Saturday, January 25, 2020

Epiphany 3 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Epiphany 2 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus' goal is to put people together – not just as spouses, but think of all the other various relationships He gives us – parents, children, neighbors, coworkers, friends, a congregation. And He created all of this to be nothing but blessing for you. But sin pulls these relationships apart. Sin and the fear of consequences and death pull us away from the very God who would give us these blessings. And so, to fix this, to see that you get your joy and celebration and relationships that will not end – Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, He dies, He rises to fix things. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. In Baptism, He restores you to the family of God – you are once again a child of God and things are good. He feeds you His Supper so that you are strengthened, so that being forgiven you forgive those who trespass against you. Because that's how sin is fought here and now, in our relationships – we live in Christ's forgiveness, and with that forgiveness we are reconciled to each other, even after we have sinned against each other. And Jesus gives you His love, His forgiveness over and over so that you will endure even until the Last Day when you are raised – and then you'll see it. Revelation 21 -
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Forgiveness and Reconciliation and Joy. Because of Christ Jesus, who has called you to be His own – this is what you will see. Understand who God truly is – understand His gift, His true wedding for you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Epiphany Observed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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