Sunday, January 31, 2016

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Word Unlike Any Other”
Text: Luke 4:31-44; I Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
(Jeremiah 1:4-10)

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

Imagine being in the synagogue in Capernaum that day. 

You’ve been there before, lot of times. Today, though, there was a guest preacher. And while you’ve heard lots of sermons - some good, and some . . . well, some better than others - you’ve never heard preaching like this before. This was different. He was different. He spoke with authority. Like He was the author, explaining what He wrote. Like He was speaking what He had spoken before. That He was somehow in these words, and these words in Him. It was astonishing. And unlike some other sermons you’ve heard, you wished it wouldn’t end. That’s how captivating it was. He was.

But that was not the only astonishing thing in synagogue that day. There was that man. You didn’t even know who he was. He looked normal enough, until he so rudely interrupted Jesus. And what he said . . . well, it was more than a little troubling. Like, he didn’t want Jesus to be here with us.“Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” That’s what he said. And, that’s what we were all thinking . . . kind of. That He was a holy one. But not to destroy us . . . Why would he say that? Was there something to it? Did he know something we didn’t? You’d heard the stories about priests going into the Holy of Holies in the Temple and not coming out alive. You didn’t mess with the holy. Was there something more going on here than we knew . . . ?

But then it ended as quickly as it had begun. And it was Jesus’ word again. He didn’t argue with the man, he simply told him to be quiet and come out of him. You’d heard about unclean spirits and people being possessed by them, but you’d never actually seen one before. That one could be so close to you and you didn’t even know it was kind of unsettling. Were there more? But it happened as Jesus said. The man didn’t say anything else - he simply fell to the floor and it was over. That was it. Jesus’ words were not only astonishing, but had authority. What He said wasn’t just true, they happened

At coffee hour after the service ended, we were all talking about it. Jesus didn’t stay, though. He went right to Simon’s house. But then it happened there too! Just as Jesus had rebuked the unclean demon, so He rebuked the fever that had kept Simon’s mother-in-law from coming to synagogue that morning; the fever that some said had her near death. Some people laughed, for who talks to a fever? But it came out of her too. Just like that. But it was more than that. For when I’ve had a fever before, it takes me a few days to get my strength back after the fever breaks. But she got better right away. She got up right away and served them, like she’d never been sick at all. His words happen. His words make things happen.

Well, once word got around about that, there was no stopping folks! Everybody and anybody who was sick . . . they came out of the woodwork. It was like gridlock in Capernaum that evening! Everybody trying to see Jesus. And Jesus saw them all. He was so patient and kind. He didn’t boast. He wasn’t arrogant or rude. He was not irritable or resentful. He was full of joy. So many before Him had said so much, but they were like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals. Jesus was different. He just kept giving. Giving Himself. He kept preaching and things kept happening. 

And He healed everyone. All who came. The Great Physician was the name your neighbor gave Him. But He was more than that. There were more demons, too. You didn’t know there were so many around us, did you? And they were calling Him the Son of God. But He didn’t want them to speak. It was like He just wanted to help. To make people better. To set them free. To give them hope. To love them. And He was good at it.

You watched for a while, but it got late, and it seemed like the people waiting to see Him was endless . . .  In the morning, you went to find Him, to hear more, see more, receive more. But He was leaving.“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” That’s what He said. It made you a little sad. That was one great day! And what about when you got sick? Sure would be nice if Jesus would be here for you then . . . 

But something else He said . . . I was sent for this purpose. But who sent Him? It wasn’t the Pharisees or Saduccees - they didn’t like Him very much. Jealous, I guess.  . . .  Maybe what the demons had said . . . you are the Holy One of God; you are the Son of God. Could the One, the Holy One who dwelt in the Temple and made it holy, be dwelling now in this man from Nazareth? Not to destroy, but like at the Temple, to cleanse, to forgive, to make us holy? 

It doesn’t seem possible, or even probable. For cleansing, forgiveness, holiness - you needed sacrifices for that. You needed blood for that. It wasn’t so easy, so available. It was costly. And you needed priests. You couldn’t just go into the Holy place - only they could. But there was no denying what you had seen and heard. People were being cleansed and forgiven and holied. What happened in the Temple was happening in Capernaum . . . and Nazareth and Samaria and Cana and Tyre and Sidon and . . . everywhere Jesus was . . .

The prophets, like Jeremiah, had talked about such a day, when God Himself would come and shepherd His people (Jer 31:10). And then you remembered those words of John the Baptist you’d overheard by the Jordan - Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And then you remembered that Jesus was killed on Passover, when all the lambs were killed (John 18:39). And then you remembered what Jesus said on the cross - priestly words! Speaking forgiveness to those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Speaking comfortingly to that man hanging next to Him (Luke 23:43), just like He did in Capernaum. Jesus still, even while He was dying, even while men and demons were taunting Him, still filled with love. Still patient and kind, not irritable or resentful, delivering up His body to be burned under the wrath of God on the cross . . .

Yes, His words, even there, astonishing . . . and happening. That man would be in Paradise with Him that day. There was forgiveness now . . . for everyone. For criminals, for crucifiers . . . even for you. 

