, let’s talk politics for a bit.  Jerusalem has always been stuck in the middle.  In the Old Testament, it was stuck between Egypt and your northern powers – Assyria, Babylon – whomever.  And so, whenever Egypt would mess with one of those northern powers, Jerusalem and Israel is stuck right in the middle – and that’s why you have all those wars going on in Judges and Kings.  When Christ is born, though, it’s no longer a north/south divide – now the divide is East and West.  To the West, you have Rome – indeed, we today claim that we are part of Western Civilization.  And then, you had… the East.  Persia and parts beyond – and that was the fight.  The battle of Thermopylae with the 300 hundred Spartans was East vs. West.  And by Christ’s day, the border between Rome and the East was just East of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is basically a border town – and it’s one that is viewed… doubtfully by Rome.  Rome doesn’t quite trust Judea yet… it’s too Eastern – it’s in what we even today call “the middle east”.

          And what happens?  Wise men from the East come and tell Herod, the Roman vassal, that a new king has been born.  Do you see why this would be bad?  We aren’t just talking civil war – this isn’t just Herod thinking “I haven’t had a kid, there must be a rival for my throne”… wise men came from the East, and they like this new king.  It’s not mere Civil War – this could be the omen of WORLD WAR, because if some Eastern King takes over Judea, what’s Rome going to do?  Massive war between world powers, with Jerusalem right there in the middle.  Add on the fact that many Jews didn’t like Rome, and suddenly you have a terrible three way war that will be violent and brutal. This is what Herod, this is what Jerusalem hears when they see these wise men come.  Have a holly, jolly Christmas – I don’t think so.

          But the priests are asked – where is the Messiah to be born?  Oh, he’s in Bethlehem.  And then Herod decides to play politics.  He will use the wise men as a tool – “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring me word that I too may come and worship Him.’”  It’s a great plan – it gets the wise men out of Jerusalem and the public eye – out of sight, out of mind.  They can find the Kid quietly, and then Herod will come and “worship” Him.  Well, murder Him before He becomes a problem – at least that is what Herod thinks.  This is why Herod asked them the time the star appeared, this is why Herod ends up killing all the male kids in Bethlehem.  Cold, hard politics.  Better to wipe out a few babies than unleash world war.  Or so Herod thinks.

          Now, what do we see from this?  Here you have the heart of the Old Testament Church – Jerusalem, hearing about the Messiah… even searching the Scriptures to figure out where He will be born… and what’s the reaction?  Fear.  Plotting for murder.  Anger.  Violence.  Why?  They were all thinking about earthly power, earthly might, earthly politics.  If you use the Scriptures for that – well, you miss the point.  Oh, you might get a good club to whack someone with… but it doesn’t do much good.  It misses the point.  The light bulb does not go off in Jerusalem – instead they cling to the darkness of this world and its politics and fighting.  They missed something more wondrous.  Likewise, dear friends, we too must be wary.  The Church isn’t a political action group, it’s not focused simply on building a better community.  Now, do we serve our neighbors, show them love?  Yes, to be sure!  Are we to be good citizens – yes!  Render unto Caesar – so start getting those 2014 tax returns ready.  But that’s not the peak, the point of this place.  The point here is always forgiveness and salvation and everlasting life.

          The Wise Men leave the politics and plottings of Jersualem behind, and they make their way to Bethlehem.  “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.”   The Wise Men are the only ones who keep their focus on Christ – and note when they worship Him.  They worship Him when they see Him.  When they see that God has come to earth, then they worship.  This is the very point and focus on this place.  Why have this building – why spend the money on the upkeep, why was the money spent to build it in the first place?  Aren’t we told today so often that we can think about God at home, we can just read our bible there?  You know, the Wise Men could have stayed back East – they could have probably gotten copies of the Scriptures there, read in comfort.  But no – there, in Bethlehem was where God Himself came to be present – and so they went there.

          This place, this house, is built to be the place where you know God Himself will be present for you, where His Word will be proclaimed, not so that you can better plot to crush your political enemies, but so that your sin will be forgiven and that you will have life.  This is the place where God has placed His altar, so that His own Supper will be given out to people.  You don’t have to wonder, this is the place.  In 2014, this will be a place where you are forgiven by God, over and over and over. Because this is where God Himself has called you to be, where He has promised to have His Word given to you, His peace spoken to you, His blessing placed upon you.  This is the place where we worship the God who comes to us to forgive us.

