Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“We Three Kings of Israel Are: King Solomon”
Text: 1 Kings 8:12-21; John 2:13-22

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 10 Downing Street. Buckingham Palace. Mount Vernon. Monticello. You know those names and addresses. Important people live in such well-known places, important places, grand places. Places that show that the one who lives there matters and is a person of power or wealth or both. The opposite is true as well. Live under a bridge, in a cardboard box, or in a shelter, and you’re not one of those people. 

So what about a tent? What would that say about you? Well, based upon how we look at things in this world, compared to palaces and mansions and famous addresses, it would say you’re not very important, not very wealthy, and not very powerful. For no matter how nice that tent might be, it’s still a tent after all.

And that’s what King David thought. He had just built himself a palace and it was awesome. A palace, as they say, fit for a king. But on the other hand, the One who gave them their nation, their land, and the peace from their enemies that allowed David the opportunity to build such a grand palace - His throne, the Ark of the Covenant, stayed in a tent. And that didn’t seem right to David. And so he decided to build a house for the Lord God. A Temple. A proper place for God to graciously dwell among His people. A place fitting for such a great and powerful God.

That’s what David thought and decided to do. But what did God Himself think? He did not ask for such a house. In fact, He was satisfied with the tent. Because this tent wasn’t just a dwelling place, it taught something about God as well. It was mobile, for God would be wherever His people would be. And it wasn’t permanent, which witnessed to the fact that we are on a pilgrimage through this world and life. So a tent was perfect for God. He was great and powerful, even if the earthly dwelling place of his throne was not.

But at the same time, God was also pleased with David’s desire to honor and glorify Him in such a way. But thinking ahead - because God always thinks ahead - He says no to David. David could desire the house and plan the house, but he could not build it. His Son would. And so we heard from Solomon in the first reading tonight that he built such a house. A magnificent Temple, greater than any other on earth, for a God greater than any other on earth.

Except, just as we heard last week, the Son of David God had in mind was not the one we first think of. And in this case, it was not Solomon - it was the Son of David named Jesus. And the earthly house that God would dwell in forever was not a Temple of wood and stone, but of the flesh and bone of Jesus. That’s what we heard in the second reading. Jesus said: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. And the people objected because they were thinking as we do, of the building. But that was not the Temple Jesus was referring to. And so what Jesus said, happened, when His Temple of flesh was destroyed and put to death on the cross, but raised three days later on that first Easter morning.

The Christmas Gospel attests to this fact as well, saying that the Word became flesh and tented among us. That caused many people to mock and scoff, for who was Jesus? A carpenter’s son. Born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. A Nazarene. A nobody. Surely, if God were to come down and become enfleshed, it wouldn’t be in such a humble man and humble flesh - it would be an important person in an important place. 

But while that is how we think, that is not how God thinks. The God of both the Old Testament and the New is not only happy to, but wants to dwell in a tent. Humbly for the humble, lowly for the low, to be the God of all people. Accessible to all, inaccessible to none. Great and glorious not because His dwelling is, but because He is in Himself. And awesome in His mercy and love.

That is the kind of King Israel had and we have. The We Three Kings of Israel Are - Saul, David, and Solomon - all fell far short in their kingships, being sinners all. But we have a King who does not fall short, but reigns to give the blessings of forgiveness and life to all people. A King who serves His people in truth and holiness, who gives, and who is with you wherever you are -when even two or three are gathered in His Name. For He is great and glorious, yes, but for you

And so when our King comes to us in a manger, when He comes humble and mounted on a donkey, that should come as no surprise. When He comes to us today in humble water, and words, and bread and wine, that should be no surprise either. That He comes in humble churches, to humble people, broken people, sinful people - yup, that’s our King. At home in the most magnificent places as well as the most humble - for compared to Him and His heavenly home, well, they’re all humble. Yet that’s exactly where He wants to be and how He wants to be, for you. To be with you. To be your Saviour.

So as we’ve been concluding every week, that’s your King - do you really want another? The question sounds sillier and sillier every week. And yet just like Israel, we do choose other kings and gods, don’t we? When we rebel against this One, when we choose to sin, when we want more and so think Him not so good, or not as powerful as we need, and so take matters into our own hands. But Saul and David and Solomon all show us that when we take matters into our own hands . . . that usually doesn’t work out so well.