That day in Capernaum, it was like seeing dimly, but now you see it so clearly. Even more, you know He can see you. That day in the synagogue, you were just one in the crowd, yet it seemed like He was talking right to you. Because He was. He knew your heart, your sins. It was like He could see your through your skin. The fight you had this week. The harsh and hurtful words. The work you should have done but didn’t do. The impure desires you had. The jealousy, the anger. How you looked down on others in your heart even though you knew you were no better. How you didn’t pray because you thought it didn’t matter, and how reading God’s Word wasn’t as important to you as that book you wanted to read. 

He knew it all, and more. And yet still He spoke those astonishing words to you, today! I forgive you all your sins. And you were cleansed. It happened. Words with authority. And still He offers His body to you! His body once offered on the cross, and his blood shed there, now offered to you, to holy you. The Holy of Holies here. Take eat. Take and drink. The Lamb of God. The Passover Lamb. Today you will be with me in Paradise. And it’s true. For what He speaks, happens

For actually, you were there that day, in the synagogue, in Capernaum. Or actually, perhaps better to say, they are here with you. For the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are here. For Jesus is here. For you. 

What else did you expect when you came here today? Indeed, why else come here today? For the preacher? You’ve heard better sermons. For friends? You’ve got them at home. For the food? I don’t even know if there is any today. For Jesus. Not because He needs you, but because you need Him. Because you need your unclean spirit expelled and its temptations silenced. You need to be healed of your sin-sickness. You need His love and hope, that when you die, death will not be the end for you. You need to hear words that happen - not the words of a skilled politician, but of a Saviour. You need comfort in your desolate place, a friend who will never leave you or forsake you (Deut 31:6). You want to be fully known, to give yourself completely, to hide nothing, to have no secrets, to rest in pure and unfailing love. And there’s only one place that kind of love is - a love that bears all things; a love that never ends. In the Holy of Holies. In Jesus. The One who gives Himself like that to you.

For He was sent for this purpose. Sent by His Father. To Capernaum and to here. To you. Not to destroy you, but to destroy your uncleanness. To make you sons of God, holy ones of God, in Him. And He has. You are. For what He speaks, happens. He has loved you. He has worded you. So now . . . you who have heard, you who have received, can live that love, and in that love, for you have been filled with such love. Filled . . . with Jesus. And where you are, He is; and where He is, you will be. He promised. And what He speaks, happens.

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Commemoration of St. Timothy Sermon

[No audio this week - sorry!]

Jesu Juva

“The Good Confession”
Text: Matthew 24:42-47; Acts 16:1-5; 1 Timothy 6:11-16

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

I don’t know if Paul, any of the other apostles, or any other of the first generation of pastors which came after them, like Timothy, had to deal with snow and blizzards. Though I suspect they did. In some of the higher elevations of Asia Minor, they may have had to change their plans because of the weather. 

But that’s nothing new. We read about the weather effecting God’s people all through the Scriptures, from the flood in Noah’s day, to drought in the days of Elijah, to storms at sea for Paul. Sometimes God uses the weather to exercise His judgment, and sometimes for the benefit of His people, but at other times it’s just creation being creation, and something for us to marvel at. And to be thankful for the warm and safe homes our Lord has so graciously given to shelter us.

But in the readings that we heard today, there is another kind of dangerous storm that is really being spoken of - the dangerous storm of false doctrine. That was the real battle the apostles and those who came after them had to battle. A battle that is still going on today. And in the midst of that storm, the Lord has graciously provided homes to shelter us and keep us safe - our home which is called the Church. A place where we might be protected from the dangers around us: to be warmed by the truth in a cold and selfish world, and to be fed by our Lord’s Word and Sacraments.

And that is the picture Jesus gives the twelve as He teaches them, as we heard in the Holy Gospel. Jesus speaks of the master of the house, and the wise and faithful servant . . . the master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time. Jesus spoke those words to the twelve just a couple of days before His crucifixion, as they were having some time alone on the Mount of Olives. He is going to set them over His house, His Church, to care for them and feed them. The thief is going to be out there, lurking around, storming around, trying to steal from the Church - both her truth and her sons and daughters. So they must stay awake and be alert for him, and for the storms that will come. Like the forecasters that have flooded our ears with warnings all this past week, Jesus warns them of what is coming. And while our blizzard lasted only a couple of days and has come to an end, they will not know how long their storms will last; how long it will be till Jesus comes again. 

So with this admonition of Jesus, and after they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the twelve begin to preach, and as we heard in the reading from Acts, the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. And as they did, as the Church continued to grow, the apostles had to themselves do what Jesus had done - appoint servants over the houses, over the Churches; pastors to care for them and feed them in the midst of the worldly and doctrinal storms raging all around them. And one of those Paul appointed was Timothy. 

Timothy was from a mixed-marriage home, like so many today. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek and, so it seems, an unbeliever. Paul hand picks Timothy for this work, which perhaps made his mother proud and his father not so much. So maybe even early on there were storm clouds gathering in Timothy’s own house. And so Timothy accompanied Paul for some time, but then, according to tradition, Timothy was left to care for the Church at Ephesus. And if Washington, DC and this area was the bullseye for this storm, you could say that Ephesus was the bullseye of many a doctrinal storm that arose in those days. It was a city rife with false teaching and false religion.

