Monday, July 16, 2018

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Eighth Week after Pentecost (July 16-21, 2018)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Ephesians 2:13 - “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #430 “My Song Is Love Unknown”
Hymns for Sunday: 506, 430, 631, 518 (v. 20), 855 (v. 11), 816

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Jeremiah 23:1-6
How does God show His love for his people? Who is the “David” who will demonstrate His love most of all?

Tuesday:  Ephesians 2:11-22
Who are we alienated from? How has Christ overcome this and given us peace? Where do we see this unity?

Wednesday:  Mark 6:30-44
How does Mark want us to see Jesus acting as the Good Shepherd here? With what bread is He still feeding us?

Thursday:  Proverbs 31:10-31
What makes for an excellent wife? How might this also be true of Christ’s bride, the Church?

Friday:  Acts 13:26-31
How important are eye witnesses to the resurrection? Why?

Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the resurrection. What message does Jesus have for her? What does He send her to do? Why?

The Catechism - The Creed: The First Article (part 1) – I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  . . .  (more next week!)

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the Lord to lead more people to our church to hear His Word and receive His gifts with us.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational financial secretary, Dave Fields.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Peru, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pentecost 8 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A King, A Voice, and A Kingdom”
Text: Mark 6:14-29; Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

He was in prison. He could not escape. The bonds were too strong. He had been put there by an evil tyrant. How long had it been? Too long, certainly.

Until one day he lost his head. Too much alcohol and too much lust and too much pride - too much fun times - made him speak words he would later regret. Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you, he boldly vowed. Up to half my kingdom.

King Herod, you see, was in prison. A prisoner to his desires. A prisoner to his power. A prisoner to fear. A prisoner to guilt. These things held him down, held him back. He could not do what he wanted to do. And so he was tormented. He wanted to hear John, but he didn’t want to hear John. He wanted to release John, but he didn’t want to release John. He was greatly perplexed. At himself, at the battle going on within him. And he knew no way of escape.

I think you know what that’s like, a bit. When your desires have made you do something you later regretted. When you spoke and then wished you could take those words back. When your fear made you do what you really didn’t want to do. When a guilty conscience gives you no peace. Those are the bonds of sin, imprisoning you. John was in a prison, but Herod was the real prisoner. For sometimes the chains and prisons you cannot see are the worst of all.

As I read these words about Herod I thought about another king, one who lived a long time before Herod. A king who did not utter Herod’s rash promise, but to whom such a promise was spoken. A young man named Solomon, who had just been made king of Israel. God appeared to him in a dream and said: Ask what I shall give you (1 Kings 3:5). Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.

Solomon asked for a hearing heart (1 Kings 3:9). He did not ask for a long life, or riches, or the head of his enemy on a platter. But for a heart to hear God’s Word. A heart to hear properly. To heart discern the Word of God from all the other voices that assault our ears and our hearts. A heart that would not be imprisoned or ruled by guilt, fear, lust, or pride. A heart that could hear God’s Word and keep it, treasure it.

A hearing heart is what Herod needed. He heard John gladly. He liked to listen to John. But there were other voices, too. Others voices that poured down upon Herod. Like the voice of his brother’s wife Herodias, whom he had taken to be his own. Her words flooded his ears and mind, too, causing him to put John in prison in the first place. There was the voice of his wife’s daughter, which caused him to give the wretched beheading order. And then, too, the voice of his own pride, which caused him to not want to disappoint his guests or break an oath that never should have been made. Sometimes the problem isn’t hearing God’s Word, but picking it out from all the other voices vying for our hearts and devotion.

I think you also know what that’s like, a bit. For how many voices do you hear everyday? From the left, from the right. From friends, from foes. From television and radio, movies and the internet. From those we should listen to, and those we probably should not. And God’s Word in all that? Tough to hear sometimes. A hearing heart is what we need, too.

Maybe we could say that Herod was half of the way there, or maybe a third. For the Third Commandment tells us to not despise preaching and God’s Word, but to hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. Herod held God’s preacher in prison and gladly heard it, we are told, but never learned it. Never applied it to his heart and life. Never quite let it have its way with him.