So Advent calls us to repentance for all that, and then to rejoice that we have a King who does not reject us (as we learned with Saul), who does not come just for the high and beautiful (as we learned with David), and who do not live apart from us in an inaccessible palace (as we learned from Solomon) - but who has come in love to rescue us fallen sinners; to be with us here and now, that we might be with Him forever. 

That’s your King, O new Israel. And as we will very soon now sing: O come let us adore Him.

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Advent 3 (December 15-20, 2014)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: Psalm 89:1 - “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #357 “O Come, O Come, Immanuel”
Hymns for Wednesday: 890, 348, 350
Hymns for Sunday: 357 (v. 1-6), 357 (v. 7), 356, 621, 337, 338, 359

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

Monday:  Deuteronomy 18:15-19
Who is this prophet God promised? What would He do? Therefore what should we do?

Tuesday:  Luke 1:39-56
To whom do both Elizabeth and Mary point as the source of all blessing? Why? And who does God bless? Why?

Wednesday:  Psalm 89:1-5
Why is God worthy of praise? How is this true especially at Christmas?

Thursday:  2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
What did David want to do? Why? What did God promise instead? Why? How would God do that?

Friday:  Romans 16:25-27
Where is the Christian’s strength? Why?

Saturday:  Luke 1:26-38
Why was Mary troubled? How did the angel reassure her? How will Mary’s child take away our troubles and fears?

The Catechism: Table of Duties: To Children: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “honor your father and your mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “that is may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the lonely and homeless and those for whom this season brings no joy, for the joy of Gospel to enlighten them and bring peace.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational financial secretary, Dave Fields.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for Higher Things.
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!

Advent 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Lighting the Darkness of Our Hearts”
Text: John 1:6-8, 18-28;
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We heard from St. Paul today these words: Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. To sanctify means to make holy. And may the God of peace do it, says St. Paul, because we cannot. We poor sinners cannot be or make ourselves holy. Period.

Oh, you can do good deeds. All of you have, in fact. You’ve helped and cared for and gone out of your way for others. You are generous with those who need help, both friends and strangers alike. But you are not thereby holy. The good you do cannot make up for the sin you have. If so, a criminal in court could plead all the good things he has done as a defense for the crime he has committed. But he cannot, for he is guilty, and so are you.

That’s why we prayed in the collect this morning: Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation

The darkness of our hearts. We prayed not that Jesus would lighten the darkness of the world, though the world is pretty dark with sin. The news is filled with such darkness, and every time another new and heinous sin is reported, we’re shocked . . . but not really surprised. That’s our world. A sin-dark world. 

This time of year seems to express that more than any other. Next Sunday, December 21, has the least amount of daylight of any day of the year. And so many Christmas lights adorn our neighborhoods and transform them into colorful and bright visions - but when they all go out soon after Christmas, the darkness seems even deeper, doesn’t it?

But we didn’t pray for Jesus to lighten the darkness of our world. He will do that when He comes again in the brightness of His glory, when He will finally put an end to all sin and sinfulness and darkness. That day is coming, and we’ve been praying our Advent prayer for it: Come, Lord Jesus! But until that day, start with me. And that we be ready for that day, lighten the darkness of my heart

Cuz’ our hearts are pretty dark too, aren’t they? Isaiah described us as those who are poor, captive, bound . . . and brokenhearted. In English we usually use that word to mean sad, but in Hebrew it’s those who hearts have been broken by sin, whose hearts have been smashed and shattered by sin, so they don’t work right anymore. That’s us. That’s the darkness. And so we don’t love as we should, nor do or speak or desire as we should. Raise your hand if you haven’t made the darkness of this world even darker for someone else because of what you said or did. And just slapping a Christmas card or present or light on it doesn’t really fix the problem, does it? The problems are still there when the lights go out, the cards recycled, and the presents put away.

Truth is, it’s a miracle that we’re even here at all. That we haven’t sinned ourselves into extinction.

It is a miracle indeed, for it is the work of our loving God. His work to love and care for and preserve us, that He may bring all to faith; that He make us all His children; that He lighten the darkness of all - one person, one heart at a time.