But the greater the storm, the greater the need for the shelter and truth of the Church. Maybe we need to learn that in our country and its cultural climate today. Instead of wringing our hands as our culture continues to slide away from the truth of God’s Word, perhaps we need to be aware that with that, more and more opportunities abound - as more and more people are left out in the cold, are being buried under a blizzard of false teaching, and are starving for the truth. We have a shelter for them here. We have food for them here. We have hope for them here.

And so as Timothy labored to care for that house, that Church, Paul wrote to encourage him in his work. For it is easy to get discouraged, to look out the window at the blizzard raging all around us in fear and trepidation. So Paul encourages Timothy, and us. Fight the good fight of the faith. Don’t give up. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness . . . and not just for himself, but for the flock, for the Church. As their pastor. To shelter them and feed them and care for them. To continue to make the good confession, which Timothy had done before in the presence of many witnesses - perhaps a reference to his ordination. We don’t know how long the storms will last, Paul says. But we know they will one day end, at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . at the proper time.

At the proper time . . . which means it will be no accident. Jesus will come again exactly as planned. And then the storms will end, when the Son shines again over all creation.

But until that time . . . well, Paul says something ominous to Timothy. Make the good confession, he says. Preach the good confession, just as Jesus did before Pontius Pilate. 

But you know the story - that good confession got Jesus crucified. And it seems to have gotten Timothy stoned and clubbed to death as well, as it had led to the martyrdom of Paul and ten of the twelve disciples - the only exceptions being Judas, who killed himself, and John, the only one to die a natural death. The satanic thief does not like the good confession.

Yet the good confession cannot be silenced. For the One who is preached, and the One who preaches today through His servants, defeated death. And so while the good confession may make the thief and world rage, it leads to life and gives life. In the midst of the storms of sin it gives forgiveness. In the midst of the darkness of false doctrine it shines the light of truth. In the midst of death it raises to life. For the good confession is Jesus. And it is Jesus who is really the good and faithful servant, caring for and feeding His Church - through His servants. They will die but He will not. They may stumble and fall but He will not. And as they speak and give, it is really Jesus speaking and giving. For it is His Word and His gifts . . . and His life.

So as we give thanks today for Timothy, we give thanks also for all pastors who have cared for us and fed us in the past, those who will do so in the future, and the One - Jesus - who is really working through them all. 

And that even as the good confession is made here, so it may sound throughout the world, and in our homes too. As all of us go out into the storms of this world and life, into our callings, and confess to those around us. Shoveling, plowing, through the lies and half-truths dumped around us. Confessing Jesus - His life, His hope, His truth. Blessed are those who hear. Blessed are those who speak. Blessed are you, in Jesus.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Epiphany 2 / Sanctity of Life Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Hope and Life in a World of Sorrow and Death”
Text: Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

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

2015 was a mixed-year for the sanctity of life.

Planned Parenthood’s cruel and grisly practice of selling baby body parts was exposed. That the practice and the market were even there in the first place is evidence of a continuing and spectacular disregard for the sanctity of life. The outcry raised and the number of demonstrators who turned out to speak up for life, though, was a good and positive sign. 

The number of surgical abortions is down, but that may only be because of abortion pills, now so widely and easily available.

The practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide continue to expand and grow, with younger and younger people now choosing death and some now advocating for the ability to end the lives of some people against their will.

Terrorists and savages continued to place not little value, but NO value on life, beheading and murdering people at will.

Divisions to continue to grow in our country and in the world, as people increasingly look at one another not as people created in the image of God, whose life has value and sanctity, but as inconveniences to avoid at best, and opponents to overcome at worst.

In such a culture, standing up for and speaking for life seems as difficult and exhausting as trying to run up the down escalator. And maybe it is . . . but run we must. For a world that turns to death as an answer, as a friend, does so because it has lost all other hope; because it sees no other way; because they have no other answers. 

But we do. We have a Saviour who gives hope. Who gives forgiveness of sin when we have messed up life. Who gives strength when we are weak, when life beats us down. Who gives the promise of life when we’re surrounded by death. Who came to provide an answer and another way, a better way. A way of hope. 

Israel needed that hope. When God sent Isaiah to speak to them, things were not good. The kingdom was divided, idolatry was rampant, and foreign nations and their armies were threatening. It is not unlike how our country and our world seems today. Yet Isaiah says: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. He’s going to keep running up that down escalator. Because, he says, there’s hope. The time is coming when you shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate. Such words were living water to people thirsting for hope, and manna to people hungering for relief. A time of rejoicing, a time of glory, was coming.

And while life continued to be difficult after Isaiah preached those words - and maybe you could even say things got worse! - still there was hope. Something to believe in, something to cling to. And not just pipe-dream hope, but Word of God hope. Real hope. That God does not forsake His people. That He is with us and for us, even in the dark and difficult times.

