Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sexagesima Sermon

Sexagesima – January 30th and 31st, 2016 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today, my dear friends in Christ, we are going to talk about the Word of God, the Word of God as it is preached and proclaimed throughout the whole world, the Word of God that declares that your sins are forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. The Word of God which is the Good News, which is the reason we gather here today, the reason we sing, the reason we rejoice in the face of a world filled with sin and death. The Good News that so many people seemingly couldn't care less about. So, what is going on with this Word of God – as we have been given ears, let us hear what our Lord says.

And again when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew it withered because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” There's the parable, the parable that describes the preaching of the Word of God, the parable that is in fact describing what precisely is happening as those folks from town after town come out to hear Jesus.

Now, last Sunday in bible class, I had made a point that because we are familiar with them, we can forget just how strange and bizarre a lot of Jesus' parables are. We love the parable of the sower. In fact, my class ring from the University of Oklahoma has a sower on it – it's a great image. We know this parable – we know that Jesus is going to explain it – but for that crowd listening there – it would have been odd, or silly. Even the disciples don't get it – the reason we hear Jesus explain it is because the disciples pull Jesus aside and say, “Jesus, we don't have a clue what the point of that Sower story was.” You don't think it's silly? Or that Jesus would dare to tell a silly story. Listen.

Suppose this spring one of our farmers thinks, “I know, I'll go have Pastor Brown help me with the planting. And putting Pastor Brown on the tractor, he sends him out to do the planting, but 20 minutes later he looks up, and there's Pastor Brown driving down 115 trying to plant it. Then 20 minutes later Pastor Brown's driving down the ditch line, planting there – then 20 minutes after that he's planting on that big pile of gravel over off of Leigh road. Then finally, there's Pastor Brown driving through the fields planting there. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What would the point of that story be – other than “wow, don't let Pastor Brown the city boy anywhere near your farming operation”? What the sower in the parable is doing by any stretch of the imagination seems utterly idiotic and foolish. Is Jesus going to condemn the wasteful sower? You don't sow the pathways or the patch of weeds. Everyone knows that! What's going on here, Jesus?

And when His disciples asked Him what this parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.” I know the ESV puts “secrets” there the word in Greek is Mysterion, Mystery. Now – know what a mystery is. We think of them as a “whodunit” thing to solve – that's only because of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. No, a mystery in the Ancient world was one of the profound truths of God that is beyond our ability to fully wrap our minds around. Baptism and the Lord's Supper were considered mysteries. In baptism, the world would see merely water, but behind and beyond that water is forgiveness, is being tied to the life and death of Christ Jesus Himself. The Supper – the world sees a bit of bread and wine, but the mystery is that in, with, and under that bit of bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ is given to us for forgiveness and strengthening of our faith, and to unite us with Christians in all places and in all ages. Fantastic stuff. And the world just isn't going to get it. They'll see it, but they'll not really see what's going on. They'll hear it, but they won't understand what's really happening. Seeing they will not see, hearing they will not understand – that's the classic, Old Testament way of describing idols and idolaters. The stone statues have eyes, but they don't see. Likewise, the folks who worship idols have blinded themselves, so that they don't see or understand who the true God is or what He does.

That's the set up for this parable. Alright disciples – the parable is going to be strange; it's a reminder to you that when it comes to the things of the Christian faith – lots of people just aren't going to get it. Oh well – because you do get it, you have been given faith, you have been given ears to hears and eyes to see, you are not stuck in vain idolatry, so let's look at the parable and see. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. Here's the lynch pin for the whole parable. The seed is the Word of God. And what we learn first and foremost is that this is a parable about preaching, about speaking God's Word, about what each of you do during the week whenever you tell what Jesus has done. And you know what the point is. We speak the Word of God anywhere and everywhere, to anyone. It doesn't matter what they look like – it doesn't matter whether we think they deserve it or not. That's not the sower's concern – the Seed goes forth onto every type and kind of soil, the Word is preached in season and out of season. Jesus preached to the entire crowd there, even though many would not end up beliving. Doesn't matter – we proclaim the truth of Christ's forgiveness, that He has died and risen for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of the world, and then we let the chips, the seed as it were, fall where it may.

Alright disciples, Jesus is going to send you out to sow the Word of God all over. And you know what's going to happen? A lot of it is going to fall utterly flat. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the world away from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. There are going to be folks who smile and nod, but then just don't care one bit. It's going to happen. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And then there are going to be folks who seem eager and happy to be Christians, but then, something happens. Things get difficult, and they throw in the cards, decide this Christianity stuff is stupid. It's going to happen. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And then there are going to be folks who should know better, but then this comes up, or that, and don't you just know it, I am just so busy... and off they go. It's going to happen.

Now, I want to pause here, because there are a couple of bad ways we can take this. We can almost want to cut things off here and look at each of these cases and say, “Well, whose fault is it – who messed up so that so and so didn't get it, or who blew it so that the so-and-sos left? What can we do differently to keep that from ever happening again!” Not the point. The point is this – people will end up, for a variety of reasons, rejecting the Word. And Jesus isn't concerned with throwing blame. The sower never gets thrown under the bus in the parable, the seed isn't chastised. No, the Word of God goes forth as it should, and sometimes, sadly entirely too often, people just don't care. It's going to happen. And we can see what is going on. Satan attacks us, trials come, distractions come – that's not necessarily anyone's fault, it's life in the sinful world. In fact, we ourselves should be ready for all of these sorts of things to attack us. And when we look up, when we see so much failure – 75 percent failure rate in the parable, we are called to remember that our only hope is the Word of God.

As for that in good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. That's such a loaded statement. What's the description of the good soil? What's the sign of a good Christian? That you cling to the Word of God. That “hold it fast” is clinging to it, it's pulling it close to your chest and not letting it go – it's what the guy who falls on a fumble in football is doing. Clinging to it. And even that “bear fruit with patience” - that's not so much a “get on out there and get active” phrase – that word for patience is a word for endurance, for steadfastness, for hanging on, for staying put and not giving up even though the other team is jumping on you and scratching and clawing at the football. Thus we are taught that even while the world around you doesn't care – you Christian, cling to the Word!