Like the people who lived at the time of the prophet Amos, who we heard from today. Like John the Baptist with King Herod, Amos tried to get his king and his people to turn from their false gods - but they pushed the Word of God away. Literally. They told Amos, God’s preacher, to go back to where he came from, and take his words with him. They didn’t like what he had to say. And again, maybe you know what that’s like, a bit, too. Maybe you don’t always like what God has to say. Or you hear God’s Word grudgingly, not gladly. Or you don’t want to hear, because other voices are pulling you in another direction. 

Hearing God’s Word, learning it, applying it, believing it, submitting to it . . . it isn’t easy. Because it means confessing that I’m not the king. It means confessing that I am a sinner. It means admitting that maybe I don’t know all I think I know. That maybe the way I’ve ordered my life isn’t right at all. That I need to hear something to set me free from the palace of my own desires, defenses, and demands that I have built around myself - that turned out to be not a palace, but a prison.

Yes Herod, you are the prisoner king. And the one you imprisoned is free. You set him free when you beheaded him, but he was free even before that. For he had a freedom that neither threats, fears, nor bars could hold - the freedom of Christ. The freedom of a Saviour. The freedom of the forgiveness of sins, the covering of shame, and of a life that not even death can end. So John was fearless. Whether in the Jordan or in a prison cell. What can man do to you when you know the Lamb of God?

The Lamb of God who was offered not up to half, but all the kingdoms of the world. Remember that? It was satan who uttered that offer to Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8-9). But as Jesus would later teach: what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)? Jesus knew there was one kingdom greater than all the kingdoms of this world combined, and one that would outlast them all. The kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Word, the kingdom that Jesus had come to win - not for Himself; it was already His! But for you and me. For us languishing in our prisons of sin and death.

That’s the kingdom John was trying to tell Herod about. That’s the kingdom John wanted Herod to have - an eternal one, not the one he had that was passing away. And so John preached to him, and wanted more than anything else to say those precious words of God to Herod - the words of God’s forgiveness. But sadly, those words John never got to say to him. When Herod lost his head, John lost his. And his voice was silenced.

But the voice of Jesus is not. For even though Jesus bowed His head in death, three days later His voice was heard again. His voice proclaiming forgiveness and peace. Proclaiming that the prisons of sin, death, and hell have been opened and us prisoners set free. Free to live no longer in fear and guilt and shame, no longer slaves to our desires, and no longer having to be king. For you have a better king than yourself. One much more kind and merciful and loving and forgiving than you are even to yourself. A king who died for you and rose for you and is coming back for you. A king who washes you, forgives you, and feeds you. A king who is generous and gracious and faithful.

And His Word continues to be proclaimed, His voice still heard today. For He speaks through those He sends, telling them: He who hears you, hears me (Luke 10:16). So when you hear I baptize you, when you hear I forgive you all your sins, when you hear This is My Body, This is My Blood, when you hear This is the Gospel of the Lord, it all really is. It is the King speaking to you and being your king. To sanctify you. To holy you. With His Good Friday-ly forgiveness and His Easter-ly life. Because this King doesn’t demand from you, but gives to you and sets you free to do the same. Not to demand, but to give and serve and love.

For He has given you not up to half His kingdom, but all of it. That as a child of God, that be your inheritance. That’s the reality Paul was talking about in his letter to the Ephesians that we heard today. He talked about our glorious and eternal inheritance, with words like every spiritual blessing . . . riches of grace lavished upon us . . . and the Holy Spirit as our guarantee. Our guarantee, for, as I’m sure is no surprise to you, we’re not there yet. But the kingdom is yours. Now. It’s your inheritance, signed, sealed, and delivered. And as we wait for it to come in its fullness, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us and Christ comes to us.

So as John preached at the Jordan and preached to Herod: repent and believe the Gospel. Believe that you are a baptized child of God. Believe that even in the tough times, Jesus is with you; Jesus is for you. Believe that the forgiveness of your Saviour is greater than the guilt of your sin. And believe that on the Last Day, John’s body will be raised just as your body will be raised, and he will be headless no more, but perfect. For in Christ, we are the champions.

