Saturday, January 19, 2019

Epiphany 2 Sermon

Epiphany 2 – January 19th and 20th, 2019 – John 2:1-11 (and Genesis 3)

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
“This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.” My friends in Christ, as Epiphany is the season where we focus on Christ Jesus revealing that He is both true God and true Man, it makes perfect sense that we would have a lesson telling us Christ's first sign – His first demonstration that He was the Messiah. Manifesting glory – that's a great Epiphany theme. However, doesn't our Gospel lesson seem at first glance to be a bit... small. I mean, changing water into wine is... nice. Not thrilling, but nice. And at Cana – Cana is a small town up in the hills – it's like small town Arkansas. And this is the first sign – come on Jesus, don't you want to start things off with a bang? Well, to be honest, this miracle at Cana is completely apt and appropriate and wondrous at revealing who Jesus actually is. Let's consider it.

First, the story itself. 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. Okay, so the set up is this – Jesus probably has a cousin getting married, and His mom is helping to run the show. And Jewish weddings were big, giant parties, long celebrations – and Mary's in the back making sure the reception goes off well. Well – When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no more 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.' Well, they're out of wine. And Mary comes up to Jesus and gives one of those famous mom hints. They're out of wine. The trash is getting pretty full. You know, my birthday is coming up. She wants Jesus to fix this – Mary is eager like a kid on Christmas morning. She's been the mother of the Messiah for 30 years already, let's get this show on the road. Jesus tries to play it down – note again, he isn't giving Mary sass. That “woman” isn't an arrogant “let me tell you something, woman” - it's the way they said “ma'am.” He's trying to politely decline. Why? It's His cousin's wedding – you don't upstage your cousin at their wedding. You don't big time them at their wedding. “I see you were too cheap or poor to pay for a good meal – don't worry, Cousin J's got it handled.” That would be wretched. But Mary knows her son – just do what He says.

So, how can Jesus take care of His family and save the wedding, but do it without embarrassing folks? There's six stone water jars – probably 150-180 gallons in total, and Jesus says, “Fill the jars with water.” Okay, clean water. Then: “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” Wait... do whatever He says? Because if I'm a servant, and I bring the guy running the feast a cup full of water when he wants wine, I'm going to get fired... but, at Your word. And what do you know – the water has become wine. And not just wine – GOOD wine. Strong and rich – the master of the feast pulls the groom over – fella, why'd you keep the good stuff back? You give the good wine out first, and then when everyone's happy you pull out the mediocre stuff. Nice bottles first, then the jug wine. And the only people who see the miracle are the servants and the disciples hanging out with Jesus.

So, how in tarnation is this fitting and appropriate for Jesus' first sign? Just a handful of people saw it. He doesn't talk about it – He probably wasn't even in the same room with the master of the feast when the guy tasted it. We human beings are such glory hounds. Have been since the fall. We want everyone to see how wonderful and great we are, and we especially want them to know how we are better than that guy over there. That's our problem – we talk and boast, and our talk is cheap. If you are familiar with the phrase, “Just shut up and do your job,” well, since the fall, we don't really like doing either of those. Adam was put in the garden to tend it and love his wife – that wasn't good enough for him and the fall happens. Serious, the first words we hear Adam say in the bible are Adam complaining about God and throwing Eve under the bus. Contrast that with Jesus – just there humble, quiet, get the job done, take care of people, and then let them rejoice. Jesus isn't self serving. He doesn't brag. He's not swallowed up by pride. He just takes care of things and lets that be that.

“Oh, alright Pastor, it's nice that Jesus isn't a glory hound – but still, couldn't it have been a miracle at something bigger than a podunk wedding, maybe at something more important?” And here we miss the point. Jesus is God. Jesus is the Word of God by whom all things were made. This isn't His first wedding that He's been too. This isn't the first wedding He's been to where things went sideways. He had thrown and organized a great wedding for Adam and Eve – you do realize that's what the Garden was – it was a giant wedding celebration. This is why when Jesus talks about marriage, He points back to Adam and Eve. And what happened at that first wedding? It went sideways, and badly. Do you know how it went badly, how the fall actually played out? “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord... Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” There were Adam and Eve, in the midst of a wondrous wedding banquet of joy and wonder, and what happens? Wives submit (ut-oh, that dirty word – submit) to your own husbands as to the Lord. Submit isn't a dirty Word – it means follow their lead. Ladies, if your are dancing with your fella and he leads, you're “submitting” to him – and frankly you ought to rejoice in the fact that you have a husband who can dance. That's how it's supposed to work – but what happens? Eve isn't following Adam's lead – she submits to the Serpent instead. Follows Satan's lead. And Adam jumps in too. But here's the kicker – the really bad thing. Jesus shows on up – the LORD is there in the garden – uh, why are you two hiding in the bushes, that's no way to enjoy a wedding. And what does Adam do? Why do we pin original sin on Adam? “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree and I ate.” Adam was to love his wife. He was to die for her if need be. And he doesn't. Blames her, blames God. And ever since the fall, all sin is just playing off of that – an expansion of that. People refusing to submit and do their jobs (because we all are supposed to submit and follow the lead of someone in something), people refusing to take responsibility and love their neighbor and instead throwing them under the bus. And because of that, because of this sin, things fall apart, and there are wars and fights and lack and things don't work out and so on and so forth until you get to a little wedding at Cana. Some other guy and gal, who are sinful folks, who will probably fight and argue, but at least we like to get through the wedding party with joy and hope... and they are out of wine. What's a party without wine? Wine is given to gladden the heart of man – a party with no wine is just a reminder of things going wrong. Poverty, lack, hardship.