And why? Because the Word is the only place there is life. It is only through the Word of God that any of us have any life, any hope, any forgiveness. And apart from the Word, we are useless. Do you think that you should brag, O Christian, that you are good soil, unlike that rocky or weedy person over there? It's not about you – it's about the Word of God. Or what sort of yield do you get off of good ground that is never planted? You get zilch, nothing, squaduche. Nope. Our attention is the Word. We cling to it, we keep on hearing it – and more than that, we keep on proclaiming it and confessing it – because frankly, I don't know what sort of “soil” anyone is. If you look at Paul when he is persecuting the church before his conversion, you'd assume he's the hardest path in the world – yet the Word goes to him and there is a harvest a plenty there. All the disciples end up running away from the Mount of Olives on Maundy Thursday when the soldiers come – does Jesus wash His hands and say, “Oops, they were rocky, better get new disciples.” No – He rises and shows up to them and preaches the Word again – Peace be with you! Ours is not to sit in judgment over our neighbor and pretend we are soil scientists – we are people of the Word. We hear the Word, we cling to the Word, we proclaim the Word – for we know this wondrous mystery of God – that His Word works faith – that the Holy Spirit will create faith where and when He wills through the Word of God – and that this same Word gives forgiveness and life and salvation and so we keep preaching and hearing the Word.

And you know what? The world will think that this is silly. The world will mock the Word. And you will be told that you are foolish and dumb for clinging to it. The days of American culture praising Christianity are fast passing. The world is very hard and rocky and thorny. So what of that – you have been called out of Darkness into Christ's marvelous light – you have been baptized and brought into the kingdom of God, you are called even to His table to receive life and salvation. And you are forgiven, and you receive this forgiveness through that wondrous gift of the Word. He who has ears to hear, hear.

Funeral Sermon for Janet Lochner

Janet Lochner – John 3:16 – January 30th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Jack, Larry and Chrissy, and Kathy, Karen, Irene, Mary, Lori, Helene, Jay, Pat, and the rest of the many family and friends of our sister in Christ Janet, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love. In the weeks before she died, Janet and I talked often about what she wanted the theme of her funeral to be – and she was thinking and planning and flitting and fretting in her Janet way – wanting to make sure things were taken care of, to make sure that you folks here listening were taken care of, wanting to make sure I as the guy who had to preach the thing was taken care of. Because that's what Janet did. She loved. She took the love that she had received from her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and she in turn showed that love to the people that Jesus put into her life – whether that's the family she's known all her life, the husband God was good enough to provide her with, or even a Johnny-come lately into her life like me. People needed to be cared for and loved and blankety-blank, Janet was going to make sure that you got that love.

That's why we just heard John 3:16 – that's what she picked, that famous verse on Love. She wanted this time to be a bit of a focus, a talk on what love is – which is highly appropriate, because Janet got this, understood it – indeed, she understands it incredibly well right now. You see, today in America, we don't talk about love the way they did in the Bible, the word doesn't mean the same thing. We hear love, and we think first and foremost of feelings. That's not the main point in the Scriptures. Of course there's emotion, but the big thing with love in the Scriptures is that love is action. Love is a verb. Love means you aren't just going to sit around, you are going to get up and do something to show love, to help, to care for someone. And Janet knew that, and Janet demonstrated that. That's why we mourn today – because Janet was a tangible, real blessing to us. She showed us real love – she acted, she spoke, she did stuff for our good, for our benefit. And we knew it. That's why we mourn. Janet's love wasn't just a fond thought – it was tangible, it was real, and it often got down in the dirt and muck with us, met us where we were at, even when we were at our lowest.

The love Janet showed you was Christ's love. Listen again to that old familiar verse – For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God saw us at our lowest. He saw us at our worst, our meanest, our sinful-iest. He saw us even when the impact of that sinfulness brought us frailty, saw us when death came crawling near. From all eternity, God saw His Janet, even in these last few weeks, and God Himself said, “blankety-blank, I'm not going to sit by and just let this happen.” And so He acted. He showed love. He sent Christ Jesus into this world, into this world full of pain and suffering and death, and Jesus stepped willingly, boldly into death – carried His own Cross to His own death – because there was no way in hell (and I mean that literally, we just confessed that He descended into hell) that He was going to let Death just have and keep His Janet. And so Jesus, in order to show His love to Janet, to you, to me, stepped on into death itself, and tore it open, tore it a new one, ripped down the gates of hell with His pierced hands, broke open His own tomb and strode forth alive and said, “There, now my Janet, whom I claimed as My own in Holy Baptism, whose sins I forgave over and over again in Holy Absolution, who received My own Body and Blood in My Supper – now she will not perish but instead will have eternal life because I died for her. Now she will rise because I rose for her – and now she'll get to just enjoy heaven with Me until we both come again together come the last day.” That's Christ's love for Janet – and that's His love for you. And His love for Janet was so strong that it filled her up – her cup of Christ's love overflowed and spilled out on to all of us.

And Christ will continue to love you, to pour His love into you. For a time, we don't get to receive this via Janet any more – but Jesus still loves you, still pours in His love and forgiveness into you through His Church, through His Supper – He still puts His brothers and sisters into your lives to care for you – indeed, He puts you into each other's lives so that you give His love to each other. Exactly what He did for Janet and through Janet – that's still for you and through you. And because He loved Janet, because He loved you so that He went to Cross and died and rose – we're going to see Janet again. No power, not sin, not death, not Satan himself is going to keep her from rising, because Jesus loves her, loves us – and we will see her risen, see her with Christ Jesus our Lord – and that will be a good day.

Until then, we wait and we live in love, Christ's love. That's the point. That's what Janet knew and understood – that she was a forgiven child of God who got to pour out forgiveness and love to all of us here. Now, she gets to rest, relax a bit with her Lord – and that's good for her. And you know what – since we'll see her again, it's even good for us, because we all here are still well and thoroughly taken care of by Christ Jesus our Lord, and since He's decided in His wisdom to let us hang around here a bit longer and stick around in the business of showing His love, we know that He will be with us and strengthen us not only in faith towards Him but in fervent love for one another. Just as He did for Janet. Because that's how God shows us love, so that along with Janet and all who believe we would not perish but have eternal life. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Monday, January 25, 2016



Sin has consequences!  And you're just going to have to bear them!