So to do that, to - again as Paul said - sanctify us, the Father not only sent His Son, first He sent John the Baptist. John, who basically had two jobs: (1) to point out our sin, and then (2) point us to the One who could save us from it. Who he was, who John was, wasn’t important. That’s why (as we heard) when some priests and Levites came to him to find out who he was, he wouldn’t tell them - he only told them who he wasn’t. That he wasn’t the One. All he was was a voice and a finger. The voice of repentance, and the finger pointing to the One. Pointing to and confessing Jesus as the One, the Christ, the promised prophet greater than Moses.

Now there are lots of voices and fingers in our world today. Most of the voices aren’t worth listening to, and most of the fingers aren’t pointing to Jesus, but communicating quite a different message to us! And so lots of people will celebrate Christmas and the baby Jesus, and yet sadly have no idea why. And so John has come to climb into the witness stand and tell us. To speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God, for he was sent from God to do so. To witness to the truth about us, and to the truth about our Saviour . . . and how these two truths converge in the One laid in the manger. That Jesus is the Son of God become a son of man. That the baby in the manger is the God of peace [come] to sanctify you.

That’s why (to quote a popular Christmas hymn) that Silent Night was a Holy Night - because the Holy One had come to make us holy. Born of a virgin and so born without sin, the Holy One is thus born holy. But to become unholy - not through His own sin, but by taking upon Himself ours. By making our sin His, our darkness His, burdening Himself with a burden no ordinary man could bear, and receiving the judgment in our place. And so the innocent one is given our sin, declared guilty, and sentenced to death on a cross. 

When He was born, He was given the name Jesus; when He was crucified, the title placed over His head was “King of the Jews;” but the blood poured out upon the ground that day was the blood not just of a man or a king, but the blood of God. The blood of God shed to sanctify you completely - your whole spirit and soul and body. Which means to do the job not only part of the way, for part of you; but all of the way, for all of you. No part of you unaffected or untouched. To forgive all of you, that you be holy as He is holy.

The problem is, we don’t feel holy. We still sin. We still struggle with temptation. And we still fall. We see and feel these things and so think the work of God is not complete - and so there must be something wrong with me, or something I have to do, or . . . or it’s just not true. 

And so it is important to know that the holiness we are given is not of nature - not yet. As I said, that will come with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the Last Day, with the resurrection, when our flesh is finally raised new and we are rid of the sinfulness that has adhered itself to us through and through. The sin that drags us down. The sin that seems to keep sprouting like weeds in our hearts and lives. 

But though we are not yet holy by nature, we are holy - for just as our sin was given to Jesus and He was declared guilty, so His holiness is given to us and we are declared not guilty; holy. Our sin no longer held against us, for it was held against Jesus in our place. And so you really have been forgiven and set free. Set free from the tyranny and dominion and condemnation of sin, to live as children of God like Paul described -“Rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, [and] giving thanks in all circumstances.” Doing good, speaking good, desiring good, and more and more. 

And so this kind of holiness is a matter of faith. Not in the sense that I’m holy because I believe I’m holy. That would be like me being a dog because I believe I’m a dog! No, we are holy not because we believe in ourselves, but because we believe the Word and promise of the One, the One who came to save us, and so by faith receive what He has promised: His forgiveness. For as St. Paul told us, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” And so even if I don’t feel holy, I believe not what I think or feel (that’s what the evil one wants us to do); I believe instead what my Saviour has told me. That I am forgiven and therefore holy; that I have been given His Spirit; and that by His Word and Spirit, Jesus is now causing holiness to sprout and grow in our hearts and lives.

And so although you may look and feel the same when you leave church as when you came, you never leave this church the same. How could you? How could you be the same after your Saviour has told you “I forgive you all your sins”? How could you, after the body and blood of Jesus, the body and blood of God, has been placed into your mouths and poured over your lips? How could you after the living and active Word has flooded your ears and hearts? You are not the same. For you have been “holied” - sanctified - by the Holy One Himself. The Holy One who laid in a manger, who hung on a cross, and now comes by His Spirit to live and work in you.

To do this work is why the Son of God came and was born as the baby Jesus on that Silent Night, as we will soon remember. But when He comes again in glory, that day will be anything but silent, but filled with the rejoicing of the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Rejoicing as the Bridegroom comes for His Bride, to take us home. 

Until He does, your Saviour will keep you safe. Safe in His holiness and forgiveness. He is faithful. He will do it.