And believe this too: that though beheaded, John is still preaching. Now, to you. For when Herod’s sword went down, John’s voice went up, and joined the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, singing Holy, Holy, Holy! We’ll join that song today. We’ll join John today. And we’ll hear him. Still preaching the holy one. Still pointing sinners to their Saviour. Still testifying that take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom our remaineth (LSB #656 v. 4).

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pentecost 7 / Confirmation Sermon

Confirmation of Susan Marcelli

Jesu Juva

“An Astonishing, Giving God”
Text: Mark 6:1-13; Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus went home. Traveling about the towns and villages of Galilee, it was inevitable that He would come to His hometown, too. But maybe there was more to it than that. Maybe the friendships from His youth and the memories of His neighbors made Him want to go back.

So Jesus goes home. And as usual, He goes to Church on the Sabbath. And also, as usual, He is given the opportunity to teach. Those who heard Him were astonished, at first. No one ever said the things He said. No one ever taught the way He did. But then, upon further review, upon reflection, their astonishment turned into offense. Actually, the Greek word used there is stronger than that - they were scandalized by Him.

So, what did He say? What offended so? What caused such scandal? Did Jesus use the wrong pronoun for some people? Were the words He used heard as micro-aggressions - words that shamed or disrespected some of the people who were there? Was He not being politically correct? Perhaps a new hashtag began trending in Galilee that day: #notJesus.

So what was it? Well, it seems that His teaching that day was the same as so many other times He taught in synagogues. He took the assigned passage that was read from the Old Testament that day and applied it to Himself, teaching that the Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled in Him. That they all talked about Him. That they all pointed to Him. And so the people, at first astonished, then begin to say: Wait a second! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? We know Him. He’s nothing special. We don’t know where He got this wisdom or power, but He can’t be who He says He is! He’s one of us! He can’t put himself over us! #notJesus

Well, in a way, they were right. Jesus had not come to put Himself over them. The Son of God had not come down from heaven to put Himself over them. He already was! The reason He came down from heaven - in fulfillment of the Scriptures - was to put Himself under them. To serve them. To lift them up. To give to them. To help them. To lay down His life for them. And so by rejecting Him, and rejecting all that, the people of Jesus’ hometown robbed themselves - of His service, of the good He came to bring. For Mark tells us that He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. Only a few believed. So sadly, only a few received His gifts.

And now it was Jesus’ turn to be astonished. He marveled because of their unbelief. 

Then the disciples, who witnessed all this, are sent out by Him. Jesus gives them His gifts to give, but they will be rejected, too. Not all will receive them or receive the gifts, the service, the help, the life Jesus has come to bring, and gave His disciples to give.

But this is not new. They rejected Ezekiel too. And many of the prophets before him. For as we heard in the Old Testament reading, God told Ezekiel, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. . . . The descendants also are impudent and stubborn . . . The descendants that lived at the time of Ezekiel. The descendants that lived that day in Galilee. And the descendants that still are around today. For even today, Jesus is a cause of offense, scandal, and rejection.

So really, the amazing thing is that Jesus is there, is here, at all. That God is still trying! Still causing His Word to be preached, still giving His gifts, still caring and providing for people - even those who do not believe in Him. If it were us . . . we, I’m sure, would have given up a long time ago! Our patience and forgiveness can only take so much. But God continues to love.

So what is it today? What is it today that causes some to be offended, scandalized, at the God who only wants to come and give His gifts? 

Well, there’s many reasons, I’m sure. But perhaps one reason is our belief in equality - that everyone should be treated equally. And perhaps at some times and in some ways that is important and true. But not always. Because love doesn’t treat everyone the same. Love takes into account who a person is and what a person needs and acts accordingly. Parents know this. You don’t treat your children all the same because they’re not all the same. They have different needs, have different personalities, respond in different ways. And since you love them, you act accordingly. 

Now, the children may not understand that! That’s not fair! is the cry every parent has heard. And that’s right. It’s not fair, equal. It’s love.

Well so, too, with God. Take, for example, what we heard in the Epistle today. One man, Paul tells us, was caught up to the third heaven (whatever that means); given a glimpse of paradise. But what did Paul get? Did he get caught up? Did he get such a vision? No. A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, Paul says. Not fair! right? But it’s what Paul needed. And it’s what that man needed. So it wasn’t fair, but it was good. It was love.

So what has God given you? What has God not given to you? Are you offended, scandalized, mad? Or could this be good? Just in ways that you, as a child of God, do not yet know or understand? A reason to marvel and give thanks to God for His love.

Or maybe today the offense is the scandal of particularity - that Jesus is the Saviour of the world. That all religions are not the same, not all just different paths up the same mountain. Because what the Scriptures tell us is that while all the others are trying to climb up to God, some way, some how . . . the Son of God came down to us. To serve us. To help us. To give to us. To lift us up. No other God died for you. No other God laid in the tomb for you. No other God rose from the dead for you. Only one. Only Jesus. And for this we should not be offended, scandalized, but marvel and give thanks for such love . . . for the God who comes to us, and gives and gives and gives.

But maybe we - we here today - have even more cause to marvel and be astonished. We who are baptized. We who are here every, or nearly every, week. We who have received the Lord’s gifts, and yet . . . continue to sin. Fail to pray. Rebel against our parents. Neglect His Word. Live during the week as if nothing had happened here. Who fear, love, and trust lots of things each week more than God. I wonder if Ezekiel could tell us apart from the people he was sent to way back then? We like to think we’re different . . . but are we?

And yet every week, our Lord comes home, here, with His gifts. Every week, Jesus comes home, here, to His house, and teaches us. He has fulfilled all the Scriptures. He has provided all that we need. And He serves us. He calls us to repentance, yes, which is never pleasant, but it’s in love; so that we will know our need. Not so that we be offended, but so that we joyfully receive His gifts in faith. For if He didn’t give them, we wouldn’t have them. If He didn’t give them, we couldn’t have them.

That’s what Susan - who is being confirmed today - has learned as she learned the catechism. She learned who she is, and she learned who God is. She learned that she is unable to keep the Law, but that Jesus came and fulfilled it for her. She learned that Jesus served her by taking all her sin and unrighteousness and death, and gave her His forgiveness, perfection, and life. She learned that there is nothing in her that made Jesus do this for her, it is all His love - for her and for all people. And she learned of the gifts that are here for her - the gifts that God will never stop giving - the life and promises of her baptism, the renewing absolution spoken upon her, the Word of His Gospel, and the very Body and Blood that redeemed her, given her to eat and to drink, that she be strengthened with His life and forgiveness. And while it is humbling to have your self-esteem crushed as you hear the Law and see your sin and death, it is pure joy to then hear and receive the forgiveness and life of Jesus, and His love for us that will never end.

And so like Joanna last week, Susan is going to confess her faith in this astonishing, gracious, giving, loving, serving God. The God who came to her in her baptism, and is still coming to her here. And won’t stop. Though there may be times when she is stubborn and rebellious. Though there may be times when she prays for God to remove a few thorns from her life, but He does not. Though there may be times when she questions God and how He is working and serving and loving. Though there may be times she takes her Lord for granted. As she joins us at the Lord’s Table today, she joins us in all that, too. Because all of us who come to the Lord’s Table today do those things, for we are needy, fallen, stubborn, rebellious, questioning, weak sinners. Today, Susan says: that’s me. And today her Saviour says: it’s me. I forgive you. Take, eat, and drink.

And we who hear that should marvel - and rejoice! - at our God, at such gifts. For us.

The hymn we’re going to sing at the end of the service today describes this well. I chose it for today because it is Conference Hymn for the conference the youth and I will be at this week, and I wanted to share it with all of you. I don’t think we’ve ever sung it before, and at first blush, it might not seem to fit with the readings for today. But it really does. Because it describes well our astonishing, giving God, who comes to us living In the Shattered Bliss of Eden (LSB #572), to supply our need, give us hope, forgive our sins, restore our life, and not just restore Eden, but even better - to prepare a new paradise for us, and prepare us for it.