          “Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”   Now, one kill joy note before we look at the treasures.  The Scriptures never say that there were three wise men, just that there were three gifts.  It could have been 2 or 20, we don’t know.  Victor got umpteen gifts from my parents, and there are only two of them, not umpteen.  The interesting thing here, though, are the gifts.  Now, what’s so special about these three things?  Gold and frankincense are part and parcel of worship. When Moses builds the tabernacle, when Solomon builds the temple – gold is used - the idea of a precious metal shows that what is going on is something precious. That's the reason why the chalice is probably the only silver cup that any of us drink out of – there is something wonderful and unique that happens in worship, in God coming to us. The stuff we use in worship shows that. Frankincense was also part of worship – the tabernacle and temple were always filled with smoke – smoke of incense. The incense, the smell was a reminder, a confession that God was present at worship for the benefit of His people. Gold and Frankincense were things that were present at worship, that let you know you were at worship – so the wise men brought them to be present at their worship. But then, they also bring myrrh. Myrrh is used to anoint the dying – myrrh is the chief spice that is used to cover the stench of death. On Easter morning when we see that the women are hastening to the tomb with spices to anoint the body – the chief spice of that mixture is myrrh.

          We do not worship a God who just sits around somewhere up there and maybe airmails us some goodies if our worship and offerings make Him laugh.  No, our God is one who offers Himself up to death, who comes down to be with us to go to cross to suffer and die so that we might be forgiven.  The myrrh points to that.  Jesus does all things backwards.  Instead of our faith being a constant attempt for us to somehow get closer to Him, to work our way to Him, to “find” Him – Jesus comes down to us, joins with us, even in death, all so that we will be joined with Him in the resurrection and life everlasting.  When Christ wants to be closer to you, He comes to you.  He says to you, “You are baptized, and I will dwell in you now.”  He says to you, “Your sins are forgiven – and I will be your God and you will be My own.”  He says to you, “Take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My blood.”  That’s all about what He gives to you.

          And the wise men, even these gentiles – they get the glimpse of this – they have the light bulb go off.  The Holy Spirit works and creates faith through the Word – and the Wise Men got it.  They behold not just someone who might cause earthly chaos, not a rival for a throne.  No, they see God come to die for the sake of mankind.  And that is the same thing we see whenever God calls us here to His house, whenever Christ Jesus gives Himself to us.  And that is a wondrous, wondrous thing.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Two Little Pieper Quotes

While the law does have a role in the work of sanctification, its role is purely negative and only in service of the gospel. According to Scripture, sanctification, expressed negatively, consists in the putting off of the old man, and positively, in the putting on of the new man.

- Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3:15.

Strictly speaking, only that Word which mortifies the old man and supplies strength to the new man is the means of sanctification, namely, the Gospel (the means of grace), not the Law. It is only the Gospel which dethrones sin; the Law can only multiply sin (Rom 6:14; 7:5, 6; Jer 31:31 ff.). However, the Law has its place in the work of sanctification; it serves the Gospel.

- Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3:18.
Why do we seem to think it is such a mean thing to serve the Gospel?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A "New" Year

It's the first blog post of the new year.

So... what's really going to be different this year?  I mean, really, what will be?

Oh, I could go on about how we are constantly changing as people, although that is over exaggerated.  If you do New Year resolutions... how many of them have been repeats?  Or I could point to my new son - isn't that something different?!?  Well, yes -- but that has very little to do with the turning of the page of a calendar.

Often we will mark January 1st as the time of new hope, of new dreams.

I have a slightly different take.  I'm still the same.  Still Eric Brown.  Still sinful.  Still beating down temptations.  Maybe from an outsider's perspective I've "grown" - maybe I've got a few pet sins contained so they don't pee on the carpets in front of the guests.  Maybe I don't.

The fact remains that yesterday I was a sinner, struggling through this life in a fallen world.  I remain that today.  Yesterday, I needed Christ and His mercy.  Today, I need Christ and His mercy.  Tomorrow, I will need Christ and His mercy.

You want to ponder change this New Year?  Well, I rejoice that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  I rejoice that just as I was forgiven and strengthened in 2013... Christ Jesus still is the same Savior He has been.  The Word of God still remains.  I am baptized, still.  It hasn't been revoked.  The Word of God is still preached.  The Supper still exists.

On account of Christ, I am forgiven.  And that change to 2013 to 2014... that's just a reminder that we are ever closer to the day when He returns, when we really will be changed, when we will be like Him, when we will be raised.

Does this sound dour to you?  Eh, not really.  I hope I enjoy 2014.  And I will.  And maybe there will be great sadness - I'm sure there will be.  That's the way of life in this fallen world - in the midst of tragedy we still see God's blessings and rejoice.  But take heart, Jesus Christ has overcome the world -- and this is true no matter how quickly those resolutions are broken, no matter how quickly disaster strikes, no matter if this year is worse than the last. 

Jesus Lives!  The Victory's Won!

True in 2014.