That is the message for us in Advent; this Advent now half over. The Nativity of our Lord is not far away now. And so we lit the rose candle on the Advent Wreath today, for it is the candle of joy. And soon, soon our joy will be complete. For He is coming. The Light is coming. Come, Lord Jesus.

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent 2 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“We Three Kings of Israel Are: King David”
Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 22-27; 12:1-7a, 13-14; John 8:1-11

She was beautiful. Stunning. Every man’s desire. Of that there was no question. But Bathsheba’s beauty brought out David’s ugliness. The ugliness lurking in his heart; the ugliness of sin. Once he saw her, the sin in his heart would let him think of nothing else . . . until his lust was satisfied. It didn’t matter to him that she was someone else’s wife. Sin thinks of nothing else than getting what it wants. Sin is completely selfish.

And that ugliness didn’t end once David satisfied his lust. It then had another problem to contend with - David’s reputation. Once Bathsheba was found to be with child, he couldn’t let anyone know it was his. For what would the people think of him? So after at first trying to cover up his sin, David had her husband, Uriah, killed - though he made it look like an accident. And then he took Bathsheba to be his - and if all the people thought even more highly of him, so generously taking care of this poor widow - that was just the cherry on top.

Now, there are many stories about King David we could have considered tonight in our series We Three Kings of Israel Are, but this one I think, really serves to highlight and point us to the work of Jesus, the true King of Israel, for us. For just as with Saul last week, what Jesus does is exactly the opposite of David. For whereas we see the real ugliness of David, the sin lurking just below the surface (as it does in all of us), this story helps us see the true beauty of Jesus shining forth.

For it was to no beauty that Jesus looked - who Jesus comes to take as His Bride is the most ugly, sinful, adulterous, beastly ones of all: us. Though our ugliness and sin might be lurking below the surface and we might be pretty good at hiding it from others, He sees it and knows it. He knows the sins that not only come out in our words and deeds but also the ones that are hidden, that fill our minds and hearts. He knows how adulterous we are to Him in having others gods - other people and things in this world that we fear, love, and trust more than Him. He knows how beastly we can be to others, and that in any spiritual beauty contest we’d be the first ones out. And laughed out for even being there and trying to think ourselves beautiful.

But upon us He looked - not with self-centered, self-satisfying lust, but in true self-giving love - He looked upon us and wanted us to be His Bride. And so He came and didn’t take life, but gave His up for us, to (as we read in Ephesians): sanctify us and cleanse us by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present - us - the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). To make us who are ugly as sin beautiful in forgiveness and holiness.

And that He might make David beautiful, God sends Nathan to him to uncover and expose his sin. That’s always painful, and David pronounces a correct verdict when he says: the man who has done this deserves to die! That’s what we deserve, too. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But notice these very important words that Nathan speaks from God next: The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.

Now, there are two really important things there: first, the Lord forgives David. He will not die in his sin as he deserves. And second, there will be a death, just not David - but the son of David. He will die. And it happened that the son born to Bathsheba did in fact die. But that wasn’t really who God was talking about here. There was coming another son of David, the Son of David, who would die not just for David’s sin, but for the sin of the world. Upon this coming Son of David the Lord would put all sin, that He die instead of us. And, of course, that promised Son of David was born in the city of David, Bethlehem, and was given the name Jesus. As we’ll remember and celebrate in just a couple of weeks now.

And one day, that Jesus was in the Temple when they brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And again, how different is Jesus! All they could see was her sin. All they could see was her ugliness. But Jesus saw His Bride. A scared little lamb, just like we so often are, when our sin is uncovered and exposed and we are deserving of shame and yes, death. But they were all His lambs. The ones carrying stones just as ugly as she. And so Jesus plays the Nathan for them, to expose their sin. So, Jesus says, Let him who is without sin - who has not also been adulterous to the Lord in sin - be the first to throw a stone. No one can. And neither does Jesus. For He did not come to condemn, but to be condemned for her, in her place, on the cross. He came to be condemned for them, in their place, on the cross. He came to be condemned for us, in our place, on the cross. That we be washed and made holy from our ugly and deadly sin, and go and sin no more.

That is your King. A king not for the beautiful but for the ugly in sin. A king not in it for Himself but in it for us. A King who lays down His life for you, that you may have life in Him. So like David, repent, and then rejoice, that the Son of David has been slain for you, your sin has been put away, and you will not die but live. For your King has come to take you as His Bride, and He has. And when He comes again, the wedding feast will begin. A feast and a joy that will have no end. 