Perhaps you've seen that or read an argument like that lately.  Sort of the thrust that as the world is becoming less and less moral we in the Church need to do our best to make sure people not only are aware of the fact that their sin will have temporal consequences, but that when they are suffering the consequences that we say, "Well, there you go, you get what you deserve."  The consequences will make them learn!

Well, that's one way to look at it.  The thing is... it's a virtuous heathen, 9th ring of hell sort of way, not the Christian way.

For your consideration, consider the collect for Septuagesima: "O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your Name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."

Now note: what's the whole point?  That while we justly suffer the consequence of our sin, that we would be mercifully delivered.

Seriously - that's the response of the Christ.  To deliver folks from consequences.

Really.  Seriously.  And that's the heart of every prayer we offer.  Consider the Lord's Prayer.  We pray that God's Name would be hallowed among us - over and against the consequence of sin that would dishallow it.  We pray that God's Kingdom would come to us in a good way, that His will would be good for us, when the consequences of our sin would be the exact opposite.  Sin demands that we work for our bread; we ask God to give it to us.  Indeed, we ask for forgiveness - we ask to be kept from temptation.  What could be a bigger escape from consequences than that?  Well - deliver us from evil.  All of it, mercifully deliver us.

In fact, do you not know that whenever you show love to your neighbor, you are delivering them from the consequences of their sin?  If I feed my neighbor who is hungry, I am seeking to abate a consequence of sin.  Same with clothing him.  Or visiting in prison - that's a consequence he deserved. 

Seriously - as we are in a fallen world, every act of love we show is lessening a temporal consequence of sin -- is lessening a temporal punishment which that person deserved.

So be it.  We are not agents of consequence.  We are makers of peace, givers of mercy.

And that's a good thing.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Septuagesima Sermon

Septuagesima (3 Sundays til Lent) – Matthew 20:1-16 – January 23rd and 24th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Thus far in Epiphany we have been focused on how this Jesus, this child who was born in Bethlehem, is indeed true God – Light of Light, Very God of Very God. So now the question these last three weeks before Lent becomes this – how does this Jesus fellow operate? How does He work? What is the way, how does one deal with this Jesus fellow, how does one benefit from Him? Historically in Lutheranism, we've talked about the three solas, the three “alones” - Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, Faith Alone. And in each of the next three weeks, our texts will deal with one of these themes – Grace, the Word, and Faith. So to understand that Christ Jesus works by Grace alone, we will consider our parable from Matthew 20 – the workers in the Vineyard.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And after agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard. Now, I want you to understand the point, the impact of this parable. Jesus is not telling this parable in a union friendly state. There are no government benefits, nothing like that. The rule was simple – if a man shall not work, he shall not eat. And who are these people standing there in the market place? They are the unfortunate souls who have no job. They have no income, no back up plan, nothing. And more than that – they are just “workers”. They don't have a specific trade to where they can try to latch on at some place already established – these are the bottom rung workers. And unless someone hires them, tonight they starve. That's their situation. And into the market comes this master of the house, and he hires these folks for a denarius a day. A Denarius was a good wage for a day-laborer; it was appropriate. The master isn't playing hard ball, he doesn't negotiate them down. Just simply – let's do this fair and square. And they agree. Happily. In Greek, the word is “symphony” - that's how beautiful and harmonious this agreement is. And off they go.

And going about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. Now, he hires three more groups of workers – but does this give you the sense of desperation these workers would have been having? Think about it – how desperate do you have to be to go and work for someone who says, “wages, we don't need to set up any wages – just trust me, I'll pay you something.” But there they go. The day is wasting, and as that sun creeps higher and higher without them being hired, that's just a reminder that they will probably starve tonight – so take what you can get.
Finally, at the 11th hour, 5 O'clock, an hour before quitting time, the master goes out again. 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?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.” We can hear this wrong. We can hear these workers say “because no one has hired us” and think, “Bums, get on out there and look for a job.” No – they've been there, where the jobs would be, all day. And nothing. The “idle” doesn't mean that they were loafing, it means that they hadn't found work... or more accurately, work hadn't found them. And so the master send them into the vineyard. Then what happens next is wondrous.

And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. This is mindblowingly generous. This would be utterly unexpected. This is bad business sense. But that's what the master likes to do. He shows over-abundant compassion. However, it does end up ruffling some feathers. Now when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a deniarius. 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.” That harmonious agreement, not so harmonious anymore, is it? You've made us equal – how dare you say that we are equal to them when we've done more, we've suffered more! The master responds gently. But he replied to them, “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 my generosity?” That last line in the Greek is literally: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” Look pal, I've dealt with you fairly, kindly – everything's been above the board. Why do you gripe? If I choose to show kindness to those poor schlubs who thought they were going to starve, that's no skin off of your back. Why does my kindness build up your resentment?

This, dear friends in Christ, is the picture of Christ's grace to us, and also a warning of how and why we can end up hating God's grace. The first workers are indignant – You have made them equal to us! We're so different than them! We deserve more! They view everything on the basis of what they themselves have done and they become angry. Yet, the master is right. All of them were equal – they were all the same thing. Workers. Day-laborers. Folks who would have starved that day with nothing if the master hadn't gone and found them and put them to work. These first could have easily been the last if the master had hit different parts of the market in a different order. These angry workers failed to see that they were in the same boat as all the other workers, regardless of when they entered the vineyard. And so they became angry.

What do you see when you look at your fellow Christians, your fellow sinners, oh members of Trinity? How do you judge them, how do you size them up? Do you see them as folks who are in the same boat as you are – sinners in a sinful world, struggling with a variety of sinful stuff just like you are... or do you size them up on the basis of what you do, how hard you work, how much you've done for God, how much more in order your life is than theirs? Do you see them as the same as you, equal to you – or do you find a way to see them as less than you, so that you really ought to deserve more than them?

It was a false, misleading dream that God His law had given, that sinners could themselves redeem, and by their works gain heaven. The opening of the third verse of my favorite hymn. Do you judge, do you evaluate people on the basis of what they have done? If so, my friends, you have forgotten grace, and we are indeed saved by grace alone. Grace refers to a gift of God, freely given, without any merit or worthiness in me. And the simple fact is none of us deserve anything from God. We are born sinful, born in opposition to God, born at war with Him. And yet, simply and solely out of His great love, He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light, gives us forgiveness, gives us life, gives us meaning and purpose to our lives. And this is not because of how great we are – no, it is how great, how good He is, in spite of our own jealous wickedness.