Which is exactly the promise and assurance and hope we need today. It is easy - too easy - to just criticize and condemn those who turn to death for an answer, for relief. Yes, sometimes such criticism and condemnation is necessary - for the Law must still be preached; there is still right and wrong. But maybe sometimes we run there too quickly, when instead a word of hope is needed. A word of hope when someone’s world seems to be crumbling all around them. When life is so messy and hard and frightening that death - be it suicide, euthanasia, or abortion - in comparison, looks good, like a friend.

But death is no friend. In some cases, maybe there is some temporary relief when a frightening and unexpected pregnancy ends, when a disease-ridden body struggles no more, when a caregiver has time to rest and not be on edge all the time, when loneliness and despair come to an end - but what about the next struggle, the guilt, the regrets that often come. What then? More death? 

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. No, in the face of death, the Church speaks a message of hope. 

It is the message of Mary, actually, that we heard in the Holy Gospel today. For she knew where to turn for help, for hope. When the wedding they were attending at Cana ran out of wine, she turns to Jesus. Now, compared to all the life issues we’re facing today, all those things I listed at the beginning of the sermon, and more, running out of wine . . . may not seem like much of a problem at all. And maybe by comparison, it isn’t - even if it would have been a bigger deal then than for us today. But though, perhaps, not a crisis, not an issue of life and death, Jesus helps. He manifested His glory, John says. He is epiphanied - revealed - as the Lord of creation, who has come not just to help the really important people and with the really big problems, but provides even this - joy at a wedding feast. And He who does that has come to bring hope and joy into our lives as well.

Which is what Jesus is speaking of when He tells His mother: My hour has not yet come. It seems strange that He says that one moment and then the next is doing what she wanted . . . unless He’s talking about something else, something greater, something that would also happen on the third day, as John began his report. And indeed He is. He is talking about His own wedding feast, when He would be the one Isaiah spoke of, the bridegroom rejoicing over [His] Bride, the Church. The rejoicing that would come when He defeats death in His resurrection from the dead, and takes home His Bride to the Feast that will have no end. Just as He provided for this wedding feast, so He will provide what is needed for His own - the forgiveness and cleansing of His Bride, and the joy of a life free from sin, death, and evil.

And so with Jesus there is hope - not just for the future, but for our “Canas” now. When we’re hoping for joy but get only sorrow. When we’re looking for wine but get only water. Jesus is here. It is not yet His hour to return and take home His Bride, but He is still here to help in our problems big or small. When life becomes an issue and each day a struggle. Death is not the answer - the One who defeated death is. The One who forgives is. The One who holds all power over creation in His hands is. And so to Him we turn.

And that is the message we proclaim to those with life issues. There’s another way. They may not know that. They might never have been told that. They maybe once knew but have been so beat down and beat up that they no longer believe it. Maybe fear and despair have blinded their faith and hope. Whatever the reason, whoever the person, Isaiah’s message of hope is just as true today as it was so many years ago. For the God of life has entered our life to give us who are under the curse of sin and death life again. New life in the water of the Font, the living water of the Word, and the wine made His Blood in the Supper. That we put our faith not in death but in His life.

Which doesn’t mean an end to all our troubles. As long as we live in a sinful world, there are going to be troubles and death. But it means that He is with us in them, as He was at Cana, and that there is hope. For He who turned water into wine can turn the water that flows as tears from our eyes and as sorrow from our hearts into blessing as well.

And He’ll use you, too. St. Paul told the Corinthians that there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. That Spirit was given to you in your baptism, and by the same Spirit you confessed again today that Jesus is Lord. But that is not the end of it. That Spirit has gifted you for the common good; to be a blessing of God to others. Maybe not with the extraordinary gifts that are often focused on - healing and tongues and prophecy and things that were common at the time of the apostles, but not so much today. But that doesn’t mean the Spirit is not working. He is. And through you. And as is our focus today, to be His blessing and hope to those with life issues. To speak and not keep silent. To point people to the hope we have of life. To help those in need. To provide for the needy. To speak a word of forgiveness to those wracked with guilt. To love the unloved, hold the hand of the unwanted, to be the strength of the weak.

But really, there is nothing ordinary about doing those things. They are extraordinary, too, in their own way. And life-giving, hope-giving, things. To people in need of life and hope. People you know. People like you and me.

So what will 2016 hold for the sanctity of life? No one knows but One - the One who holds all things in His hands, including you. The One who never changes; who is steadfast and reliable. 

But this we know: in 2016 He will continue to give life, though people continue to destroy what He has given. He will continue to redeem life through His Word and Sacraments, though people turn away from these, too. And He will continue to bless your life, as He did that day at Cana. As only He can. And as He promised to do. 

So we do not despair; we do not lose hope. Life won, when Jesus came into this world and life to be our Saviour. Life won, when Jesus rose from the dead. Life won, when you were baptized into Jesus and His victory over death. And life will win, when He returns on that Last Day, and you rise to life again. This we know. 

So we do not despair; we do not lose hope. Whatever your burden - be it struggle or sorrow or guilt - Jesus wants it, to carry it for you, and set you free. To give you life, and hope, and maybe even joy. A joy greater than the pain, greater than the fears. The joy of knowing you are not alone. Ever. The joy of knowing that your life, however it is, is precious and valuable and meaningful and useful, though we may not understand how. The joy of knowing the One who can change water into wine, who can change despair into hope, bring light into the darkness, and bring good even from evil - even from the cross. The joy of knowing that as Jesus showed us at Cana, the best is yet to come. 