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“John’s Advent Gift For You”
Text: Mark 1:1-8 (Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14)

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

John the Baptist. We heard about him today, as we always do the Second Sunday of Advent. He is the advent prophet. He was born for advent. He was born for the coming of the Lord. To be the forerunner. To prepare the way for Him among us.

Now most of the time when we hear about John, the focus is either on his appearance, his diet, or his fiery preaching. For his appearance, as we heard, was quite unusual - being clothed with camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Not very luxurious or comfortable. And his diet was even more noteworthy - yummy, crunchy locusts and wild honey. And his preaching - he held nothing back, calling sinners sinners, those who thought they were pretty good a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7), and even calling out the kings and princes of his day. John spared no one. And if he were here today, he’d go after you and your sins too. Unlike many people in our day and age who mince words, use vague language, and try to give themselves as much wiggle room as possible, not John. You knew who John was and what he stood for.

But having said all that, here’s what often gets overlooked or unsaid (it seems to me) about John, even though it is the most obvious fact about him: he baptized! Even though that’s in the name most people know him by - John the Baptist or John the baptizer - how often do we neglect to consider how much he loved to baptize. And that he wanted to baptize everyone. John, you see, had this incredible gift from God - a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins - and he wanted to give it to everyone.

That’s why he did what he did. That’s why he preached repentance. That’s why he called out those who would not repent or be baptized, yes, using some pretty strong language. Even when King Herod put him in prison, he wouldn’t stop preaching to Herod (Mark 6) - not just to convince Herod that he was wrong and that he, John, was right - but that Herod too might repent and receive this gift from God. Forgiveness. He wanted to give this gift to everyone, even though not all would have it.

And John was wildly popular because of it. For, Mark tells us, all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him. Not just a few people, but hordes. And how delighted John must have been! Most of the time he’s depicted as this mean angry guy (like on our bulletin cover!), but maybe he was actually happy and joyful as he was baptizing! Giving the gift of God’s forgiveness to so many. 

So hordes of people went out to him, to receive this gift. John preached it and how much the people needed it, and his preaching resonated with the people because they knew, from the Law that is written on all hearts (Romans 2:15) that they - that we - are sinners. I really don’t think that’s a news flash to most people. People know they do wrong things. Most people have regrets. It’s why so many keep making New Year’s resolutions every year. Preaching - John’s and the Church’s still today - teaches us the depth and breadth of our sin and how serious it is, far more than we know! But the real question is this: not whether or not you are a sinner, but what are you going to do about it?

There are a few options. Two of the most popular are: (1.) try to fix yourself - do better, try harder, and come up with more effective ways of doing so; or (2.) deny it - cover it up or make yourself feel better by comparing yourself to others and convincing yourself you’re not so bad. Even Christians do those things. You’ve done those things. But they don’t work. Fixing yourself is like the little boy trying to fix the leaks in the dam by putting his finger into the hole, but then another hole springs up, and another and another. That’s the way of sin with us - just when you think you’ve got one under control, more break out, and you don’t have enough fingers and toes for them all. Not even close! And denying it - that might make you feel better for a while, but that’s like filing an extension on your income tax. Sooner or later that bill’s going to come due.

But here’s what John said: let God deal with it. Now at first, that sounds a bit frightening, like pleading guilty in court and then comes the sentencing. But it’s different, John said. For here is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Here God deals with your sins by taking them away, forgiving them. And that’s the solution that works no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or when you’ve lived. What you can’t do and could never do, God is coming to do for you. He promised. He promised this from the beginning, from the very first sin, and now the time has come for it to be accomplished! That’s what John also said: He’s coming - now! For after me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

And so John came then and comes now, not just to convict you of your sin, but to point you to the One who deals with your sins. Reminding us in these days before Christmas that the baby in the manger whose birth we are about to celebrate came to be your sin-bearer. The mightier One made weak and the holy One made sinful, to join you who are weak and sinful and raise you to His life. To give you what you need. To give you His Spirit and join you to Himself, to be with you where you are, and that where He is you may be also - from the cross, to the grave, to the resurrection, to the ascension. That you die with Him and rise with Him and ascend with Him to live in His kingdom in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever. That’s what filled John with joy - that One and His gift. And so John points you to Him that you be filled with that same joy. 