Here's the thing. We know this. This is a Lutheran Church full of Lutherans. If I said “grace alone, grace alone” you all would smile and nod your heads, yes pastor, grace alone. But here's the thing; here's where Satan will attack us. We still like to check our works, we still like to get out the ruler and measure ourselves and compare ourselves to each other and get all prideful. When we do that, we forget truly what great gifts from God we have received. Or do you not know that even your works aren't “yours” in the sense that you created them – they are gifts from God to you.

Consider again the workers from the parable. The very first group, the ones that so quickly become prideful in their own accomplishments. If the master of the house hadn't walked up to them and sent them into the vineyard, where would they have been at the third hour, or the sixth hour, or the ninth? Standing idle, waiting, fearing for the future, wondering if they were going to starve. This is why they rejoiced in the morning, this is why they gladly went into the fields. Even working itself was a gift – because they knew that they would be provided for, their day had certainty instead of doubt. And even though the work was hard – not something I'd want to do – it was still a great blessing to them. And if they never looked at anyone else, they would have taken their denarius with joy and satisfaction and gone home glad.

Think on the first article of the creed – God gives us our bodies, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, all that I need to support this body and life. Do you see what this is teaching us? That our vocations, that our ability to work at all is a gift from God. Indeed, as we heard today, having been saved we now live under Christ in His kingdom and serve Him! What a gift! Now, if this is a gift from God, where do I get off thinking that I should look at what I do, my life, which is a gift from God gift from God, and then start jawjacking at God about how He's not giving me enough because I do more than that person over there? How dare You, God! You give me talents and opportunity that others don't have – but then You dare to not give me more on top of that! Kind of stupid, ain't it? All sin is when we step back and think about it.

But here's the thing. God doesn't look at you or judge you on merit. At least not your merit. If He did, we all would be in a heap of trouble. But rather, Christ Jesus has done it all, and we are viewed in terms of what He has done, we are viewed in terms of Christ's death and resurrection upon the cross – and in Him we are all equal, and in Him we all receive forgiveness and life, in Him we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, whatever the tasks that come along with that daily bread look like. Because here is the good news – your life, your salvation; it doesn't hinge upon you. When we are feeling prideful, we wish it would – but then things go bad, and we mess up, and we fall and crash and expect to burn. But God says no. God says, “I am good, and I will give you good things, not because of you, but because of Christ.” So what if you fail – Christ does not, and thus the love of the Father for you will never fail. And it will continue to be free and full, just as He has promised. You will have work and labor during your days here on earth – some of it will be hard, some of it will be less hard. Either way, He will put you to work, and when the day is done He will call you home saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter now into your rest.” We know – it's what He's promised, what He agreed upon with us at Holy Baptism when we were called away from standing idly in this world and into His kingdom. His grace for you is free, and it never fails. Thus, I encourage you, when that jealousy or sniping comes up, remember once again God's grace, and see again how is flows generously to you and those around you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Workers in the Vineyard

This upcoming Sunday is the workers in the vineyard text.  The hymn of the day is Salvation Unto Us Has Come.  It's a great day - it's a sola gratia day - Grace Alone.

The beauty of the lectionary is that it serves to gently correct and curb us, guides us and acts like a trellis, and returns us again to the heart of what we preach and teach.  And the heart of this is that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Not by works of the law, no matter how good or virtuous they are.

You think it wouldn't be that hard to keep that the center of things - but the beginning symphony of faith (check out the Greek in Mathew 20:2) soon becomes grumbling and dischord when instead of focusing on God's grace freely given, we instead become focused upon the works of others - how poor they are, how they aren't up to our standards.

And our eye becomes evil and no longer craves and celebrates the Goodness of God.  Instead, we put forth our own efforts and actions as the center of everything.  This is horrid.

Keep yourselves from idols, little children =o)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Transfiguration Sermon - 2016

Transfiguration Sunday – Matthew 17 – January 16/17th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

         They were afraid. When people got a glimpse of the unbridled Glory of God, when sinful men got a taste of this, they became terrified. We see this both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old, Moses comes down the mountain from having talked with God while getting the 2nd copy of the 10 commandments, and what happens? When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shown because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Even Aaron, the high priest, Moses’ own brother is terrified of merely the reflected Glory of God. They even finally talk Moses into keeping a veil over his face because Moses’ glowing face freaked them out.

And then in the New, we have the Gospel lesson today – the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain – and Jesus is transfigured, He begins to glow, and Moses and Elijah show up – and Peter, Peter is bold, as bold as only Peter can be. Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. It was the time of the festival of booths, the festival of tents – where basically all the faithful Jews would camp out and remember the wanderings in the desert. Peter’s able to handle seeing the transfiguration – he just wants to keep busy, busy and focused somewhere else. Maybe Moses and Elijah are just here to celebrate the feast with us – I’ll keep busy. I’ll set up some tents. 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. And then the voice of God comes from the cloud, and it’s too much, and the disciples cower in fear. A transfigured Christ – we can keep busy, we can work through this amazement – but God’s voice – duck and cover, duck and cover.

We will in modern American Christianity talk about God’s glory a lot. We like to talk about God’s majesty and strength. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah. Awesome God who does cool stuff, yeah! On and on. But here is what happens. When our focus shifts to God’s power or glory, we forget one simple thing. God’s glory is too much for sinful man to handle. We see this in the Old Testament, we see this in the New Testament. When people see God let His Glory, His Godliness shine forth – it is terrifying. Now, think for moment, imagine a situation with me. Let’s say, in the middle of this sermon this evening/morning, my voice starts to get unnaturally loud - and the earth starts to quake – and thunders and lightnings come – and angels appear behind me – what would happen? Honestly, what would your reaction be? I’d be freaked out, but too scared to stop talking. Y’all would probably dive under the pews. If a touch of God’s unbridled Glory popped out here, even here in Church, we would be terrified. It happened to Isaiah in Church, and he was terrified. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!” That’s what would happen. The unveiled glory of God is terrifying to us here on earth.

And why? Because we are sinful people. When we are walking around in normal life here on earth, we can get cocky. We can get a little proud in how good we are. We’re decent people – show up to church, put money in the plate – we can compare ourselves to other people, the godless hordes out there, and get to feeling pretty good about ourselves. That’s because all too often we examine our lives not in terms of God’s Word, not in terms of His absolutes, not in terms of have you done all that you ought – but rather we compare ourselves to others selectively, remembering only their faults and weaknesses, and comparing that to our successes and strengths. Thing is – when God shows up, when God shines forth His glory, we see how shallow and poor we are in comparison to Him, we see that we fall short, and we crash, we flee in terror, we run and hide – just like Adam in the garden when God calls out to him after the fall.

So, why do I bring this up? What is the point in talking about this? Because today, in seeing Peter, James, and John – Disciples, Apostles, heroes of the faith – on their knees cowering in fear, we see the fundamental problem of our lives. Sin isn’t just doing bad stuff. Sin isn’t just being naughty. It’s not just that we happen to sin – it’s that we are sinful – that we are full of sin. We are sinners – people who on account of their wicked and corrupt natures end up sinning. And there’s nothing we can do to change that – we are sinners, that’s who we are. Period. And because we are sinners – by our nature we are shut off from God. Like we say in the meaning to the third article, we can’t by our own reason or strength go to God, we can’t come to Him – why? Because on our own we are sinners. Sinners don’t saunter up to a holy God and ask Him how His day was. When a kid is in big trouble, does he want to go chat his your parents? No! How much more so the sinner with God? Our sinfulness, which we all have from the day we were conceived separates us from God – and we can’t fix it. We can’t do anything about it – when sinful people stumble upon God's unbridled glory, we have no choice but to cower.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. This is why Christ Jesus comes. Epiphany is the season where we see, where we remember that Jesus is indeed God – God come to us humbly as a servant, coming to us as a Human, coming to us in a away where He can be with us without terrifying us. Jesus hides His glory most of the time so that He can come to us sinners. The way in which we know God, the way we understand Him, isn’t in His almighty power – we can’t grasp that, and what little we can terrifies us. We don’t understand God’s majesty, and when we see it we become afraid. But God reveals Himself to us in Christ, in becoming man, in becoming One of us and coming to us in a way that we can handle. And so, because of this great wisdom and love of God, we see no one but Jesus only. He is how, He is the only way we understand God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – we can't get to the Father apart from Him. Paul preaches Christ and Him Crucified. Hear how Hebrews describes this. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Jesus is true God, in Him we get everything there is to get, all the power, all the glory – but behold how God works. He comes to us while we are still sinners, while we are still sinful, but He comes in a way which we can tolerate, in a way which doesn’t completely destroy us. And what does He do? In our Gospel, Jesus doesn’t stay up on the mountain, He doesn’t just bask in His own glory. Rather, He goes to comfort the disciples – He tells them not to fear. Why can Jesus say this? Because He knows He is going to the Cross.

We can’t handle, we can’t deal with our sin. But Jesus can and Jesus does. He takes on our flesh, becomes one of us for the express purpose of going to the Cross. This is why He comes, to go to the Cross – to make purification for sins, to justify us – to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – this is the work of the Cross. This is why He comes, to rise again, to walk forth from the tomb bringing life in His train – so that He can say, “See, I have won for you the forgiveness of sins and now give to you life Eternal.” Jesus comes to work, Jesus comes to get down to business – Jesus comes to touch us while we are by our sinful nature His enemies and give us life. But God shows His love for us in this that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is what Jesus does.

And this is what Jesus does for us still today. Think on this – as I’ve already pointed out, if we were to see God’s unveiled glory while still on earth in this sinful flesh, we would freak out. Yet God still deigns to come to us and bring us forgiveness. How? Not through earth shaking power. Not through fire and brimstone and flashing lights. God comes to us in ways that don’t destroy us – God gives Himself to us in ways that we can handle. He comes in His Word – through hearing His Word. And not echoing, booming sounds – but Words spoken and read by normal people in normal ways. He comes in Baptism – think on that – a washing which cleanses all our sin, which unites us to God, which joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection. When Christ died the earth shook, the clouds blotted out the sun, when He rose nothing could contain Him – and yet we are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection by water and the Word – in a manner so gentle even infants can bear it. He comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. Think on that – God gives us His own Body and Blood – we take and eat, we take and drink for forgiveness – and how can we receive this? Because He gives us His Body and Blood in a way that we can handle, that we can receive – through bread and wine. He comes to us sinful men to forgive us our sins in ways in which we can handle.

Yes, Jesus reveals His glory upon the mountain of transfiguration. We see God’s glory revealed, we have confirmed for us that Jesus is indeed true God. But Jesus doesn’t just stay there – His ultimate purpose isn’t to show how wonderful He is. Rather, He leads His disciples down the mountain, and He walks undaunted and boldly to the Cross, where He wins for us forgiveness. And Jesus continues His work today as He comes to us in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper. He comes to us gently, so that we receive Him without fear and simply rejoice in the forgiveness of sin. The world looks at this – looks at God at work in His Word and shrugs. The world sees Baptism and mocks it – How can water do such things? The world hears that Christ gives us His own Body and Blood in His Supper and calls Jesus a liar, says it’s just a chunk of bread, a bit of wine and nothing more. The world foolishly craves glory and power. But we have been called into God’s house, brought into His family; we have received His forgiveness, and so we see and know and thirst for the forgiveness which He gladly and continually provides for us in His Church. And because we have been forgiven, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, when we and all believers in Christ will be raised to glorious and eternal life, and once again enjoy perfection, and delight forever more without fear, in God’s Glory in His Heavenly Kingdom. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Case Study: Boy Jesus in the Temple

I propose a case study, a little thought experiment for self-evaluation.  As good Lutherans we know that the Gospel is to predominate; that is we understand that the point, the goal, the end of the Scriptures is seeing Christ Jesus who is our Redeemer, who is the Author and Perfector of our faith.

Do we let the Gospel predominate?  And by that I don't just mean does it take up more time in our sermons, or do we finish with it... but does the Gospel predominate and shape the way we view the Scriptures?

I have a test case, a case study for self-examination.  Luke 2:41-52  The Boy Jesus in the Temple.  Read it, ponder it, and then ask yourself, what is the point of this text?  If you were to preach it to your congregation, what is the major point, what is the theme?