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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Epiphany 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: John 1:29-42a; Isaiah 49:1-7

My family and I like looking at the wildlife in our yard. When a woodpecker comes to our birdfeeder, or a fox or a deer happen through our yard, you’ll often hear one of us call out and point: Look! 

But if you’re not in the room, you probably missed it. They don’t stay long. By the time you get into the room and ask where - they’ve flown or run away. And all you get is disappointment.

Well, that’s kind of what John the Baptist did today. He saw an animal, of sorts, that he wanted everyone else to see. And so when he sees Jesus, he points and calls out: Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

But unlike the animals that visit my yard and pass quickly through, Jesus wants to be seen. He came to be seen. He wants all the world to know who He is and what He has come to do. That’s why John was there - to prepare the way for Him. And that’s why John saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus - to identify Him as God’s Chosen One, the Lamb of God.

And so when Andrew and another disciple of John heard John excitedly call out what he had seen, they want to see and be with Jesus. And Jesus wants to stay with them. When they ask where He is staying, He invites them to come and see and stay with Him. And they are not disappointed. In fact, so excited is Andrew that the first thing he does after that is find his brother Simon and call out to him: We have found the Messiah! Come and see. And Andrew and Peter spent the rest of their lives doing that as apostles as well.

And someone did that for you. Maybe a parent or a friend. They pointed to Jesus and said: Look, the Lamb of God! When we do that at my house, looking out the window, it is for a moment of pleasure and enjoyment, seeing part of God’s wonderful creation. But when someone pointed you to Jesus, or when you point someone to Him, it is for a gift far greater than that - not a moment of satisfaction, but a lifetime of forgiveness. For Jesus is not just the Lamb of God, but the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the One we may or may not want to see, but the One we need to see.

For we may not want to see Him on the cross. Many Christians prefer a cross without a Jesus on it, without the gore and shame, without the blood and crown of thorns, without the nails and open wounds. Many do not want to see Him as the one who, Isaiah said, was despised and abhorred by the nation. We prefer a victorious Jesus, glorious Jesus.

And while He certainly is victorious and glorious now, we need to see Him the other way too - to see crucified and gory Jesus. To see our sin upon Him. To see our condemnation and judgment upon Him. To see Him enter into our death. To see that all those sins we shrug off or consider normal, are horrid. There they are! Take a good look

Because once you do, they you also realize the enormity of God’s love for you. That the Father sent His Son to do that for you. That the Father offered up His Son in your place, to save you. That the Son wanted to come and do that for you, and take all that from you. And that the Spirit who descended upon Jesus in His baptism, played a part in this, too. Not just to save Israel, but to save the world. To save you.

So look! Jesus wants you to see Him there; to see Him like that. Because if all your sin is on Him, if all your condemnation and judgment is on Him, if He dies your death, then all that is no longer yours. If your sin is on Him it’s no longer on you. If your condemnation and judgment are on Him, they’re no longer on you. If He dies your death, then your death is conquered in His resurrection. Look! He has taken all that, that you may have life. His life. Eternal life. That just like Andrew, you may be with Him and stay with Him. Not a moment of pleasure, but an eternity of joy.

But we’re not there yet, to an eternity of joy. Now there are troubles and hardships. There is the sin others inflict on us and we inflict on others. There is fear and worry and pain. And sometimes, in the midst of it all, we wonder: Where are you now, Jesus? We see you on the cross - that’s good news; but what about now? In my pain now? With my crosses now? With life now?

Where are you staying? That’s what Andrew and the other disciple asked. Maybe that’s what our question is too: Where are you staying for me now? The good news is that He is still here for us, in His Word and Sacraments. He is here, speaking to us, washing us, feeding us, forgiving us. He is here, helping us and strengthening us. Which doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy - I don’t think this life ever will be, and satan certainly isn’t going to rest. 

But the Lord is faithful. He has chosen you. He will not leave you or forsake you. And He who came through the darkness of the cross to life again, will be with you in your darkness, too, and to life again. The prince of this world may have his day, but eternity belongs to the Lamb. And in Him, to you. 

So look! Instead of looking at your sins or dwelling on the sins of others; instead of looking at your life and feeling regret or despair; instead of wishing things were different . . . Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The Lamb of God who gives forgiveness for sin, joy for sorrow, hope for despair, and life for death. Look to Him, for as the psalmist said: Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust (Psalm 40:4).

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Baptism of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Your Bridegroom Baptized for You”
Text: Luke 3:15-22; Romans 6:1-11; Isaiah 43:1-7

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

When King Herod wanted a wife, he didn’t go on or eharmony, he looked at the woman his brother Philip had married and throught to himself: I want her. I’m sure, being a king and all, he could have had his pick of a great many women, who wanted to be the king’s wife and live in a palace and have great wealth. But he wanted Herodias. No one else would do. And somehow he pulled it off. Either he convinced his brother that he really didn’t want her; she wasn’t good enough for him . . . or he convinced her that she really didn’t want his brother; he was a much better catch. Either way he got his wish. He broke up their marriage and took her for himself. It was just one of the notches in his belt of evil deeds.