But it wasn’t only John - he was just one in a long line of pointers to Christ. Like Isaiah. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Isaiah says it twice to emphasize the comfort. This is what God wants to do for you and why He sent prophets like Isaiah and John. To comfort you. To proclaim to you that the warfare is over and your iniquity pardoned. To be this herald of good news. That though your life is like the grass of the field - here today and gone tomorrow - you know you have a God who is greater and mightier than anything in this world, even death. A God, a Saviour, who, Isaiah says, will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. So lift up your voice and rejoice! He is coming to you.

And then we also heard from Peter today. He addressed the fact that I mentioned last week - that we’ve been waiting for Jesus to come back for some 2,000 years now and so far, He hasn’t come. Which makes some scoff at us and think this belief stupid. If it hasn’t happened yet, it ain’t gonna happen. But Peter tells us what Isaiah and John told us - Jesus is waiting in order to give His gifts more! To give His forgiveness more, to give Himself more. He’s waiting so that all should reach repentance - which is to say not only repentance, but repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as John preached and did.

So, Peter says, you, while you too are waiting, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. How do we do that? John told us today: baptism. By remembering that you are baptized and by living in your baptism. For when you are baptized you have Jesus’ promise of forgiveness and life - the forgiveness that removes your spots and blemishes and gives you peace. That you not despair over your sin. That you acknowledge it, repent of it, but then rejoice in the One who has come and borne your sin for you and taken it all away from you. To set you free. That’s how you prepare to meet Him when He comes again in glory.

And that repentance includes not only the sin you know, but the sin you know not; not only the sin you’ve done, but the sin you’ve denied or tried to make up for on your own; the whoppers and the little white lies; the sins you think no one knows and the sin you thought you got away with. And so we prayed: Stir up our hearts, O Lord - stir up our hearts to repentance, O Lord, that we may serve you with pure minds, forgiven minds, spotless minds, now and when you come again in glory. That John’s joy be our joy. Gift given. Gift received.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about, after all? Gift given. Gift received. And on this Second Sunday of Advent, John has a gift for you. And so does your Lord. Come now and receive His gift to you - His forgiveness and life, now, here, in His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That you live in Him and He in you. That you be ready when He comes. 

And maybe God will then use you to comfort someone. To be like John and share the joy you know with someone caught in sin and trouble. To speak that word of forgiveness no one else will; that word of peace so elusive; that word that points them not to themselves for the answer, but to the One who came, who is coming now, and has promised to come again. The One who comforts and saves. You don’t have to go out and knock on doors to do that - God will bring them to you, as He brought them to John. Wherever you are, it doesn’t matter. And a word of peace, a word of hope, a word of forgiveness - to a friend, a family member, a neighbor - just might make all the difference in the world. 

Because the wilderness . . . that’s a place we all know. The good news of Advent is that Jesus came into our wilderness of sin to comfort us with His forgiveness in it, to save us from it, and to provide for us a home after it. A home with Him, back in Paradise, forever. And so we pray the Advent prayer: Come Lord Jesus! Come quickly

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“We Three Kings of Israel Are: King Saul”
Text: 1 Samuel 8:4-22a; 9:1-2; Matthew 21:1-9

Israel had a king. A good king. This king performed signs and wonders in Egypt to gain their release from slavery in Egypt. This king led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and for forty years in the wilderness. This king brought them into a good land and gave it to them, fighting for his people and defeating their enemies. He settled them and gave them peace. And if this all weren’t enough, he would have done even more, this good king of Israel.

But all that was not enough for Israel. They weren’t satisfied with being this king’s special people - they wanted to be like all the other nations around them. They wanted a king like all the other nations had. The grass is always greener, I guess.

Did they know what they were doing? What they were asking for? Samuel told them; warned them, as we heard. Their new king would do what their old king, their good king, never would. He would take their sons and daughters away from them and use them in his service. He would take of their flocks and herds to support himself and his administration. And he wouldn’t serve them and care for them as their old, good king did - he would make them serve him and care for him. So really, do you want a new king?

But the people had their eyes and hearts fixed on this. Their good king had called them a stubborn, stiff-necked people and he was right, and they were proving it once again. They were sticking to their guns. They wanted a new king. They wanted to be like all the other nations.