That’s what Jesus wanted for the folks in His hometown. And while they, at first, were offended by Him, scandalized by Him, and rejected Him, perhaps they, like Jesus’ family, later believed. And so we pray for all people, and for ourselves. That our Lord would bring all to faith in Him, and keep us strong in this faith - in our gracious, loving, giving God. That He continue to call us to repentance. That He not be fair but loving. And that He come to this house, today, and grace us with His amazing gifts. So that when we go home, when Jesus calls us home, either through death or when He comes again, He who was not welcomed in His hometown will welcome us to His.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pentecost 6 / Confirmation Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Three Daughters”
Text: Mark 5:21-43 (Lamentations 3:22-33)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

His little girl was dying. He didn’t know what to do. He would do anything for her - anything! But what could he do? Death had her in its clutches. He never felt so helpless. He had been so overjoyed when she was born. He had watched her grow. She was twelve years old now, just becoming a young woman. But no matter how old she got, she would always be his little girl. 

So when he hears the news . . . that Jesus just got off the boat that just came ashore, he didn’t hesitate. For he had heard. How Jesus healed. People who were demon-possessed, who had fevers and leprosy, who had withered and useless limbs - it didn’t matter what it was. Jesus gave them healing and life. So it must be for him, for his daughter. He would go to Jesus. He didn’t want to leave his daughter’s side, but this was his only hope. He would fight through the crowd with all the desperation and determination that only a father could have. He would fight for his daughter’s life. There wasn’t much time . . .

Well, he did it. He got through. He had gotten to Jesus, and Jesus was coming with him. He was anxious at first, but with each step they took, he had more and more hope . . . he allowed himself to start to think of the future again . . . of his daughter getting married . . . of grandchildren . . .

So when Jesus suddenly stopped . . . no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Who touched me? Who touched me? Probably 50 people touched you Jesus! Maybe more. Who cares? C’mon!  . . .  But Jesus cared. He could see it in His face. He could hear it in His voice. And he knew Jesus wasn’t going anywhere until He got an answer. And that hope he just started having again . . . well, the monster of fear and anxiety had returned. 

It was a woman. She had been bleeding for twelve years - the same amount of time that his daughter had been alive. He felt for her. But still, Jesus, remember? Death? Let’s go! 

But it didn’t matter. For just as he heard Jesus speaking, he heard another familiar voice. One of his servants. In fact, they both said the word “daughter” at the same time! Daughter . . . Your daughter . . . has made you well . . . is dead.

He froze. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. He felt the life rushing out of him. He had done everything he could; he had fought so hard . . .

But then Jesus looked at him and said, Do not fear, only believe. And Jesus started going again. And now it was like Jesus was saying: Your little girl, death, remember? Let’s go!

So he did. Through the fog of grief, confusion, numbness, and fear. 

They got to his house. How long had it taken? He didn’t know. But long enough that the mourners had gathered. He heard the wailing when they got close. The wailing pounding deeper and deeper the nail of grief that was stabbing through his heart. And then laughter . . . but not happy laughter; disbelieving, mocking laughter. Jesus had said she was just sleeping. Oh that it were so! 

And then it was quiet. It was just he and his wife and Jesus and some of Jesus’ disciples in the room. And with the same voice that He spoke to that woman on the road, Jesus spoke to his daughter: Talitha cumi. Little girl, arise. And she did. There would not be just one, but two daughters, given life this day.

After they ate, after the mourners had left rejoicing, after Jesus and His disciples had left, after all the hubbub had died down, I’m sure Jairus told his daughter what had happened. How sick she had been . . . how worried to death he was . . . the hope he had in Jesus . . . his crushing grief at hearing the words of his servant . . . how his fight for her ended, but how Jesus would not stop. That He kept fighting. And He won. Even over death itself . . .