So when John the Baptist caught wind of this . . . ah, now here’s someone who needs to repent and be baptized! Here’s someone I need to go preach to. So he did. But Herod wasn’t having it. He didn’t need some long-haired, camel-hair-shirted, locust-eating, freaky guy from the sticks telling him what to do! So Herod probably at first just ignored him. But when he wouldn’t stop, when he kept drumming his preaching of repentance into Herod’s ears, Herod finally had enough and threw him into prison. Preach to the rats, John.

And sometime after that, Herod would have John beheaded. 

Now, you may be wondering . . . what does any of that have to do with the Baptism of Jesus? For that’s what we’re commemorating today; that’s our focus today. And that’s a very good question. So if Luke were here today, I’d ask him: Luke - why did you, why did God have you, put a reference to that story right into the middle of your description of John’s baptizing and Jesus being baptized? It really doesn’t need to be there. The story would work perfectly well without it. In fact, it would flow better without it. And John’s not in prison yet - he’s still baptizing and baptizing Jesus. So why? Why tell us that here?

Well, by doing so, Luke gives us a couple of interesting contrasts: First while he tells us that John is locked up, the heavens are opened. John is silenced, while the voice of the Father resounds from heaven. With that contrast he is showing us that the door, so to speak, is being closed on the Old Testament, and the New, its fulfillment, is coming onto the scene. The one mightier than John has come, and the Holy Spirit descends onto the one who will baptize with that Holy Spirit. The torch is being passed from John to Jesus, from forerunner to Messiah, from a son of man to the Son of God.

But it’s the second contrast here that even more significant; the contrast Luke sets up here between Herod and Jesus. Herod is an unholy bridegroom, taking a wife that isn’t his and that he shouldn’t have; a wife not of love but of lust. Thinking of and concerned not for her but only for himself. Jesus has come to be a bridegroom, too, for His bride the church. But He is a holy bridegroom, come to be with and love and care for His unholy bride. And so He comes to the Jordan and takes His place with her. Where she is there He wants to be, that where He is going, there she can be as well. He becomes a sinner with her, that she become holy with Him. And so Jesus stands arm in arm with His bride before John, says His “I will,” and is baptized - not because He needed it, but thinking of and concerned only for her. For us. For you. He walks down your slummy aisle to the Jordan, that you might walk up a glorious aisle with Him, to heaven. 

And the family, who were in attendance, is well-pleased . . . the Holy Spirit descending, the Father calling out, in joy.

So there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Luke is writing this account some years later, after he knows how it all turns out. And he wants you to know, too. Not only about Jesus’ baptism, but about your own and what it means for you as well. That as Jesus came to join you to Himself and take you as His own, to be one flesh with Him, that what’s yours is His and what happens to you happens to Him . . . so too the other way around - that what’s His is yours and what happens to Him happens to you.

And so when you were baptized, there was more happening there than meets the eye as well. When you were baptized, the Spirit that descended upon Jesus descended upon you. The voice that marked Jesus as the Father’s beloved Son with whom He is well-pleased, marked you the same. Yes, as we just sang: All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it. But the eye of faith unfolds the pow’r of Jesus’ merit (LSB #407 v.6). Jesus’ merit which in baptism unlocks the prison of sin and death that the satanic Herod through us in, and sets us free in the forgiveness of our sins. To live a new life, a holy life, with a holy Bridegroom.

And all that is what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Romans that we heard today. That in baptism, what happens to you happens to Jesus, and what happens to Jesus happens to you. You die and so He dies. He rises and so you rise. Death no longer has dominion over Him, and so it no longer has dominion over you. And so you have a new life and newness of life. You’re no longer a slave to sin and your sinful urges, as Herod was. That guy’s dead! You are now alive in Christ, your Bridegroom, the one who gave His life for you and in whom you now live.

Now, you may be thinking, that’s sounds too good to be true! Baptism can’t be that great. Not everyone who is baptized is faithful and saved. And that’s probably true. But the problem’s not with baptism, but with us. For in baptism, a promise is made, Bridegroom to bride: I love you and will love you; you are mine. Our marriages say that too . . . but sadly, sometimes spouses walk away from that promise made to them. For whatever reason, they take off the ring that was put on them by their spouse while he or she was making that promise to them, and go in search of something else. So, too, sometimes the baptized. 

But just as marriage isn’t the problem but the sinners in the marriage, so baptism isn’t the problem but the sinner. But here’s where baptism is even better - the one who made that promise to you, that He loves you and will love you, and that you are His - isn’t a sinner. His promise is good and reliable and forever. And so every week, every time, you come back in confession and repentance to your Bridegroom, every time He is here to forgive and welcome you back. You don’t have to prove it and you can’t earn it - He gives it. That’s how powerful His love, how powerful His blood, how powerful His promise to you.

And to those who think that means they can put on their baptismal ring for one hour each Sunday and then throw it off as they walk out the door and do whatever they want the rest of the week . . . Paul already has an answer for you. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin - are we to continue to throw off our rings when we walk out the door - that grace may abound - that we may just put them back on again each Sunday? By no means! Or, to put that as we would say it today: What are you nuts? If you have such a Bridegroom . . . why wouldn’t you want Him every day? Why wouldn’t you want to live in His life every day? And forever?