So the good king gave Samuel the go ahead; give them what they want, Yahweh, the Lord, said. It will be a day they regret for a very long time. The sad day when they rejected their king, their good and gracious God, and traded Him for a man named Saul.

Saul looked the part. As we heard, there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he, and he was taller than any of the people. And while Saul started well, he quickly became the kind of king God said he would be. Because Saul was a man, not a god; he was not good and gracious, but a sinner. And he acted the part. He fell into sin, led the people into sin, and finally died a shameful death at his own hand. The Philistines then came and cut off his head and hung up his body on the wall of the city.

There is a warning for us here. We too have a good and gracious king who has provided us with life and everything we need, but are we unsatisfied? Do we want more? Do we want to be not His special people, but like everyone else? Thinking like them and acting like them and imitating them instead of living according to the Word of our God and King? Are we too rejecting the good and choosing what is not good? We do, don’t we? Our King knows it, but sometimes he lets us have what we want, even though He knows it is not good. To teach us, though sometimes it’s a pretty hard lesson, as Israel could tell you.

But there’s good news for us here, too. For though Israel rejected her King, her King did not reject her. There was tough discipline and tough times, but always her King was there for her in the end, not letting her be destroyed; not allowing her enemies to triumph over her. Because one day He was going to come back to her. One day He was going to establish His throne again. One day He would save her.

And that day came when Jesus sat on that donkey and rode into Jerusalem, the anti-Saul. For while Saul was most handsome and tall and stood out as kingly material, Jesus on the other hand, Isaiah tells us had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2b). Jesus led His people not into sin but into repentance and faith. And in the end, Jesus didn’t take His own life in defeat, but laid it down for His people to win the victory. The victory over sin, death, and devil that we could not win. That He - once again - deliver and save us, care for us and provide for us what we need the most. To be that good King, that gracious King, our everlasting King.

“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you!’ ”

Indeed He is! That is the good news of Advent. That though we are the stubborn and stiff-necked people, our King has not rejected us. He came and was laid on the throne of the manger, sat on the throne of a donkey, and hung on the throne of the cross, to be your good and gracious King. And just as He came and did that for you, so He is coming again on the throne of the clouds to finally take you to His kingdom, where He wants you forever.

Do you want a better King than that? Do you want to be like all other people, chasing after false gods and rejecting the good your King has for you? He’ll let you. But that’s not what He wants. He wants you. So repent, return, and rejoice in His love and forgiveness. For He does not reject you, and He never will. 

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: Mark 11:1-10 (Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9)

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

The first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday of a new church year, which means this one thing: another church year has gone by and Jesus didn’t come again. There have been almost 2,000 of them now and the church is still waiting. Every year we proclaim Jesus is coming back, and every year - so far - He has not. 

Are you disappointed? Admit it - you’re not, are you? Because if you’re like most people, you really don’t want this world to end. As bad as it is and as bad as the news gets, it’s home, and the thought of it ending frightens you. So better to not think about it. Just keep on the best you can.

And also because you’ve got stuff to do and things you want to enjoy: kids and grandkids to watch grow up, careers to pursue, tickets to the game, and Christmas is coming - wouldn’t want to miss that! For imagine finding just the right gift for that hard-to-buy-for person who has everything. You searched and searched and thought and thought and found just the right gift that is going to both surprise and delight that special someone . . . and Jesus comes again and you don’t get to give it! What a bummer that would be, huh?

But the truth is, as much as the church speaks of Jesus’ return at the end of the church year, we really don’t give it much thought. We just expect things to continue as they have for so many years.

But it was not always so. The Jews in Isaiah’s time - when another year went by they were disappointed that God did not rend the heavens and come down to save them and deliver them. And the Christians in the city of Corinth, Paul says, were eagerly waiting for the revealing - or, for the apocalypse, in the Greek - of our Lord Jesus Christ

So, what would change your mind? What would it take for you to be like the Jews of Isaiah’s day or the Christians in Corinth, truly disappointed when not another year, but another day went by without Jesus coming again? Maybe if you were in prison, serving life with no chance of parole; or if you were on death row. Jesus coming again would be a relief and a release for you. Or maybe if you had a terminal disease, or a disease that won’t kill you but just lingers and makes life tough - Jesus coming again would mean less suffering for you. Or what if you had overwhelming debt that you could not pay, or ISIL terrorism starts infiltrating our communities, or riots like what we saw in Ferguson start burning your home and your business and your car. What would it take for you to pray “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come now!” and really mean it?

Well, I’m not going to pray that any of that stuff happens to you. But every Advent we are reminded that all that stuff I just described is exactly the situation we are in spiritually, whether we realize it or not. You have a disease called sin that is eating away at you and has put you on death row. Satan is terrorizing you and your own sinful urges join in the spiritual rioting of anger, bitterness, and rebellion against God and against others. Jesus not coming again means we’ve had another year of amassing a debt of sin we cannot pay, of doing what our Lord has forbidden and not doing what He has commanded. And maybe that has caused you to look at yourself or look at the world and wonder: When is it going to get any better?

Advent tells us: when Jesus comes again. That’s what it’s going to take. We can’t do it, no matter how hard we try. Our elected leaders can’t do it, they’re sinners too (in case you haven’t noticed that!). 

So in Advent, we turn our eyes again to the One who can. Not that we haven’t been looking at Him all year - we have, for forgiveness, for help, for strength, for wisdom, for the new life we need. All of that, yes. But Advent is different. Advent means “to come.” And especially this season we pray for that. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come now! We sing it in our hymns: O Come, O Come, Immanuel and Savior of the Nations, Come. We pray for it in our collects, that the Lord would stir up His power and come, and that the Holy Spirit would come and stir up our hearts to repent. You may not pray for those things at home, on your own, so we pray them here. And fix our eyes on the One who has promised to come and save us.

And how we do that, how we look to the One who has promised to come again, is by looking back to when He did come, the first time - when He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He came, as promised, though it took a long time. He came, as promised, and took your place on death row with the guilt of your sin. He came, as promised, right into the rioting madness of evil. He came, as promised, into Jerusalem that day and went to the cross. To give Himself and all that He is for you. To Hosanna you, to save you. 

Now, the people then didn’t understand the significance of what Jesus was doing - not even the disciples. Just like us today, most of them were probably looking to be saved from the things and problems and fears of this world, not from their sins. They probably were shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” because they wanted Jesus to restore the kingdom of Israel and free it from Roman rule and be that kind of king. Just as we often want a Jesus who will be that kind of king and stop the rioting, stop the wars, stop the hatred, so we can live in this world in peace.

Now, it’s not wrong or bad to want those things, but Jesus didn’t come to be that kind of king or to give that kind of peace - for them or for us. His chosen mode of transportation made that obvious! Kings and warriors don’t ride young, untamed colts or donkeys, they ride strong, well-trained stallions. His honor guard showed that, too - not soldiers but common people and children with coats and tree branches. But it was His chosen throne that shouted it the loudest - for earthly kings rule from bejeweled thrones, they don’t reign from a cross. And so with colt, coats, and cross, we see that Jesus has come to do something quite different, something much better. To provide for us a peace and salvation not just for a time, for the eight or nine decades we have on this earth, if we’re given that many, but peace and salvation forever. 

And so in the midst of this world of trouble we sing our Hosanna too - to our King who comes to us in just as unlikely a way as on colt, coats, and cross - as He comes to us in the simple bread and wine of the Supper. It’s not even really good bread and wine; it’s ordinary at best. But whether it’s on the donkey’s colt or in the bread and wine it is (as we sang in the Introit) your King coming to you, righteous and having salvation. Your King with His forgiveness and with His life for you. So that in the midst of the rioting, wars, troubles, and hatred of this world, we have hope and we have peace - a peace that surpasses understanding and supersedes time and space. A peace with God to have now and that lasts forever. 

So Advent proclaims: Behold, your King is coming to you - now! - just as He promised. And He is coming again - He will! - just as He promised. For He came, just as He promised. He is faithful. 

And you who sang earlier O Lord, How Shall I Meet You? come to meet Him in the same way as He came to meet you - not in your strength, but in humility; not in pride, but in repentance. Bring your sins for your King to take away and Hosanna you. And as you do that, this season, every week, and even every day, you are focused on the better, you are looking at your King, and preparing for the end, for that day when Jesus comes again as He promised. And as you do that you are looking, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, to the One who enriches, supplies, and sustains you to live now, to live in your vocations, to serve and to love until He comes again. That you be ready, if this be the year, if this be your final Advent. For one year, one day, it will be; He will come. And when He does, you will not be disappointed.

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