Go on.  Think about it for a bit.

Pondering is good.

Alright.  So what did you get?  What sort of themes took the foreground in your head?  And were they Law-centric or Gospel centric?

This text is a great study for this, because there are some fantastic law themes in the text.  You can use the text as a springboard for examining all sorts of 3rd commandment and 4th commandment issues.  They came to the temple as was their custom, Joseph and Mary faithfully brought Jesus, Jesus goes home and is submissive to them, He grows in stature and wisdom before God and Man.  These are all wonderful, positive Law themes.

But what about the Gospel themes?  That right there, you have the Word of God Incarnate expounding upon the Word of God?  That you have Christ declaring that He must be about the Father's business of salvation?  That the God who became man and tabernacled among us enters his temple to restore us.


What was your focus?

Is this text primarily an occasion to get in some good law, some good positive example, or is a revelation of the mysteries of the incarnation and our salvation in Christ?

In your own thinking, does the Gospel predominate?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Command or Gift?

I am reminded of Dr. Luther's response when asked how often someone *had* to come to the Supper.  Luther refused to answer.  At least not directly.  Eventually he would say that if one doesn't commune at least 4 times a year, then that person should think about whether or not that they are actually a Christian.

Even when pressed, Luther would not make a hard and fast "you must" law about receiving the Supper.  Why?  Because the Supper, even with our Lord saying "This do" was not to be viewed as a Law, but rather a gift.  The focus is never to be "what must I do" - where the Supper becomes a terror as it was in his youth, but rather always remain the "for you" as the focus.

We have a great love as sinful human beings to turn the gifts of God into commands.  I'm sure the folks who still read this blog would happily nod their heads in agreement if I were to point to the aggressive prosperity Gospel folks, where if you aren't making money that's a bad thing.  You must name it, you must claim it.  We would all recoil against that - we know that wealth and possessions are gifts from God.  Give us this day our daily bread.

Daily bread is a gift - something given to us by God.  That's something we learned from the Small Catechism:  "Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like."

So then my question is this.  Why is there again a focus on children as a command?  "Well, the Lord mandated children saying 'Be fruitful and multiply!'"  Okay - bear with me.  I'd argue that that is more a blessing (especially as right before that you have "And and God blessed them") - a blessing of fruitfulness - hey, kids will come, because I will give them too you... but even if I were to concede that it is a flat out mandate (which I don't want to do, because I don't think my single brothers and sisters in Christ need to be forcefully paired up in order to have kids... which, if it is a mandate would be the case)... why is the focus on the *mandate* rather than the blessing, than the gift?

Luther wouldn't set a hard and fast "you must commune X times" because the important truth was that the Supper is a gift.  Why the thrust on "you have to have kids"?  Doesn't that blow by the fact that kids are gift?  And that really is a big thing - society doesn't treat kids as gifts.

"I know that society doesn't treat kids as gifts - which is why we need to tell people that they are supposed to have kids!"

Really?  Let me propose a scenario.  Let us say that some fellow walks into your study and says, "Pastor, I don't want to commune."  Which do you say?

A:  You must commune, because God said "this do in remembrance of Me" (and if you like going to John 6 "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.")

B:  Why don't you want to commune?

See, I'd argue that if someone says that they don't want to commune, option B is probably the best choice.  There is something wrong, there is some disconnect that brings up some sort of fear or worry - and that needs to be diagnosed.  They either don't understand the gift, or there is some other fear that is coming into play.  If they don't understand what a gift the Supper is - a mandate to commune won't fix that.  Nor if they are fearful about some other factor will a mandate to commune address or handle that.

Likewise - when we come across those who do not intend to have children, a simple throwing down of the gauntlet isn't the best course of action.  Rather, ask why.  What fears are there that prevents you from seeing that a child is a gift?  (And a gift that God chooses to give, and in fact, may choose to give you whether or not you want one... but that's another blog post.)

You see, we are pastors, we are caretakers of souls - we are to care for each other, not simply toss out laws.  We recoil against the idea of Pastor as "CEO" - well we certainly shouldn't be acting as though its "Pastor as middle management policy enforcer" either.

Seriously - if you think that the Pastoral solution is to become Bill Lumbergh, you've got a problem.

Um, yeah, I'm going to need you to come in to communion on Saturday and then conceive a child....

Be bold... let things be a gift.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sermon for the Sunday after Epiphany

Epiphany 1 – Luke 2:41-52 – January 9th and 10th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we hear the story of Boy Jesus in the Temple – the great Sunday School Classic. I can even remember the lessons – see how Jesus goes to Church and pays attention and learns – you should go to church and pay attention and learn, too! And yes, that's true – but that's not really the full point of this text. There's so much more going on. In fact, this text is fantastic. If we rush through it, if it treat it just as a morality tale about showing up to Church, we miss just how wondrously it reveals who Christ Jesus is. So, let us examine and ponder the text.

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. There's a lot in these two sentences. I could point out that this was their custom – that they made it a habit. I could point out that the parents brought the Child faithfully and regularly. That is true – but here's the biggest thing. When? At the feast of the Passover. Everything in the Scriptures, everything in the story of salvation, your salvation, revolves around Passover. Passover was the meal first celebrated in the Exodus – the Lamb eaten in haste with the blood on the wood of the door posts. Passover is what is being celebrated on the night when He was betrayed, when He took bread broke it and gave thanks and said, “This is My Body”. That happens when Christ celebrates Passover. It's Passover when they take Christ Jesus, the true Lamb of God, and nail Him to a wooden cross that is drenched in His blood for our deliverance. Luke isn't giving this story to be cute – it's pointing ahead to what Christ Jesus would do at the passover, not when He was 12, but 21 years down the road when He is 33, when He gives His life for your Salvation.

But even when He was 12, we should have had a clue of what was coming. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the Boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. Now, this does let us know that Jesus was a pretty responsible kid – Mary and Joseph figured He could take care of Himself, that He's probably just walking in the big gaggle of cousins over there. You didn't have to worry about Jesus – but when they go to camp for the night, He doesn't show up. And no one's seen Him. And so they tear back to Jerusalem searching for Him. And then we get a highly amazing verse.