Jairus didn’t know it then, but that’s not the last time he would hear of Jesus conquering even death itself . . .  Some people laughed that same mocking laugh when they got word that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that some were saying that Jesus rose from the dead . . . but not Jairus. Death took his little girl, but Jesus kept fighting. They put Jesus on a cross, but He kept fighting. They laid Him in a tomb, but He won. He arose. What Jesus had done that day for him, He had come to do for all people. 

And He has. Because, well, there’s another twelve-year-old daughter who Jesus raised from death. She’s actually here today. Her father isn’t one of the rulers of the synagogue, but a pastor. This little girl was born dead in sin - the sin passed down to her by her father! Some people laugh at that statement - that disbelieving, mocking kind of laugh - because she looked quite alive when she was born. But spiritually she was not. But that father brought her to Jesus, that He might touch her and raise her to life. And He did. Through water and the Word, through Holy Baptism, Jesus said to her, Talitha cumi. Little girl, arise. And she did. It wasn’t as dramatic as it was that day in Jairus’ house, but it was the same problem, the same Jesus, the same fight, the same gift. 

And now, that father told his daughter what happened to her. Taught her about Jesus. And, as Jesus told Jairus, he is going to give her [now] something to eat. The Body and Blood of Jesus, who would not stop fighting for her. The Body and Blood of Jesus which died for her and rose for her, to give her life. Life now and life forever.

And so Joanna learned about sin and death. The sin and death she inherited from her father, and the sin and death the Commandments show her. The sins she does the evidence of the sin and death she needs rescuing from. The sin and death she confesses with us at the beginning of the Divine Service here every week, where Jesus comes to this house to raise all of us to life with His forgiveness.

And she learned who Jesus is - this man who is God enfleshed, God incarnate, come to fight for us and for all people. A fight to the finish; a fight to the death. And that just like with Jairus, just when all looked hopeless and lost, just when it looked as if death had won, Jesus won. He rose from death so that all of us who die might rise too. With Him. And be sons of His Father in Him, and with His Spirit in us. That yes, it’s true! God wants sinners as His children and to live with Him forever.

And so Joanna also learned to talk to our Father - our Father who provides for all our needs, and to whom we pray for every need of every person, and know that we are heard. That our Father is always doing what is best for us . . . even when our bleeding lasts twelve years . . . even when hope seems to turn to hopelessness . . . even when our loved ones are taken from us. Do not fear, only believe, Jesus says to us still today.

And then there was that day when Jesus said Talitha cumi to Joanna - October 30, 2005. She learned about that day, too, when she was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And now her Father is going to give her something to eat. She learned what that is too: that just as God’s words are not just words but words that are living and powerful, and that just as God’s water is not just water but water that raises from the dead and gives life, so too this food she is going to receive is not just bread and wine, but that under this bread and wine God is going to feed her with the Body and Blood of His Son. The Son that created her, the Son that died for her, the Son that rose for her, the Son that raised her, the Son that baptized her, the Son that cares for her, the Son that forgives her, is now the Son that will give her Himself to eat and drink - to keep and sustain her in her new life. His food for His life in His daughter. And today she says AMEN to that.

But not just Joanna. Today we remember all this, too. The same problem, the same Jesus, the same fight, the same gift, for us. That learning the catechism isn’t just about learning facts, but learning Jesus. And learning how Jesus comes to us still today, here, in this house, in the Divine Service. Touching, raising, forgiving, giving hope and life. And that this is for all people - of every age, nationality, ethnicity; no matter what sins beset us and that we struggle with; no matter how others see us and perceive us. Jesus is here to touch us with His love and forgiveness, His hope and life. All that we need.

For as we heard from the book of Lamentations earlier:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Now, usually, I think, we hear lamentations during catechism instruction, not at the end of it! At the end is rejoicing! But what wonderful words, here. Wonderful words spoken by Jeremiah in the midst of trial, trouble, and tribulation. Words of faith. For Jesus is with us exactly in the midst of those times, as He was with Jairus. And therefore they are not hopeless times. There are never hopeless times with Jesus. And so whatever you are going through, whatever struggles, you have a faithful God with you.

And you know, every catechism class is different. Different students, different questions, different dynamics. And different memories. I think Joanna will remember hers because of what happened in the middle of it - when a falling tree interrupted our class and delayed things a bit. But, as she learned, it was the tree that didn’t fall, and the one who hung on it, that made the difference. I hope she’ll remember that tree more than the one that fell, and remember the Word of God she heard today - this word of not two, but three daughters. All given life, all given healing, all given Jesus

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Nativity of St. John the Baptist Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A New Page, A New Name, A New Life”
Text: Luke 1:57-80

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sometimes our names tell people what we do. Kids know what Bob the Builder does. Adults know what to call Len the Plumber for. And John the Baptist . . . yeah, he baptizes.

He wasn’t always called John the Baptist, though. First he was just John. John, the son of Zechariah. And if his “baptist” name was surprising, his “John” name was surprising first. Why in the world would you name your child that? the people wondered. They wouldn’t listen to Elizabeth when she said that was her son’s name. They heard what she said and then went to Zechariah, for surely, the pangs of birth in an old woman had affected her mind! Surely, he would be called Zechariah after his father. Not John. Not this name that isn’t even in the family.

But this was the name given to him by God. John, from the Hebrew Jochanan, which means “the Lord has shown favor.” For yes, the Lord had shown favor to old Zechariah and Elizabeth in giving them a child, but even more He had shown favor to Israel, and really to all the world. For this child would prepare the way for the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

John would not have the name of his father, for he was not following in the footsteps of his father. He would follow in the footsteps of another from Israel’s history - Elijah. He would not be a priest like his father, but a prophet. He would not serve in the Temple, but in the wilderness. He would not burn incense like his father, but with scorching rhetoric he would call sinners to repentance. And then this: he wouldn’t just baptize the people of Israel and of all that region who came to him at the Jordan, he would do this, too - baptize Jesus into His ministry. John would fulfill his name by baptizing the Son of God in human flesh as He began His work of salvation. Yes, the Lord has shown favor, for He has sent His Son.

So with the coming of John the Baptist, the page turns from the Old Testament to the New. From prophecy to fulfillment. From He’s coming, to He’s here! So John’s birth is a big deal. Which is why it’s the only other birth we commemorate in the church besides Jesus.

And so Zechariah, as we heard today, after his lips were opened and he could speak again, talks about this fulfillment, that the Old Testament is now being fulfilled. The words of Isaiah, the words of Malachi, the words of all the prophets, are happening, now. For John’s miraculous birth means another miraculous birth. Not in an old lady and to her old husband, but in a virgin named Mary. When John was born, she was three months into her pregnancy - perhaps just beginning to show, we might say today. Soon enough, John would point to the son of Mary and say: not just son of Mary, but the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)!

Many parents wonder what their children will be when they grow up, but Zechariah and Elizabeth knew. But being old when he was born, they probably didn’t get to see their son in action - by that time, they had already received the fulfillment of their faith. But they would not have to wait long to see their son again; for their son to join them, as his life was cut short before he reached a ripe old age . . . by a vengeful wife using her seductive daughter to trick a lustful king into lopping his head off. Silencing the voice of the forerunner of the Messiah.

But the word was already out. John had done his job. It was time for him to go, and time for Jesus to do His work. And Jesus’ work was this, as Zechariah put it:

[B]ecause of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

So John’s birth was the signal that the tender mercy of God has visited us and is now here. That light has arisen in the darkness of sin and death. And that there will be peace - not in the world, but between God and man.

For so had God promised! as Zechariah said, through the years, through the prophets. His promise to Abraham, David, and more. To deliver us and save us from the hand of our enemies. But not the enemy then named Rome, or nowadays the Taliban, or Isis, or Political Correctness. Much worse enemies than any of those. Enemies named sin, death, and hell. The people of this world, the things of this world, really aren’t our enemies (Ephesians 6:12). You know that. Someone who is your enemy today might be your friend tomorrow, or vice versa. But sin, death, and hell - they will always be our enemies, seeking to consume us; seeking to separate us from our heavenly Father.

And they would! They would . . . were it not for the one God would send. The one Abraham believed in. The true Son of David who would die for David’s sin. The one John the Baptist would point to. The one who would take our sin and atone for it with His own blood. The one who would lay down His life, allowing our death to slay Him, so that He could slay our death. And the one who, rising from death would storm the gates of hell so that they can no longer hold those who are in Him. In the one eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds, and then born of the virgin Mary in time. Our brother Jesus.

So we’re not just celebrating a birth or remembering history today, but a birth and a history that has changed our lives and given us hope and a future. For to continue with what Zechariah said:

[T]hat we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

That we might have a new life, in other words. Or maybe say it this way: a return to the life God always intended us to have; our original life, before sin. For holiness and righteousness were Adam and Eve before the Fall. Fear was Adam and Eve after the Fall. But Jesus has come that we might again serve God without fear, and be holy and righteous again, in the forgiveness of our sins. For when your sins are forgiven, you are holy. When your sins are forgiven, you are righteous. When your sins are forgiven, you are delivered from the hand of your enemies and can live without fear.

So John the Baptist baptized. He baptized Jesus, the Deliverer. And Jesus baptized you, the delivered.

And I think that’s a good word to use: deliver. Because we use that word - delivered, or delivery - when talking about birth. Hospitals have Delivery Rooms.

John the baptist worked in God’s Delivery Room, and that’s what the Church still is: God’s Delivery Room. For this is the place where children of God are delivered, baptized, born through water and the Word. The place where the Lamb of God is delivering us from our enemies by cleansing us with His blood.

So to be delivered from the hand of your enemies is to have received life in the divine Delivery Room; a new life, set free from our captivity to sin, which leads to death, which leads to hell. A new life of forgiveness, which raises to life, which leads to heaven. It starts here with our new birth. Continues here as we are fed with the same Body and Blood of the Lamb of God born for us and given for us. And usually it ends here, too, when we bid farewell to saints who have died in the faith.

John’s life didn’t end at a ripe old age, though, but in prison. Yours might, too. Persecutions are increasing. Christians are following in the way of John in other countries. But on the other hand, John’s life also didn’t end in prison. Because he received a life that not even death can end. The life of Christ. And that is the life into which you too have been delivered.

And so a remembrance of the nativity of John the Baptist is not only a remembrance of his nativity here in this world and life, but also a remembrance of his birth into the next life; his eternal birthday. And so, too, for you. You have a birth certificate for your life that will one day end, when you were delivered into this world. But you also have a baptism certificate for your new life, when you were delivered in Christ to a life that will never end. And one day there will be a death certificate with your name on it, that will mark not really your death, but your real birthday and delivery - your delivery from this world to the kingdom which will have no end.

For just as when a child was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth they said: His name is John, a name given by God, so too when you were born you received a name given by God. Your earthly parents gave you a name, but so did your heavenly Father. He gave you His name when He made you part of His family. He said: his name, her name, shall be Christian. That’s what happened when you were delivered here, in baptism.

And because of that - that promise, that assurance, that name, that life already given to us here and now - we really can serve God without fear, just like John. Without fear of what others may think. Without fear of persecution or death. Without fear of messing up. Without fear of anything this world and life, or the people of this world, the high or the low, the kings or governments, might dish up for you. 

For perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Not that your love is perfect - far from it! But God’s love for you is. He who created you perfectly, redeemed you perfectly, and in the end will raise you perfectly. In His perfect love and with His name we can live without fear. And walk in the footsteps of John. Walking in the way of peace. Peace with God. 

For the Lord has shown favor to you. And He won’t stop. Even when the page turns for us. The page from this life to the next - whether you reach a ripe old age or not. The page when all is fulfilled - when He’s coming becomes He’s here for us. When we join Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, and all the saints. All who bear the name of the Father, who live in the Son, and who have been given the Holy Spirit. For into this name, into this life, you have been delivered. A new life, to live now; a new life to live forever.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.