Do you not know? therefore Paul asks. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we don’t realize what we’re doing. Maybe we don’t understand the power of sin. Maybe we don’t think about what we’re doing. Maybe our sin has blinded us. Maybe we’re stupid and stubborn. I know those last two describe me pretty good. 

But as Jesus stepped into the Jordan that day, He knew. He knew exactly what He was doing. He knew exactly what it meant. He knew exactly who you were. And He knew that what began here in the Jordan was going to end at the cross. He knew. And He told John: Do it. I can’t not do this for them. They are lost, they are dead, without me. They need life, they need forgiveness, and I’m the only hope they have

And with the water still dripping from His hair, the Father and the Spirit testify and rejoice. The Bridegroom is committed to His Bride, to set her - to set you - free.

And now, now it’s the blood that dripped from the cross that is here for you, as Jesus says not to John but to the Church: Do it. Baptize all nations. Do it! Preach the Word. Do it! Forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Do it! Do this in remembrance of me. For in all these things, there’s more than meets the eye. Here is my cross, here is my Body and Blood, here is my forgiveness, for you. I love you and will love you; you are mine.

And so are fulfilled Isaiah’s words, spoken so long before Jesus came onto the scene . . .
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

That is the Bridegroom you have, standing in the water with you. The Bridegroom who is with you always. The Lord who created you and formed you and says to you: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; It is finished (John 19:30). I have called you by name, you are mine.

And the Father and the Spirit rejoice. As we do now, in having such a Bridegroom, and in His love and care and forgiveness for us. Even when your life is flooded with troubles, or set ablaze with trials. As Isaiah said, they will not overwhelm or consume you. For your Bridegroom is with you in them. Your Bridegroom who did not get going when the going got tough, but came to you; and came for you.

That’s the Jesus in the Jordan that day. That’s the Jesus John saw, and baptized for you. That’s the Jesus who is here for you. And that’s the Jesus, the Bridegroom we will one day see, when He comes again, not to step into the Jordan, but for us to step out of our graves. From death to life. From this world to the next. From this world of sorrow to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. The Feast that will have no end.

And the family will be rejoicing then, too. And not just the Father and the Spirit, but the whole family of faith. John and all the martyrs, all the faithful who have gone before us, the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The promise given in baptism fulfilled, finally, and forever.

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

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Kings Who Conquers Death”
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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

When Old Testament Israel heard the words we heard today spoken by the prophet Isaiah, how could they not be excited? Light, wealth, glory . . . if this had been a campaign speech, Isaiah would surely have been elected! Talk about making Israel great again! His words sound like Solomon’s grand and glorious kingdom 2.0. For in his day there was light and wealth and glory, too. More, in fact, than there ever had been. Kings and queens were coming from all over to see, and to hear the wisdom that would flow forth from Solomon. One of them was the Queen of Sheba - a country that Isaiah here mentions by name. This is great stuff, Isaiah.

But when would it be fulfilled? And how? 

Well, generation after generation would come and go. In the coming years, the southern kingdom of Judah that Isaiah was preaching to would fall just as the northern kingdom of Israel had. There would be the destruction of Jerusalem and more importantly, the Temple. There would be exile as prisoners of war. It would get worse before it got better. And those hoping for a return to the heyday of Solomon and his kingdom would be disappointed. That ship had sailed, and that’s not, in fact, what God was talking about here at all.

For an earthly kingdom - no matter how great and glorious - is too small for God . . . and it’s too small for us. For us who die. For God can make you rich, but you’re still going to die. He can make you powerful, but you’re still going to die. He can make you popular, He can give you great knowledge, He can make you famous, He could make you king of the world if He wanted to . . . and you’re still going to die. So maybe your casket will be encrusted with jewels, or a great marble monument will mark your body’s resting place. The worms who will see it and the birds who will perch on it won’t care. And sooner or later, those who come after you won’t either.

But your God will still care. All that stuff may be what we want, and God gives it to some; to whom He chooses. But it’s not what we need. The kingdom we need, the King we need, is one who rules over death. Lots of kings and kingdoms and rulers and leaders can kill, and they do. History is filled with such stories and atrocities that couldn’t even be imagined until they happened. The prince of this world is all about death, too . . . just ask Adam and Eve. But one who rules over death, one who conquers death, one who can give life after death - that is the King we need. 

And it is the King we have. He wasn’t elected. He wasn’t even wanted when he came. In fact, He became one of those historical accounts of one who was violently and atrociously killed - strung up on a cross. But that man assumed the throne when He rose from the dead; when He conquered death and began His rule. He didn’t look like a king - born in Bethlehem; wrapped in swadling clothes and laid in a manger; growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, a poor kid in Nazareth. Many would say He didn’t act like a king - hanging out with notorious sinners, undesirables, commoners, losers. But a different kind of kingdom requires a different kind of King. 