After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Now, don't hear this and think, “Man, Mary and Joseph are lousy parents, they spent three days in Jerusalem before they go to look for Jesus in the Temple.” Day 1 was walking away from Jerusalem, Day 2 was heading back, and then, on the third day, that's when they find Him. However, I am hoping that something else is spinning in your mind when I said “on the third day.” This is a giant case of foreshadowing – again, on the third day 21 years down the road, that's when Jesus rises from the dead. This is pointing forward to Christ's death and Resurrection, because God really likes to use foreshadowing. That's basically what the prophets are – that's what the Passover itself was – a giant dose of divine foreshadowing so that folks would be prepared for Christ's Coming.

But let's consider what Jesus is actually doing in the Temple. This is one where we don't hear this right, we don't understand. Jesus is sitting, and He's listening to the Teachers and asking them questions – and we hear that and think, “wow, what a good student. Active listening! Asking questions!” Nope – not what is going on. First thing to note – Jesus is sitting among the teachers – and if you were sitting in the ancient world, that meant you were the teacher. The teacher sat. A few chapters later in Luke 4, when Jesus teaches at Nazareth, He reads from Isaiah and then we hear this: “And He rolled up the scroll and give it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'” He's not just going and sitting down like one of our readers – He was sitting in the teaching seat – it would be the equivalent of walking and standing up in the pulpit today. Moreover, in the ancient world, when the Rabbis got together (and to a certain extent even today), teaching was done by question and answer. It's something I do in bible study, I ask questions. The Rabbis thrived on that – so the hearing and questioning isn't Jesus learning... it's Jesus schooling the Rabbis. We get an example of this 21 years later in Matthew 22: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?' They said to Him, 'The Son of David.' He said to them, 'How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord, saying, 'The Lord said to My Lord, sit at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet'? If David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?' And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.” That's how the teaching, the intellectual debates were done – by asking questions back and forth and each other. And the boy Jesus blows their minds – And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. Note this – they weren't amazed at His age. This isn't “I can't believe a 12 year old knows so much” - rather, He is surpassing them in knowledge. He is teaching, He is giving them understanding, He is giving them answers that they hadn't had, that they hadn't thought of. This is Christ Jesus, the Word of God Himself, explaining the Word of God. And it's wondrous.

And then Joseph and Mary show up. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. This is actually funny. This word here doesn't mean “impressed” - they weren't pleased over how much their Son knew. They were freaked out and embarrassed – that moment that parents have where they can't believe what their kid has just done. Which is why Mary says, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Every single one of us in here, when we were young... or maybe not so young has gotten the “Just what in the world did you think you were doing” tongue lashing. That's what's going on here. And yet, Jesus is in teaching mode, and so He asks one last set of questions to amaze the Rabbis - “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” Now, here's one where old King James translates it better - “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?” Literally Jesus says that He must be in the “things of His Father”. And yes, while the temple is a thing of the Father, and Jesus is in it – that's not really the main thrust. You see, it's not that Jesus is a good little boy who goes to Church – the point is that Christ Jesus came and was born to be about the work of Salvation, and that's what He's going to be doing. Of course He's going to be teaching, of course He's going to be in the Temple, of course He's going to be preparing folks for His own death and resurrection, because that is what it is all about – Christ's death and resurrection for our forgiveness. “And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.” And, understandably enough, Joseph and Mary don't understand. It would have been over our head too.

And after that, they head home. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. And Jesus goes home – He gets up, leaves the Rabbis behind, because He is only 12, he's not 13, he hasn't been Bar Mitzvah'd yet. And He follows along after mom and dad, He does what they say (that actually would be the finger wagging part of this text). And He grows up – and then Luke jumps forward 18 years to when John the Baptist starts preaching, and Jesus is ready to turn 30 – which is when the Rabbis started teaching publicly in full.

So then – what does this mean? In thinking about this text, I am amazed at how often we just want things to be nice and neat and orderly. Mary and Joseph wanted Jesus to be nice and neat and orderly – as a parent, I totally get that. And that's actually a trend in American Christianity – we're big on moralism, on making the point of Scriptures, the Church, about making people behave nice and orderly. And that's not a bad thing in and of itself – but it's not really the point, it's not really the main thing. It's interesting, Mary “treasured these things in her heart” - you know what that means? That's Mary saying, “maybe instead of hustling Jesus out of there because I was embarrassed, I should have listened to Him more, I should have marveled over what He was teaching, what He was doing.” And likewise, we today can be so quick to drive to the practical – is this lesson going to help my kids behave, or give me advice on how to manage the house, or teach me to manage my finances? Actually – the point is revelation, is epiphany, is the light shining upon us. Just pause for a moment and ponder – there is Christ Jesus, and as all the world swirls around Him, as His parents are panicking and freaking out – there He is. God become man for our salvation. God calmly revealing to us the plan of salvation laid down from eternity. I'm reminded of a story later in Luke – Jesus with a different Mary and her sister Martha, where Martha is running around all busy, but Mary just wants to sit and listen to Jesus. Martha was distracted by much serving. And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” So yes, there is an aspect of Jesus in the Temple that is about getting to church – but that's because Jesus is there. Because in His House Christ still comes and teaches us through His Word, because Christ calls us away from all the busy practicalities that we Americans love and worship, and instead He focuses upon the fact that He is our Savior and Redeemer, that He is about His Father's business. That we are saved not by what we do or our own improvement, but that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

That's Jesus's focus. That's what He is determined to be about. It was true, even when he was a 12 year old – and no offense to the 12 year olds in here, but that's not an age of great dependability. Doesn't matter. Jesus is bound to bring about to fulfillment all the promises of salvation found in the Word – and He does. Thus we have life in His name, all thanks and praise be to God. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. +

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Epiphany Observed

Epiphany Observed – Jan 2/3, 2016 – Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Although technically we are only on January 2nd/3rd, the 8th/9th day of Christmas, today we are going to celebrate and observe the 12th day of Christmas – January 6th, the day of Epiphany – the season of the Church year which we are about to enter. Epiphany means to shine upon, it is a season of revelation – where we see and understand more and more just who this Christ Child is whose birth we have been celebrating these past few weeks. And to start off the season of Epiphany, we have a lesson of vital importance for each and every one of us in this room – 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." We are used to this story. We are familiar with it. We tend to just toss out some wise men with our nativities without much thought, we sing “We 3 Kings” because it has such a fun refrain. And so we forget just how strange it would have been for the people in Herod's court to have these wise men – and no, Scripture doesn't say how many of them - to have these wise men simply show up. And by rights they shouldn't be there – they don't fit in. Think on your classic Nativity scene. The stable – well, okay, there's no room at the inn. That explains the animals, that makes sense too. And shepherds – well, Bethlehem was kind of rural, so the fact that folks in fields right on the outskirts of town might show up, there's nothing strange about that. But these Wise Men showing up – from the East, they stand out like a sore thumb. They had to travel a long way – and more over, they were Gentiles – they weren't Jewish – and yet they knew that this Jewish Boy who was born was important – and not only important – but that this One who was born King of the Jews, was True God whom they ought to worship.

That's astounding – that these Gentiles would seek to find the young Jewish Child whom they know is God. This, dear friends, is really where you fit into all this Christmas pageantry. This is the wonder of Epiphany – that this Christ Child who comes really is for all people – not just all classes of Jew, not just for the rich and the poor of Jerusalem – but for all people – even those strangers and foreigners. Even those people from the East – even those Germanic folk from the north, even for folks even further afield. That's part of the reason why in a classical nativity the three Wise Men will be three different skin colors – all peoples of the world will be saved by this Christ Jesus, all nationalities – red and yellow, black and white. It does not matter a hill of beans where you are from, Christ is for you. (It's Saturday Night here, but Sunday morning to the East, and we worship at the same time as folks over there) (Already this Sunday our brothers and sisters in Christ have worshiped our Lord in Asia, in Europe, in Africa. My friend who is a Missionary in Peru is probably preaching right now as well.) You fit in now – you are a part of the story – even the Gentiles, even non-Jews – they have a Savior.

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet. Herod is a nasty sort. If we had done the readings for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, we'd hear how Herod kills off all the baby boys in Bethlehem. He's a piece of work. We would expect wicked Herod to be troubled by this news – but all Jerusalem as well? The chief priests and the scribes, even the people who knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they are troubled too? Why? Well, sadly, it boiled down to earthly things. If you are King, and someone else is born to be King, it means your reign will be cut short. It means that maybe it won't be all about you or your kids. It may be that, like John the Baptist, you must decrease that Christ may increase. Herod didn't like that idea. It made him unhappy. You've heard the phrase, “If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy”? Same thing with kings. If the King ain't happy, heads tend to roll – and that makes us afraid. This coming of Christ is met with such fear – fear of how it will impact King Herod.

Allow me a few moments of bluntness. When you hear these words, when you hear of Herod's fear, of Jerusalem's fear – know that this is precisely how Satan will try to tempt you, that this is same sort of fear the Devil will try and raise up in you. Why is Herod afraid? Because Herod’s focus is on his kingdom, his power, his stuff. Why are the people afraid? Because angry kings might mess with their lives, their power, their stuff. They are afraid of their stuff being disturbed – and they did not seek to worship Christ Jesus as the wise men did. Oh, you wise men, just go ahead with out us – come back when you've found Him, we can't be bothered now. . . we have emergency plans to make. Instead of beholding God – Herod's eyes and the eyes of Jerusalem are firmly faceted on earthly politics and pomp and power.

This is the way in which Satan will try to attack you. What you have to remember is that you also can be compared to the people here in Herod's Jerusalem's. If I were to ask any of you, “Where was Jesus born” - is there anyone in this room who can talk who wouldn't be able to tell us that He was born in Bethlehem? These were people who knew who the Messiah was, who in theory where those who were looking for His coming. . . but when it comes down to it, when He comes, there's just not that much interest – other than what chaos and trouble it might cause. We've got to focus on the hum drum things of life.

Isn't that the temptation that Satan levels at us Christians, we who know who the Messiah is, even today? How many are not here because they cannot be bothered? Too much stuff going on, too many things coming up? But as you know, God's Law is not given to us so that we can point fingers at others – rather the Law is applied to us. How easy would it be to fall into that habit, to slide away, to become worn down with cares or worry? Or even for us here – how many of us felt joy and wonder at being allowed to come to Church? We are invited into God's House to hear His Word – in fact, God Almighty will give us His Body and Blood today – and did any of us this evening/morning look like kids on Christmas day ready and excited to go? Or was it more of, “Well, we probably oughta get to Church today”? Did we approach this evening/morning thinking more that it was the end of vacation with a little bit of dread of heading back to the normal slew of things now that the holidays are done – or thinking that Monday is going to bring the new slate of 2016 business, or another crop to worry about? We too, each us of here – even as we are here, we can be worn down the weight of this world, our responsibilities here and now – where our eyes become focused mainly on the things of this life, jobs, bills, weather, the economy. And that's heavy. That comes with fear.

This is why God calls us to worship – to have us rest from the responsibilities of this world and instead be in His care, be served by Him, be refreshed by Him. We are told in Scripture that perfect love casts out fear – and Worship is where we see, where we receive God's perfect love – where once again He applies it to our lives through our ears, where He places it upon our tongues. The heart of worship is that God gathers us to focus upon what He does for us, the rest and forgiveness which He gives to us. Those people whom we rightly call the wise men knew this. See what they brought to their worship of Christ the King - And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We can miss this today, but 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. There's a reason why we take care with the things we use in God's House – they demonstrate the importance of what goes on here. 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 was 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.

This Christ Child whom the wise men worship, whom we ourselves worship, is the God who becomes Man to stare into the face of death and win us life through His own death and resurrection. The wise men see and know this – it is part of their worship. When we gather here for worship today – the center, the focus of our worship is that Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, and thereby wins us forgiveness and life – and that what He has done trumps and enlightens everything in our life – that His love drives away the shadows and fears of this life – that in the light of Christ we face all things confidently seeing the proof, the depth of His love for us – knowing that nothing can separate us from Christ our Lord.

This is what our Lord brings to us here in His House – the Lord who comes to serve His people with life and Salvation, the Lord who comes and gives of Himself to bring us unto Himself and enfold us with His love. And He continually pulls us unto Himself. He is our God – He comes even to bring the Gentiles into His Kingdom – to pull us away from the world of sin and strife and to give us Life in His name. All praise and glory be unto Christ Jesus, our God who wins for us salvation. Amen.