Back at that very first wedding in the garden, Jesus didn't throw Adam and Eve under the bus. No, very quietly He clothed them, told them things were going to be harder now, but that He would fix it. He would come and bruise the serpent's head and win redemption. And then, years and years later, Jesus is at a wedding. God Incarnate, God getting ready to crush Satan's head is there – My hour hasn't come yet, mom. I'm not to the Cross yet, mom... but since I am here, let's fix this wedding up just a bit, nice and quietly so no one is disturbed – so this Adam and this Eve enjoy each other and laugh and rejoice because I have joined them together.

Do you see? Do you see how this is Jesus manifesting glory? It's not just that there's a “miracle” - the bible doesn't even call it a “miracle” - it's a sign. This lets you know who Jesus is. This is the LORD Almighty come to fix things – this is the hills dripping with sweet wine as Amos foretold. This is Jesus come into fallen creation and undoing a bit of the fall and it's lack and sorrow and shame. Jesus, very quietly, turns water into wine, and that little wedding that could have gone off the rails – no lack, no sorrow, no shame. Just bewildered joy at how good this batch of wine is.

My dear friends, Christ Jesus enters into your life as well, and He comes to you to remove sorrow and shame. He comes to you in His Word of forgiveness and in His sacraments. Because His hour would come, and He would go to the Cross, and He would crush Satan with His own death, and He would rise to give you life. But the same LORD whose first sign came quietly and without a lot of fanfare still comes humbly and quietly and gently to you. He rescued you from Satan's kingdom not with the rocket's red glare or bombs bursting in air, but with some water attached to His Word in baptism. He comes to you today to forgive you your sin and strengthen your faith, not with some costly or glossy-showy things. Bread and wine, Body and blood – take and eat, take and drink for the remission of all of your sins. Jesus doesn't big time you, He doesn't rub your nose it. He sees you, in the midst of the hardships of your life – and just as He came to Adam and Eve in the Garden, just as He came to that wedding in Cana – He comes to you, and simply and calmly, He does His job. And His job is to love you, forgive you, redeem you, make you to grow in faith towards Him and love towards others. And being your Savior will never be something too small for Him; Jesus will never move away from you and on to “bigger” and “better” things. You are His, and He loves you dearly. God grant that by the power of His Spirit we see love this ever more! In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Epiphany 1 Sermon

Epiphany 1 – January 12th and 13th, 2019 – Luke 2:41-52

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
This weekend we get a Stained Glass Window lesson. We do – our Gospel lesson is one of the windows we have, right over there. Boy Jesus in the temple. Oh this was one of my favorite lessons as a kid. But here's the thing – this is a rich and deep lesson, and we don't quite get the fullness of it because we aren't first century Jewish folks. So listen in for a wonderful and profound story that reveals, even in His youth, who Jesus is.

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was 12 years old, they went up according to custom.” So, what's set up? It's spring time and Jesus' family has made the trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover – something they do routinely. And remember something about Passover – it culminates with the sacrifice of the lamb, and then the whole lamb is to be eaten with no leftovers – and if your household wasn't big enough to polish off a lamb in one sitting, you got together with a neighboring house. Celebrating the Passover was communal, normally it would be an extended family celebration. And Joseph and Mary's custom was to head on down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with a lamb not just slaughtered at home, but in the temple – and you'd find a place to hold the meal with your family. Jerusalem had plenty of places for this – years later the disciples rent out the upper room. So it's not just a church service, but it's also sort of like a bunch of overlapping family reunions too, or maybe heading up to a lake house in the summer where everyone descends upon it and suddenly this empty place gets really crowded and fun.

“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, do not be critical of Joseph and Mary here in this slightest. Think of a big family reunion – my dad's family would have one (and still does) in Ohio at my cousin Larry's farm – and my grandma and her 5 siblings would be their, and their kids, and their grandkids – often over 100 people. My parents didn't know where I was most of the time – I was somewhere on the farm with the rest of the kids. That's the same assumption here – Jesus is surely off with His cousins who are all running around and talking and laughing as we make our way back home. It's only at bed time, when it's time to camp, that they see that Jesus isn't there. And that's when they hightail it back to Jerusalem.