And so some 7 centuries after Isaiah spoke the words, his prophecy began to be fulfilled. We heard the well-known story from Matthew again today. Wise men from the east come to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” The well-known Christmas carol calls them kings, agreeing with Isaiah. The original Greek uses the word Magi - magicians, maybe; astrologers or astronomers, perhaps. They did follow a star, after all. Maybe they were all of the above. But like us, who they were was not as important as how God used them and the faith He gave to them. The faith to fall on their knees and worship when they entered not a palace but a common house; when they saw not royal robes but common clothes; when they saw not riches and signs of power, but poverty and weakness. But faith believes more than the eye can see. And then they gave Him their gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But notice: that’s not what Isaiah said would happen. Isaiah had said that they shall bring gold and frankincense, - but instead of myrrh he says - and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord. But, in fact, they really are the same thing. By putting these two together, it is, in fact, the myrrh that proclaims the good news and praise of the Lord. For gold and incense were common for kings and kingdoms - nothing surprising there. But myrrh marked this King, Jesus, as different. It marked and foretold His death. For we when Jesus died, myrrh was brought as one of the spices used for His burial. 

But that is exactly the good news He has come to proclaim, and the reason for his praise. Not just that He is a King, but a King born to die. A King who dies to defeat death. The King we need. So by bringing myrrh, the Wise Men really were fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. But it was just the beginning of the fulfillment . . .

For Isaiah’s prophecy didn’t conclude with the coming of the Wise Men, but continues even to this day. For the Lord and His glory continue to rise upon people as His Word is proclaimed, young and old are baptized, and His kingdom grows. Nations are coming to His light as people from every nation and language and culture are hearing of Him and the Spirit works in their hearts and enlightens the darkness there. Sons and daughters are coming - you’ll see it again today as sons toddle up the aisle and daughters are carried on the hip to the altar where our Lord is in His Body and Blood. And hearts still thrill and exult over the forgiveness of sins and the victory over death proclaimed and given here. The Epiphany of our Lord, His revealing, began with the shepherds and the Wise Men, but it hasn’t stopped. And it won’t stop - He won’t stop - until He comes again, and sin and death are conquered and abolished once and for all.

And when will that day be? It may still lie 7 centuries in the future, as it did when Isaiah spoke his words. Or maybe it will be in 7 minutes. We don’t know. But we don’t need to know. We have our King and His victory, and that’s enough. 

And this is the mystery now made known to you, as Paul said - the unsearchable riches God has for you in Christ Jesus. Riches not of gold and frankincense, though He may give those, too. But even more, the good news of the life He has for you - that He won for you and gives to you. That the one born King of the Jews is not a Jewish king only, but the King of all nations, of all people, of all who are born and die, that they might be born again and rise from the dead in Him. That they be citizens of a kingdom that will have no end. 

So though now it may be hidden, as it was in ages past, it is revealed - epiphanied - to you, by faith. Just as in the days when Isaiah spoke of it, though it remained hidden for centuries. And when Paul spoke of it, though it remained hidden at that time under persecution and imprisonment. And still today, though preached it remains hidden under death. Your death and mine. We preach victory over death yet still die. Christians are being persecuted today too, and beheaded, and get the same sicknesses and diseases as everyone else. And burdens, struggles, trials, troubles - I don’t need to speak to you about them. The Herods of this world see all this and scoff at our message, dispute our claims, and prefer kingdoms that can be seen.

But those Wise Men who took a knee that day knew that here was a King and a kingdom greater than any other, because it was unlike any other. Because it wasn’t in a time and place, but transcended them. They gave gifts, but knew they had received far more than they had given.

And so it is for us. Gifts greater than gold, frankincense, and myrrh are here for us, for hidden in water and words and bread and wine are life - the forgiveness of sins and with that the promise of a life that death cannot end. And so we, too, fall down and worship Him by receiving what He brings for us, bending the knee and bowing the head and heart before Him - our mangered King, our crucified King, our risen King. 

So as we begin a New Year, now just a few days old, it’s easy to be like the people of Isaiah’s day, wishing for a new start, a new 2.0 kingdom. And this being an election year, the fever is going to get even worse as the year goes on and as we look to and hope for not a king, but a president, who will provide that for us. But that new day, that new start, will not come with a rising America, but with the rising of the dead. Not just when all the dead will rise on the Last Day, but already here and now when we who are dead in our trespasses and sins rise with Christ to a new life. A new life of confidence, without fear or worry or anxiety about a future that is in our Lord’s hands. A new life when we realize that the best thing we can do with our riches is - like the wise men - give them away. And receive riches far different, but also far greater. Riches that will never run out or go away. Riches that will last beyond death and the grave. Riches that we cannot even begin to imagine. The riches of our Saviour and His kingdom. His light and wealth and glory. Riches that though hidden now, are already yours.

So this New Year that lay before us, will you still hang onto the old? The old life instead of your new life? Old riches instead of new riches? The old king - you - instead of your newborn king? Yeah, you will. And you won’t. When you do, repent. Let go. Remember your baptism and who you really are, and come and receive the forgiveness and new life you need in the Body and Blood of the Lord. And when you don’t, rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord and His new life you are living. Rejoice in His Spirit and kingdom. And rejoice that the Lord has made you a wise man too.

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