“After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Now, this is one where our window gets it wrong, but gets it right. If you look at our window, Jesus isn't sitting – He's standing up, finger in the air, making a point. Well, technically, Jesus would have been sitting, but we miss the point when we hear that. In Jewish culture, you sat to preach or to teach. I'm preaching, but I'm not sitting, I'm standing up here making points. And that phrase “listening and asking them questions” is the description of how a rabbi taught. The closest I get to that today are the times in confirmation class where I'll ask the kids a question, and when they answer I say, “hmmm, well, in that case what about this?” So understand what Luke is describing. Joseph and Mary, after days of frantic searching, finally see Jesus in the temple, and he's there rabbi-ing the rabbis.

And of course, this catches the parents off guard - “And His mother said to Him, 'Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.'” And exasperated mom comes in. We hear this as though it's very formal talk – it isn't. If your mom ever talked at you with her teeth shut and her eyes bulging – that's what Mary's doing right now. That “behold” is probably closer to a “look here, boy” in modern parlance. Mary is both ticked and relieved, and all that well of emotions from the last three days is coming out. However – and this is funny – she comes upon Jesus when He's been in Rabbi mode for a few days, and so He answers her like a Rabbi would – “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” This isn't a kid giving his mom sass – this is precisely how a Rabbi would teach a student. And it goes over Mary and Joseph's head (they're not students; no epiphany light bulb for them yet), but after that Jesus leaves, heads home – He “came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” He went along like a good little boy – even though He had been showing to all the teachers that He was in fact the Teacher of Israel, even though He had made a fantastic claim – that He must be in His Father's House.

So then, what is the point for us in this lesson? While there are many things that we can draw from it, I think what should be deemed most important are the first recorded words we have from Jesus – the first red letter words, as it were. “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” So much is said today about people “searching” for God, looking for Him. Our culture today likes to treat religion and faith and “spirituality” as though it's a personal quest – whether it's finding God, or finding yourself – since “yourself” tends to be the most popular god in this country anymore. But Jesus cuts that off. There is no searching to be had. It is no mystery where Jesus is present – He must be in His Father's House. Jesus is present in His Church – and you're not going to really find Jesus apart from the Church. If you want Jesus to be present for you – to teach you and forgive you and redeem you, He's going to be in the Church. And for the times when you can't get to Church, or need Church other than on the weekend – like before a surgery or something – you give the Church a call, and I'll bring Jesus and Church to you. And if you are struggling and wondering about something, a question, a burden – let me know and I will give you Jesus. That's my job. Life and faith doesn't need to be some laborious, dramatic struggle on your part. All that angst is just folly that our culture has heaped on – it's basically watered down indulgences and relics that we recycled and internalized – Luther in the monastery beat himself with whips, we get tempted to think that we have to beat ourselves up inside. That's not what Jesus teaches, nor is it what He wants. No – He is in His Father's house – and that's where He always is. That is where we are to seek the Lord while He may – may – be found. That “may” is a word of permission – Jesus allows Himself and makes Himself to be found for you and for your forgiveness in His Church.

And what sort of Jesus must be in His Church? Well, to be certain, a teaching Jesus. A Jesus who opens up the Scriptures. His teaching is not just lecturing or moral finger wagging – it might behoove us here to think about the last conversation of Jesus' that Luke records for us in chapter 24. Jesus tells the disciples just before He ascends: “'These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, 'Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” This is the teaching of Christ – that He is the one who fulfills the Law and Prophets and Psalms, and that because He has done all this, because He has died and risen, repentance and forgiveness in His name is to be proclaimed – law and gospel. When Jesus teaches us with His Word, we see our sins and we see our Savior.

But it gets deeper than this – and this is fun. Note – Jesus says that everything in the Scriptures is about Him and fulfilled by Him, and that He must be in His Father's house. What kind of Jesus do we have? Well, let's think about today's lesson – Jesus is there at the temple for the Passover, and then Joseph and Mary find Him again on the third day. That's the Jesus that they find in the temple – a Jesus who is submissive to His parents will. Now, consider a Passover a few decades down the road, where Jesus goes to Jerusalem, where He tells His Father in the garden not My will but Thine be done – and then the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is slaughtered at Sundown upon the Cross, yet on the Third Day, there He is, risen from the dead and proclaiming Peace. There He is, teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to be found in the breaking of bread. There He is among the disciples who had locked themselves in the upper room, preaching His resurrection and peace in the midst of their fear. Of course He is - Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house? And even today – His Word of forgiveness and mercy is proclaimed here – even today He is known among us and comes to us in the breaking of bread in His Supper. Even today He comes to us, and the Peace of the LORD be with you always. Of course He does - Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?

My dear friends in Christ – the boy Jesus in the temple is not just a cute story (although it is cute, I will grant that). Indeed, it is Christ Jesus openly preaching and teaching, pointing forward to what He as the Messiah would do, and teaching and reminding us not only of what He does for us as our LORD, but reminding us that He is always present for us in His Church, for He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, so that we too may dwell in His House both now and eternally. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +